like life, is what you make of it. Over the years, I have seen
many people, myself included, make some very strange things
of food while camping.
Over time as my experience with trail cooking has increased
I have developed a basic trail cooking style that works for
me. The basic principles are transferable to people
of widely varying tastes. I would like to share what I have
learned with you. Please feel free to adapt what seems right
for you and grow your own personal style of trail cooking.
Many people separate home cooking from trail cooking in their
mind and purchase dried camping foods and canned
or meal in a box foods that they would never consider eating
at home. The they go to a camping supply store to purchase
their cookware and dishes. They end up with small thin
wall steel pans that burn food at the bottom of the pan directly
under the burner and leaves the rest of the food half
cooked. Then they put this food that they would not eat
at home onto an enameled steel plate which sucks the heat out
of the food before it is completely consumed. It
is no wonder so many campers are happy to get home at the end
of a weekend and hit a restraunt whenever possible along
If you start thinking in terms of cooking the same meals you
like to eat at home, cookware that will properly cook those
meals and dishes that do not conduct heat away, you are on
your way to developing your own Land Rover cooking style.
Kitchen in the Green Rover during
The basic principles are easy:
The biggest mistake I have seen people make when Land Rover cooking
is using back packing cookware and enamelled metal plates. Weight
and space are the primary design factors for back camping cookware.
The thin stainless steel or aluminium pans allow localized hot spots
that easily burns foods. Unless you are cooking under a very low
heat and paying constant attention, burnt on the outside and raw
in the middle is the common result. They work well for boiling water
but not much else. Once the food and cooking oil burn on the pans,
they can be hard to clean.
Cooking is best done with thicker metal cookware made from a metal
with high heat conductivity. The ideal is for the whole cook
surface to be at the same temperature and for that temperature to
be able to change quickly as you adjust the heat level. Of the common
metals used for cookware aluminium has the best heat conductivity
and Stainless steel the worst. The problem with aluminium cookware
is that it reacts with acidic foods to form aluminium salts, many
of which are not good for you. Your best cookware at "affordable
prices" would be thick aluminium with an inert inside coating
such as a non-stick coating, anodising, or a thin layer of stainless
steel. Thick silver or copper pots have the best heat conductivity
but they are high maintenance and very expensive. Cast iron cookware
cooks evenly but does not react quickly to changes in cooking temperature.
The first thing you should start with is high quality pans that
are very similar to what you use at home. You already know how to
get the best performance out of the cookware you have at home. You
choose your home cookware because it works for your style of cooking
or you have evolved a style of cooking that works with your cookware.
Take advantage of this hard learned cooking knowledge.
I have two burners and a broiler for trail cooking, so I know that
I will not use any more than one broiling pan and two other cooking
containers at any one time. I try to choose my cookware for minimum
I have a nonstick coated stainless steel broiler pan; an enamelled
steel coffee pot because it fits in a space I have for it; a large
thin walled stainless steel back packing style pot for heating water
for washing and a smaller thin wall stainless steel backpacking
type pot for cooking pasta and for steaming vegetables. A stainless
steel steamer just fits inside this pot. The two pots and steamer
nest together minimizing the storage space needed.
I carry a 1 quart thick sided aluminium sauce pan with anodised
nonstick surfaces, an 8 inch frying pan and a small wok of the same
material. If I were cooking for two, I think I would change the
frying pan to 9 or 10 inch, add a 2 quart pot and move up to the
next size larger wok. I also carry a hard anodised aluminium griddle
for those times when I just needs lots of flat cooking area.
Enamelled metal plates and bowls conduct heat very well. They will
quickly drain heat out of your food causing it to get cold before
you can eat it.
The modern plastic plates help keep the heat in your food and are
hard to break. They are my choice for plates and bowls. I have recently
switched from plastic cups to the large insulated plastic cups.
This gives me more tea for the work of making a cup and the tea
stays warm much longer.
In my experience, two sets of dishes per person seems to work best.
I don't always have time to do dishes right after a meal and when
I am hungry I do not want to do dishes before I can eat.
