Fuel Your Frontier: How to Build a Camp Kitchen
How To Build A Camp Kitchen + Two Recipes To Up Your Camp Cooking Game
This is a special guest post from our friends Fresh Off The Grid. Michael & Megan are off-grid culinary experts who’ve built a traveling camp kitchen to support their frontier adventures. They’ve cooked nearly a thousand meals during their time off-grid leading them everywhere from Zion to Cuba. Whether it’s cooking one pot Dan Dan Noodles on a backpacking trip or whipping up campfire paella on the Oregon Coast, each of their recipes leave us wanting more.
Let’s be honest: cooking can be pretty overwhelming at home, nevermind trying to pull together all the various steps of a meal at a campsite. Without access to a refrigerator, microwave, oven, dishwasher, or even a sink with running water, camp cooking can feel pretty daunting - especially if it’s your first time. Figuring out what to cook is a common hang up for most campers, no matter the experience level. Finding a clever way to cook delicious, filling meals outside is a frontier in and of itself. Epic off-grid meals are crucial to finding frontiers as they are an important way to refuel for your journey especially if you’re pushing yourself hard. Thankfully, cooking delicious meals outside and on your frontier doesn’t need to be difficult. The best way to start is to build a mobile camp kitchen that works for you. Below, we’ve pulled together our advice for building a camp kitchen that meets your needs and a few recipes that are sure to fuel your frontier adventures this summer.
What exactly is a camp kitchen? ‘Camp Kitchen’ gets thrown around a lot but here at Fresh Off The Grid we mean all the equipment you need to cook outdoors - preferably stored together inside a single box. With your gear in one centralized location, all you need to do is throw this box in the back of your car and you’re prepared to cook wherever your travels take you.
So what gear should go into your camp kitchen? That will depend a lot on your style of camping and style of cooking. Do you need your gear to be lightweight for backpacking or walk-in campsites? Or are you a car camper or #vanlifer and does weight not really matter? How big is the group you’re cooking for? What type of meals to you typically make at home?
While no two camp kitchen setups will look exactly alike, there are some basic gear categories that will be found in every camp kitchen.
1. Camp stove - This is your primary heat source and perhaps the most critical piece of gear. What’s the right stove for you? That will depend on a couple of factors, such as where are you camping? What types of meals do you want to cook? What type of fuel do you want to use? We bounce around and use a lot of different types of stoves for different occasions, but we used the CampStove 2 on a few of our most recent trips and find it to be a really versatile option. Zero fuel costs, compact size, and charges electronic devices as added bonus.
2. Cookware - Depending on what you like to cook, there are a lot of different options when it comes to cookware. Since we typically make one pot meals, we find that we can get away most of the time with just a cast iron skillet. Cast iron is great because it can be used over an open fire and retains heat well, but there are also a lot of great non-stick options as well. The key is find out what you feel most comfortable cooking on and tailor your camp cookware around that. We own a Lodge 10” skillet, a Lodge 12” skillet, a Barebones 10” skillet, and a Poler Dutch Oven. But truth be told, the best cast iron cookware can often be found at your local Goodwill!
3. Tableware - You will definitely want to pick up some durable plates, bowls, and utensils. While ceramic tableware might work at home, it can be easily broken out in the field. We recommend plastic or enamelware for the outdoors. If you want to reduce items to pack, you can find deep plates that can double as shallow bowls. And of course, there’s sporks and reversible spoon/fork combos. We have the iconic blue speckled enamelware plates and bowls that are sold at seemingly every outdoor retailer and Army/Navy outlet. Plus a few pieces we picked up from our local thrift store.
4. Accessories - Cooking utensils like a spatula, wood spoon, and can opener are important to items to include in your camp kitchen. Also, be sure to bring along a sharp knife for food prep. If you like grilling, then consider a pair of metal tongs, some heat resistant gloves, and perhaps the portable grill attachment for the CampStove 2.
5. Drinkware - While anything durable will do, insulated drinkware can really take things to the next level. We like to keep our coffee hot and our beer cold by using insulated mugs and pint glasses. It’s definitely not required, but we can sort of be divas when it comes to our morning coffee. We have an embarrassing amount of insulated drinkware, including: 2 Snow Peak Mugs, 2 Yeti Ramblers, 2 Hydro Flask Pints Glasses, 2 Hydro Flask Tumblers, 2 Hydro Flask Rocks Glasses, and a Hydro Flask Growler.
6. Coffee - This will depend on personal preferences, but you will want to make sure your camp kitchen has everything you need to make coffee. When it’s just the two of us, we typically go with an Aeropress. But for larger groups, we like that the KettlePot for the CampStove 2 has a nice CoffeePress attachment. Good coffee in the great outdoors is an absolutely must for us.
7. Clean Up Supplies - The most dreaded aspect of cooking outside is often the inevitable cleanup. But with the right supplies it can make the process a lot more pleasant. What you’ll need: at least two vessels to serve as sinks, a sponge, biodegradable soap, a metal strainer, and drying cloth. Depending on your definition of clean (a sliding spectrum in our opinion), there’s a 2 bucket, 3 bucket, and 4 bucket wash process. We use the three bucket system. To see our process check out article about how to properly wash dishes at a campsite.
In the end, the ideal camp kitchen consists of the fewest pieces of gear that allow you to cook the greatest number of meals with the least amount of stress. The equipment you use might change from trip to trip, but so long as you’re following that guiding principle, cooking outside can be as easy - if not easier - than cooking at home.
As you head out to Find Your Frontier this summer, here are two recipes that spice up dishes we know and love.
Lemon Poppyseed French Toast (30 minutes, Serves 2-4)
- 1lb loaf of brioche bread
- 4 eggs
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1 lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup milk
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
- Optional: Blueberries to top
1. Cut the bread into ¾” - 1” thick slices.
2. Zest the lemon using the small holes of a cheese grater and set the zest aside. Juice the lemon.
3. Beat the eggs, ⅔ cup milk, lemon juice, and salt together in a bowl large enough to accommodate a slice of the bread, until thoroughly mixed.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet over medium heat.
5. Dip a slice of bread in the egg and milk mixture and let it soak for about 10 seconds on each side. Let the excess drip off and then fry it in the skillet until golden and crispy on each side, about 3 minutes per side.
6. Repeat with the rest of the bread, adding more butter to the skillet as needed.
7. To make the lemon poppyseed syrup, mix the powdered sugar, milk, lemon zest, and poppyseeds in a small bowl with a fork until smooth.
8. Serve the French toast drizzled with the syrup, fresh fruit, and a cup of hot coffee. Enjoy!
Grilled Fennel Burgers (20-30 minutes, Makes 4 Burgers).
- 1 bulb fennel
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 lb ground beef (80% lean)
- 4 oz blue cheese
- 4 burger buns
- 1 cup arugula
- Mustard + mayo
- Salt + pepper
1. Preheat the Portable Grill.
2. Shape the ground beef into four patties. Create a small indent in the middle of each patty (this will help it cook flat). Set aside.
3. Slice the fennel into ½ inch rounds. Coat both sides with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Once your grill is hot, grill each side for a few minutes until the fennel is soft. Remove and set aside.
4. Place the burgers on the grill and season with salt and pepper. Grill on both sides - the exact time will depend on the thickness of the patty and the heat of the grill, but 3-4 minutes on each side is a good starting point. Remove from grill.
5. Warm the buns on the grill. Spread the mayo on one bun and the mustard on the other. Build your burger: Bun, burger patty, Blue cheese, arugula, bun. Enjoy with a cold drink!