Camp Cooking Favorites

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Sometimes you donít have the convenience of the Butterfield General Store while camping, so here are some quick and easy suggestions for a weekend menu.

Camp Cooking Tips
Before we launch into our menu suggestions, lets talk a little bit about your cooking options. There is a vast range of cooking possibilities available to you, depending on how you are camping and what you bring with you. In an RV, youíll often have a refrigerator, stove and microwave. If youíre tent camping, you may have a propane stove, or just a campfire pit, and a cooler. So, depending on what you are bringing with you, you will need to plan your meals accordingly. Have you ever tried to cook pancakes over a campfire? I guarantee you, itís not a rewarding experience.

So for this article, we are going to stick with the least of these circumstances, a fire pit and a cooler. Even with a cooler, you have to worry about foods that spoil easily, so no milk and no raw meat (unless you plan on eating them right away).

Preparing for Campfire Cooking
When you are cooking all your foods over an open flame a few items will help you a lot in the process. First of all, you will need to have a grate to place over the fire to cook food on. A lot of camp grounds will have them built into their fire pits, but not all of them, so check before you go. If they donít have one, you can purchase one made specifically for fire pits for about $30 (or you can bring the rack out of your oven and four old coffee cans to hold it up). Youíll also need to make sure you bring grilling tools (long handled ones -- that fire gets hot!), a ladle, pot holders, matches, a large pot for boiling water, a heavy skillet, heavy duty aluminum foil and cooking spray.

If you have some time for prep work, try cooking some of your meats in advance and freezing them, allowing them to keep longer (and help keep other food cold). Also, fill empty milk cartons with water and freeze them as a great substitute for purchasing ice on the road (it also helps prevent the mess from melting water).

As I said, unless you have a stove, pancakes are absolutely out. If youíre going for a fast meal, instant oatmeal is great because all youíve got to do is get that water boiling and you can use it for your instant coffee too (and hot cocoa for the kids). Whenever you are boiling water for a meal, make sure that the pot of water is the first thing you put on the fire as it will take a little while to boil. After itís boiling, you can just move it to the side, and use a ladle to pull out the water as you need it. As long as you keep it near the fire, it will stay warm. In fact, use the same pot of water for the hole weekend, just keep it in the fire pit and reheat it when it gets close to meal time.

If you have a little more time for breakfast, eggs are a great because they will cook pretty fast in a skillet over the flame, or you can make a zip-lock omelet. Just place whipped eggs, shredded cheese, precooked bacon or sausage, and chopped veggies into a plastic baggy, drop it in boiling water for 5-10 minutes and serve right out of the bag (remember to leave some room in the bag for the food to expand). It is quick and easy, and you donít have a lot of dishes to clean up (just make sure you use a separate pot from the water youíre using in your cooking).

If youíre up for the leisured meal, you can bake coffee cake or biscuits in a cast-iron dutch oven by placing it right in the fire (really, bury it underneath the wood or coals). Make sure to spray the pan with cooking spray first so it doesnít stick too much, and I like to put a layer of foil in between the lid and the pan so you donít get ashes in the food. Dutch ovens are great for desserts as well, cakes and tarts cook up great.

If you just want something fast, then cereal, granola, or protein bars can make for a quick and simple breakfast. This is not the heartiest of meals though, so make sure to bring something else with you too.

I donít always want to cook my lunches, since Iím usually busy midday with other activities. Tuna fish is great for this (make sure you have a can opener), and you can get ketchup, mustard, mayo & relish packets that will stay for an extended period. Add a few slices of bread and you have a quick sandwich. You can also use the bread for other sandwiches, but just remember than sliced deli meat wonít stay good for long. Fruits and veggies will usually keep for at least a few days and make a great addition to lunch. Bring a tomato, lettuce, and a few pork rinds and you can have a makeshift BLT.

For a hot meal, soups are great because you can just heat them up right in the can (make sure to open the top to vent steam). Cups of dried noodles, and noodle packets are also good for this. Hot dogs and hamburgers are a great favorite for camping because they are easy to cook right on the grate and you can freeze them to last longer. You can also cook your hot dogs using a long fork or campfire skewer right in the open flame. You can always make a makeshift skewer out of a stick fallen from a nearby tree, just cover the end in tin foil. This can double as a marshmallow stick for símores later on.

Perhaps one of my favorite campfire meals is foil or "hobo" dinners. Make packets out of tin foil and spray the inside with cooking spray. Inside place your favorite precooked meats, chopped veggies, shredded cheese and sauces (I like cream of mushroom soup), then fold it up tight. Throw it directly in the fire for 5-10 minutes till everythingís heated up and the veggies are lightly steamed. Itís just like making stir-fry, but with about half the work. If youíd like rice to go with, get instant rice and use chicken broth instead of water for extra flavor.

Tacos or burritos are another quick and great campfire meal. Precooked and seasoned ground beef can be heated up quickly in a skillet. Refried beans can be heated up right over the fire and still in the can (just make sure to cut the top off and stir carefully from time to time). Then just add your taco shells or tortillas, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese.

If you are planning a long camping trip camping stores sell Ďastronaut foodí that is sealed and meant to last for a long time. Most of these freeze-dried meals just need hot water added to them - sometimes they also need flavor added, so be sure to bring a few extra seasonings (Hot sauce, anyone?).

Planning Meals
Remember to pack enough food for everyone to get you through the trip. If you are heading out on Friday evening and coming back Sunday night, youíll need two dinners (Friday and Saturday), Two Breakfasts (Saturday and Sunday), and two or three lunches (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).
Here are a few more tips to remember:
Pack extra snacks (one to two per day) if three meals in a day wonít be enough.
It is always better to bring more food than you need than to bring too little.
Plan the meals at the beginning of the trip to include the foods that will spoil faster. And the meals at the end of the trip to be foods that donít spoil or are frozen.

Happy camping!

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Butterfield Ranch Resort is an RV Campground in Anza Borrego Desert, CA.
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