How to Cook When Camping

campfire cooking

Camping is as popular now as it was years ago when I first braved the elements in a tent. But how do you cook when you don’t have a stove? Here are some tips on how to cook when camping that I hope will be helpful to you.

The first time that I went camping was in October of 1980. My boyfriend, Alan and his best friend Kevin Murphy suddenly decided that it would be fun to drive down to the coast and spend the weekend in a tent.

I was a bit apprehensive, as I had never slept in a tent out in the open before. But they persuaded me that it would be an adventure, we would have fun.

So we loaded up Alan’s Ford Capri with the essentials, including a tent, and set off for the seaside town of Great Yarmouth, about 100 miles from home. We left late at night after we had been to the pub, so by the time we reached our destination it was the early hours of the morning.

I stayed in the car while Alan and Kevin tried to put up the tent in a strong wind blowing from the North Sea. Yes, we were on top of a cliff, about 200 feet above sea level. Eventually, the tent was up and we crawled inside, relieved.

But the tent was only meant to sleep 2 people and there were 3 of us. Alan had forgotten the ground sheet and we had to lie on the bumpy ground. None of us slept very well.

Girl and tent

But the next morning, bright and early (after being woken up by screeching seagulls) it was time for breakfast. We planned on having a feast; eggs, bacon, sausages and fried bread. I was starving and couldn’t wait for the food to be ready.

But Alan had grabbed the smallest of his mum’s frying pans in his haste to get going on our big adventure. I stared at it in dismay. He lit the Campingaz stove and started cooking. But the frying pan could only cook 2 rashers of bacon at a time. We eventually got our cooked breakfast but had to cook and eat it in stages. And the milk for our tea and coffee had gone sour. I could’ve cried.

So that was my first experience of camping. But despite all the mishaps and discomfort, I quite enjoyed it. We certainly laughed about it afterwards.

I hope that your first experience of camping is a positive one and that you are equipped with all the right gear to cook with, not to mention an air mattress to sleep on so that you don’t wake up the next morning with grass stains on your clothes and ants crawling around in your shoes.

Here are 6 camping hacks that will help to make your trip easier and more enjoyable for everyone:

  • Mobile shelving: Where do you keep all your pots and pans when space is limited? Simply loop a belt around a tree branch and use a couple of S-hooks to hang your pans from it
  • Popcorn on the fire: Turn a sheet of foil into a popcorn-making machine in a few simple steps – cut the foil into large squares and add a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon of corn kernels to each one. Fold up to form a pouch, slide each pouch onto a stick and hold it over the campfire, shaking it occasionally, until you hear the corn popping. Open carefully, add salt, sugar, or butter and tuck in!
  • Mosquito repellent: Mosquitoes and other biting insects can be a real problem when you’re camping. If you have some sprigs of sage and rosemary, burn these on the fire and the fumes will keep the bugs away. They hate the smell apparently
  •  Medication: If you or someone in your party needs to have medication that’s kept in the fridge, pack it at the bottom of the cool box with your food supply. This will keep it chilled and stop it from degrading.
  • Don’t be caught short: Take essentials like tent repair patches, spare tent poles, and valves for inflatable mattresses with you. Then if you pitch your tent and find a tear in it, you won’t get wet if it rains during the night
  • Check your sleeping bags: If you’re going camping in the autumn and your sleeping bags are rated one-two, it might not be enough to keep you warm if the temperature drops. Upgrade to a 2-3. Or if it’s mid-summer, don’t take a 2-3 with you, or you will be overheating during the night.

So now you’re prepared for your camping holiday. You have all you need to cope with any situation, so hopefully you can enjoy your trip and have a positive experience.

Mug by campfire

But what about food?

Cooking away from home, and out in the open, can be a challenge if you’re used to your state-of-the-art Neff appliances with the food served on warm plates, and proper cutlery to eat with. Unless your tent is big enough for you to take half your kitchen with you, you will need to improvise.

A barbecue is one option. Food cooked outdoors over hot coals is very special. And you can boil a kettle on a barbecue; just make sure you have a suitable kettle for this purpose. Or if not, a pan with a pouring lip will work just as well.

But apart from a barbecue, what is the best way to cook outdoors? You can cook directly over a campfire but unless you really want to do this, there are many other options.

Portable Wood Burning Stove

This provides heat as well as cooking your food and is lightweight and compact. Some models weigh as little as 7kg and are easily carried. They have fold-down flaps that you can use to set plates and cups on or to dry damp clothing. They give out a lot of heat with just a small amount of fuel and have a good-sized surface for cooking.

