Easy prep-ahead recipes for camping
May 16, 2016 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Please suggest recipes for car-camping meals that I can prepare before leaving home. I don't want to chop or grate at the campsite, but I don't mind assembling. I am happy to cook over a fire and/or on a camp stove, but no charcoal grill.

I am finally going camping! Actually, I've been on a few group camping trips, and now I'm going on my own (with my husband) for the first time. I want to prep most of our dinners ahead of time -- what can you suggest? I know about foil dinners and onion bombs. What else should I eat? It turns out I have a real talent for starting fires (in approved fire rings only, of course) and I have a 2 burner camp stove. But I don't want to chop, grate, mix or otherwise prep while camping. What can I easily make without a lot of on-site effort?
posted by OrangeDisk to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Baked beans. Measure out everything beforehand, and leave a heavy cast iron pot nestled in the embers for long enough to cook nicely.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:15 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

An easy dinner is tacos - get the bags of lettuce, shredded cheese. ground beef is pretty easy to cook on a stove, just wipe it down 'camping clean' with paper towels. Boiled eggs is a quick 'n easy breakfast.
posted by H. Roark at 7:18 PM on May 16, 2016

Kebabs. Slice and marinate chunks of veggies and meats at home. Put in plasticware in the cooler, then assemble onto skewers at the campsite and grill.
posted by Miko at 7:32 PM on May 16, 2016

For a first-night meal we love to do steaks over the fire, and we bring a bag of chopped romaine with a container of caesar dressing and little baggies of parmesan and croutons. The bowl we toss the salad in is the bowl we use to wash dishes.

I love to mix up pre-whisked eggs and pre-chopped mix-ins for a big scramble, served in tortillas (warmed over the fire on a sheet of foil). I portion a breakfasts' worth into a ziploc bag ahead of time. You can bring some pre-grated cheese to add in, and you can fry up some crumbled sausage or chopped bacon (which you'd prepare at home ahead of time) before throwing in the eggs.

Sometimes we do oatmeal for breakfast instead, with a little container of nuts and dried fruit to mix in.

One of our weird camping things that we never do at home is mixing coffee with an envelope of hot cocoa mix. It's like a little mocha, and it's easier than bringing Mr. padraigin's beloved half and half (I normally take mine black but I like to be extra fancy when I'm camping).

When I was a kid we would eat crazy things on car camping trips like chili and spaghetti, which my mom and aunt would have made beforehand and then they'd just heat it up in big pots on the stove or fire, but to me, that's a little too close to being at home. However, a steak and salad and maybe some potatoes roasted in foil in the fire is juuuust on the line of glamping for me.
posted by padraigin at 7:34 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I freeze individually wrapped burger patties and cans of PBR and keep them in their own cooler. Defrost that evening's in the early afternoon, you can go 3 days like that.

Otherwise I usually eat PB sandwiches, salami, cheese and pre-boiled eggs which I've kept at "room temp"/in the shade for 5 days no problem. Take a bunch of mayo packets from the Popeye's at the rest stop on the way and you're golden.
posted by STFUDonnie at 7:35 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

How long are you going for?

A nice filling meal is to cook some rice and then mix in a can of stew over the stove. As both the rice and canned stew are non-perishable you can eat this after all the perishable stuff has been eaten.

Instant ramen/pot noodles + kimchee + egg is an easy way to turn a snack into a meal.

Camping food is surprisingly palatable as well. There is a lot of variety too. For the most part all you need to do is boil water and pour it into a bag to let it all rehydrate and cook.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:37 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Precook omelette-friendly ingredients (keep it simple - ground sausage and cheddar, or canned/frozen chili and cheddar, or diced chicken, well-squeezed frozen spinach, and grated Asiago) and freeze mixed with eggs (or bring a carton of liquid eggs), plus boil and quarter new potatoes to about 90% done and freeze, and make a Skillet Scramble on the fire. Tip; you can use a big cake pan for this, it's lighter than a big skillet.

