Paul has many years of camping experience and is passionate about outdoor cookery. Born in the UK, he currently lives in Florida, USA.
In my over thirty years of experience, cooking with a camp kitchen can often be very challenging. It takes time to appreciate which tools and equipment are the most useful, and how to use them effectively in an outdoor setting.
The big constraint is that there is always a limit to what you can take with you on trips. That said, when camp food is cooked well, it is very rewarding, and an essential element of the outdoors adventure.
What you need for your camp kitchen depends on whether you are car camping or backpacking, as well as how many people are in your group. As with your home kitchen, the quality of the equipment that you obtain and take is important.
If you go camping regularly or plan to make substantial meals that are more than just heating something up, then I would recommend being prepared to spend more and get higher quality products that work better and are built to last.
This article looks at what I consider to be the main essentials of a camp kitchen. The list is by no means exhaustive, but it does attempt to name enough of the necessary equipment to make good cooking happen.
I have also added some optional tools and equipment at the end of the article to consider. Where appropriate, I have also made my own recommendations for specific tools and equipment that I have found to be particularly useful in my own experience.
Top 12 Camp Kitchen Essentials
Here are what I consider to be the best cooking equipment for camping.
- Sharp Knife and Cutting Board
- Camping Stove and Fuel
- Eating Utensils, Plates, Bowls, Drinking Receptacles
- Cooking Utensils
- Dutch Oven
- Grates, Griddles, and Tripods
- Dish Bucket and Cleaning Products
- Lighter, Matches, and Fire Starters
- Can Opener, Bottle Opener, Corkscrew, and/or Multi-Tool
- Camping Coffee Percolator Pot
I will give more details and explain my reasoning and experiences below.
1. Sharp Knife and Cutting Board
As with home cookery, having a set of sharp knives is a must. They must also be able to be safely transported, so sheathed knives or ones that are enclosed in a travelling case or box are especially desirable for camping purposes. A cutting board is also vital.
2. Camping Stove and Fuel
A stove is vital to any camp kitchen and it's important to get one that fulfills your needs. In my experience, it's best to have one with a couple of burners and I would recommend one that is capable of simmering as well as bringing on the heat.
The size and type of pans that you plan to use may also affect your decision regarding which stove to buy. Don't forget to take enough fuel for your stove to last the length of your camping trip.
Stove technology has improved in leaps and bounds over recent years, but in my opinion, it is difficult to beat a classic 2-burner propane stove.
There are a lot of great products out there, but having tried many, I use Camp Chef Everest nowadays. It checks all the boxes for me, striking a great balance between usability and versatility. It also doesn't take up too much room in my vehicle.
3. Eating Utensils, Plates, Bowls, and Drinking Receptacles
A knife, fork, and spoon, as well as at least one plate, bowl, and drinking receptacle for each person are essential. These need to be easy to clean, and hard-wearing enough to withstand being transported and used outdoors. I prefer metal to plastic myself, especially when it comes to eating utensils. I also much prefer recyclable products to throw away.
4. Cooking Utensils
While cooking styles and personal taste is a factor, I would always make sure that you have at least the following:
- Large spoon for stirring and serving.
- Spatula for scraping and turning.
- Turner for moving, flipping, and serving fried food.
- Tongs for moving and serving foodstuffs.
- Whisk for beating eggs and mixing up liquids.
These can be bought individually, or as a set designed for camping. In some instances, you can get a single multi-tool device that combines several tools in one.
At the very least you will likely need a frying pan and a cooking pot with a lid, and maybe more, depending on how many are in your group and what you are planning to cook. If you are backpacking, then you should consider getting nesting pots and pans.
As far as frying pans go, there are many products designed for outdoor use, though I myself have gone back to preferring to use a traditional cast iron skillet, following much experimentation with modern product designs.
6. Dutch Oven
Dutch ovens are incredibly versatile. They can be used to can boil, braise, fry, and bake. I've used them for so many things: stews, soups, curries, even for making bread, pancakes, and pizzas.
I have a cast-iron Dutch oven with a sturdy lid. When I want to fry something, I can just turn the lid over and do it that way.