Many people will use paper plates while on the trail. While this
cuts clean up time and water usage it generates a large volume of
trash. I try to keep my trash levels to a minimum since I carry
it out. I have seen some people generate truly massive amounts of
trash from an overnight stay.
I've seen many people who use paper plates try to burn their plates
and garbage afterwards. This only seems to work with a largish
hot fire. All too many times I've come across fire rings with
partially burned paper plates, cans and bottles inside them.
Please pack your non burnable's out as well a anything you can not
burn completely. Don't burry it, don't partially incinerate
It has occurred to me that some people may use paper plates because
they were raised with dish washers and really do not know about
washing dishes without lots of running water. My grandparents lived
in a house with hand pump water when my mom learned to do dishes.
I learned about doing dishes from them. I'll share what I learned.
Basically you need two dish washing pans and a drying rack of some
kind. There are rectangular plastic dish washing pans that can be
nested together for storage and filled with you plates, pots &
such while traveling. They could provide you with a lidless box
for organizing some of your kitchen stuff.
The dish washing pans are also handy for such things as laundry
and soaking tired feet.
I have a plastic folding dish rack that I picked up from a RV accessory
dealer. Folded up it is about the size of a one inch thick binder.
One pan is used for washing the dishes and the other is used for
rinsing them. The way I was taught was to go from the cleanest dishes
to the dirties dishes saving the stuff with grease & cooking
oils to last. Glasses go first, then utensils, plates then bowls.
The pans go last unless they are relatively clean and oil/grease
free. Pots used to cook pasta or to steam vegetables would fall
under this category.
Doing dishes in The Green Rover. Dirty dishes on the left, sink
for wahing, sink for rinse and drying rack on right
I almost can not prepare food without a cutting board. My personal
preference is a wood cutting board. I quickly discovered that wood
cutting boards will dry out and split in dry high plains deserts.
My answer is a small cutting board stored in a gallon zip lock bag.
I took a gallon bag to the store and selected the largest cutting
board that fit into the bag. The bag not only keeps the board from
drying out and cracking it keeps it clean while on the trail.
After using the board for meat, I clean it toughly, pour boiling
water over it, then let it dry before packing it way. If not kept
clean, a cutting board can become a source of food poisoning. When
I get home I give the cutting board a coating of mineral spirits
to keep it from completely drying out and cracking.
At home I have a large selection of cutting knives. On the trail
I use one very good five inch blade knife. A large plastic slotted
spoon is used to stir my cooking, dish out pasta and aid in draining
water. I have a small wire strainer for draining pasta and to help
wash leafy vegetables. A grater is used for grating hard cheese
and carrots. I have a plastic spatula that fits my eight inch fry
pan. I carry two sets of eating utensils per person. That, a wine
bottle opener and a can opener completes the utensils that I bring.
I have recently started carrying a spoon rest. It provides a clean
place to put utensils while I'm cooking.
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The trail is no place to experiment with foods you normally do
not eat. Before cooking a meal on the trail, try it at home using
the same ingredients that you expect to use on the trail. If it
doesn't taste like something you would like to eat at home on a
regular basis, you shouldn't be eating it on the trail.
On a trip you can often get tired and your body is under stress.
A delicious meal of familiar food can do a lot to provide a sense
of well being on the trail and will make a trip a lot more enjoyable.
So when planning a trip, think in terms of foods that you normally
cook. Trail camping is a good time for treats and special dishes.
You want to maximize your trip enjoyment, not wish the trip were
over so you could get to a restaurant for some REAL food.
Major factors in deciding what to prepare include: how long you
will be away from a grocery store; how much cold storage do you
have; how many burners you have for cooking a meal and how much
time will you have to prepare meals.
The longer that you will be away from a grocery store and less
cold storage that you have the more you need to rely upon ingredients
that are packaged, canned or store well at campsite temperature
Make up a list of "standard meals" that you like and tend to fix
that are quick and easy to prepare. It will be easiest if you can
prepare the entire meal using the number of burners that you have
available. Use this list as a basis for deciding what is needed
for food storage and for cooking utensils.
