Learning to cook in the wild takes a little trial by fire—and plenty of advance prep. But the Local Palate tells you everything you need to know about camping recipes to make you feel like a gourmand in the woods.
I didn’t grow up camping, let alone preparing camping food. My family’s version of “outdoorsy” was a cabin on the lake. Plenty of time around a bonfire or out on the water, but the closest we came to roughing it was not having air conditioning—which, in Northern Michigan, isn’t exactly a hardship.
My husband Connor, however, has a long family history of camping, be it in a tent or a camper. My father-in-law, Randy, is one of five kids and when he was growing up, family vacations meant piling into a tent for an affordable excursion away from home. Connor was in Boy Scouts for years, and he and Randy still reminisce frequently about their trip to Northern Tier. This was a ten day canoeing trip through the wilderness and boundary waters of Minnesota and Ontario.
No one wants to be the princess who’s afraid to get their hands dirty. However, to fit in with this new side of my family, I needed to embrace outdoor adventure.
I was the catalyst for my and Connor’s first camping trip together. We bought a small tent but it sat in the closet of our apartment for over a year. Finally, determined to prove I could handle the outdoors, I bought as much gear as I could get my hands on—a pair of blankets, inflatable pillows, LifeStraws, a first aid kit. I scoured blogs for the best suggestions and recommendations, and read every Wirecutter article on camping-related equipment. I was determined to be prepared.
Yet, I hardly thought about the one thing that would connect me with the outdoors more than anything else: the camping food. I had a small mess kit, a camp stove, and my trusty cast-iron pan (a Christmas gift from Randy years prior, in fact). But I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to what I’d be cooking in the woods—I just wanted to get out there to prove that I could, both to my admittedly hesitant husband and to myself.
Last year, I found a last-minute campsite at a state park near Columbia, South Carolina, for Memorial Day weekend and spent two days unpacking and repacking the large plastic totes holding our gear, running through list after list of everything we could possibly need. It turned out to be one of the hottest Memorial Day weekends on record. Thankfully our campsite had a potable water spigot because otherwise, we may have keeled over from dehydration.
Our dog, Tyrion, must have thought we were trying to kill him as we trudged on miles long hikes, dipping our instant-cool neck gaiters in the river we trudged along, wrapping them around his head to keep him from overheating. The cooler’s ice melted almost immediately, leaving my nicely prepped breakfast burritos completely waterlogged. Tyrion slipped out of his leash in the pitch-black darkness that night and after a few frantic minutes, we found him eating our campsite neighbor’s discarded taco filling. We had a two-person tent for us and the hundred-pound dog when it was nearly 90 degrees in the middle of the night.
But I loved it.
Even though we were only eating hot dogs, cans of baked beans, and premade peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, I was filled with inspiration for prepping and eating meals made for the outdoors.
Connor poked fun at me for the impracticality of wanting to cook everything over fire. (“No one starts a campfire just to make breakfast,” he argued.) But to me, there’s something deeply alluring about cooking that way. After my soggy breakfast burritos, burnt skillet cinnamon rolls, and a lackluster foil-packet dinner, I was determined to translate the kinds of food I made at home into camp-friendly versions that brought out the best of the surroundings. I swore to take my food prep game to a new level.
Shakshuka, a North African dish of stewed tomatoes and eggs, was the first successful adaptation I managed. By chopping vegetables and mixing single-serve spice blends ahead of time, it was an easy and foolproof dish to make on a camp stove or over open fire.
Lunch has always been the hardest, as we usually want something portable to take on a hike without the added weight of ice packs. I started with an on-the-go charcuterie spread of sliced salami and hard cheese paired with a homemade trail mix. This combo eventually evolved into hand pies, the transportable lunch popular among Appalachian coal miners. My tomato pie iteration, in particular, has become a Southern-inspired hit.
Most of what I’ve learned from my camping adventures thus far has come by way of doing things exactly wrong the first time, but I’ve picked up a few lessons along the way. Prepare everything you possibly can ahead of time (that means chopping veggies, portioning spices, making sauces and side dishes— whatever will make your life slightly easier out in the wilderness); bring or gather double the amount of firewood you think you’ll need; invest in a high-quality cooler; and don’t be afraid to just get out there. There’s very little that can’t be solved around a campfire with loved ones—maybe with a s’more in hand.