There are many kofta (aka kofte, kifte(h), koobideh) recipes out there, make them and form them into flat-ish logs to freeze. Instead of skewers, take a tight-grid cooking rack for a grill and just heat it and oil it with a paper towel before you put your kofta down. Cleans easy with a green scrub pad. Pack pita bread, new potatoes/rice and brussels sprouts (the tiny ones, if you can find them) to roast, hummus, a cucumber, and make a batch of tzaziki.

Make a veg-heavy tomato sauce, like an eggplant + spinach bolognese. Amazing tip: soak pasta in hot or at least warm water for 20ish minutes (I always pack in a large plastic mixing bowl, originally sold at Halloween to hold candy, for this kind of thing, but for camping you might also do this in a gallon ziploc), it will finish cooking in a skillet or pan in the sauce in about 10 minutes, and still have some toothiness. This also works with most gluten-free or carb-alt pastas, but you should test a little at home.

The soaking trick also works for making a really nice pot of chicken noodle soup or similar, if you're expecting a chilly night.

1-2 big cans baked beans + 1-2 lbs diced browned kielbasa or smoked sausage or chicken-y sausage etc: fancy beanie-weenie!

Cooked rice freezes great. You can make a stir-fry to do over rice, or use it instead of potatoes in stew and soup. In a pinch, shelf-stable cooked rice would do. Instant mashed potatoes were my mother's secret weapon on our family camping trips (which is where I learned that instant mashed potatoes beside scrambled eggs is a fine, fine breakfast).

Vegetables that taste good raw or mostly raw are your friends. Potatoes can drag a cook-time out for 2 hours if you're not careful, but brussels sprouts or haricots vert/sweet peas or chopped broccoli/cauliflower or kale/chard only need a bit of heat on them to taste nice. (Onion bombs are okay, but mushroom bombs are better, if you like mushrooms.) On the same note, skew to shallots or scallions rather than onions, mince or slice your garlic, julienne your carrots and sweet peppers.

You can do fish if you have a cooler and eat it on the first night. You can prep an aluminum cake pan with a layer of melted butter on the bottom, set your aromatics into that, roll your fillets in it, settle them down as flat as possible, and then freeze. You can serve it over rice to soak up the butter sauce, plus brussels sprouts done in a pan or over your baking grid.

For desserts, you can generally mix up the dry ingredients for most "mug cakes" (meant for the microwave) and make "pan-cakes" in a nonstick skillet. Mix your mixes in ziplocs and write how much liquid it needs on it. You can also just make pancakes, or a Dutch Baby in a skillet over a hot fire.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:47 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you're willing to go to some trouble before the trip -- here's a CBC story about a guy who makes and dehydrates a mixed veg curry for camping purposes, complete with recipe.

I went camping with my daughter's Girl Guides troop a couple of years ago and volunteered to make the mac and cheese; the "recipe" for this involved boiling the macaroni in a very tiny amount of water over the fire in a dutch oven, stirring frequently until I was nearly out of water, and then dumping in loads of grated cheddar. The little bit of super-starchy pasta water made it saucy. I expected it to be sort of humdrum but it was really, really good, and a great way to get mac and cheese without having to futz with more than two ingredients.
posted by kmennie at 7:48 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also a thing you can do: make-ahead DIY instant noodles, and add grilled meat and boiled egg wedges when you serve. This might be good for lunches, too.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:51 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Frozen steaks will help keep your cooler cold for the first day or two (depending on your cooler) and then are great cooked over an open fire (actually coals not fire).

My favourite camping breakfast is eggs cooked in oranges.
  1. Cut medium size, thick skinned, navel orange in half.
  2. Fill one half of orange with an egg or two.
  3. Top with shredded cheese (from a bag).
  4. Wrap with two layers of foil and place on medium coals for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat, unwrap and eat with spoon.
My sister swears by make ahead omelettes cooked in a bag.
posted by Mitheral at 8:13 PM on May 16, 2016

Adding to the taco idea, I use a recipe for steak tacos where you combine 50/50 apple vinegar and soy sauce in a mason jar with a bit of pepper and garlic to marinate strips of steak (skirt steak cut into bits works). The steak is a bit more manageable than ground beef and is delicious.

