Whether you’re cooking up breakfast in flower-filled meadow, having lunch by the ocean, or serving dinner beneath a glittering desert sky, food just tastes better outside.
In fact, I think enjoying a great meal while surrounded by the beauty of the great outdoors and breathing in fresh air is one of the best parts about overlanding.
Which brings me to my topic—setting up a camp kitchen.
Before we venture too far into this topic, let me just say that I am not a gourmet chef or an organizational guru. I’m just someone who’s prepared a few meals on the trail and enjoys eating good food.
I’m still on my quest to find the perfect setup for my kitchen on wheels, but I have found a few things that work for me and a few that don’t, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned on my journeys and how I set up my camp kitchen.
Basic Gear and Equipment for Your Camp Kitchen
There’s no need to get fancy and spend a ton of money on setting up your camp kitchen, especially if you’re just getting started. Begin with the basics, figure out what essentials you need, and build up from there.
The most important thing to keep in mind when setting up your kitchen is to do what works best for you—not me or anyone else—because your cooking skills, food preferences, and culinary ambitions are unique to you. Your kitchen can be as simple or as lavish as you want it to be.
Absolutely get ideas from other folks, particularly if you’re new to camp cooking, but at the end of the day, it’s your kitchen and it has to work for you.
To give you some ideas, here are the essentials in my camp kitchen:
- Heat source. Transforming ingredients into a meal requires heat so a propane stove is a must, especially when camping in areas with a fire ban. I have two different stoves because of my husband’s coffee addiction, but if you’re setting up your kitchen for the first time, I’d recommend just one of them.
- Cookware. I like having choices when I cook so I bring a few different pots and pans as well as spoons, spatulas, knives, and several other crucial cooking tools.
- Dinnerware/Serveware. Eating out of the pot with my fingers was fun…when I was five. Now, I prefer a slightly more civilized approach, so I keep a few basic pieces of dinnerware in my camp kitchen.
- Cleaning supplies. No camp kitchen would be complete without a way to clean up the post-meal mess.
- Collapsible basin (makes soaking and washing dirty dishes a breeze)
- Biodegradable soap
- 3-4 dish towels
- Disinfectant wipes
- Paper towels
- Plastic grocery bags (1-2 for each day we’re on the trail)
- Storage. Whether you’re overlanding for a few days or a few weeks, it’s important to keep food fresh and intact so storage that is rugged and reliable is vital.
- Dometic refrigerator
- Plastic baggies (I bring several gallon- and quart-sized baggies for leftovers)
- Bear bags (if you’re in bear country)
- Note: we store all our cookware, dinnerware/serveware, and cleaning supplies in either our Jeep’s built-in storage modules or the storage spaces in our Patriot Campers off-road trailer but you could use a rigid or soft box instead.
Everything I mentioned above are the bare necessities I need to whip up a meal and keep things clean and orderly when we’re out on the trail. But where’s the fun—or convenience—in having just the basics?
Beyond the Basics for Camp Cooking
These days, there are plenty of gizmos and gadgets you can use in your camp kitchen to make cooking and cleanup easier and more convenient. And really, if there’s a way to simplify your life and reduce stress, why wouldn’t you?
I also believe that camping doesn’t have to mean eating only rehydrated food or hot dogs. Those can be great options for when you’re in a hurry (and I love a good old fashioned hot dog with mustard, onions, and relish), but part of the fun of overlanding is enjoying a delightful meal while sitting around the campfire.
And delicious food doesn’t mean you spend hours slaving over an intricate recipe, but it does mean making sure you have the right tools and equipment to prepare the recipes that tickle your taste buds.
So, I’m going to share with you the extra gear and equipment I use in my camp kitchen that makes fixing meals on the trail enjoyable and (mostly) hassle-free.
- Heat source extras. If you’re cooking for a crowd, you’ll want to have the ability to prepare several portions at once, which means additional heat sources.
- Skottle (perfect for one-dish meals, stir-fry, or cooking several things that require different cooking times, like potatoes and sausages)
- Grill (we’re lucky that our Patriot Campers off-road trailer comes with one)
- Cookware extras. In addition to the basics I’ve already listed, I like to bring a few other items that enhance my overall camp cooking experience, ensure the food is tasty, and, most importantly, prevent food poisoning.
- *Large cutting board
- *Small cutting board
- Multi-size measuring spoon (1/4 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon)
- Multi-size measuring cup (1/4 to 1 cup)
- Corkscrew/bottle opener
- Cleaning extras. Because keeping things clean is important for health, hygiene, and my sanity, I like to bring a few items that help me keep things spic and span.
- Over-the-cabinet paper towel holder
- Over-the-cabinet plastic bag holder (this is meant to hold and store plastic bags, but it works well as a small trash bag)
- Biodegradable food wipes
- Storage extras. Aside from keeping our food fresh and intact, I enjoy the convenience of having all my favorite seasonings, spices, and other pantry items with me on the trail.
- 2 small soft boxes (for spices, seasonings, and baking goods)
- Small bottles/containers for spices and other cooking ingredients (oils, sugars, flour, baking soda, and similar items) o Large soft box for dry goods like pastas, rice, bread, and oats
- Large soft box for canned goods
- Medium soft box for snacks
To elaborate a little on the storage containers for my spices, seasonings, and other pantry items, it’s because having sealed, uniformly sized containers make these items easier to pack and prevents spillage on the trail, something I learned the hard way (when flour spills, it gets everywhere!). They’re also smaller than the containers the items come in when I buy them at the grocery store, and I can easily restock these from my home kitchen. By keeping them in a soft box, I can rotate them between overlanding rigs, since we have more than one.
And while I use the storage spaces in our different vehicles, I love using different sized soft boxes to keep all of my cooking supplies organized and safer when they're being tossed around on the trail.
* Having two cutting boards, one for raw meats and another for everything else, helps prevent cross-contamination.
The Perfect Camp Kitchen Setup
There are so many ways to outfit your camp kitchen these days to create the outdoor cooking space of your dreams. If you dream of PB&J for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you probably won’t need much more than the basics. But if you dream of preparing bacon-wrapped ribeye skewers with garlic aioli…well, you’ll probably want to include some extras beyond the basics.
My cooking style is somewhere in the middle. Sometimes all I have the time and energy for is a quick sandwich or chili dogs. And then there are times when I want to prepare a savory dinner from scratch to top off a great day on the trail.
My camp kitchen is stocked so that I can easily throw together a turkey sandwich on the fly, make a hearty breakfast of hot oatmeal topped with nuts and dried fruits, or put together a spicy, homemade chili mac with all the toppings.
And, because of my husband’s love of coffee, we carry a soft box stocked with everything he needs to make our morning coffee, including a one-burner propane stove, his percolator, coffee grounds, and cups. Having a “coffee box” means he doesn’t have to make a go digging around for the things he needs—it’s all in the box.
If you’re just getting started, don’t rush out and buy all the things at once. Stick with the basics, use what you already have in your home kitchen, figure out what you really need, decide what will make your life easier, and go from there.
Feel free to leave any questions or tops of your own in the comment section below.
The only perfect camp kitchen is the one that’s perfect for you!