There are so many outdoor cooking methods that it can be overwhelming for the newbie camper. Fire, propane, skillets, and stoves – which method should you choose? And what exactly is a dutch oven or a Blackstone? This ultimate guide to camp cooking methods will spill the beans. Keep reading for my handy tips to help you pick the method you should start with when cooking at camp!
Most camp cooking falls under three categories: camp cooking with gas, campfire cooking, and camp cooking with charcoal. Now there are multiple ways and several products you can use in each of those categories. Don’t worry – I’m going to break it down and cover them all. Oh yeah, there’s a few alternative outdoor cooking methods I’ll share at the end.
Table of Contents
Cooking at Camp with Fuel
Have you ever wondered how to cook while camping without a campfire?
Cooking with gas when camping is much like cooking on the gas grill at home. Rather than large propane tanks, you usually use small fuel canisters for most products. Some campers do bring full size propane tanks depending on the grill or stove they are using, how long they will be camping, and how much they will be cooking.
One convenient thing about cooking with gas at camp is the prep time. You have instant heat with gas – no waiting on the fire or coals to be ready.
The temperature is fairly easy to control when camp cooking with gas, although some devices are more accurate than others.
Some people think it is safer than cooking over fire. It seems more controllable and is invisible, which can give you a false sense of security. It is relatively safe, but you do need to be cautious. Wait til you hear my story – it was enough to make me a scaredy cat for a while!
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Common Types of Camp Cooking Fuel
- Propane canisters
- Butene canisters
- White gas – Coleman fuel, naphtha, liquid fuel to refill
Griddles are an extremely popular camp cooking method right now, especially since the debut of the Blackstone. Several propane griddle brands are available, but the Blackstone griddle is a camper favorite.
Never heard of a Blackstone? It is the popular (almost 5,000 reviews!), name brand, propane griddle that has over taken the camping scene. Several sizes are available with the table top model a favorite for portability with campers.
Griddles are great for cooking pancakes, bacon, eggs, burgers, fried potatoes, and stir fry. There are tons of foods for every meal!
A gas griddle, like most of the options I am going to cover, can be your only source of camp cooking. The cool thing about the gas griddle is that no pots or skillets are necessary.
Check out some more griddle options below.
Classic Two Burner Camp Stove
If you can boil water on the stove at home, you can boil water on a camp stove. Camp stoves are great for one pot meals and even coffee.
Classic two burner camp stoves have been around for years – Coleman may be the oldest brand on the market. Most camp stove models now use propane fuel bottles. Older models use the white gas aka as Coleman fuel or naphtha. Some people use the white fuel in their newer camp stoves and others argue that the white fuel can “gum” them up.
Do you have a camp stove, but wonder if you should invest in a propane griddle like the Blackstone? You could always just buy a cast iron griddle and cook with it on top of your camp stove. The cast iron griddle is a cheaper option if you already have the stove. Plus a cast iron griddle can also be used with some of the other camp cooking methods.
Single Burner Butane
If you aren’t feeding a whole crew or don’t want a big stove, using a single burner stove with butane cans is a good, smaller option. They don’t take up much space and butane cans are readily available and fairly inexpensive.
Check out the pictures to see where the butane can is!
Single Burner Propane Bottle Top
Portable gas grills are a good way to cook at camp. It is an easy transition from cooking on your gas grill at home. You can buy table top models or portable grills that have folding legs. If you need help choosing a camping grill, check out The Best Camping Grills.
A backpacking stove is typically used when backpacking (duh!), but they are handy if you are camping alone or don’t want to lug a bunch of camp cooking equipment with you to the campground.
They are used for backpacking because they are small and lightweight, but that also means you’ll be limited on the kind of pans you can use and the cooking you can do. They are best for boiling water or maybe one pot meals, depending on the size and model of stove you have.
Different brands have different features. Some have better ignitors, better heat control knobs, and some are designed in such a way they offer better wind resistance. Some, like the Jet Boil, have accessories to enlarge the cooking surface, making it easier to cook with a larger pan or skillet if you want to do more than boil water for dehydrated backpacking meals.
Backpacking stoves can be really cheap (like $10.00 – $15.00) or really expensive ($150.00 +). We have had good luck with cheap ones from Amazon. My brother uses the MSR Pocket Rocket, which is a good mid range priced stove.
Tip: Always carry a lighter in case your ignitor button fails.
Cooking at Camp with Charcoal
Camp cooking with charcoal is a beginner friendly method of outdoor cooking.
