Camping meals can be just as good as a homemade weekend breakfast or brunch. The right appliances and cooking implements give you almost as much flexibility at the campsite as you enjoy at home. If you have limited experience with camping or cooking outdoors, you may want to start small. Learning how to operate a camping stove, light a BBQ or build a fire safely is essential to ensure that everyone remains safe until the meal is finished. With practice, you can decide which approach you prefer, and which foods work best with each tool.
Campers who start their search early can find dozens of recipes for all sorts of breakfast meals, from French toast to savoury scrambled eggs. You should keep in mind that cooking while camping usually takes longer, so you need to start the preparation earlier. Otherwise, the sky is the limit if you have an open mind, a few skills, and these handy tips.
'Fried' and tested
With the right tools and preparation, you can make almost anything at a campsite that you can cook at home.
There are several different approaches to heating or cooking food, from the basic campfire (campsite rules permitting) to a combination grill and stove. Cooking or baking while camping can take more time and effort to get ready. You should research your choices to determine which one works best for you.
The camp fire
Cooking over a campfire can be one of the easiest and least expensive ways to eat while camping. All you need to make a tasty breakfast is a fire and some skewers. To add more variety, you could wrap meals you would ordinarily bake in a foil packet. These can be placed into the fire for practical cooking. You should check that fires are permitted, that you light it in a safe place and can keep young children from getting too close while you cook.
To cook over a campfire or charcoal BBQ, you need to create the right conditions.
Roaring flames are a less efficient source of heat. High flames may burn one side of the food while the other remains cold and uncooked. Instead, you should light the fire or BBQ and give it at least 30-45 minutes to burn down. Planning is key. Once the fire is still going well but has lots of hot glowing coals, you can place your food near the coals. Sausages on a skewer should be held close to the coals and regularly turned until cooked. Meals wrapped in foil can go near the coals and may take as much as 30-40 minutes to cook.
The cast iron
Cast iron pans and Dutch ovens are increasing in popularity for use in the home. This means that you may not have to buy these exclusively for camping use. Here are our suggestions for cast iron tools for campsite cooking:
- 8-10 inch cast iron pan
- Dutch oven with fire-safe lid, with optional stand
- cast iron grill grate
- cast iron skillet
- cast iron tripod to hang over the fire
Properly-seasoned cast iron cookware is relatively easy to clean, which is a benefit while camping with limited access to washing facilities. Cast iron takes longer to heat up than a pan made of steel or aluminium. This means that you need to give extra time for a consistent cooking surface. With plenty of time, you can fry bacon, make pancakes, warm tortillas, cook scrambled eggs or even bake a cake.
These tools offer the greatest variety for campers who enjoy all the comforts of breakfast at home.
The portable stove vs portable grill
Many campers like to bring a portable stove, grill or hotplate to do most of their cooking.
These appliances are usually quicker to set up than a fire or charcoal BBQ and offer a higher degree of flexibility, particularly in places where campfires are not allowed. The difference between the products is relatively simple to understand. A portable stove has a heating element that burns fuel, such as propane, that directly heats a pot, pan, or kettle. A portable grill or hotplate usually uses gas to generate heat under the grill plate. This style is ideal for grilling meats and vegetables.
You may want to research several different options before you choose a stove or grill.
There are combination models that feature a grill-plate and room to put a pot or pan over direct heat. You should determine which kinds of cooking you are most likely to do as you browse the options available. Many combo stoves and grills give very little space to each side, which could make cooking for a larger family more difficult. Combo options can be quite compact, which could make them ideal for families with limited space in their vehicles.
Once you have the right tools and understand what to expect on the campsite, you can get ready for some great morning meals.
Our number one tip is to plan the menu in advance and create a checklist to follow when packing and preparing the food. It can be difficult to source missing ingredients or shop for more when stores are many miles away. You should choose dishes that are easy to pack, which will fit in your vehicle.
It is easy to cook, and there is no worry if the bread does not toast all the way through. You can buy toasting racks that they place directly on a grill grate, camp stove or hold over the fire. A little oil in a cast iron pan makes preparing toast or French toast for breakfast quick and simple. You can warm pre-cooked tortillas or cook them in a cast-iron pan, as well. This adds some pleasant variety for when campers want a breakfast burrito or even huevos rancheros.
Bacon & sausages
Many campers like adding them to dishes for any meal because they cook quickly and are family-friendly. To cook sausage on a skewer, you simply need to stick the sausages on the skewer and keep it near the coals until it is nicely browned on all sides. Cooking bacon is also easy on a skewer. You can fold the bacon back and forth on the skewer in a ruffle pattern. This will keep the bacon from falling off as it cooks. Otherwise, you may use a grill grate, portable grill, cast iron pan, or Dutch oven.
Pancakes require a flat surface, usually a griddle plate or pan. You can make preparation easy by mixing the dry ingredients before you leave home. Mixing the batter too far in advance, like the day before, may cause the pancakes not to rise adequately. The griddle or pan needs plenty of time to reach a consistent temperature. This will allow the pancakes to cook evenly without scorching on one side before the other is done.
Porridge takes longer to prepare. You just need to boil water and pour in your favourite oats. With about 10 minutes to simmer, the oats will be soft and easy to eat. Adding nuts, brown sugar or dried fruit gives extra flavour without extra work. For a faster meal, you might want to mix the oats, other ingredients, and water to soften overnight. This makes a quick breakfast that needs no heat.
Eggs & omelettes
You can cook scrambled eggs or omelette in a cast iron pan or Dutch oven much as you would at home. If you’re looking for something a little different, you can mix the eggs and other ingredients in a plastic bag with an airtight seal. Dropping this bag into a pot of boiling water cooks the eggs through in a few minutes. The benefit of this approach is that a larger pot can cook several bags at the same time, and it minimises on washing up!
The difference is that home coffeemakers make clean-up a little easier. You can make coffee so long as you have ground coffee beans, a pot, and steaming hot water. Coffee needs a few minutes to steep into the water. If you want to avoid chewing on grounds as you drink, you may want to pour the coffee through a filter into a heat-safe mug. You could also use a percolator on a grill grate, which will heat the water and brew the coffee more slowly.
Any experienced camper will probably suggest doing as much food prep as possible before leaving home.
Cooking at the campsite is not quite the same as cooking at home. When using a fire or open heating element, you have to pay close attention to it to keep family members safe and know when it is ready for cooking. As such, many campers like to have food items that they only need to reheat or that do not need any heat at all.
Assuming you can keep cooked foods cold until they are ready to eat, you may want to bring the following pre-cooked items that reheat well:
- bacon or sausage
- pancakes or French toast
- overnight oatmeal
- quesadillas with pre-cooked eggs, meat, and veg
These dishes still need adequate heat for up to 30 minutes or more, depending on the food item.
You may want to limit the number of foods you eat at each meal. Cooking bacon or sausages? Bring muffins and fruit from home to complement. If you have access to a cooler, you can make breakfast sandwiches. Boiled eggs add protein without the need to cook them before serving.
Written by Steph Young - campingcooks.com
Steph is an avid camper and hiker, she loves nothing more than laying under the stars, huddling around the fire with friends and family, and most importantly, serving up campfire feasts.
You can read this article and many more in our Destinations Magazine - 7th EditionI