Are you a competent camp cook, scout? You should be! If there’s one thing that Scouts BSA is known for, it’s encouraging young adults to explore the outdoors and try new outdoor activities. However, in order to keep up the energy to accomplish physically demanding feats, you’ll need three things: water, rest, and, most importantly, food!
PS. This article is based on the experiences and research of Eagle Scouts, Kevin A, and Cole 🙂
Chances are high that at some point in your Scouting journey, you’ll be taking on tons of outdoor adventures like hikes, canoe trips, intense sports, and more! From personal experience as an Eagle Scout, I’ve learned that many of these activities take place during camps. To keep your energy and morale high, you’re going to need some great camp food!
To truly master camp cooking, there’s a lot you’ll need to learn. Personally, I thought earning the Eagle-required Cooking merit badge helped me to learn some important fundamentals and really took my skills as a cook to the next level.
You can check out my ultimate guide to the Cooking merit badge here.
But what are the tools to the trade? How can you go from a collection of raw ingredients to a wonderful, fulfilling dinner by the fire? Well, look no further! In this article, I’m going to be going over some key cooking tips that you can key to create a great outdoor meal. Plus, I’ll even give 2 of my favorite recipes to make in A Camp Dutch Oven (Amazon Link), Scouting’s most useful cooking tool.
Now, without further ado, let’s start cookin’! 😉
Tip #1: Plan Your Meals Ahead of Time
Picking meals made up of the right ingredients is crucial when preparing food during a camp, miles away from civilization. After all, food spoilage is real! That’s why choosing your ingredients carefully and making a list is my first tip for successful camp cooking. Below are a few things to consider when planning your camp meals ahead of time.
Consideration #1: Refrigeration
When cooking during a camp, you’re probably not going to have access to reliable, long-term refrigeration. This means, foods that must be kept cold for long periods aren’t a great choice to bring when camping for multiple days. If you do want to bring perishable food, make sure to eat it ASAP.
When selecting ingredients to bring on your next campout, consider skipping the following foods (or eating them on the first night), as they tend to spoil quickly:
- Packaged foods from the frozen section
- Fresh poultry (chicken legs, breasts, thighs, etc)
- Fresh berries
- Fresh fish for sashimi
- Already cooked foods and leftovers
- Dairy (mainly milk and yogurt)
Even though you shouldn’t bring along easily perishable items, there still are still a ton of great ingredients you can bring! In fact, I’d highly encourage bringing certain items that require cooling, such as fruits, vegetables, and beef. You can put all of these ingredients into a cooler with several bags of ice, and then bring them along to your next camp.
The reason I don’t recommend bringing frozen foods, dairy, or poultry is that these foods can become dangerous (or just taste really bad) once the ice begins to thaw in 1-2 days. Keeping this in mind, it’s a better idea to bring foods that can withstand non-ideal refrigeration conditions!
In my own experience, some really great ingredients to bring along to scout campouts are:
–Canned Fruits (pineapples and peaches taste great when canned, and can be used in Dutch oven recipes!)
–Dried, uncooked pasta
–Fully cooked sausages
–Full cooked hot dogs
–Mayonnaise (Kept cool)
Consideration #2: Plan Meals Based On Your Location
Another important factor to consider is the location you’ll be preparing your meals. For example, the components required for a family camping trip will be very different from the food and utensils required for a cross-country backpacking trek. Before embarking on your trip, take into consideration how easily transportable and storable your ingredients and utensils will be.
If you’re going on an overnight backpacking trip: It’ll be a good idea to pack lightly and bring a personal mess kit/pan combo that’s easy to transport (I’d recommend the Gonex Nonstick Mess Kit on Amazon). For food, consider bringing some long-lasting fruits like apples or oranges. Non-canned non-perishables like dry pasta, dried beans, or rice are also lightweight and filling.
If you’re driving to the campsite and staying for an entire weekend: In this situation, you’ll more easily be able to pack heavy cooking utensils and foods that can be stored in ice chests. I’d suggest bringing some bigger pots and pans with several cutting boards and knives, as well as ice chests that have a good combination of meats, vegetables, and fruits.
Tip #2: Cook Easy Meals
When cooking outside, you probably won’t have access to equipment like blenders, toaster ovens, and microwaves. As a result, try and stick to simple meals that don’t require a lot of ingredients or cooking utensils. A campout is not the time to be experimenting with a lengthy recipe that involves a ton of moving parts!
