A Beginners Guide to Car Camping Cooking: 4 Things to Consider When Cooking Outside

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Table of Contents

1. Understanding your campsite

2. Fire Sources

3. Cooking Tools for Cooking Outside

4. Cleaning Up Afterward


Car camping cooking is not an easy task, especially when compared with cooking at home. At home, everything has a place, you have unlimited water, a large stove and an oven, and things are static. Everything is organized based on how you move about your kitchen. With car camping cooking, most of that is instead chaotic. Your food is in a different container than your cooking supplies, and your plates and eating utensils are in another. Additionally, your water and cleaning supplies are in another set of containers.

Setting up, cooking, and cleaning when car camping can get overwhelming. We put together this guide to help you get to your eating faster and make your cleaning easier.

Understanding Your Campsite

The first thing you must decide is where you are going to camp and if they have the essentials for cooking. Whenever we look for a campground, we look to see if they have the following amenities:

  • electric

  • potable water

  • a fire ring

  • flat ground

  • flushable toilets

  • showers

Man cooking outside

Not all campgrounds have all of these and sometimes, you’ll end up camping at a place that has limited amenities. Campgrounds also differ in how they are set up for cooking outside. We have been to campsites that had a fire ring but no grill, or only allowed charcoal or propane fires. A couple of times, the grill attached to the fire ring was too high, it used up all our charcoal for one meal. Do your research ahead of time to make sure that you are prepared with the right equipment.

If you are only staying overnight or for a brief time, preparing your food before you go camping is recommended. But what if you are staying for longer and need to prepare and cook your food? It means that you need to do all your cooking (and cleaning up) at your campsite, so you’ll need to know what you’re working with.

Fire Sources

Aside from bringing your propane grill, one of the easiest ways for cooking outside remains with charcoal. If you have the chance to buy charcoal, then this is a great option. Charcoal ignites easily and usually only requires 10 minutes until the coal is burning and ready to cook with.

If you want to use firewood, consider purchasing small wood for cooking since you can regulate the flame more easily. The other option is to buy fire logs instead of firewood. They burn with high intensity, are dry, and leave little ash. If you want to stick with firewood, just make sure that it is dry. If not, it will take longer to light, heat, and cook your food.

Cooking Tools for Cooking Outside

Besides cooking on the grill itself, we found that using a cast iron pan is the best option, especially because it heats evenly. Initially, cooking on a cast iron pan is not easy; it takes practice, gets hot, and is heavy to manage. The pan also needs to be seasoned. With that said, once you learn how to use it, it will be your only pan. Right now, we only have one pan with us for all our car camping cooking and that is our cast iron pan. Plus, it looks cool and old school when you use it. One of the purchases you should also consider is a fire glove to go with it since the whole pan including the handle will get hot.

Fireside food

As part of our cooking arsenal, we also purchased a thermometer to ensure that our meals are at the right temperature every time. Remember, when you are at a campsite cooking, you are outside and cooking on a fire, so actively ensuring your food is cooked the first time is best.

We also purchased a 3qt Instant Pot to go along with our camping equipment. We know this does not sound like an appliance that you would take with you, but there is nothing easier than using it for cooking rice, quinoa, or noodles, or even cooking stews when it's cold outside. We also use the sauté function for heating and reheating our food and it is a one-pot cleanup!

In order to power our Instant Pot, we purchased the Jackery Portable Power Station which is a rechargeable battery-powered generator. Equipped with AC outlet, DC carport and USB charging ports, they keep all our gear charged. To charge the Jackery, plug it into a wall outlet, car outlet, or solar panels (separate purchase or as a bundle). The Jackery comes in different sizes and configurations and a bundle deal includes solar panels. For us, we purchased the Explorer 1000 with Solar Panels.

Cleaning Up Afterward

Cleanup is another key factor in the car camping cooking world. We purchased a five-gallon water container with a spigot to make it easier for cleaning everything. Additionally, we also carry a vinegar and water solution in a spray bottle. This vinegar solution can clean all our dishes, fruits, and vegetables. When water is scarce, this is a terrific way to get everything clean. The other rule we have is you need to mouth clean all your eating utensils and clear your plate. The better you are at cleaning, the easier it will be for you when it comes to cooking outside.

The other piece of cleaning equipment to consider buying is dishwashing gloves. When it's cold out and you are cleaning dishes, your hands will get cold. To some, this may be a splurge item, but go ahead and splurge – it is worth it. Remember, you are car camping, not ultralight hiking. The reason you have your car is to hold things. We also recommend that you purchase a wool sponge. A smelly sponge is the worst! You don’t want to have a smelly sponge in your car while you are trying to sleep.

When you’re campsite cooking, it takes practice, but with proper planning and the right stuff, it’s incredibly fun. Finding out if your campsite has the amenities you need will help ensure your success. Additionally, having the right cooking and cleanup equipment will turn a frustrating experience into a fun one. Hopefully, this will get you started with your journey.

Wine and food
Salmon, peppers, rice and WINE

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