Cooking while on a camping trip can sometimes prove a bit of a challenge, but as outdoor adventure enthusiasts, we love to rise to it. Whatever your newest adventure, be it a big hike to tackle, or a huge national park to explore, every camper needs a nutritious meal at the end of the day.
There are lots of options for campsite food, but there’s nothing quite like homemade. If it’s a rainy day, or you’re feeling down, a proper cooked meal is the perfect thing to get you back into the camping spirit. Getting creative in making backcountry meals can be a lot of fun, whether you spit roast over a campfire or bake bread in the coals, there are loads of different ways to cook up some delicious camping cuisine.
At the campsite, cooking is often limited to what you can throw on the grill, and it’s true that all of our beloved camp food classics are hard to beat. Burgers and hot dogs will always have a place in our hearts, and there’s no way they’re ever going to be off the menu.
However, for frequent campers, the usual backcountry menu can get a little boring, so by expanding your cooking options, you gain the ability to cook many more different foods. According to a 2017 report, 33% of first time campers purchase a camping stove before their trip, but there are other alternatives, If you learn how to make a camp oven, then you can roast chickens, make pizza, and even bake cakes, all at your campsite.
How to make a vagabond stove
One way to cook your food while camping is by using a vagabond stove, a camp oven of your own creation. Not only will this DIY project impress your camping mates, but it will also provide a quick and easy stovetop in emergencies, so you can fry your eggs for breakfast without needing to bring a fancy camping stove in your backpack.
You will need:
- A one-gallon tin can
- A can opener
- A pair of tin snips
- A punch opener
- A pair of protective gloves
Firstly, remove the lid from one end of the tin using the can openers (it goes without saying, your tin should be empty). This is the bottom of your stove. While wearing your safety gloves, use the tin snips to carefully cut a 3×3 inch door into one side of the tin can, from the open end.
You should only cut the door out on two sides so it remains attached to the can, so that you can bend it out. This will serve as your oven’s ventilation control. Then, using the punch opener, punch two or three holes in the opposite side of the can to the door. These little air holes will help with circulation and ventilation as well.
This stove can be set over a small fire or buddy burner, with the closed top of the tin can being your stovetop. Simply set your cooking pot on top of the stove and get cooking! Be careful not to touch the stove once it’s set over the heat- it will become incredibly hot. You can open and close the door for heat control, although it’s admittedly rudimentary compared to a camping stove’s temperature controls.
How to make a buddy burner
One way to heat your camping stove is by using a buddy burner, placing the vagabond stove over the top of it, creating a fully homemade heat source and stovetop. This tiny piece of innovation can also serve as emergency fuel, and making it is easy and requires only a few basic supplies.
You will need:
- A shallow tin can (such as used for tuna or cat food)
- Corrugated cardboard for fuel, or sawdust
- Paraffin wax
Firstly, cut your cardboard down into strips which are slightly narrower than the depth of the can. Roll the strips up into a coil and insert them into the empty can. After that, melt the paraffin wax and pour it over the cardboard, and then allow it to soak in and harden. Next, simply light it with a match, and you have a burner to place your stove over.
To extinguish the buddy burner, firstly remove the vagabond stove with a potholder. Don’t touch any part of the stove or burner, as it will, of course, be extremely hot. Smother the flame of the buddy burner using a larger tin can lid or a similar piece of flat metal.
You need to place it over the top of the burning can, to cut off the oxygen and let the flame die. Once extinguished, wait for the paraffin wax to cool completely and harden before touching or moving the burner.
How to make a box oven
If you need a camp oven, rather than a stovetop, you can make a box oven using very simple supplies. Try baking some backcountry pizza, brownies, or even a roast chicken. You’ll be surprised by what you can rustle up using a simple cardboard box.
This cooker is ideal for backpacking, as packing light means you might not be able to bring along a propane stove for outdoor cooking. Instead, you should be able to easily gather the basic materials you need, and whip up some delicious camping recipes.
You will need:
- A cardboard box (of an appropriate size to be your oven)
- Heavy-duty aluminum foil
The first step to making your box oven is to remove the flaps from the cardboard box, so it has five sides in total. Then cover it completely in aluminum foil, inside and out. Take care that all the foil is shiny side out. The bottom of the box will be the top of your oven.
To use your DIY backcountry oven, place the pan containing the food you wish to cook on a grill or similar surface, over lit charcoal. The grill should be raised about 10 inches above the charcoal, you can use logs, rocks, or whatever else your creativity inspires to lift it up.
Then, set your box oven over the top of the pan containing food. This will hold in the heat from the charcoal and create an oven effect to cook your food. To create some ventilation for the charcoal, prop up one side of the box with a stone, or cut a few air vents along the lower edge of the oven.
You can control the baking temperature through the number of pieces of charcoal you use. As a general rule, each piece of charcoal supplies 40 degrees of heat, so with a little maths, you should be able to reach your ideal temperature.
You can make adjustments to your camp oven, such as constructing a removable top, or an oven door. Just imagine you’re a child building machines out of cardboard, and let your creativity inspire you.
How to use a Dutch oven as a camp oven
If you need to do some oven cooking on your camping trip, one thing you can make use of is a dutch oven. This handy piece of cookware is often used for slow cooking, but they can also serve as the perfect oven for campers. Dutch ovens are most commonly made of cast iron with an enamel coating. They’re quite big, very heavy, and incredibly versatile when it comes to camp cooking.
Adding a dutch oven to your collection of camping gear will increase the range of your camping menu exponentially, you’ll be wondering how you went without for so long. Rather than having only a grill, which is what most campers use to prepare their meals, a dutch oven will open up a whole new world of possibilities.
