When you think of camping and cooking, you may picture yourself crouched uncomfortably on the floor huddled over a gas stove or trying to scrub dried porridge of the bottom of your pot.
And, I have to admit, I’ve been there…
But if you’re car camping, you don’t have to worry so much about space and weight, which means you can create a camping kitchen which works for you and doesn’t leave you clutching your aching back every night.
I’ve been trawling the Internet with curiosity, wonder, and envy to find the most versatile and practical camping kitchens around.
The 8 Core Components of a Camping Kitchen
Whether you’re lightweight backpacking in the backcountry or camping at a campsite, you’ll need these 8 components to help you prepare, cook and clean up meals.
1) Stove and/or Grill
Unless you’re going to live on cold baked beans and sandwiches, you’ll need something to cook with, whether that’s a campfire, a gas stove or a portable grill.
2) Camping Cookware
To create delicious camping meals, you need the right tools. To help you out, we’ve written a camping cookware guide covering the best pots, pans, and tools for different recipes and camping scenarios.
3) Dishware and Utensils
Put simply, you need something to eat your food off and eat it with. Whether you want to go for an all-in-one-bowl approach or bring a full 16-piece dinnerware set is up to you – and the space in your car.
4) Miscellaneous Essentials
There are lots of bits and pieces you need for cooking, from oil and tinfoil to camping soap and sponges. And if you’re anything like me, having some kind of system to organize these things will help make sure you don’t leave any essentials at home.
Although some camping grounds provide picnic tables, a fold up table can come in handy for food prep, cooking, or just as an extra surface to keep things off the ground.
6) Camp Sink
Yes, you can pack everything and the kitchen sink.
Well, not quite. If you’re used to a Belfast sink with instant hot running water, then you may have to tone down your expectations when it comes to camping. But there are lots of ways you can create your own kitchen solutions for washing up outdoors.
7) Garbage Collection
Whether you’re camping by an alpine lake or in your backyard, you should always try and leave no trace of your presence.
If you’re not at a campsite, this means collecting your garbage and taking it away for disposal. A pop-up trash can like this one is handy if you don’t have to worry about bears or other animals attacking your leftover scraps.
I’ve left this to the end as if you’re backpacking or having to carry your camping kit any distance, taking a cooler won’t be practical. But if you’re car camping, I’d definitely recommend investing in one.
If you have a means of keeping things cool, then this really expands the scope of what you can cook. And it means you’ll always have a cold beer to hand.
Check out our guide to keeping things cool when camping for more tips.
5 Brilliant Camping Kitchen Solutions to Inspire You
Let's take a look at some solutions to the Michelin star-camper's ever growing gourmet needs.
1. The Family Camping Kitchen
Washing dishes has to be my least favorite camping chore. Fresh Off The Grid has a neat 3-bucket system for cleaning your plates and pots, but if you’ve got a family’s worth of dishes to clean, having a sink you can stand up in front of is a definite bonus.
A flatpack system like this Camco camping kitchen has a sink, room for a stove or grill, and a bit of countertop space with storage underneath. The only downside with this type of setup is that you have to take everything out of it in order to pack it down.
The Outdoorsman Series "chuck box kitchen" from My Camp Kitchen
An alternative kitchen solution is a chuck box – a large compartmentalized box you literally chuck all your kitchen stuff into. These usually come with legs or you can rest them on top of a picnic table.
The Gourmet Cook’s Camping Kitchen
If you want to cook multiple dishes or gourmet meals when camping, it can be tricky to juggle all the pots, ingredients and condiments you need without the countertop space you’re used to at home. A camping kitchen such as the GCI Outdoor Portable Cooking Station is a great solution as it maximizes surface space while packing down small for transportation.
Or if you’re handy with tools, then you could follow this DIY video and build your own tiny kitchen, which can be taken apart and put together. It's practical and looks great! With a built-in sink and a long counter for food prep, you’ve got plenty of room to cook up a feast.
The Handyman's Rolling Toolbox Kitchen
There are lots of hacks out there for creating a DIY camping kitchen, but before you get too carried away, think about how much space you have in your vehicle and how far you’ll need to carry your kit at the other end.
If you’re handy with tools, then you can design and build your own camping chuck box from plywood using this step-by-step guide from Rei.
But once full, chuck boxes can be heavy. Not a problem if you only have to lift it out of your trunk but try and carry it any distance and you’ll be wishing you’d left the coffee pot, cast-iron pan, and extra utensils behind.
That’s why I really like this rolling camp kitchen solution which is basically a converted toolbox on wheels. You can load it up and once you’ve lifted it out of your car trunk, you can wheel it to wherever you’re going to be camping.
The Backpacker's Lightweight Kitchen
If you’re backpacking, then lighter is better when it comes to camping kit. You’ll sacrifice some comfort in the kitchen – no tables or chuck boxes here – but by selecting multipurpose items, you can make the most of what space you do have.
The Budget Camper's Kitchen
You don’t have to invest hundreds of pounds in a camping kitchen. If you’ve got a couple of large plastic storage boxes lying around at home, these will keep your pans and food safe and dry and you can stack one on top of the other to create a work surface for food prep.
If there aren’t picnic tables where you’re camping, the Coleman Compact Outdoor Table can seat 4 people for dinner, and if you don’t want to risk taking dishware from home, you can buy a family set of camping plates, bowls, and mugs for under $30.
Whatever camping kitchen set up you go for, it’s likely to evolve over time as you work out exactly what you do and don’t use. It’s worth getting a few camping trips under your belt before investing in an expensive kitchen solution that may not be exactly what you need.
What’s your camping kitchen set up like? I’d love to see it – please share in the comments below!
Alison spends her days writing and dreaming of adventures, and her weekends living them. Both are helped by copious amounts of Yorkshire Tea. She owns a campervan called Sadie and far too many tents.