Camp cooking. We all know someone who’s captured that elusive skill and uses it to barter for back rubs and beers. Here our Campfire Grub Correspondent, Jen-Kui Maxwell, lays down the basics in culinary equipment for camping adventures.
It’s amazing where life can lead you
Growing up as a child, I never cooked or camped as my family were (and still are) the hotel types. I am a good example that you don’t have to grow up amongst nature to fall in love with the outdoors. And of course, there are many ways to ease yourself into the getting out into nature that little bit more, which is the philosophy behind We Are Explorers.
My first real encounter with the great outdoors was twelve years ago as a 20-year-old, when I went on my first independent overseas trip. A friend and I decided to head to Nepal after we finished our university degrees to volunteer at a health post for a couple of months. Let’s just say, I was a bit naïve about the world back then. I remember touching down in Kathmandu and being shocked that people lived in such a ‘primitive’ and undeveloped state. Heading out to the villages was a whole other eye-opening experience and learning to clean your teeth with bottled water was unconscionable.
My naivety extended to the spontaneous decision of hiking in the middle of the Himalayan winter for 14 days to complete the Everest Base Camp trek without any training or notion of what equipment to take on a trek. While I was sick with a mixture of food poisoning (I had sucked on sugar cane washed with untreated water – indeed a rookie mistake), altitude sickness and had a broken backpack (which was not suitable for hiking in the first place), I made it to Base Camp – albeit to smile for one photo and start hiking back, a little worse for wear with the altitude. So despite not having any outdoor experience, and being without a shower for 2 weeks (the shower taps were frozen solid at that time of year) – I loved it.
That was one of my life’s turning points
After returning to Australia, I shortly moved out of home in Melbourne to the Gold Coast to study my Masters and there I was able to pursue more outdoor adventures and my love of experimenting and cooking new foods.
Of course, you don’t need to shock yourself into loving the outdoors with months of hiking and volunteering in a developing country. There are many beautiful little trips that are not far from Australian cities that can give you that wonderful feeling of peace, insignificance and adventure that is just so special.
I am here to pair my love of adventure with my love of food. Being a dietitian, I am interested in making sure my meals are nutritious, but I refuse to subscribe to ideas that healthy eating needs to be expensive or restrictive. So I am here to show you how to prepare great, affordable meals with basic ingredients and equipment. So be prepared for carbs (including sugar), be prepared for fats (mostly unsaturated) and be prepared to delight in a little bit of alcohol. Healthy eating starts with a healthy relationship with food so moderation will be what you’ll be seeing.
To help start your culinary camping trip, there are a few basic cooking pieces that I recommend. These are inexpensive, durable and practical and targeted for a drive-in campsite (I’ll talk about lightweight equipment for walk-in campsites another time). There is a lot of camping equipment out there and you can go crazy buying mod-cons for different functions. I like to select multiple functions over multiple items, camping is about getting back to a simpler way of life.
So here we go:
Gas Cooker and Gas Canisters
A lot of camping spots in Australia do not allow you to light a fire due to bushfire risks so gas burners and gas canisters are required. You can buy some two burner gas stoves for around $40.00 or $50.00 with gas cartridges costing less than $10 for a pack of four and each having about 2 hours burning time.
Cast Iron Cookware
I love cast-iron cookware for many reasons:
- It’s durable and can be used on gas burners and on campfires.
- Its heat retention properties are great. This is important when you’re camping because you need to be fuel efficient and it can help cook things quickly in a campfire.
- It’s low maintenance and you shouldn’t scour or scrub in order to avoid wrecking the surface. Hot water, mild detergent and a stiff brush are sufficient but some cast iron enthusiasts avoid washing altogether and just wipe clean and oil the surface with some spray oil.
- It has some dietary benefits. For someone like me, that tends to get iron deficient, cooking in cast iron can leech dietary iron into the food. Pretty cool, hey?
Two basic items are all you really need
Cast Iron Camp Oven – great for things like stews, breads, porridges, vegetables. I have a Pioneer brand 4.5 quart camp oven which cost me about $40.00
Cast Iron Pan/Skillet – great for frying eggs, vegetables, meat and making pancakes. I have a which cost $15.00 from Kmart
The downside of cast iron is the weight, but if you’re driving into your campsite, it shouldn’t be too much of a burden.
Other Basic Items
Lid lifter – for the hot cast iron pot lid (I purchased one for under $10.00)
Cooking tongs and a turner – for stirring, flipping, mixing and tossing (you’ll probably already have these at home)
Plates, Bowls and Cups – I use enamelware because they are cheap, light and can retain the heat of food – especially in colder conditions. You can use these for chopping things on and mixing ingredients as well.
Basic cutlery – fork, knife, spoon (just BYO whatever you have from home)
Sharp knife – steak knives can be good because they are dual purpose for cutting things and eating with,
Swiss Army knife – for ‘emergencies’ such as when the ring pull breaks from a can.
Kettle – people use a camping kettle to boil water, but a saucepan covered with a plate can work just as well or the cast iron pot.
Lighter/Matches/ Flint – to get that cooking started
Tea Towels – for drying and as a heat protector from hot handles!
Chux – for wiping
Scourer – for scrubbing off the hard stuff
Dishwashing detergent – for washing (choose an eco-friendly brand such as Earth Choice or Wilderness Wash)
Paper Towel – for napkins, degreasing
Aluminium Foil – good for wrapping up vegetables such as potatoes to throw into a fire and bake
So, some simple things that you can just throw in a box and take on your next trip. And with that, now you’re cooking with gas.