My husband and I also do various foods in pie irons (pizza, hot sandwiches, pie, etc.), none of which requires cutting.
posted by toomanycurls at 8:52 PM on May 16, 2016

I love when we have meatball subs. Easy to freeze, only one pot.
I love snack-y suppers. Here's one camping fav. Bring a couple ripe avocados, a clove or 2 of garlic, tiny bottle of olive oil (which comes in awfully handy) and a bag of pita chips. Smush up avocado, chop garlic and put on top, drizzle with oil and add salt and pepper.
posted by ReluctantViking at 4:33 AM on May 17, 2016

I was doing similar research recently for similar reasons, and found this entire web site devoted to camping food of various types.

My campsite companion is a vegetarian, but I've still found things I can make - I'm definitely bringing the makings of this coconut lentil stew.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:49 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

My suggestion is to take a rack/grate and old cast iron frying pan and a thick oven mitt, to use for campfire cooking. Get a nice bed of coals, put your rack and pan on top, and whatever you put in that pan to cook will be delicious. My favourite is just fried chunks of meat and veggies (cut up at home). Sausages, pepperoni, chicken, or beef... potatoes, peppers, onions, mushrooms. Yum. I'm envious, have fun!!
posted by fourpotatoes at 5:54 AM on May 17, 2016

fourpotatoes: "a thick oven mitt, to use for campfire cooking."

Better is a cheap, long cuff welding glove. Cheap because the leather is thicker on cheap gloves. You can even use the gloves to adjust your burning firewood.
posted by Mitheral at 6:55 AM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Burritos are amazing for this (Breakfast or dinner)

Just cook everything before hand, whatever you like, shove it in a tortilla. Wrap the tortilla in foil and then easily reheat on a grill.

Other camping dinners I love are Chili. I usually make a big batch earlier in the week, freeze it and then bring it with me frozen. By the time we're ready to heat it up in a pot, it's de-frosted but has been keeping everything else in the cooler cold. Shove some potatoes in the fire (Wrapped very well in foil) and leave them to cook for an hour or two and then have delicious Chili over a smoky baked potato! Delicious!
posted by JenThePro at 7:25 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

This recipe has been a big hit on river and camping trips. I make the pork ahead of time and freeze it. Then I just heat up the pork mix on a pot on the camp stove and warm up some burritos and let folks assemble them to their own liking.
posted by trbrts at 9:13 AM on May 17, 2016

At home: slice up a Niman spicy Italian sausage. One per person.

Pack, each in its own container: the sliced sausages. A lot of greens, whatever you like (the boxed, washed stuff). Sauerkraut. Some cooking oil of your choice.

At the campsite, ideally on the stove but whatever, it's cooking, it's up to you: Heat the oil. Dump in the sausage. When it seems appropriate, dump in all the greens. Serve with sauerkraut.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:14 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Beanie weenies. Heat some baked beans with hot dogs. Serve with brown bread and cream cheese.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:17 PM on May 17, 2016

Walking Chili (AKA Walking Tacos). Chili that you make at home, reheat, and serve with cheese in a Fritos bag, on top of the tacos (why are all my camping recipes so trashy?).
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:21 PM on May 17, 2016

My answer from way back in 2005:

Hard boiled eggs with intact shells keep for ages. Boil, air-cool or crash-cool under cold water, pop them back in the carton and off you go. Great for salads, sandwiches (do you make curried egg sandwiches in the US?), munching with some salt and pepper, or dunking into dukkah.

Cereal in a sealed plastic container with full-cream UHT milk requires no refrigeration. Get a cereal you don't normally eat (Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Cornflakes are my weakness) and add sliced bananas to make a breakfast treat. If you get cereal in individual boxes can pour the milk straight into the bag. Saves on washing up, but be sure to take your trash with you!

Speaking of bananas, you can dunk them into a bag containing a mixture of crushed stuff - icing (confectioners) sugar, crushed M&Ms, crushed peanuts, Milo / Ovaltine / Quik - great for dessert and a hit with older kids. For the grownups, it's hard to beat a banana and brie sandwich.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:24 PM on May 17, 2016

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