A big part of the camping experience is food. After a long day of hiking, searching for firewood, setting up a tent, and building a fire, you’re ready for a hearty meal that everyone can enjoy together.
I once packed a week’s worth of meals in a backpack on the Appalachian Trail. Was it the tastiest food I’d ever eaten? Absolutely not. Looking back, I have to laugh. It was mostly trail mix, granola bars, and non-perishable pre-cooked food I just had to heat up. Yes, one time, I did mix instant mashed potatoes with ramen noodles and a can of chicken. But after hiking 18 miles a day backpacking up a mountain, everything tastes like a feast. If you’re not on the move and are planted firmly in one campsite, you can probably afford to make something a little more…er…gourmet.
Many people think cooking outdoors, away from modern amenities, is a hassle. However, with plenty of heat from a fire, you can make yummy camping food that will have everyone asking for a second helping.
Tips for Cooking Camping Food
- Get an “Ove Glove.” You may think that you’re indestructible, but if you get too close to those hot coals, you run the risk of severe burns and dropping the food into the fire. Then everyone will have to forgo the camping experience in favor of a trip to the nearest Urgent Care and McDonalds. Just get a heat-proof glove and use it.
- Have a way to clean up your meal/dishes easily: Not all campsites have running water or sinks available for dishwashing. You may have to bring jugs of water and a tub for clean-up. If that’s the case, make sure you bring a bio-degradable camp soap that doesn’t disturb the natural environment. Don’t forget a dish towel!
- Plan camping meals that don’t spoil quickly: If you don’t have access to refrigeration, then your camping menu should generally avoid ingredients that you have to keep cold–milk and raw meat especially. That being said, you don’t have to stick to freeze-dried meals with no flavor. If it’s a short trip, pack a cooler along with plenty of ice, and you can enjoy plenty of the same meals you can make at home (at least until the ice melts).
- Consider a stove: If you’re cooking for one or two, a smaller fuel-powered or alcohol-burning camp stove can be a great investment, especially if you’re backpacking. The one I used for two weeks, I actually made out of two beer cans! You can find them as cheap as $20 at REI. If you’re cooking for a family, though, you might want to use the campfire or more substantial grill so you can get more food prepared at once.
- Keep Your Food Protected from Wildlife: You may want to invest in a “bear bag” that you can suspend from a high tree branch where no hungry wildlife can reach. After two weeks of doing this every night, I started looking forward to the great hunt for a branch that was just tall enough but not too tall that I couldn’t throw my line over.
What Food Should I Bring for Camping?
If you are camping for a few days (or a week), make sure you have a camping food list that includes shelf-stable food like granola, pasta, tuna, canned chicken, instant mashed potatoes, ramen noodles, trail mix, canned tomato sauce, beans, quick-cooking oats, bread, and peanut butter.
Hard cheeses, especially extra sharp cheddar, can survive around 8 hours at mild temperatures. Hard salami is another great snack you can pack with you on adventures. Just cut off a slice for a snack on the go, or add to your meal for some extra protein.
What Tools Do I Need to Make Camping Food?
When preparing a meal in the great outdoors, you’ll want to have all the right gear to keep the process as smooth as possible. If you’re low on space, you can look into tools that are compact and lightweight at outdoor adventure stores like REI.
- aluminum foil
- chef’s knife
- cutting board
- fire-safe pot/skillet/dutch oven
- eating utensils
Camping Food Breakfast
When you wake up with the sun, you’ll want a hearty breakfast to eat by the fire. If you’re a coffee person, I would completely recommend investing in a mini french press or Aeropress before your camping trip. No one should ever have to drink instant coffee, no matter what the circumstances.
Stuffed French Toast: This indulgent breakfast will make you wonder why you even packed those pre-packaged oatmeals. Make a “sandwich” with mascarpone and blackberries, then dunk it in a mixture of eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon. Cook over the heat until nice and golden brown!
Overnight Oats: This amazing no-cook breakfast is great for campers because it’s filled with protein and fiber. It’s easily customizable with mix-ins, too. Make it with oats and water the night before, and add berries, nuts, seeds, granola, or whatever you’d like. You can also use powdered milk, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, uh, I mean….milk.
Pancakes: This is the perfect solution for an on-the-go meal because you can bring the mix in a plastic bag or jug and just have to add water (and cooking spray, oil, or butter for the pan). Don’t forget the syrup!
If you’re packing up the car or camper and have room, a cast-iron skillet may be the perfect addition to your camping gear. While they’re pretty heavy, you’ll get the full rustic experience. And you don’t have to worry about getting scorch marks on your good skillet.
Grilled Chicken Fajitas: This also works as a foil-wrapped meal (see below). Any dish where you can toss it all together in the foil packet, and I’m in. Especially when the meal is protein-packed and full of flavor like this one. The packets are filled with seasoned chicken, rice, bell peppers, and onion.
Mac-N-Cheese: Comfort food cooked over a fire? Count me in. You can add any protein you like if you want to add some nutrition.
Campfire Pizza: All you need is a pre-made refrigerated dough, sauce, toppings, and a campfire. Spread the dough out and place it in an oiled cast-iron skillet. Place over the fire and cook until the bottom has browned, then flip. Add your sauce, toppings, and cook until crust is fully cooked and the toppings are warmed.
Carne Asada Nachos: Gather around the campfire with a skillet of crispy tortilla chips, tender steak, rich queso, and chopped veggies. Prep some of the ingredients before you go (like the steak and veggies) so you can easily heat them over the fire.
Foil Packet Camping Food Meals
Cooking in tin foil is so easy because it minimizes clean-up. And aluminum foil is a great heat conductor–it heats and cools very quickly. Make sure you use some of your favorite seasonings–nothing worse than bland camping food.