Extensions for the chimney are included and can be stored inside the oven when not in use. Stainless steel is very durable and heats up fast, so no waiting around for ages to eat your dinner. Not the cheapest option but easy to use and efficient.

Campingaz Stove

Camping stove

These have been around for many years. This was the stove we used to cook breakfast on when I first went camping. They are available in different sizes, single units or double burners depending on your needs, and they run on butane gas cartridges which are widely available worldwide.

Combination Stove and Grill

Camping stove 2

This option gives you more flexibility, you can heat pots and pans, boil a kettle and also melt the cheesy topping on gratins. The unit comes in a storage case, all you need to do is open the lid, pop in a gas cylinder and it’s ready to use. These usually have 2 burners and the lid is a useful wind break. Automatic ignition means you won’t have to take matches with you on your trip.

What Food Should You Take With You?

Barbecued steak

If you intend to take meat, fish or poultry with you then you need a cool box with several ice packs and a locking lid. These items will only last a couple of days; every time you open the lid, the inside will warm up. If you love your steaks, you might want to invest in an electric cool box. These can be run from a car battery or using solar power. The other option is a camping fridge with a freezer compartment.

But consider the noise level – if the fridge or freezer makes a lot of noise, it might keep you awake. And if you’re going somewhere hot, will it affect the unit’s ability to keep your food safely chilled? Do your research on which model to go for.

Other staples are cans of tuna and beans, instant coffee, canned or instant soup, tea bags, bottled water, bread, cheese, dried pasta, butter, rice and bottles of ketchup. Unless you’re going to camp out in the wilderness, supplies can be bought as and when you need them in the local shops or markets, so don’t feel that you have to pack the contents of your kitchen cupboards to take with you!

Basic Cooking Equipment

What you take along with you will depend on your needs and how much room you have to transport food and equipment. But there are some things that you don’t want to leave behind, such as a kettle, bottle openers, can openers, mugs, drinking glasses, plates and bowls, cutlery, wooden spoons, skewers, knives, frying pan and saucepans, oven mitts, rubbish bags and sealable food bags.

Other things to include, if you have room, are barbecue tongs, grater, scissors, garlic press, kitchen paper, cooking foil, tea towels, corkscrew and a measuring jug.

So now that you know what to take with you and you’re looking forward to your camping adventure, here are some recipes that you can make once you’ve staked your spot and put up your tent. There’s something almost romantic about eating out in the open, under a starry sky. Food somehow tastes better when you eat outdoors.

Breakfast Ideas

A good breakfast really sets you up for the day’s adventures, whether you’re going hiking in the forest or playing ball games. Here are some ideas for breakfast that won’t take long to put together. Although if it’s a lazy Sunday, you might want to indulge in the full English breakfast.

Bircher Muesli Mixture

Bircher muesli

This can be made up at home and then stored in a sealed bag to enjoy when you want it. Serves 4.

340g jumbo oats
4 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts
Juice of 1 orange
100 ml of full-fat milk
200g fromage frais
300g Greek-style yoghurt
2 tablespoons runny honey
Sliced apple, strawberries, banana and blueberries to serve

Put the oats and hazelnuts into a sealed food bag to take with you, then to assemble the muesli, simply stir together the orange juice, milk, fromage frais, yoghurt and honey and add it to the dry ingredients. Leave to soak overnight and serve with fresh fruit.

No-Egg Pancakes


This is another breakfast that can be prepared ahead and taken away with you. If you pour the mixture into a squeezy bottle it won’t take up much room and you can squirt the batter directly into the pan from the bottle. Serves 2.

155g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons caster sugar
Half a teaspoon of salt
200 ml of full-fat milk
Half a teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons sunflower oil

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl then add the milk and vanilla extract and whisk to make a smooth batter. Pour into a squeeze-top bottle and seal.

To cook the pancakes, heat some oil in a pan and pour or squeeze in about a tablespoon of batter. Fry the pancakes for about a minute on each side. Bubbles will appear on the surface when it’s time to flip the pancake over. Cook the other side and remove onto a plate. Keep warm while you cook the rest of the pancakes.

Serve warm with some jam, syrup or chocolate hazelnut spread.

*These can be made with almond milk or water if you don’t eat dairy products.

Full English Breakfast

English breakfast

This is one for when you don’t want to go anywhere in a hurry. You can vary the ingredients according to individual tastes. Sausages can be pre-cooked at home then wrapped in foil and warmed up in the pan with the bacon. Serves 2.