Sophisticated Camping Recipes to Follow
These snack bites are easy to throw together ahead of time and make a great alternative to prepackaged protein bars. It’s easy to adjust to your liking as well—fold in cranberries, coarsely chopped nuts, or mini chocolate chips in place of the dried cherries; use a different nut butter or swap in coconut oil; try maple syrup instead of honey.
If there’s one quintessential camp food, it’s trail mix. The blend of salty, sweet, crunchy, and chewy is endlessly customizable when you make it yourself. The key is to get an appropriate balance of protein, carbs, and sugar while also putting together flavors you enjoy eating. A good rule of thumb is a 1:2:4 ratio—one part sweet treats, such as M&Ms, to two parts dried fruit, to four parts salty, crunchy pieces like roasted, salted nuts. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can easily jazz it up with other add-ins.
What could be better than summery vegetables and flaky pie crust? Making it portable! Hand pies are an easy way to bring fresh-baked flavor to your hike. This version of tomato pie is tangy, cheesy, and hearty enough to keep you fueled. It’s also a great way to use up overripe tomatoes that are past their salad-worthy prime.
This is an easy make-ahead option: Dressing the kale leaves and letting them sit overnight helps soften up the leaves. Once fireside, just add the remaining ingredients for a quick, healthy starter.
This version of a hash is sure to become a regular in your grilling routine. A great way to use a skillet, it combines bell peppers, onions and paprika for some flavorful potatoes. Crack a few eggs on top, and you’re ready to go. While intended for outdoor grilling and cooking, you can easily adapt this breakfast hash recipe for the stove to enjoy any season, indoors or out.
This is one of the first “gourmet” camping recipes I successfully made and it’s become part of our regular rotation. By chopping peppers and combining seasonings in advance, it’s as easy as pouring everything into the pot at the proper times. We like it for a hearty breakfast, but it can work for any meal.
Tacos are one of the easiest camping meals, but this fire-roasted salsa verde takes things up a notch. The light char and tangy tomatillos bring the acid to complement a hearty steak, but it’s also great on chicken or fish.
I grew up fishing with my family, which meant more than a few fish dinners when we had a good day on the lake. As a kid, I was all about the fried fish, but now I can appreciate the perfectly crisp skin achieved with a cast-iron pan.
This is an easy way to jazz up simple corn on the cob with a make-ahead compound butter. Adjust the amount of adobo sauce to taste—we like it spicy!
Take the ultimate summer fruit to the next level with this sweet-spicy combination. The kick of quick-pickled jalapeños and chile-lime salt, balanced with the sweetness of a honey-lime dressing make this a perfect side dish for any grilled meats or lunchtime sandwiches. Add as little or as much of the cooling feta and mint as needed to adjust the spiciness to your liking.
This recipe is easily adapted to any fruit you like—for best results, look for what’s in season and just this side of over-ripe. Just be sure to adjust the amount of sugar to your liking based on how sweet the fruit is: A perfectly in-season peach, for example, may not need any sugar at all. An outdoor grill is the perfect set up for an easy cleanup desert.
We all know how to make a s’more—the ooey-gooey treat is fundamental to any childhood, and those three simple ingredients can bring back all sorts of nostalgic memories. But there’s a world full of variations out there ready to be explored! Love Reese’s peanut butter cups? Put them on a s’more. Girl Scout cookies? Swap the graham crackers and you’re ready to go. Ever tried toasting a gourmet, handmade marshmallow? If not, I’d argue you haven’t truly lived.
This non-recipe recipe compels you to break out of the Hershey’s and Jet-Puff mindset. The sky’s the limit—especially when it comes to double- and triple-stacking. My go-to? Ghirardelli raspberry-filled dark chocolate squares.
Blackberry Gin Smash
A smash is a great way to use up extra ingredients you may have on hand—a few leftover blackberries from the cobbler, lemons from the stuffed whole fish, and mint from the watermelon salad make for a light, refreshing cocktail when mixed with gin and soda. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
- by Erin Byers Murray