- Most people have cooked on a charcoal grill before
- Charcoal grills or fire ring grates are sometimes available at campgrounds
- Charcoal is easy to find, even at many campground stores and offices.
I do recommend using a charcoal chimney to get your charcoal started. It is much quicker than just making a pile in the grill or fire ring.
A portable charcoal grill is an easy and affordable option for many camp cooks. We actually prefer the taste of food cooked over charcoal over that cooked on a gas grill.
Some campgrounds have grills at each campsite. If you will be using a campground grill , you can clean it with a grill brush or crimpled aluminum foil. You can also cover the grill with aluminum foil if you are worried about it not being clean enough.
We have successfully used cheap charcoal grills that almost seem disposable but surprisingly last, also a small, round weber style, and traditional rectangle camping grills.
Although using a gas grill camping is easy, I think charcoal grilling is the best way to grill camping.
A grill grate can be used just like a charcoal grill – minus the lid/cover. Place it over the bed of charcoal or use the grate on the fire ring, if one is available. Not all campgrounds have a grate over the fire ring, so don’t count on it.
One of my favorite outdoor cooking methods is dutch oven cooking. It is amazing how many things you can cook in a dutch oven. It essentially is an outdoor oven that is a cast iron pot with a lid.
You control the heat by placing different amounts of charcoal under and on top of the dutch oven to achieve different cooking techniques like simmering and baking.
You can even stack dutch ovens on top of each other to cook several different dishes and take advantage of the charcoal on each dutch oven’s lid. It’s a good, resourceful, space saving way to cook – plus it looks cool!
Related Camp Cooking Post: The Best Dutch Ovens for Camping
Skillet and Griddles
A cast iron skillet or griddle can be used for outdoor cooking with charcoal. You can place the skillet or griddle directly on the hot coals or on a grate above them. Just be sure your coals are hot and ash white or your skillet and griddle won’t get hot enough.
Camp Cooking in Foil
If you really don’t want to take tons of cooking equipment with you to camp or if you are on a tight budget and just can’t afford more camp kitchen gear right now, you still have a cool camp cooking option.
Just take some heavy duty aluminum foil to cook in. You can easily make “hobo” meals in tin foil.
Tear off a sheet of foil, place cut vegetables and meat on the foil (don’t forget to season it!) and fold it over, creating a closed packet. Place the foil packet on hot coals and be sure to turn it several times while it is cooking.
You can also use wood coals from your campfire to cook with foil.
Campfire Cooking at Camp
Campfire cooking is an art, not a science. Cooking with fire and wood has been done for hundreds of years. If others have managed to master it, you can to!
Some people do cook over actual flames, but most campfire cooking methods work best if you cook over smoldering wood coals.
Be sure to allow enough time for your fire to burn down some – it usually takes at least an hour for your fire to become more smoldering instead of flaming.
Pie iron cooking is especially fun for the kids, and pie irons are not just for making dessert pies. You can prepare sandwiches, pizza pockets, chicken pot pie and more.
If you are cooking over flames, be sure your pie iron is made of cast iron and not aluminum. Also turn the pie iron often and don’t over cook – it is easy to burn the food if you are cooking directly in the flames.
You can put some of the wood coals to the side of your fire and just lay the pie iron on top of them instead of cooking directly over the campfire.
I have also placed my pie irons on hot charcoal instead of cooking over the campfire or wood coals.
Keep reading for more ideas for cooking on a stick.
Some campgrounds have grill grates over their fire rings, making it easy to cook over a campfire. If they don’t have grill grates you can take your own. There are several different grates you can purchase.
You can place your food directly on the grate just like cooking on any grill or place a pan or skillet on the grate for cooking.
I usually do my dutch oven cooking with charcoal, but you can also use wood coals. Wait for the chunks to ash over and become white before placing them under and on top of the dutch oven.
Another popular method of dutch oven campfire cooking is to hang your dutch oven on a tripod over the fire. This works great for cooking stew and soups – those foods that can simmer for longer periods of time.
Skillet and Griddle
You can place your cast iron skillet or griddle directly on the wood coals to cook or set them on a grill grate over the fire.
Cast iron skillets and griddles are versatile pieces of camp cookware – you can use them with propane, charcoal and wood coals.
Camp Cooking on a Stick
I think everyone knows you can cook hotdogs and roast marshmallows on a stick over a campfire. But did you know there are several other ways of cooking with a stick over the fire?