2 eggs
4 rashers of bacon
2 large tomatoes, cut in half
4 – 6 good quality pork sausages
150g mushrooms, wiped clean and thickly sliced
1 can of baked beans in tomato sauce
Oil for frying

Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan and add the bacon. Fry for 5 minutes, then turn the rashers over and cook the other side. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until softened. Put the sausages in the pan to reheat.  Remove onto a plate.

Fry the tomatoes, cut side down, turning as they cook. They should be soft and the skins slightly blackened. Keep warm. Heat the beans in a saucepan if you have a twin burner camping stove, if not, warm them after the rest of the items are cooked.

Finally, crack the eggs into the pan and fry them for about 5 minutes, using a spoon to scoop the oil over the yolks. The whites should be firm and the yolks still runny.

To serve, divide the ingredients onto 2 plates, grind over some pepper and serve with a nice cup of tea or coffee.

*For variety, you can use different kinds of sausages, such as beef or chicken, or slices of black pudding.

Campfire Dinners

You might be out and about, exploring or hiking so lunch can be some protein bars or pre-made sandwiches taken out with you in a rucksack. But when you come back from your day out, you will be ready for some good, wholesome food. Here are some tasty recipes that will revive you and fill you up.

Spicy Ground Beef Risotto

You can vary the type of mince you use, turkey, lamb or pork can replace ground beef. If you’ve brought mince with you use it on the same day, unless you have a camping fridge. Serves 2.

1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
250g of mince
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
A good pinch of dried chilli flakes
220g Arborio rice
500 ml vegetable stock
4 tablespoons Parmesan, grated
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil and saute the meat in a pan until it’s brown all over with no trace of pink remaining. Add the onion, garlic, rice and chilli and cook for 5 minutes. Pour in the stock all at once and stir well, then season with salt and pepper. Cook over a low heat for about 20 minutes. The rice should absorb the stock but if it looks dry, add a splash of water.

Serve the risotto on 2 plates, sprinkled with the grated Parmesan.

Barbecued Lemon and Herb Steak

This is a delicious way to eat steak; marinated in a dry herb and lemon rub then cooked over hot coals until charred on the outside and still pink and juicy inside. The marinade can be made at home and brought along with you in a plastic food bag, or you can rub it into the steaks before you leave. This will give them more time to absorb the flavours. Serves 4.

Grated rind of 2 lemons
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed or grated
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried thyme
A pinch of salt
Half a teaspoon of chilli flakes
Salt and pepper
4 x 200g sirloin or ribeye steaks

First of all, make the marinade. To remove the zest from the lemons, use a fine grater. Be careful not to grate any of the white pith under the skin as this will make the marinade taste very bitter. Place all the marinade ingredients into a pestle and mortar and crush finely. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar then put everything into a strong plastic bag and bash it with a rolling pin or another heavy object.

Spread the mixture over both sides of the steaks and rub it in well. The marinade will seep down into the meat and give it the most delicious flavour.

Put the steaks on a plate, cover loosely with kitchen foil and leave to marinate for at least 2 hours. Overnight is even better. The longer you marinate the meat, the more intense the flavour.

To cook on the barbecue,  place the steaks on the grill and cook for about 5 minutes on each side, or longer if you like them more well done. Serve with a salad.

Sausage and Potato Hash

The big advantage of this meal is that it’s all cooked in one pan. You can pre-cook the sausages at home and wrap them in foil, then they just need to be cut up and added to the potatoes and onions. Serves 4.

8 herby pork sausages, pre-cooked and cooled
500g potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon oil
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and fry the onion and potato, stirring frequently, until the onions have softened and the potatoes are going crispy at the edges. Cut the sausages into chunks and add them to the pan with some seasoning, stirring until the sausages are heated through and the potatoes are soft and golden. Serve immediately with tomato ketchup or mustard.

*If you like, you can top the hash with a fried egg.

Greek Pan-Cooked Pasta

This is a light but satisfying pasta dinner that takes little time to cook. You do need a stove with 2 burners, otherwise, you can cook the pasta first, drain it and then cook the vegetables. Serves 4.

200g orzo pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 aubergines, diced
2 courgettes, diced
1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
6 ripe tomatoes, cut into quarters
A pinch of dried mixed herbs
250g feta cheese, diced
Salt and pepper

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until cooked but still firm. Drain and rinse. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion for 10 minutes until softened then add the aubergines and courgettes along with the garlic and cook for a further 5 – 7 minutes. You don’t want the vegetables to be too soft, they should still have some bite to them.