Instead, try to cook reliable meals that can be made in a single pan or pot, with just a knife and cutting board. Stews, pastas, or even just seared meat, are all great examples of delicious meals that are hard to mess up. Just cut up your meat, vegetables, and starches on a cutting board and throw it all together in a pan or pot!
You don’t need to eat the same thing every time either. Just Google “easy one-pot camp recipes” for thousands of delicious dishes you can try out! PS: When making a simple dish, spices are your best friend. Below are my 5 favorite spices to use when cooking (they can save any dish!):
- Salt (duh)
- Black Pepper (Great in meats and sauces)
- Garlic Powder (More savory? Idk)
- Cumin (Earthy, great with eggs and meat)
- Cayenne Pepper (Adds spice)
Tip #3: Have a Healthy Combination of Fruits, Veggies, Grains, Protein, and (if you can) Dairy
Chances are, if you’re cooking outside, you’ll be doing some hard physical activity sometime soon! Whether that’ll be hiking long distances or helping to set up camp, you’ll be needing more energy than usual to help you get through your day. Scouts BSA recommends that you portion your meals according to the MyPlate food groups.
There are several reasons why you should have a varied meal, but what it really boils down to is that each of the food groups offers different vitamins and nutrients that your body needs. If you eat too much of one category, you’re losing out on the vitamins and nutrients from the other groups! 🙁
But, how can we prepare a healthy meal outside of the kitchen? Unfortunately, when camping, you probably won’t have access to as many vegetables, grains, proteins, and fruits, as you do at home, so you’ll need to get a little creative. One of my favorite of eating a balanced diet is what I call the Base-Protein-Side strategy:
The Protein-Base-Side Strategy
The Base-Protein-Side strategy is pretty simple to understand, and it really works when put into practice! First, I’ll let you in on a nutrition secret: You can create a well-rounded and nourishing meal by simply having a base (usually grain-based), a protein of some sort, and a side of fruit and/or vegetables. It’s that easy!
Let’s take a look at a few examples to see how this strategy can be used to make some nutritious camp meals:
- For breakfast: Take a tortilla (base), cook up some leftover meat from yesterday’s dinner (protein), and peel an orange to have on the side!
- For lunch: Take some bread (base), add some leftover meat from breakfast/dinner (protein), and have some celery and apples on the side.
- For dinner: You can make a stew with many vegetables and meats (protein and side). Serve it atop rice (base) and have some fruit (side) for dessert!
So, no more camp meals that are just one pack of cup noodles, alright? 😉 As you can see, by using the Base-Protein-Side strategy, it only takes a bit of thought to ensure that you have a well-rounded meal that’ll fill you with energy!
Tip #4: Properly Dispose of Trash and Cleaning Liquids
Remember, Leave No Trace! The Leave No Trace principles and Outdoor Code teach us to minimize our impact on the environment. This is especially important when considering the waste that we produce when cooking outside!
Food scraps, plastic packaging, and cardboard boxes are only a few of the byproducts of outdoor cooking. In this section, I’ll be briefly teaching you how to properly dispose of any cooking waste you may have. After all, a scout is clean!
When it comes to most types of trash, such as plastic packaging and metal cans, you’ll want to keep everything contained in a closed plastic bag or container. Especially if you’ll be camping for multiple nights, you want your trash to be well sealed and elevated so that it doesn’t attract animals.
It’s important to also remember that you shouldn’t be leaving any trash or scraps in the areas you were cooking. You’ll have to pack all of it out of the campsite. Keep some plastic trash bags or Ziplocs handy so that you’ll have an easier time transporting your trash.
You’ll naturally have some food scraps from your meals, which can be disposed of in a few ways. One way is to throw it in with the rest of the trash that you’ll be bringing with you. Another way is to compost it! Check with your local park ranger to see if there are designated areas that you can compost your food scraps.
Things like as paper towels, napkins, and paper plates can usually be burnt in your campfires so that you don’t need to carry them out. However, do this in a controlled way, as a sudden gust can blow your lit paper products into the forest and cause a fire!
