Cooking up a yummy meal for dinner at the end of a long day of camping fun is the perfect way to relax and recharge at the campsite. However, figuring out what to make for your evening meal is no easy feat because you have so many great options to choose from.
What should you make for dinner when camping, you might ask?
The short answer:
There are countless dinner options available to you while camping, though pasta and rice-based meals tend to be the most popular. Dishes like mac and cheese, rice and beans, curries, and even chicken pad thai are all great options or camping dinners. If you want to get fancy, you can also make pizzas or barbecue for your meal as it all depends on what ingredients you bring and how much effort you want to put into cooking.
If you’re new to backcountry cooking or you simply need some inspiration for your camping meals, it can be difficult to decide what you want to make for your dinner at the campsite. In this article, we’ll take a quick look at some meals that you can make while camping and we’ll offer some additional insight into the wide world of outdoor cooking.
What To Make For Dinner When Camping
Cooking meals at the campground can seem like a daunting task, especially if you’re not yet a seasoned backcountry masterchef. The good news is that there are hundreds of different meals that you can make for dinner while camping depending on the ingredients you bring, your personal tastes, and your fondness for cooking.
If you want to keep things very simple for your dinners, you can focus primarily on one-pot camping meals. These include dishes like:
- Mac and cheese
- Vegetable frittatas
- Spanish rice and beans
- Pasta with red sauce (or pesto)
- Chili mac
- Rice and chickpea curry
- Veggie stir fry
- Beef stroganoff
- Chicken pad thai
The best part about these dishes is that most of them are made by combining your choice of vegetables (and potentially meat) with either rice or pasta and any spices that you enjoy, all of which are easy to prepare in a single pot in the great outdoors.
That being said, if you’re going backcountry camping, you may have to substitute fresh ingredients with freeze-dried or dehydrated ingredients for most of these dishes.
As an example, you can get instant rice and dehydrated beans for your Spanish rice and beans. Additionally, instead of carrying around fresh veggies, you can get dehydrated vegetables for meals during your backcountry adventures.
Alternatively, if you’re willing to put in a bit more time and effort into your camping meals, then the world is truly your oyster as far as dinners go.
For example, it is possible to bake dishes in the outdoors (either by using a dutch oven or with some high-quality backpacking stoves). If you can master this skill, you can make everything from fresh bread to pizza while in the mountains.
Or, if you’re at a campground, you can always prepare a classic barbecue for your evening meal. Just remember to keep any meat that you bring for a barbecue as cold as possible in a quality cooler (such as a YETI Tundra 45) to prevent your food from going bad, which could make you sick during your travels.
What is the Best Food to Bring for Camping?
There’s no such thing as one “best food” for camping as it all depends on what kind of food that you like to eat and what kind of camping you enjoy.
For car camping trips where you have a reliable cooler that can keep your food as cold as possible, you can bring nearly any food that you’d like. This includes meat, dairy, and even fresh vegetables and fruit. The key here is that you keep any perishable items properly chilled to avoid any food borne illnesses.
Alternatively, for backpacking trips, you’re a bit more limited in what you can and can’t bring into the mountains. Since you likely won’t have a cooler with you while backpacking, you don’t want to carry any perishable food items like fresh dairy, meat, fruits, and vegetables. Instead, it’s normally best to bring dehydrated or freeze-dried food, like jerky, dried fruits, and dehydrated vegetables.
What Can I Make Ahead of Time for Camping?
If spending hours at the campground cooking up meals isn’t quite your thing, you might be wondering whether you can pre-cook some dishes before your trip to save you some hassle while you’re outside.
Pre-cooking meals and reheating them while camping is potentially possible during a one-night car camping trip, but only if you are confident that you can keep your prepared food cold until it’s time to reheat it.
Doing so can be difficult, if not impossible, while backpacking, so pre-cooking meals typically isn’t a feasible strategy for backcountry campers. It’s also not recommended for longer car camping trips because the longer you have to keep your pre-made meals cold, the higher the risk of them spoiling and making you sick.
If you do want to pre-cook meals for a short car camping trip, you can prepare nearly anything you want. The key is that you choose foods that are easily reheatable on a stove or campfire as you likely won’t have a microwave with you at the campground.
Due to the higher risk of foodborne illnesses, it’s also best not to pre-make dishes that are heavy in meat and dairy. But it is possible to pre-make stews, soups, casseroles, and other dishes that you can either eat cold or reheat easily at the campground before your next camping trip, so long as you take some basic food safety precautions.
Master Dinnertime at the Campground
Whether you’re a first time camper or a seasoned backcountry chef, there’s no reason why your dinners need to be boring and bland. There are plenty of incredible dishes out there that you can prepare for any camping dinner so long as you’re willing to experiment with different meals and flavors to find what works best for you.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.