I've used an Overmont Camp Dutch oven for camping trips for many years and love it. It's a solid design with a lid that can be also used as a skillet, or for serving up food. The legs and lid design enable you to sit directly on a campfire.
This oven is solid and heavy, but it does have a handle for lifting and moving it around or hanging it from a tripod when required.
7. Grates, Griddles, and Tripods
If you plan to do some cooking over a fire, rather than just using a portable stove, then you will need to use a cooking grate to lift the pans above the flames. The size of the grate required will depend upon the size of your pots and pans and how many people that you are feeding.
A griddle is an option if you do a lot of frying. They are great for eggs, pancakes, or crepes for breakfast, or for cooking steaks, grilled cheese sandwiches as a main meal.
Cast iron tripods are another great device for cooking over an open fire. This tool enables you to hang a Dutch oven over the flames. Using a tripod might sound intimidating, but most of them I've tried are sturdy, lightweight, affordable, and easy to set up.
8. Dish Bucket and Cleaning Products
You will need to clean up your cookware and other equipment after eating, so you will need a dish bucket (the bucket may well come in useful for other tasks too). Dish soap (preferably eco-friendly), and drying towels. Some food storage bags and bags for trash are also good things to have on hand.
A rugged and durable cooler with thick insulated walls and a tight seal is vital if you want to keep your eggs, meat, cheese, and drinks cold when you're on the road or camping. In hotter climes, such as Florida where I live, coolers are considered essential.
10. Lighter, Matches, Fire Starters
Unless you are planning on rubbing two sticks together, you are going to need a lighter or matches to get cooking. My advice would be to take both, in case of dampness or loss. Firestarters will make it much quicker and easier if and when you want to get the campfire going.
11. Can Opener, Bottle Opener, Corkscrew, and/or Multi-Tool
Can openers, bottle openers, and corkscrews sound like obvious items to take camping, but in my experience they can so often be the devices that are most often forgotten. Alternatively, you may just want to invest in a multi-tool device, such as a Swiss Army Knife, which will give you the ability to open cans, bottles, and wine, and may come in useful for other stuff too.
My recommendation to those looking for a Swiss Army-style knife would be the Victorinox Multi-Tool SwissChamp Pocket Knife. This well-designed and durably constructed multi-tool product has a bottle opener, can opener, corkscrew, screwdriver, pliers, scissors, wood saw, magnifying glass, and much more. I keep mine on my keychain and it's saved my bacon on many occasions over the years. This is a tool for most situations and they are made from stainless steel and don't break easily like they do with some of the cheaper products.
12 Camping Coffee Percolator Pot
While I'll admit it's not essential in the strictest sense of the word, the camping experience would not be the same for me without drinking a hot mug of coffee that's been brewed in a coffee pot on an open fire. You can make your beverage in a pan, of course, and then filter out the grounds, but I prefer a percolator.
My personal favorite is the GSI Outdoors Enamelware percolator. The rugged, classic design of this percolator makes it easy to use and transport, and it makes a strong, hearty cup of coffee, just what I need at the start of a day outdoors. I've owned one for years and I'm sure it will last many years more. It was also a surprisingly affordable purchase.
Here are some other items that you should consider taking on your camping adventure.
- Portable folding kitchen table: Feasible if car camping, but out of the question for backpackers, these are useful for prepping food and provide a raised surface space.
- Hatchet: Something to cut up wood for the fire will always come in handy.
- Shovel: An invaluable digging tool, especially if you are miles from civilization. They can be used for many things, including preparing a bonfire.
- Rotisserie grill and spit: A great way to create roasted food, especially chicken.
- Heat-resistant grill gloves: These will protect your hands and fingers from burns when cooking outdoors.
- Collapsible water carrier: Maybe not vital, but certainly useful if there are no taps with fresh water nearby.
- Spice containers: If you plan to eat tasty meals, you will need something practical to transport your herbs and spices.
- Metal skewers: Great for roasting meat, vegetables, and fruit.
- Marshmallow roasting forks: While I can't say that I'm a fan of them myself, many see roasted marshmallows as an essential part of the camping experience.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Paul Goodman