Cooking outdoors without a camp kitchen can be a challenge, but it’s definitely not boring. The variables—weather, fire, surprise animal guests—can turn ordinary meal prep into an adventure. Yet as daunting as it can seem, becoming a capable camp kitchen cook just requires some practice, a little planning, and the right gear.
Of course, there are times when it makes sense to go the easy route: prepackaged meals heated on a camp stove or anything you can cook on a roasting stick. But if you want to have camping meals that taste just as good (or better!) than what you make at home, it’s possible. In fact, there’s a whole range of tools and accessories that will help you do just that. If you want to take your camping meals to the next level, here are 12 must-have items for camp cooks.
1. Camp Stove
If you don’t own an RV—or simply want to cook in the open air—a camp stove is a must. Cooking over the fire is great but there are times when you’ll want the speed and precision of a gas stove. (For instance, who wants to wait for the morning fire just to have a cup of coffee?) There are plenty of stove options on the market—from single-burner ultra-light backpacking stoves to freestanding multi-burner stoves. Choose your stove based on the type of camping you plan to do most. Here are three great stoves to consider (fuel is sold separately):
2. Tripod Campfire Grill
Many campgrounds provide grates with their campfire rings. The problem is that they’re dirty and usually not adjustable. A tripod grill offers the perfect solution. The tripod is set up over the fire and then the grilling surface can be adjusted to the ideal cooking height. (Plus, since you’re the only one using the grilling surface, you can keep it clean and sanitary.) Coleman's version bills itself as as double-duty grill and lantern hanger. When you’re done cooking dinner, remove the grill from the chain and replace it with a lantern. Plus, its galvanized steel legs collapse for easy storage and transport.
Proper refrigeration is a must-have for even the most basic camp kitchen set-ups. Unless you have an RV or camper that comes equipped with a fridge, you’ll want a cooler. And not just any cooler, but one that can keep your food at a safe temperature for your entire camping trip. When a cooler is properly insulated, it can keep things cool (even ice!) for at least a few days. Here are a few coolers to consider:
4. Water Storage
Most campgrounds have a ready supply of drinking water, but depending on your campsite location, it’s not always convenient. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a water jug or other type of water storage container at your site. A 5-gallon jug is a good size to start with, depending on the size of your group. One trip to the water spigot might be enough to last all weekend. This water carrier from Coleman and this collapsible water cube from GSI Outdoors are both good options.
5. Cookware Set
If you’re a backpacker or if you prefer the minimalist approach to camp cooking, an all-in-one cookware set is worth adding to your stash of cooking gear. Look for sets that come with lids and grippers (removable handles). Some brands even include utensils and a carrying case.
6. Dutch Oven
Whether you use a stove or a fire, a cast-iron Dutch oven is an indispensable piece of cooking equipment. Use it to make delicious breakfasts like monkey bread and cinnamon rolls or dinners like chili mac. (You also might want to try our mouthwatering blueberry cobbler.) Cast-iron Dutch ovens are built to last and easy to care for. Plus they can be placed directly in a fire and piled with hot coals. (A classic Dutch oven cooking method.) Try this Dutch oven from Lodge or this smaller size from AmazonBasics.
If you’re already a fan of cast-iron Dutch ovens, you might want to consider getting a cast-iron skillet too. Like cast-iron Dutch ovens, the skillet version can be used both on a stovetop or placed directly in the fire. Some people swear that certain foods cooked in cast-iron (chili, pancakes, biscuits) just taste better, but we’ll let you be the judge. Here’s Lodge's 12-inch skillet and their square grill-pan skillet.
8. Cooking Utensils
Along with a good set of cookware, it’s important to have a basic set of cooking utensils. This includes: a soup ladle, spatula, tong, scissors, rice paddle, cutting board, knife with cover, and bottle opener.
A kettle might seem like an unnecessary piece of gear if you already have a lidded pot you can use, but it’s hard to beat a kettle’s speed and convenience. It’ll quickly heat up water for coffee or dish duty and is a lot less likely to spill than a cooking pot. Try one of these:
10. Grill Tongs
It’s an unfortunate camping conundrum: You put your dinner into the fire to cook. But how do you get it out? That’s where a pair of heavy-duty grill tongs comes in handy. Use these to help you cook foil-packet dinners or to turn food that’s cooking on the grill grate. You also might want to buy these fire-resistant gloves to keep your hands safe.
11. Roasting Sticks
Even if you’re camping in the woods, the perfect roasting sticks for marshmallows or hot dogs can be hard to find. They’re never quite long enough, plus there’s always the risk of slivers—or the chance that the roasting stick will catch on fire. A set of collapsible roasting sticks is an inexpensive solution. You can use it to make a quick meal of hot dogs or brats—or to roast marshmallows for s’mores, of course.
12. Kitchen Sink
One way to make dish-washing easier at camp is to bring your own sink. But it doesn’t have to be fancy, or even an actual sink. You can try this collapsible sink or even just a plastic tub that’s large enough for the dishes you’ll be cleaning. Paired with your water jug, you’ll have a dish-washing station that’s ready to go.