Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you need to stick the traditional (and let’s be honest, stereotypical) camper’s diet of canned beans, hot dogs, and potato chips.
With modern technology advancing as quickly as it is, and people’s tastes and preferences advancing as well, what used to be campfire favorites are now becoming a thing of the past.
With just a few pieces of equipment, and an open and creative mind, you will find yourself consuming what could be deemed gourmet meals while out in the wild.
Sounds wild, right?
Here, our top tips for how to cook like a real gourmet chef when camping.
How to Go Gourmet While Camping
Who says that you have to stick to the same old same old food when camping? Other areas of camping are advancing (think lighting and lamps, sleeping gear, and so much more), so why shouldn’t you elevate your food experiences as well?
There are few things people love more than a good food picture, especially when the background of that picture is the great outdoors. And we can’t argue with the fact that your gourmet meal will certainly taste better when you’ve created it sans your typical kitchen equipment.
So, here’s how to eat well when camping and drink well too.
1. Make ahead & freeze
So you want to have a nice pasta while you’re camping, do you? You’re likely cringing at the thought of how you’re going to cook a gourmet sauce over a campfire, and we don’t blame you. So, skip the making of it over the fire and simply use that flame to warm it up. Instead, make ahead of time the sauces you’ll need, store them in a jar, and keep them in the freezer until you’re ready leave for your trip. Then all you have to do is reheat and eat.
You can also do this with other sauces for other dishes including pesto, and this method works great for soups as well. Spend minimal time cooking, but still enjoy delish meals with gourmet ingredients.
2. The secret is in the cheese
Ever notice how every meal tastes so much better when it involves cheese? Throw some truffle cheese on top of that boring spaghetti and voila! You’ve got yourself a gourmet meal.
So, when you head out camping, be sure to bring along with you a wide assortment of cheese. Hard cheeses are the best option when camping since they don’t require as much refrigeration.
They work great as a snack, as an addition to your breakfast sandwich, as the perfect grilled cheese main ingredient, and so much more.
3. Swap the noodles for alternatives
There is nothing worse than being starving and having to wait for what feels like an eternity for your pasta noodles to cook. We’ve all been there, and camping is a time that you really don’t want to find yourself in this position.
So, instead of wasting a bunch of water and a bunch of time boiling water and cooking noodles, look to alternatives. Polenta is ideal. It is easy to manage, easy to cook, and can be used for a variety of other meals as well. (Expert tip: they make great pancakes!)
If polenta isn’t up your alley, than you can opt for quinoa, farro, maybe even zoodles (that’s noodles made from zucchini). Veggie noodle options are some of our favorites because they allow you to save extra room for dessert.
4. Keep it fresh
Unless you’re camping for a long time, it’s always best to bring along with you fresh fruits and veggies as opposed to dried ones.
First of all, you’ll save money. Dried fruits and vegetables are way higher in price. Also, you sacrifice some nutrients when you opt for dried ones as well. They make a great snack on-the-go, but when you’re going to cook, you’ll want to reach for fresh ones.
Fresh ones double as a great snack and a great addition to your meals. Our favorite fruits to bring along are apples, berries, and bananas. And when it comes to veggies, we suggest carrots, broccoli (campfire-roasted, please!), and mushrooms.
5. Ghee over butter
Butter is an absolute necessity when you’re cooking, but when you’re camping, refrigerator or cooler space is limited, so save it for the things that truly need it (such as meat).
When you’re heading out into the wild, pick up some ghee. It’s clarified butter, which means it’s butter without the lactose. In other words, you don’t have to refrigerate it for an entire week.
The flavor of ghee is fabulous, and makes a great addition to your meal as well as a tasty topping for toast. Bonus point: you can also use it instead of oil for cooking.
We think that ghee may become your new favorite kitchen staple both while camping and at home.
6. Soak it up
It’s a good idea to plan your meals for the day before you embark on your adventures.
That way, you can get a lot of the work done while you’re out having fun.
For example, if you’re planning to make beans or lentils, and you brought uncooked ones, soak them in water while you’re enjoying your day, and come back with them ready to cook for just a few minutes over the campfire.
This will save you a great deal of time and effort, so you can spend it enjoying your camping instead.
