Crisp October weather sets the stage for weekends in the woods — the best part of which is cooking outdoors.

“Theoretically, you can cook anything you would at home on a fire,” says Yan Hryciw, REI regional coordinator for the Philadelphia region. “It’s a function of how much work you’re willing to put into it.”

We talked to avid campers and experts to gather tips for better camp cooking, whether you’re basic or Bear Grylls.

The right equipment

To stay organized, create an equipment checklist. Start with the basics, then review your meal plan to determine what else you’ll need.

“Start by thinking about everything you use in the kitchen, and then pare down to the essentials,” says Katie Briggs, a West-Philly-based pop-up chef and founder of Eclectik Domestic. “Many Swiss army knives have wine opener attachments, and there all-in-one fork-spoon-knife contraptions you can buy, too.”

Prep as much as you can at home.

“When all you have to do at the site is toss dressing on a premade salad and heat up a precooked chili, that’s less effort and cleanup,” advises avid camper and home cook Barry Enders, general manager at Philadelphia Distilling.

Be sure to call the campsite in advance and ask questions: Does the fire pit have grates? Is firewood sold on-site? Is the water potable?

Equipment checklist


Cooler(s)
Camp stove
Matches or a lighter, and fire starters
Utensils: Cutlery, spatula, bottle opener, can opener, corkscrew, tongs
Cutting board and chef’s knife
Frying pan, ideally a cast-iron skillet
Cook pot
Plateware
Aluminum foil and paper towels
Extra Tupperware (for storing food, shaking salads, or use as a bowl)
Sponge and soap
First aid kit
Oven mitts
Trash bags and Ziploc bags

Seasoned campers develop preferences for certain equipment. When it comes to coolers, Hryciw highly endorses the top-notch insulation of the YETI Tundra 65, which is a splurge. And if you prefer a less rustic heat source than a fire, invest in a camp stove.

“There are two main types of stoves — canister and liquid fuel," Hryciw says. “Canister stoves are smaller and more packable, but harder to control and only fit small pots. If car camping, opt for liquid fuel, like a Coleman or a Primus.”

Cast-iron skillets and Dutch ovens are another smart cookware add. They can be placed directly in the fire or on a grate to make everything from eggs to apple crisp (recipe below). When picking out a cook pot, just make sure the one you bring along doesn’t have a rubber handle that could melt over high heat.

For plates, Briggs says enamel dinnerware is super popular because it’s sturdy but light, and cheap.

Other cooking gear is less expensive, lighter-weight, and equally helpful. Extendable metal skewers make roasting hot dogs and marshmallows exponentially easier. Hard plastic egg holders can prevent eggs from cracking in a packed cooler. And a bear bag safeguards food from animals; REI specialist Hryciw uses the Loksak Opsak Odor-Proof Barrier Bags.

Young camper lighting the fire. Cooking over an open flame in the great outdoors is easy, fun and delicious.
iStock
Young camper lighting the fire. Cooking over an open flame in the great outdoors is easy, fun and delicious.

The right ingredients

The following list will take you far for seasoning and sustenance. Consider what ingredients you use daily at home and add them to the list accordingly.

A meal plan is a must: Map out breakfast, lunch, and dinner for each day. This helps ensure you won’t run out of food and reduces mealtime stress, especially after long hikes. It also helps you know what to pack.

Ingredient checklist


Olive oil and vinegar (for cooking, and tossing with vegetables)
Salt and pepper
Oatmeal
Peanut butter / nut butter
Sweeteners: Honey, sugar, jelly
Canned foods: beans, soups, chili, etc.
Protein-heavy snacks: nuts, trail mix, protein bars, jerky etc.
Bread, hot dog buns
Condiments: Ketchup, mustard, mayo
Hot dogs and/or sausage
Hearty vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, peppers, and onions
Fruit
Graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate
Coffee / tea / hot chocolate

After you assemble the basics, consider small but powerful ingredients upgrades. Spices — even as basic as paprika, dried onion, and Old Bay — will jazz up foil-pouch-cooked vegetables like potatoes and corn. Cinnamon instantly boosts oatmeal and peanut butter-and-banana sandwiches.

Dried fruit and nuts add texture to oatmeal, yogurt, and salads — and they double as energy-dense snacks. Canned fish and cured meats pack both protein and flavor and can be mixed into rice dishes and salads.

Starches aren’t limited to bread: Boil-in-a-bag rice and tortillas are campfire-friendly.

And keep in mind that luxury ingredients like high-quality chocolate or fancy mustard become even more satisfying when away from everyday comforts.

Simple meals and ways to elevate them

If you have access to a large cooler and a place to resupply ice, the camp cooking options are endless. Breakfast staples like oatmeal can be bolstered with nut butter, fruit, cinnamon, honey, and salt. Take it to the next level with honey-drizzled grilled fruit, which makes an excellent topping for yogurt and granola, too. Or go big with skillet eggs and toast. Upgrade that by adding sauteed peppers and onions, maybe beans, for breakfast tacos.

For lunch, vary a classic PB&J by swapping the jelly for bananas or sliced apples and honey. Or try Enders’ version: banana drizzled with honey and Sriracha, wrapped in a whole-wheat tortilla. (He always packs a refillable mini-Sriracha bottle.)

“When you’re out in the woods, you have to get used to the same flavors over and over, so it’s nice to have a little something extra,” he says.

Dress up another lunch go-to, hummus and pita, with sliced eggs (hard-boiled at home).

For dinner, hot dogs or bratwurst are a must. Both are even better when sautéed with julienned onions and peppers. Top with canned chili for an easy upgrade, and pair with premade sides, like potato salad, broccoli salad, or pasta salad.

