3 pans cooking food over a fire

How to Setup and Organize a Campground Kitchen Like a Pro

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What’s the single most important thing that you bring on a camping trip?

Depending on who you ask this topic is hotly debated. If there is a serious cook then a camping kitchen is going to be their number one concern above all else.

Cooking can be a challenging inside and cooking outside brings with it a whole new set of challenges. Whether you are a seasoned veteran or a campsite cooking rookie, having an organized kitchen should be a top priority.

Our goal is to cover everything that goes into any and every organized camping kitchen and beyond.

Campsite cooking safety tips

The first and foremost rule when cooking anything is having adequate ventilation wherever you are cooking. Every year there are stories of people falling ill from cooking inside their tents with improper ventilation. According to the CDC, every year more than 400 people die each year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning.

A few safety rules to follow when cooking at camp…

  • Do not cook inside your tent
  • Never use a gas powered stove inside your tent
  • Always cook on a level surface
  • Never leave a lit stove unattended
  • Pour water over embers when finished
  • Store flammable liquids in the proper containers
  • Keep water nearby when cooking

Importance of campsite kitchen cleanliness

When you are working with a kitchen that you set up in the outdoors keeping everything clean is uber important. While you are lacking a dishwasher and clean countertop spaces that you take for granted at home sanitation becomes a concern.

When raw meat touches surfaces that other people incidentally touch foodborne illnesses are a harsh reality. Here are 5 ways to avoid falling ill while cooking on any camping trip.

1. Cooking with clean hands

According to the CDC washing your hands helps spread bacteria and viruses that you cross inadvertently throughout the day. Whether you’re using the campsite restroom or hanging out at the lake all day germs are everywhere.

2. Keep your raw meats on ice all day and all night

Meat that stays between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours or more should be immediately tossed (source). It’s important to keep a cooler with a block of ice inside with ice cubes spread over it as well.

3. Cook your food all the way through

If you cook often enough you should have a pretty good feel for how long to cook your meat. If you have any doubt about the proper temperature use a meat thermometer just to be safe.

4. Keep everything clean

A campsite is a dirty place in general and it’s easy to overlook when your cooking in the woods. A good plan is clean everything twice, both before and after you use it.

5. Be careful with reusing your pots and pans.

When your cooking with limited resources while camping there are times that you re-use a bowl or pan. Cross-contamination is the cause of “food poisoning” and switching pans during preparation is the easiest way to accidentally fall ill.

Pot cooking over an open flame

Why do you need a camp kitchen?

Camping when I was a teenager, my camp kitchen consisted of a cooler with hot dogs, bacon, a loaf of sliced white bread, eggs, and ketchup. Nothing to fancy and now when I think about it, basically just lazy and gross. That worked while I was younger, but the older I got I slowly gained an appreciation for the joy of a great camping meal.

Having a kitchen set up that includes a few of the basic items from home changed my camping experience forever. A grill is the most important item for obvious reasons, however, organization is right up there with it. There are levels to this game and a proper campground kitchen is the next level.

Where to set up your camping kitchen

The first step to setting up your campsite kitchen is figuring out where to set everything up. It’s not rocket science… There are a few important factors to keep in mind when finding the campground kitchen location.

Finding a flat surface to set the grill up is super important, it makes everything from cooking to prepping way easier. Make sure that you’re set up away from trees, bushes, and any other debris that may catch on fire.

If there is a natural source of water nearby you want to stay 200 feet away per the Leave No Trace principles. Be cognizant of your surroundings and if bears and other wild animals are a concern you want to find a place as far away from your tent as possible.

If you are using an established campground then you’ll already have a picnic table, if not set your table up near the grill. It’s always nice to have the grill close to the flat surface to wear you prep all your meals. It eliminates having to run back and forth throughout the meal and generally makes cooking an overall easier task.

Other things to keep in mind…

  • Set up a windbreak in windy conditions
  • Keep a large jug of water nearby
  • Clean as you go
  • Make sure everything is level

Campground kitchen essential gear

Every camping kitchen is going to be a little different, just like your kitchen at home. No two kitchens are exactly the same. There are common threads that can be found in nearly every kitchen. We compiled a list of gear that will fit right into any outdoor kitchen and make it just like home.

Grilling gear

The grill is the first place to start when putting together a camp kitchen for yourself that will last for countless campsite feasts. It will give you warm meals, hot sandwiches, five-star steaks (hopefully), and evening popcorn just to name a few.

Over the fire grill grate

This is the quintessential piece of camping gear that comes to mind when you think of cooking over a fire. They take some practice and maneuvering to get just right, as there are usually hot and cold spots that only find through trial and error.

These grills rest on over the campfire, or the rather the coals from the campfire and work similar to a charcoal grill. In fact, some people just throw charcoal into the firepit rather than burning wood logs and using the embers from the logs.

Elevated fire pit

Similar to the grilling grate, firepit cooking is done over charcoals with a grill resting over them. According to the leave no trace principles you always minimize your impact, so digging a hole is out of the question.

They do sell premade fire pits that sit on 3 to 4 legs and have an area to place the coals, and most of them come with a grate. If the elevated fire pit does not include a grate, move on to the next one.

