Whether you’re looking to impress your partner with a romantic meal under the stars or you just want to be able to eat as well when camping as you do at home, gourmet cooking isn’t confined to the kitchen.
In fact, many campers would say that even the simplest meal tastes better outdoors.
So put those instant mashed potatoes and dried noodles back in the cupboard! Here are my top tips on cooking delicious meals outdoors with the minimum of fuss, plus my pick of the best gourmet camping recipes.
5 Tips for a Gourmet Camping Cook
Before we dive into the recipes, I want to set up some expectations. While it’s not hard to cook a gourmet meal over a campfire or camping stove, there are some limitations.
When choosing recipes, it’s best to make the most of the advantages camp cooking offers and play to your strengths.
1. Choose Simple Recipes
Concocting a meal involving soufflés, balsamic foam and liquid nitrogen-churned ice cream is going to be pretty tricky when you have no electricity, temperature-controlled oven or liquid nitrogen.
Plus, do you really want to spend all your precious time outdoors slaving over a chopping board and camping stove?
I don't! #LazyCooksUnite
When choosing camping recipes, I look for those which will deliver great flavor and taste with minimum time and effort.
2. Use a Few High-Quality Ingredients
Gourmet camp cooking rule number two: the fewer ingredients you’ve got, the less there is to go wrong.
A simple recipe made with high-quality ingredients can taste a million times better than attempting a complex dish requiring a shopping list as long as the US Constitution. And let’s face it, if your ingredients list is that long, you’re bound to leave at least one essential item at home.
3. Invest in Quality Camping Cookware
Having the right cookware will help you avoid burnt meals and make life easier for whoever’s washing up. (Oh, that’s you too? Time to delegate!)
For campfire cooking, a grill, cast iron skillet, and Dutch Oven will help you cook a lifetime’s worth of tasty meals.
If you’re backpacking, then it can be tempting to only pack a tiny pot to cut down on weight and pack size. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, only to run out of space in the pot when cooking dinner and end up with a pasta dish which is both crunchy and soggy – not a good combo.
Instead, choose a pot that’s big enough for the meals you’re likely to cook and pack your other kit in and around it. Or invest in a cookware set that packs together, such as this lightweight two-person camp set from MSR.
4. Use Fresh Ingredients
It goes without saying that fresh food beats freeze-dried every time. Admittedly, this is easier if you’re car camping and have some means of keeping perishable food cool but even if you’re having to carry food into your campsite, you can usually bring enough fresh food for a day or two.
There’s nothing fresher than catching or collecting your own food, so if you’re planning to do a spot of fishing or foraging during your camping trip, use these ingredients as the centerpiece of your meal.
5. Dehydrate Your Own Food for Backpacking
If you’re tight on space and weight or are planning an extended camping trip, then consider cooking and dehydrating meals before you leave home. It’s not quite the same as cooking fresh, but you’ll still end up with a tasty meal with none of the preservatives or additives you get in shop bought dehydrated food.
5 Essential Recipes For a Gourmet Camping Chef
Alright! Let's get to the good stuff. Here's 5 of my favorite gourmet meals you can cook at the campsite.
1. Dutch Oven Chicken Marbella
- chopped prunes
- olives pitted & halved
- dry white wine
- red wine vinegar
- garlic roughly chopped
- dried oregano
- bay leaves
- chicken thighs skin on
- olive oil
- brown sugar
How to do it:
- 1Place all ingredients except for the oil and brown sugar in a freezer bag to marinate.
- 2Place in your ice chest for at least 6 hours and up to 48 hours.
- 3At the campsite, prepare your campfire. You'll need a hefty amount of coal or wood embers to get a good fire burning. We're talking 425F, or oven temperatures.
- 4Place a dutch oven on the fire.
- 5Brown your chicken thighs in the dutch oven. We're talking deep golden, crispy skin, both sides.
- 6Then add the rest of the marinade into the mix. Cover your dutch oven and place it into the fire. If you use coals, put some coals on top as well. We're looking for evenly distributed heat.