7. Get the right tools
There are a few things that you’ll need to make your gourmet meal easier to cook. Though your food may be fancy while camping, your equipment doesn’t necessarily need to be.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Cast-iron skillet. This is an absolute must for camping. Though it is heavy and a bit of a pain to lug around, you will regret not having this with you. It is the key to creating a variety of gourmet meals around the fire.
- Insulated work gloves. Leave the pot lifters behind and instead bring with you some insulated work gloves that will be a lifesaver when it comes to dealing with hot pans and lids. These gloves will also double as a way to move the logs of the fire so that you can perfect your cooking.
- Heat-proof silicone cooking utensils. Think a spoon, a spatula, and tongs. These must be heat-proof since you will be cooking over a fire.
- Cutting board and knives. Unless you’re prepping everything ahead of time, you’ll want to bring a cutting board and some knives with you.
- Reusable plates, cups, and utensils. When you’ve taken the time to create a gourmet meal, few things will make it feel less luxe than serving it on a paper plate that getting soggy and starts sagging. Also, trying to cut into a delicious steak with a plastic knife is going to leave you frustrated. Instead, bring some BPA-free plates and aluminum utensils with you that are easy to pack and are much better for the environment.
8. Bring the wine, but in a box
A gourmet meal is just begging to be accompanied by some fine wine. But, when you’re out camping, the glass may be an issue. And remembering to bring a wine opener is just another thing you don’t want to worry about. Instead, grab some boxed wine. Before you judge, there are some really good boxes wines out there, so don’t think that you’re sacrificing quality when you ditch the bottle for a box.
The box can be recycled and the bladder inside can be reused to store water for a number of different uses.
9. Play bartender ahead of time
If you are looking for a bit more than wine to sip on after your gourmet camping meal, then you’ll likely want to turn to some quality spirits. Chances are good you don’t want to lug all the ingredients to make the perfect Old Fashioned, but you still want to enjoy one when sitting around the fire post-dinner.
You can have the best of both worlds simply by mixing the cocktail ahead of time, and store it in the cooler or refrigerator until you’re ready to enjoy.
10. Upgrade your s’more game
When you’ve had a gourmet meal, you’re going to want a gourmet dessert to go along with it. You don’t have to get too crazy with your ideas, s’mores are a go-to even when you’re looking for something a bit more glam.
Rather that opt for the normal s’more on a stick smashed between graham crackers, try a different take on this classic.
Inside-out s’mores require just a few steps:
- Crush graham crackers
- Melt chocolate in a cup
- Roast the marshmallow
- Dip marshmallow in chocolate
- Roll marshmallow in crushed graham crackers
This is much easier to eat than your normal s’more, so you’ll feel a bit more gourmet doing so, but still get to enjoy that dreamy s’more flavor.
11. Wait until the flames are low
You don’t want to cook your food over the campfire when the flames are high. Instead, wait until they’ve burned down to a point where they are mostly coals before you start cooking over them. A good way to think of it is like your stovetop at home — you don’t want to throw on your vegetables when the stovetop is on high. Instead, wait until the cooking temp is lower and more manageable to work with, and you’ll be able to cook everything to perfect.
You can make your trip feel even more glamorous by trying out one of KOA’s alternative ways of camping.
KOA Deluxe Cabins come complete with a private bathroom and showers, as well as real beds so you can head to your comfy bed post-dinner. You’ll also get cable TV and, in most cases, a small kitchen to really help out with your gourmet meal.
There are also some more funky and unique ways to stay at KOA, including a teepee, a yurt, a train caboose and much more. How fun would it be to climb up to your tree house to sleep for the night after your gourmet campfire meal? We think that sounds pretty fabulous.
Be sure to check out all the different options for ways of camping at KOA here.
Feel ready to try your hand at gourmet cooking while camping?
Head over to KOA to book your favorite campsite for your next gourmet cooking session.
Leslie is a travel writer, copywriter, and web designer who gets butterflies from telling stories through words and visuals.
Her voice comes from a place filled with passion, dreams, and lots of sugar. “Cake over steak” is her go-to motto.
With over 10 years of experience in crafting words, and years of embarking on travels that have taken this Montana girl to some incredible places, Leslie loves the adventures of both body and mind her writing takes her on.
To see what Leslie’s up to in the writing and design world, visit her website here.