Fresh herbs make campfire-cooked kebabs brighter and fresher.
Courtesy of Fresh Off the Grid
Fresh herbs make campfire-cooked kebabs brighter and fresher.

Heating up soups and stews made at home, and pairing them with a hunk of high-quality bread, makes a simple but substantial meal. Or roast foil-wrapped sweet or baked potatoes in the embers of the fire, and top with canned black beans laced with spices (cumin, chili powder, paprika), hot sauce, and sautéed peppers and onions. Swap the potatoes for rice to make a burrito bowl.

For salads, mix the vegetables beforehand and hold the premade dressing till you’re ready to eat. Briggs suggests a vinaigrette of two parts olive oil to one part apple cider vinegar, shaken with a dollop of Dijon mustard and pinch of dried onion, salt, and pepper. Store in a mason jar to reshake.

“It doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and works well to season any sort of roasted veggie, too” she says.

EASY: Chicken and Vegetable Kebabs


Much of the prep for these kebabs happens before you even leave home. Serve over precooked rice. Makes 4 to 6 kebabs.


For the marinade (make at home)

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup chopped basil

¼ cup chopped parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lemon, juiced

1 teaspoon salt


For the skewers (bring camping)

½ pound chicken (boneless, skinless thighs work best), cut into 1-inch pieces

8 ounces whole mushrooms

8 ounces cherry tomatoes

2 to 3 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 to 6 metal or wooden skewers (soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes before grilling)

Fire pit with a grill grate


At home, combine the marinade ingredients in a large zip-close bag. Add chicken pieces and thoroughly coat. Let marinate for at least an hour in the refrigerator. Keep chilled until ready to cook.


At the campsite, get your fire going. Meanwhile, thread the skewers with the chicken and vegetables, alternating ingredients. When the fire is at a medium flame, place the kebabs on the grill grate, turning regularly, for about 10 minutes, or until cooked through. Remove and enjoy.

— Courtesy of REI

MEDIUM: Campfire Apple Crisp


Hold the apples until you get your fire going — you risk browning otherwise. Serves 6 to 8.


Apple filling (make at home)

1 cup brown sugar

4 to 5 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons butter, melted

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt


Topping (make at home)

1 cup flour

1½ stick salted butter

⅔ cup brown sugar

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup rolled oats


The rest (bring camping)

8 to 10 apples

12-inch Dutch oven

Oven mitts

Metal shovel for embers


At home, prepare the coating for the apple filling: In a Tupperware bowl, whisk together all the ingredients; refrigerate until ready to leave. For the topping, in another container, combine the flour and butter and mix with your hands until small, pebble-sized crumbles form. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt and stir until evenly combined. Stir in the oats. Cover or place in a zip-close bag; keep chilled until ready to cook.


At the campsite, start a fire and let it burn for 30 minutes, adding additional wood as needed, until a base layer of embers forms. Meanwhile, core and slice the apples and toss with the coating. After the fire is sufficiently hot, place the Dutch oven on a camp grill grate or directly on the fire, letting it sit for 30 minutes. Remove carefully with oven mitts. Spoon the apple filling into the pot, then crumble topping across the top in an even layer. Cover with Dutch oven lid, and return to the grate. Using a metal shovel, spread a single layer of embers across the pot’s lid. Cook for 40 minutes, rotating the pot 180 degrees halfway through and adding wood to the fire as needed. Remove from fire when the filling is bubbling and topping is brown.


— Courtesy of avid camper Katie Briggs, a West-Philly-based pop-up chef and founder of Eclectik Domestic

HARD: Pulled Pork Huevos Rancheros


This recipe makes a ton of food; if you don’t have a crowd at the campsite, take only the meat you need, reduce supplies accordingly, and leave the rest at home. Serves 8 to 10.


Pulled pork (make at home)

1½ pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 yellow onions, chopped

4 garlic cloves, sliced

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon oregano

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 bay leaf

1 cup chicken broth or water

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 can pinto or black beans, drained and rinsed


The rest (bring camping)

Medium pot

Large, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet

Large mixing bowl

20-30 corn tortillas

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 dozen eggs

Salt and pepper, to taste

Optional toppings: Sour cream, hot sauce, cilantro


At home, heat oven to 325°F. Pat the pork shoulder chunks with a paper towel until dry; season well with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Add half of the pork, being careful not to overcrowd the pan, and cook until browned on all sides. Transfer to a container, then repeat with the other half of the pork. Set aside. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the onions. Sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in the spices and sauté for 1 minute. Return the pork to the pot, add the chicken broth or water and the vinegar, then bring to a boil.


Cover and place in the oven for 1½ hours. Check to see if the pork pulls apart easily. If not, return to oven for additional 30 minute, or until the pork is done.


Remove from oven. Pull the pork apart with a fork. Add the beans. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Let cool before packing into containers. Keep chilled until ready to reheat on-site.


At the campsite, get a fire going. Heat the pork in a pot over the fire. Toast the tortillas on the grill grate for a few seconds, until warm.


Heat the oil in the skillet on the fire grate. Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl, seasoning with salt; once the oil is very hot, add to the skillet, stirring regularly; remove from heat when fluffy.


Place two tortillas on a plate. Top each with a spoonful of pork and a spoonful of eggs. Garnish with sour cream, hot sauce, and cilantro, if using. Repeat with remaining tortillas, pork, and eggs.


— Courtesy of avid camper, backpacker, and home cook Barry Enders, general manager at Philadelphia Distilling