You can find a sharp stick or whittle a sharp point on the end of it, but most people purchase campfire roasting forks and skewers for grilling.
Don’t limit yourself to hot dogs ( I know they taste better over a campfire than at home!) and marshmallows. Create shish kabobs with meat and veggies, fix pigs in a blanket with smoked sausage and crescent roll dough, or grill some fruit.
Pie irons are on a stick, and you can also purchase grilling baskets with a long handle.
A smoked chicken cooked over a fire sounds delicious doesn’t it? A rotissere is a portable option that is great paired with other methods of cooking for your side dishes.
You can also cook with a woodstove at camp. No, I’m not talking about a big woodstove like you would see at a hunting camp, but rather a small cylinder style stove that uses wood for fuel.
Several different sizes are available from ones small enough to fit in a backpack to ones that are good for car camping with the family.
An advantage to wood stoves is wood fuel is free – you can gather twigs and branches. Plus you don’t have to worry about transporting fuel. Just be sure wood will actually be available where you are camping.
Related Camp Cooking Post: The Campfire Cooking Equipment of Your Dreams
Alternative Outdoor Cooking Methods
There are a couple alternative outdoor cooking methods other than the traditional ones we have already covered.
I’ve called them alternative, but they are really good methods too – just not the ones you usually hear people talking about.
Solar Oven Camp Cooking
Is it just me or do you think some solar ovens look like a sattelite or something from outer space? They may look weird, but solar ovens are a viable outdoor cooking method.
Harness the power of the sun and you can slow cook your food with out any fuel. Notice I said slow cook – solar cooking can take longer than other methods of outdoor cooking, and of course you are dependent on the weather. You will need a sunny day to successfully cook your food.
You can purchase several different kinds of solar ovens or make your own. There are lots of tutorials online for DIY solar ovens. Have you ever heard of a solar oven made from a pizza box?
If you like moist, easy, one pot meals with quick cleanup, a Can Cooker may be a good choice. The Can Cooker uses steam to cook your food. Just fill with your ingredients and liquid, securely latch the lid, and cook over your heat source at camp.
Can Cookers are especially handy if you are cooking at camp for a large crowd.
Another option for campfire cooking in a can is a trash can. yep, you can cook in a metal trash can over a fire. A trash can turkey is a delicious choice.
Swedish Fire Log
A Swedish fire log or Swedish fire torch is a cool way to cook at the campsite ( or even in your backyard!). it is perfect for one pot meals in the dutch oven or cast iron skillet.
Advantages to cooking with a Swedish fire log:
- Doesn’t require much wood – only one log
- Works good if the ground is wet
- Ready to cook on sooner than a traditional fire
- Looks really cool!
Final Thoughts on Cooking at Camp
So what is your favorite method of outdoor cooking? If you are like me, and most other campers, you will have several favorite ways of cooking at camp. Choosing the best camp cooking method usually depends on where you are camping, what kind of camping you are doing, and what you want to eat on your trip.
Start with just one or two methods and experiment with the others as you are able to invest in more camp cooking gear.
And here’s my story about cooking with gas:
Many years ago, my family had gathered at my parents house for a meal. (We weren’t camping.) My daughter and niece were outside with me, playing on the covered patio where I was going to be cooking on the gas grill.
I turned the gas on at the tank and pushed the grill ignitor button. Nothing happened. I tried it several times but it would not work. I left the gas on and grabbed some matches from the kitchen.
When I got back to the grill, I quickly struck the match. I was just going to drop it into the grill to light it. I was young and dumb ya’ll.
Poof! The second the match lit, the air around me exploded. The gas that I had left on had lingered in the air, trapped by the roof of the covered patio.
It was like a fireball flashed before me. It singed some of my hair and scared me to death! I immediately looked for my daughter and niece. They were sitting on the patio floor playing , thus low enough that the fire flash was above them.
First of all, this happened because of my mistake. I should have turned the gas off at the tank when the grill wouldn’t light before I went to get matches.
Don’t be me.
If a gas grill, griddle, or stove won’t light, turn the gas off while you look for matches or a lighter.
Also, being under a roof made it worse. Even thought the sides of the patio were open, the roof did keep the gas from dissipating. Usually when you are cooking with gas at the campsite, you are out in more open air, although cooking under a pop up canopy or pavilion could create a similar problem.
Thank God no one was hurt and no damage was done, but it made me scared to cook with gas for a long time – camping and at home. To this day, propane makes me a little nervous. I worry about even carrying fuel or using it in our camper too!
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