If you’re choosing a dutch oven to buy for camping purposes, we recommend you keep a lookout for the following features:
- Built-in legs, which will allow it to sit in a much more stable way over the hot coals
- A good solid handle on the lid, for ease of use, when you have to pick it up using tongs or a potholder
- A snuggly fitting lid, which will keep the heat in much better
- A handle which is attached to the oven itself, which is strong and easily movable
You can use dutch ovens to bake, roast, fry, stew- they’re an incredibly versatile piece of kit. They’re also highly durable, and if you take good care of it, you’re unlikely to ever have to buy more than one.
To cook with a dutch oven, you’ll need a few other essential items:
- A bag of coals or briquettes
- A long pair of tongs, like campfire tongs, for moving and placing the coals or briquettes
- A lid lifter- this is absolutely necessary, as the cast iron will become incredibly hot
- A pair of heat resistant gloves, for the same reasons
- A small brush- this isn’t as important, but you’ll use it to brush ash off the lid before lifting it, so none of it ends up in your food
Now, for how to use your dutch oven:
1. Use a fire pit, fire circle, or BBQ to light your charcoal or briquettes. Nurture them as you would for a BBQ until they’re hot and mostly white.
2. Once your coals are ready, put the ingredients for your meal or whatever you wish to cook inside the pot, and cover with the lid.
3. Now, use the tongs to arrange the coals around your dutch oven.
When arranging your coals, there’s a formula you can use in order to attain the perfect cooking setup: Use two coals per inch of oven diameter, which three extra on top and three fewer underneath. For example, if your pot size is 12 inches, you’ll need 24 hot coals.
Nine coals should be placed under the pot, and 15 on top. This setup will maintain a temperature of around 350 degrees, which is ideal for most cooking purposes. If you need to adjust the temperature, simply add or remove hot coals, there’s nothing more to it.
4. While your food is cooking, it can be very tempting to lift off the lid and peek inside. However, it’s best to just let the oven do its work, letting the heat stay inside and the magic happen! If you absolutely have to, use a lid lifter, and be very careful not to let any ash get inside.
5. Finally, once your meal is cooked, use the tongs to remove the coals from the lid of your oven, and brush off as much ash from the lid as you can. Then, remove the top with your lid lifer, and dig in!
A dutch oven is a valuable piece of kit, and it will last you a lifetime if you look after it properly. To keep it in the best possible condition, only use a gentle detergent when cleaning, anything stronger could affect the seasoning.
You should also never pour cold water into a hot dutch oven, as the rapid cooling could cause serious damage and even make it crack. They’re not indestructible, so don’t drop it, and as a final note, stick to wooden cooking utensils. Plastic or silicone spatulas could melt, which you probably don’t want.
Campfire cooking can become so much more interesting when you can incorporate oven recipes, first-time camp chefs need not be afraid- it’s much easier than it looks. If you’re in charge of the camp kitchen, a dutch oven will make your job much more interesting. Once you’re ready to dig in, you’ll need some quality dinnerware for your delicious cooking, so check out our buying guide for the best camping dinnerware.
Building the perfect campfire for a campsite BBQ
Now, you can’t talk this much about campsite cooking without mentioning BBQ’s. Nothing completes a camp experience like an evening BBQ, and to get the perfect BBQ, you’ll need the perfect campfire. Follow these steps, and you’ll be the top camp chef in no time.
Firstly, you’ll need to prepare the ground. The best thing to do is to find an existing fire circle at your campsite. Not only will this mean less work for you, but it’s much better for the natural environment to limit the number of spots where campfires burn. Once you have a circle of rocks to contain your campfire, stack some logs or bricks on either side. You’ll use this later to lay your grill on top of, aiming to be about 30cm above the hot embers.
Collect your tinder and kindling. You can use twigs and small sticks, leaves, pinecones, or just bunched up pieces of newspaper. Set the newspaper and any other tinder in the fire pit, and pile up twigs in a teepee fashion around it. Light the paper, and allow the rest of it to catch alight too. Slowly add larger sticks and twigs, and eventually logs, until the fire is built up.
Once you’ve created a hot core of logs, let them burn down into glowing embers. Now it’s time to place the grill on top, and your campfire is ready to BBQ on. Get those burgers sizzling, and rustle up some tasty grub for you and all your campsite buddies.
Now that you’ve finished, take care to extinguish your campfire properly. The best way is to wait until the fire naturally burns out- you should never leave a campfire unattended, or leave your campsite before it’s completely cooled.
If you’re looking to branch out and expand your camping menu, why not try something different and check out our vegan camping recipes. Trying new things is a big part of the camping experience, and we promise these recipes are no less delicious than what you’re used to.
When it comes to backcountry cooking, the options are endless. In truth, the only limit is your imagination, outdoor enthusiasts are coming up with innovative new ways to camp every single day. Knowing how to make a camp oven is very useful, on your next camping trip you won’t have to worry if you need an oven rather than a grill. Whether you decide on a vagabond stove or a box oven, or if you go for a full upgrade to a dutch oven, you won’t be disappointed in the results.
Using supplies as simple as tin cans, cardboard boxes and aluminum foil, you can fashion a last-minute piece of cookware to fulfill your needs. Although these methods may seem rudimentary, they’re tried and tested by generations of campers and will provide you with a great hot meal after a long day of hiking.
If you fancy yourself a bit of a camp chef extraordinaire, we can’t recommend investing in a dutch oven enough. These cast iron heroes will amaze you with their usability and versatility, and they’ll elevate your backcountry cuisine to a whole new level. If you aren’t convinced, read our article on how to make biscuits while camping, and see how easy it is to cook things in a dutch oven, even things you wouldn’t have dreamt to make away from home.
Bonus tip: Check out this video on how to build the perfect campfire!