Campsite cooking: How to set up your dream camping kitchen
Life under canvas doesn’t have to mean a diet of greasy fry-ups, tinned stews and packet curries. Here’s how to set up your dream camping kitchen.
Words and pictures by Iain Duff
- Cooking outdoors
- Your kitchen set-up
- Essential kitchen kit
- Camping larder staples
- Cooking on the campsite
- Choosing a cooker
- Health and safety
- About our magazine
Cooking outdoors is a major part of family camping holidays. Instead of the usual hectic supermarket sweep and microwave meals, the slower pace of life on holiday encourages us to seek out real food and cook it with care.
With the right set-up, a few essential items packed into the camping box and a basic array of condiments, herbs and spices, you really can escape the horrors of ‘traditional’ camping fare like fry-ups and tinned meat.
The key to eating well under canvas is to leave the tins and packets at home and use what’s in season where you are.
Buying locally grown veg and produce from the village shop all helps support the local economy.
At the seaside, look out for fresh mackerel and sardines – which are just divine cooked simply on the barbecue or over the campfire’s dying embers.
Inland, try to find authentic local sausages and pork chops from happy outdoor-reared pigs.
Traditional family butchers are usually the best places to visit and, while you’re at it, why not splash out on a couple of pieces of steak, but don’t break the bank with fillet or ribeye, go for the cheaper cuts like sirloin or rump, they’ll taste just as good – if not better – cooked on the barbie.
Your kitchen set-up
A camping kitchen can be as simple or fancy as you want it. The most important thing is that your camping larder is wildlife-proof but still handy to access.
Loose food attracts unwelcome visitors, so keep it secure. Plastic or metal food storage boxes are practical and durable as opposed to cardboard packaging, which is easy to get into.
For a short overnight or weekend stop, you don't need much in terms of storage.
All your food and cooking kit can be kept in plastic containers and anything that needs to be chilled can go into a coolbox.
But on longer stays, where your tent is pitched for a week or two, you can really go to town.
You can create a set-up using kitchen units that gives you plenty of work surfaces and storage space for food and cooking equipment. Some even have basins that you can use to prepare food or even do the washing up.
Dining can be done inside or outside, depending on the weather. Tents with large front canopies give you the option to dine outdoors but under cover.
There are dozens of options in lightweight folding tables and chairs for camping so try a variety out for size and convenience before buying.
If you’ve ever seen four adults trying to eat a meal off a small table then you’ll appreciate the value of a larger table or perhaps two smaller ones.
For keeping food and drink fresh there are a number of options available, ranging from basic coolbags, passive and electric coolboxes to electric/gas fridges. Our guide here explains them all so you can decide what is the best option for you.
Consider lightweight unbreakable crockery and tableware rather than packing the family china and silverware. Again, the options seem infinite and it’s really a matter of budget and personal preference.
Water is a key element in cooking but a huge jerrycan is heavy to lug about when full so smaller water carriers with a tap are handier; it also means that youngsters can take on the responsibility of keeping the water on tap.
A decent-sized chopping board and a sharp knife is something to remember if you like campsite cooking – it’s so easy to overlook them as are so many items that are always to hand at home so a checklist is useful.
Essential kitchen kit
- Coolbox or camping fridge
- A decent non-stick frying pan
- Two saucepans with lids
- A large stock pot
- Chopping board, spoons and spatulas
- A set of sharp knives (big, medium and small)
- A grater
- Pestle and mortar (for grinding seeds and spices)
- A camping kettle (water boils quicker in a kettle – saves gas!)
- A set of plastic boxes (handy for storing chopped and grated ingredients)
- Kitchen roll
Camping larder staples
- Olive oil and sunflower oil
- Dry pasta
- Box of flaked sea salt
- Black pepper mill (and plenty of peppercorns)
- Cumin, coriander and fennel seeds (whole is best, but ground is fine)
- Dried chillies
- Fresh herbs: garlic, rosemary, thyme, coriander, basil, bay leaves
- A bottle of hot sauce
Cooking on the campsite
For convenience, you cannot beat cooking on gas – butane, propane or a mix of the two – but if you have hook-up, an electric stove is a clean and safe alternative. A double-burner stove is best as it allows you to have two pans on the go at once – and in the morning means you can boil the kettle for a brew as you fry the bacon.
Cooking inside the tent is not recommended – not only is there the risk of fire but carbon monoxide poisoning is also a real danger. If weather allows it, cook outdoors or in the front porch area of your tent. If you feel you really need to cook in the tent, make sure it’s as well ventilated as possible. you're set up well away from the tent walls and that children are kept out of the way.
The novelty of crouching on the ground to cook a meal for four people soon wears off for most camping chefs and a stove stand, possibly with some shelves and worktop space, transforms the camp cooking experience.
A windshield is also a very useful addition to the set-up.
Though pots and pans from home will do for your first camping trips, pulling together a dedicated camp kitchen kit makes packing and travelling much easier.
Choosing a cooker
When you are choosing a stove, the biggest factor you need to consider when making your decision is the type of camping you plan to do and how much cooking it will involve.
If you are hiking or cycling, for example, you’ll be carrying your stove – and fuel – on your back, so it will need to be lightweight and compact.
If you’re travelling by vehicle you will obviously be able to take a bigger cooker and a heavier gas bottle.
Simple, compact and relatively lightweight, single-burner camping cookers are inexpensive, costing as little as £10, and can be found in all camping shops and many supermarkets. They come in their own carry case and run on gas cartridges, which easily clip into place and can be replaced in seconds.
For one-pot cooking and brews, they are absolutely fine. They’re rather limiting for anything too ambitious, but for frying bacon or sausages or heating up a tin of beans they are really all you need.
If buying one of these gas cookers online, make sure it is from a trustworthy source, as there have been examples of cheap, sub-standard models bought from overseas that have exploded, causing serious injuries.
With a double-burner gas cooker and the right pots, you can tackle almost any meal that you would cook at home.
Some double-ring cookers sit on a tabletop or a specialist kitchen unit. You’ll find more information about buying camping furniture at outandaboutlive.co.uk.
More advanced camping cookers come with their own foldable legs and built-in windshields. A grill option means you don’t need to fry everything and makes toasting bread much easier than relying on burner-top camp toasters.
Double-burner cookers use the larger gas bottles and you will need a suitable hose and regulator to control the gas pressure.
Lightweight camping cookers
For solo campers, lightweight stoves are the way to go. These are light and compact and basically screw directly into the gas bottle.
They can be quite unstable on rugged ground but are ideal for adventure camping. Cooking ‘systems’ where the pot is integrated with the cooker, have become really popular in recent years.
As mentioned previously, cooking inside your tent on a gas stove is not recommended. due to the double risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Unfortunately, the great British weather means cooking outdoors is not always desirable or even possible – so an electric stove could be the answer.
Electric camping cookers are less common than gas and obviously it relies on you having access to an electric hook-up on the campsite. But they are safer than gas, especially if you have young children in the tent.
Remember that induction hobs require pans that contain iron to work so make sure your cook set is compatible if that’s what you go for.
For more information about gas camping cookers and how to use them click here
Health and safety
Finally, keep your pitch clean, tidy and healthy by cleaning pots, pans, crocks, cutlery, stove and table thoroughly.
Clear up rubbish and leftovers and put it the campsite bins rather than a plastic bag by your tent - it's one area where being obsessive pays dividends.
Gas camping stoves come in all sorts of different styles and sizes, all with different benefits depending on the type of trip you’re planning.
Read our reviews of the latest camping stoves and find out what's best foryou.
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