Camping stoves

Camping stoves are the most common way to cook, especially if you have a large group of people or are car camping. Mostly gas powered, propane to be more specific, they come in all shapes and sizes. You have everything from single burner backpacking stoves, to a 3 burner stove with dish racks and a prepping station built in.

Cooking with a camping stove is the most convenient and familiar way to prepare a meal because you have control over the temperature and multiple burners in some cases. Generally, these stoves are used with car campers and larger only, they aren’t extremely portable and definitely won’t fit into your backpack.

Public campsite grills

These are found everywhere when you camp and also found in parks all over the country. There is nothing better than a summer cookout with the people you love.

A lot of times people are hesitant to use public grills because they are concerned with the cleanliness of the grill, and for good reason. You should always clean a grill very well before you use it with a strong wire brush, making sure to remove anything that was left on the grill.

Then after you light the coals and once the grill heats up and has a chance to warm up give it another good scrub. After this wait a few more minutes and anything that was on there before should be long gone, and you’re all ready to cook.

If you are still concerned about the cleanliness of the grill, or maybe you don’t eat meat you can use tinfoil for everything that you cook on a public grill to keep it away from whatever and whoever is left on there.

Camping kitchen and cookware sets

Camping cookware comes in a variety of different styles, you don’t have to have a full set right off the bat. You can always just piece it together from home until you are ready to splurge on a full set. Otherwise, there are sets made for camping that are convenient and complete.

Camping cookware pan set

If you plan on cooking then pots and pans are kind of important. You can always just piece together the pots and pans from your cabinets at home if you’re not ready to commit to a full set right off the bat.

This camping cookware set comes with all the pots and pans that you need. It breaks down into a super portable stack of pans that makes it easy to take with you anywhere you want. The pans are all non-stick, you really only need one good pot, one good pan, and a teapot for coffee or tea.

Camping kitchen utensils

Now that you have something to cook with your going to need a way to eat those hot bacon and eggs fresh off the grill. Plastic wear really should be avoided due to the negative impact that plastic has on the environment. Paper utensils will work, however, you have to purchase it every single trip and that gets old quickly.

You can always bring your plates and bowls from home along for your first couple trips. This works for a while, but eventually, you start to notice little dents and cracks that eventually lead to you replacing the dishes at home.

When putting together your dishware take into consideration the number of people that you are cooking for. Dishware and utensils that are made for camping are generally more durable and portable.

Coolers for camping

If you plan on keeping a weeks worth of food you’re going to need two things no matter what, a cooler and ice. Coolers were invented in the fifties and the first patent was in 1953 for a styrofoam icebox. Then in 1957 Coleman popularized the cooler with the plastic shell that we all know and love.

A good trick is to place the food in the freezer beforehand for a few hours before putting it in the cooler, it will keep it cold a little longer. For the perishable food like milk and eggs keeping a block of ice in the cooler is less messy than a bag of ice cubes.

Styrofoam cooler

The styrofoam cooler is super convenient and works well for keeping things inside cold for a day or two. They don’t have the same insulation as the plastic counterparts but if you refill the ice every couple days they will work just fine.

Plastic cooler

A plastic cooler is the most common cooler you see at every campground. They keep the food colder for a longer period of time than the styrofoam coolers above. The hard shell plastic style was invented in the fifties and is one of the most popular ways to keep your food cold and away from critters.

Folding camp kitchen

The folding camp kitchen will set up and break down in just a few minutes. There are a variety of styles that have a place for your grill, pots, pans, and utensils. It’s great to have a place that is the center of your organization efforts at the campsite.

If you do have a table at your campsite it’s a good place to start with your campsite organization. If you start running out of room then adding a

Camp kitchen storage

It’s important that when you’re camping that everything has a place and spot to live. There are million camping hacks and tricks to make your campsite perform the best. Having a place and preparing a little bit in advance will make for a clean and liveable campsite.

Using clear plastic is a great way to be able to simply take a glance and see which cooler is for what. You want to have everything sealed, including your plates and cooking utensils. Wild animals have one helluva nose and can smell leftovers from a million miles away, not really, but you get the point.

Spice storage containers

Variety is the spice of life, and it’s no different with cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Spices are an important part of any kitchen, be it outdoors or indoors. Have some kind of containers that you can use for spices that will not break if they accidentally get dropped.

Cutlery organizer

Cutlery is one of those things that is easily overlooked and easier to lose track of. We discourage the use of plastic cutlery, even though it is a quick fix, there are islands of plastic floating in the oceans. One place where you keep all your cutlery that is small and compact is an important step in keeping organized.

 Large plastic containers

These large clear plastic containers are great for storing everything before you leave and after you get home. Being clear makes it super easy to find which container has what inside of it. Keep in mind that all your food needs to be covered at all times and plastic containers are a great way to organize and keep it covered.

Cleaning up

Most campsites aren’t going to have a place for you to do your dishes. Established campgrounds will almost always have running water, you just need to have a place to wash the dishes. Just a simple dishwashing basin will do, you might even have one sitting around the house that will work.

Conclusion

Creating a camp kitchen reduces clutter and makes every camping trip a little bit easier. Organize your kitchen so you have defined spaces and that everyone knows how to find whatever they need. This avoids people rummaging through bags and leaving a mess behind for you to clean.

There are times when no matter how organized you try and be, things still become a mess. In general, having an organized campsite leads to a cleaner site and peace of mind.

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