An ingredients list made up from you standard list of meals becomes
your standard trip shopping and packing list. The less often you
are out on the trail, the more important having this list becomes.
I have provided a list of my standard meals as an example to help
you start your own standard meals list.
I like tea in the morning.
So I have a pot of water ready to go before I go to bed the night
before. That way if my water freezes during the night, the tea
water is ready to heat. I use the best quality tea I can find and
don't reuse tea bags on the trip. I pack sugar cubes because it
is a quick easy way to measure a consistent amount of sugar.
I have seen coffee drinkers create fancy elaborate coffee drinks
first thing in the morning. If you are used to morning caffeine,
take the time to make the best quality pot that you can. This can
do wonders to start your day on a good note. Just remember that
coffee and tea are both diuretics. You will want to drink them in
moderation if you are going to be away from a rest room or in an
area where dehydration is a significant safety hazard.
When deciding what to have for breakfast use your own personal
eating habits as a guide line. If you are used to a light breakfast,
have a light breakfast and keep a snack handy for the time that
you normally get hungry.
When I am in a hurry, I will generally have ether a bowl of cereal,
or a container of low fat yogurt and a roll or two. These are quick,
require little preparation and little cleanup. I normally carry
fruit to add to my cereal to make it more interesting. Canned peaches
is a favorite.
When I have time to cook in the morning I have three basic meals
that I usually cook on the trail: pancakes, French toast, and an
The pancakes are made from a package mix where all you add is water.
I vary this by adding fresh banana, berries or nuts.
The French toast takes an egg, a little milk and for me a lot of
cinnamon. I find French toast to be very quick and easy to make.
I prepare it in a plastic container designed to store a sandwich.
It is shallow, doesn't take up much storage space and fits a slice
of bread. It can also be used as a container for marinating meat.
My egg scramble is my most complicated breakfast dish. I saute
fresh garlic, sun dried tomatoes, green onions, and slices of lean
polish sausage then add an egg and cheese.
This gives me five basic morning meals that I carry ingredients
for and can fix according to my schedule and mood.
Once again, use your normal lunch habits as your primary guideline.
Of course this will be modified by the length of time you have for
lunch and how much effort it requires to prepare and clean up after
I prefer to have hot lunches. Luckily, I travel with my stove already
set up and ready to turn on so I can quickly cook a meal. If I do
not have time to cook, I have food along that is quick to make and
doesn't require cooking. Pre made sandwiches get soggy or stale.
But sandwiches can be made quickly if the ingredients are ready
For lunch I like a combination of two of the following: soup, sandwich
and salad. I keep a supply of my favorite canned or packaged soups
on hand, sandwich making supplies and pre made packaged salad greens.
This provides me with a quick satisfying lunch in a short time.
I think if I had to unpack and set up a stove, I would tend to
go for cold lunches if I were on the trail.
Lunch is the meal I am most likely to stop at a restaurant for
if I'm in transit on paved roads.
Usually by the time I stop for dinner, I am tired and hungry.
Before I start fixing a meal, I will fix a quick salad and have
a roll. This takes the edge off my hunger and improves my spirits
while I prepare the rest of my meal.
I have three basic dinners that fit my cooking facilities that
I tend to cook while on the trail. The quickest and simplest is
to broil a meat and steam a vegetable to go with the salad and bread
I have already consumed.
Another common alternative for me is a pasta dish that requires
one burner to cook pasta and one burner to cook the sauce or saute
vegetables, garlic, sun dried tomato and a meat. If the pasta dish
is meatless I tend to broil a meat to go with it.
My third common trail dish is a stir fry. I put a little of just
about everything I have in it.
Each of these three basic meal types are simple, quick and easily
varied with different kinds of vegetables, sauces and meats. Most
importantly I know how to cook them and find them to be satisfying.
Back to the list
Packing the basics
When packing for a trip I make sure that I have the basics I need
for all my stock meals. Small country stores often will carry a
minimum of items and have very little variety. I make sure that
I have an adequate supply of items I use in my cooking that may
not be available in a small store.
By having a group of basic recipes for trail cooking I can easily
assemble a shopping and packing list. This list can be very important.