To dispose of dishwater and garbage, according to the official BSA website, you should:
Strain dishwater through a small strainer or bandana. Put the food particles in a sealable plastic bag and pack them out. Spread the strained dishwater over a wide area at least 200 feet from the nearest water source, campsite, or trail. Scattering dishwater in a sunny area will cause the water to evaporate quickly, causing minimal impact.
Dispose of the strained food waste in a sealed trash bag. Throw this bag, along with any other garbage you may have, in a designated dumpster after you’ve arrived back from the camp.
Easy Dutch Oven Recipes
One of the greatest pieces of outdoor cooking equipment is, in my opinion, the Dutch oven. For those who don’t know what a Dutch oven is, it’s essentially a big cast iron pot that you lay on top of a heat source, such as a fire pit or a bed of hot coals. For a great refresher on how to use and care for a Dutch oven, check out the informative video (5:57) below.
A Dutch oven is an extremely versatile cooking item, and it can be used for almost anything. You can make stews, pizzas, and even dessert items such as cobblers! As I mentioned earlier, the Overmont Dutch Oven is a great option for camp cooking.
In this section, I’ll be going over two easy recipes that’ll give you a taste of the types of things you can make with a Dutch oven! 🙂
Beef Japanese Curry
- 1 ½ lbs of Beef Chuck
- 1 ½ cups of sliced carrots
- 1 ½ cups of chopped yukon gold potatoes
- 1 cup of celery
- 1 medium onion roughly chopped
- 4 cups of Water (can use beef/chicken/vegetable stock for more flavor if desired)
- 1 Package of Boxed Curry Mix, such as S&B Golden Curry
- Vegetable or Canola Oil
- Heat up your dutch oven over a campfire. While dutch oven is heating up, cut your beef chuck into ½ – ¾ inch chunks.
- Add oil. When the oil starts to smoke, add the beef chuck chunks (say that 5 times fast) to your dutch oven and sear for 1 – 2 minutes, or until the beef chuck chunks have turned a golden brown
- Take out your beef chuck chunks. Add enough water to cover the beef and let simmer for 1 ½ – 2 hours, skimming off any animal fat or debris that rises to the top of the water
- Take out your beef chuck chunks and dispose of water. Heat up your dutch oven once again over a campfire. While the dutch oven is heating up, cut your carrots and celery into ¼ – ½ inch chunks.
- When dutch oven is hot, add oil, then your carrots and celery. Cook until tender. While carrots and celery are cooking, cut up onions and potatoes
- Add more oil if needed. Add onions and potatoes and cook for 5 – 7 minutes.
- Add 4 cups of water (or beef/chicken/vegetable stock) to your dutch oven and bring to a boil. Once boiling add 1 package of boxed curry mix and boil for 5 minutes. Simmer for 20 minutes to 1 hour, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve over rice or with bread!
- 2 28 oz cans of canned peaches
- 1 box of yellow cake mix
- 1 tbsp of brown sugar
- 1 stick of butter
- ½ a box of Vanilla Jello Pudding mix (or an equal amount of pudding mix from another brand)
- Light some coals using a charcoal chimney
- Add your 2 cans of peaches, yellow cake mix, and vanilla pudding mix to your dutch oven. Stir until combined
- Add your brown sugar to the top of your mixture, spreading evenly.
- Slice a stick of butter into 8 equal pieces and distribute equally atop your mixture. DO NOT MIX
- Lay your dutch oven on 7-8 hot coals with 7-8 more hot coals on top of your dutch oven lid. Bake until a toothpick, when inserted, comes out clean (about ½ an hour – 1 hour depending on the heat of your coals)
That’ll all for this article! I hoped you learned some helpful cooking tips to take on your next outdoor adventure that’ll make you as energized (and full) as can be. If you want to learn more about camp cooking, I’d highly recommend earning your Cooking merit badge (it’s required for Eagle. For help, check out my Ultimate Guide to the Cooking Merit Badge!
Now that you have tons of fuel for your next campout (in the form of great food), you should check out my next article on Fun Scout Camping Activities. In it, I’ll be teaching you 5 outdoor games and activities that your troop will love!
Great work reading this far! I hope you’ve found my article helpful. Be sure to check ScoutSmarts often, because I’m constantly putting out new content to help scouts like yourself. Until next time, I’m wishing you all the best on your Scouting journey. 🙂