Add the tomatoes and cook until they’ve broken up. Season and add the dried herbs then tip in the pasta and stir to combine. Crumble over the feta before serving.

*For an even quicker meal, cook the vegetables at home then put them in a sealed plastic tub. They will only need a few minutes to reheat.

Barbecued Sea Bass

Barbecued fish

This is a lovely way to cook fish, flavoured with aromatics like ginger and lemongrass, wrapped in foil then cooked on the coals of the barbecue, or using a barbecue fish grill, which holds the fish firmly and makes turning it easier. Serves 4.

4 whole sea bass, about 300g each
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
4 sprigs of fresh mint, chopped
2 stalks of lemongrass, chopped
5 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
Salt and pepper
2 limes, sliced thinly

Finely chop or crush the ginger, garlic, mint and lemongrass, add the chilli flakes and push the mixture inside each fish, along with a few lime slices. Season the outside with salt and pepper and wrap loosely in foil, or place inside a barbecue fish grill.

Cook the foil parcels on the coals for about 15 minutes, or on the grill for 10 minutes. Remove the aromatics before serving if you like.

Barbecued Corn on The Cob

Corn on the cob

Almost everyone loves corn on the cob – it goes with anything and is great on its own too. Cooking corn cobs on the barbecue makes them even better. Make sure you have lots of butter handy for when the cobs come off the barbecue. Serves 4.

4 large corn cobs, husks removed
Juice of a lime
6 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
Butter to serve

Boil the cobs in salted water for 10 minutes to soften them slightly. Mix the marinade ingredients together and leave the cobs to soak up the flavours for 2 hours.

Grill the cobs on the barbecue over a medium heat; the maple syrup can burn if the heat is too intense. Turn frequently so that the cobs are charred on all sides, brushing with the marinade as they cook.

To serve, push a wooden toothpick into each end and smother the cobs in butter. These go with steaks, fish, burgers, and hot dogs. Anything really!

Barbecued Chicken with Orange

Orange chicken

Chicken drumsticks and wings are flavoured with an orange and soy marinade, then cooked in foil parcels to seal in the delicious juices. These go well with the corn on the cob (recipe above.) Serves 4.

8 chicken drumsticks and 8 chicken wings
4 tablespoons barbecue sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons orange marmalade
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
Juice of half a lime
2 spring onions, chopped, to garnish
Sour cream and chive dip to serve

Mix together the marinade ingredients in a bowl and arrange the chicken pieces on a tray. Pour over the marinade, toss to coat and cover with foil. Leave to infuse for at least 2 hours.

Cut out 4 large squares of foil, about 30 cm x 30 cm and place 2 drumsticks and 2 wings on each piece of foil. Drizzle over any remaining marinade and fold the edges of the foil together, scrunching it up to form 4 parcels. Cook in with the coals for 15 – 20 minutes.

Open the foil and test the chicken by pushing a skewer or sharp knife into the thickest part of the chicken and pressing down firmly. If the juices that seep out are clear then the chicken is cooked. If not, close the foil again and give it another 5 minutes.

Serve the chicken in the foil parcels, garnished with spring onions and the dip on the side. Salad and corn on the cob also go well with the chicken.

For more information on cooking on a barbecue visit outdoor cooking ideas

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this article and that if you decide to go and give camping a try, you will find the tips and recipes useful. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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4 thoughts on “How to Cook When Camping”

  1. Hi Karen, I absolutely enjoyed reading your article, even though I’m a non-camper. My only experience of camping was in a tiny caravan that had a stove and small fridge, so this is why I don’t quite qualify as a camper. Nevertheless, I loved reading the story of your first such trip. The advice you provide in your article is so great that anyone wanting to go out bush for the first time will know what to take and what to cook. Thanks for sharing. Cheers, Jenni.

    • Thanks Jenni, I hope if I ever go camping again I will be prepared this time! If this article helps any novice campers then I will be happy. There’s so much to consider when you’re going to be staying in a tent rather than a hotel, but I hope this helps people to enjoy the experience 

  2. Hi this was a interesting read!

    A little different to my usual read but thoroughly enjoyed it, I like how it’s layed out as a story but provides all the necessity needed for camping.

    I’ve always wanted to camp but I guess not knowing or having the knowledge of what resources to take had limited my chances which now hopefully a thing of the past due to this post!

    Cooking I think would prove a little challenging which I am ready for!

    • Thanks Sariyah, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. And even happier that you’re prepared to try out camping after reading the article! I hope you have a great experience and that cooking outdoors is fun, not challenging!


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