- Italian Sausage and Veggies
- Cajun-style Foil Packets
- Sausage, Potatoes, and Green Beans
- Ham and Cheese Hash Browns
- Barbecue Chicken and Vegetables
Make-Ahead Camping Recipes
Sometimes, it’s a little easier to pre-cook some ingredients before you pack up for the campsite. Then, you can just cook or warm up the meals when you’re ready to serve
Mediterranean Chickpea Salad: If you’re not confident in your campfire cooking skills, that’s okay. A recipe like this will be your saving grace. Toss together drained, canned chickpeas, red onions, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red bell pepper, kalamata olives, black olives, celery, parsley, capers, green onions, and feta cheese. Drizzle with a Greek dressing.
Easy Buttermilk Cornbread Muffins: Whether you use it to scoop up the last bit of chili or eat it by itself, cornbread is always a treat. Pre-portioned muffins mean easy packing and serving!
Mason Jar Ramen: Instant noodles are a backpacking staple, but it gets better. Prep mason jars of noodles, veggies, and seasonings at home, and fill them with boiling water from your campfire kettle when you’re ready to eat.
Grilled Camping Food Ideas
If you brought your own grate, you could cook over an open fire. Some campsites have mini grills that you can use, too!
Grilled Street Corn: Known as “Elote” in Mexico, you can bring this classic street food off the streets and into the wild! Remove the silk from your corn (without completely detaching the husk. Replace the husks and grill on a grate over the fire for 10-15 minutes, turning frequently. Mix the chili powder, salt, and mayo into a spicy spread. Then top your corn with crumbled Cojita cheese and chopped cilantro.
Maple Sriracha Chicken Kabobs: Kabobs are great to roast over the fire because they cook right on the stick. Marinate your chicken before you go, pack it all up in one bag, then add them to the skillet once you get there!
Pigs in a Poncho: Turn regular hot dogs into “tacos” with a tortilla instead of a bun. Tortillas are much more versatile and easily packed. Skewer them, roast them, then add to a tortilla along with your favorite toppings (guac, salsa, cheese, etc.).
Dutch Oven Camping Recipes
If you’re purchasing a dutch oven for camping, make sure you get one with legs. Here’s a comprehensive guide to cooking with one over a campfire, which is very different from your home dutch oven. There are many tips for regulating the oven’s internal temperature, especially if there are wind or external temperatures to factor in.
Bacon Cheese Pull-apart Bread: Start by thawing out frozen dinner roll dough, cutting each dough roll in half. Then, melt your butter and pour it into a 12-inch Dutch oven. Roll the cut rolls in melted butter until coated and arrange in a Dutch oven. Sprinkle with cheese and pre-cooked bacon. Cover with lid and let rise until the dough doubles in size. Bake over your fire until light and fluffy.
Omelet in a Bag: This is great if you have a large group of people. You can mix the eggs, divvy out the portions into plastic bags, then everyone can add their own mix-ins! If you want to cut down on dishes, just boil them right in the bags!
Campfire Chili: A good campfire chili is filled with hearty ingredients. My favorite recipe has a red base with black beans, dark red kidney beans, a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, diced tomatoes, chopped onions, garlic powder, and cumin. You can add beef, too, if you have the means to keep it cold before. The secret? Add a can of beer, preferably a lager. You’ll thank me later.
What Are Good Desserts for Camping?
Campfire S’mores Nachos: You may think that nothing gets easier than toasting a marshmallow on a stick, then slapping it onto a graham cracker sandwich with a piece of chocolate, but think again. With these nachos, you get the cooking done in one fell swoop. You need foil and a foil pan for this recipe, along with all the traditional s’mores ingredients. Layer the ingredients to your liking, and cook over the hot coals until it’s nice and gooey.
Campfire Banana Boats: Like a cross between a s’more and a banana split, a banana boat is a quick and easy dessert to make while camping. Just split a banana in half, stuff it with toppings, wrap it in tin foil, and place it over the fire.
Cherry Cobbler: With a can of pie filling and a yellow cake mix (and any extra spices you want to add, of course), you can make a mouth-watering cobbler that everyone will absolutely love. You can make it in the dutch oven, too!
Campfire Monkey Bread
- 2 cans biscuit dough I like Pillsbury
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/4 cup cinnamon
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Dutch Oven Monkey Bread
- First, place your chopped nuts at the bottom of the Dutch oven to form a compact base.
- Mix cinnamon and white sugar in a container or bowl.
- Cut your biscuit dough into 16 equally sized pieces, then coat each of these pieces in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
- Stack the biscuits on top of the nuts, then pour the melted butter into the Dutch oven. Secure the lid on your Dutch oven, place in the hot coals, and cover with 5-6 hot coals on top for even cooking. then leave your monkey bread with biscuits to bake in the oven for at least 20 minutes.
- When your monkey bread is golden brown and piping hot, then it’s time to enjoy this sweet and sticky treat!
Easy Camping Food Ideas for Sides
Blooming Onion: With come aluminum foil, Vidalia onions, butter, garlic, salt, and pepper, you can make this easy camping recipe over a campfire with little prep.
Grilled Fruit: When you grill fruit, the sugars caramelize to create a depth of flavor that’s unbeatable. Check out all of our tips and ideas for grilling fruit, easily adapted for cooking over a campfire!
Sweet Potatoes: Poke some holes, then bake your sweet potatoes in aluminum foil over the hot coals. When they’re done, don’t forget to add butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.
With all these options, how can you choose? We promise, no matter what you make, after a long day of camping or hiking, the food will always taste better than it does at home. Don’t forget to share pictures from all your favorite camping outdoor adventures on FamilyApp, or start a group chat with all your fellow campers!