Preparing a meal that you have set your appetite for is the wrong
time to discover that you forgot to pack a critical ingredient.
My trip staples include: Sun dried tomatoes, garlic cloves, fresh
mushrooms, extra virgin olive oil, a spray on nonstick cooking oil,
rice vinegar, malt vinegar, BBQ sauce, lite soy sauce, maple syrup,
mustard, lite miracle whip, jar of applesauce, cinnamon, ginger,
pancake mix, eggs, milk, butter, orange juice, a selection of canned
soups, canned tuna, canned peaches, a prepackaged salad mix, a low
fat polish sausage, bread and rolls. I make sure that all these
items are packed anytime I leave for a trip longer than a weekend.
In addition to these staples of my kitchen, I carry a variety of
vegetables, fruits, fish and meats.
Back to the list
Keeping it clean and under control:
Many people do an absolute minimum of cleaning and organizing while
on the trail. While you can easily get away with that for a weekend
trip, this style becomes unworkable when you are out on the trail
for several weeks. I have developed my trail cooking style for staying
in the field indefinitely. While it may be a little overkill for
a weekend trip, it serves me well.
The back of my Rover is my bedroom, living room and kitchen. I
keep it clean and orderly. Everything in my car is assigned a location
that is its "away". When something is away, I know where it is and
it is protected from accidental damage.
I make sure the rear interior of my car is clean twice a day and
that everything is properly stored once a day.
When I stop for the day I will clean the rear interior if I have
traveled through adverse environments. I keep a sponge and soap
handy for a quick cleaning. I do not like the idea of preparing
my meal where every surface has a thick coating of dust. I find
that it only takes a few minutes to wipe the interior surfaces clean.
Land Rover interiors are small.
Each morning before starting out on the trail I clean the rear
interior and make sure that everything is properly stowed for the
The longer you are out in the field, the more important a clean
place to eat and sleep become. On long trips it is critical to have
an ongoing routine that maintains your environment to a level that
you find acceptable. You can put up with just about anything for
a weekend. I have discovered that if you keep up a daily cleaning
routine the chore is a lot easier and quicker to do than if you
let it build up.
I keep my cookware and packaged foods inside plastic boxes. The
boxes were specifically chosen to fit into the spaces and crannies
that my car has. Unless the box makes a water tight seal, dust can
get in. I use gallon and quart zip lock bags to store as much as
possible. Between the plastic box and the sealed plastic bags, my
cookware stays clean through the worst of dusty trails and is ready
to go when I am. I place a layer of thin flexible foam between surfaces
of nested pans to protect their surfaces from damage caused by vibration.
Each pan is also kept inside a plastic bag to help keep them clean
and ready for use.
Canned and bottled foods are stuck into crannies and I just clean
the outside off when am ready to open them.
I have a refrigerator for keeping foods cold. Water condenses inside
of refrigerators unless you are traveling in arid climates. I usually
empty my refrigerator and wipe it clean every three or four days.
This is usually not an issue during desert travel. Meat is
stored as individual servings, each in their own plastic zip lock
bag to keep germs from spreading and to keep meat juices from leaking
throughout the refrigerator. I prefer to purchase milk and orange
juice in plastic containers. I have found that the paper containers
leak more often then not after a lot of bouncing. My eggs sit in
a hard plastic container. My butter, film, any chocolate and other
items that may be affected by moisture get their own zip lock bags.
If you are using an ice chest sealing foods in zip lock bags becomes
even more important to prevent spoilage. You should also drain water
from an ice chest at least once a day.
I have found that meat will last longer if it is frozen when you
put it into cold storage.
Back to the list
Putting it all together
Once again I can not overemphasize the value of trying out your
basic trail foods at home using the same cookware that you will
be using on the trail. You will learn a lot and make your trip a
lot more pleasant. As you practice, make lists of ingredients to
use as a trip shopping and packing list. If some of the cookware
doesn't meet your needs replace it with something that fits your
Eat what you like and know how to cook. Use the cookware that you
know how to use. Keep your cooking surfaces and cookware clean.
You will stay healthier and cooking will be more pleasant.
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