- 7Bake for about 30 minutes and enjoy!
One of the keys to gourmet food is getting the flavor combinations right. The sweet and sour combination of prunes, olives, and capers in this dish will make your taste buds dance.
A dish to savor accompanied by a glass of wine after a long day enjoying the outdoors.
Camper's tip: Toss the chicken and other ingredients into a bag at home and leave to marinade in your cooler for a gourmet meal with zero onsite food prep.
Fresh High Alpine Brook Trout (or other lake fish)
- fish - caught locally with your rod, reel and fly
- a sprig of thyme
How to do it:
- 1Trek yourself to a lake deep in the wilderness (or national reserve that allows fishing).
- 2At this point, it's good to have your friend begin preparing a fire, so it'll be hot and ready when you return from your fishing trip.
- 3Go fish! In addition to your rod, reel, and fly, make sure you have a legal fishing license and observe all catch limits and regulations for the area you’re fishing.
- 4Once you catch a good 'un, you need to cull the fish. An assertive, well-directed strike to the back of the head with a stone is usually the best and most humane way.
- 5Clean the fish. With a knife, open the fish along the belly from the anus to the gills. Pull out the guts and then run the back of your thumb along the bloodline on the spine, scraping it clean. Then rinse with cold lake water.
- 6Put a slice of lemon inside each fish with a sprig of thyme. Wrap each fish with a slice of bacon. Season with salt and pepper.
- 7Cook the fish. Place the foil wrapped fish directly on top of your fire. Cooking time will vary, but generally, 10-15 minutes on either side should do the trick. You can always check the fish and cook a little longer if required.
- 8And it's done. Enjoy your feast!
There’s nothing fresher than cooking and eating a fish that a few hours earlier was swimming in the lake beside you. You don’t need complicated ingredients or cooking methods to make this trout taste delicious.
Camper's tip: No handy Alpine lake to hand? If you’re camping by the coast, try this one-skillet seafood paella recipe instead.
- olive oil
- Pilpelchuma or harissa paste
- tomato purée
- red peppers
- garlic cloves
- ground cumin
- very ripe tomatoes; tinned are also fine
- free-range eggs
- egg yolks
- Labneh, or thick yoghurt
How to do it:
- 1Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan.
- 2Add the pilpelchuma or harissa, tomato purée, peppers, garlic, cumin and ¾ of a teaspoon of salt.
- 3Stir and cook on a moderate heat for about 8 minutes to allow the peppers to soften.
- 4Add the tomatoes, bring to a gentle simmer and cook for a further 10 minutes until you have quite a thick sauce.
- 5Taste for seasoning.
- 6Make eight little dips in the sauce. Break and pour eggs into these dips. Do the same with the yolks.
- 7Simmer gently for 8–10 minutes, until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny.
- 8Spoon into individual plates and serve with the labneh or yoghurt.
Shakshuka is a North African dish that makes a great vegetarian supper or Sunday brunch. Although it’s easy to make, the rich tomato and pepper sauce infused with chili and spices is full of flavor. Even better, there are no ingredients that need refrigerating, making it a perfect gourmet camping meal.
Camper's tip: To make this meal go further, try adding butter beans, chicken or spicy chorizo.
Dutch Oven Sourdough Bread
- sourdough starter
- cool water
- whole wheat flour
- lukewarm water
- bread flour
- rice flour
How to do it:
- 1Mix together the pre-ferment ingredients and it let sit covered, at room temperature, for 8-12 hours. You'll know it's ready from a sour smell.
- 2When the pre-ferment is ready, add all the dough ingredients and mix with your hands really well. Cover and let sit for about 30 minutes.
- 3Knead the dough again and again until you get through the whole bowl. Let sit covered for another 30 minutes.
- 4Do this 3 more times, every half hour.
- 5Let the dough sit until it increases in size by half, in about 3-4 hours.
- 6Dump the dough out on a floured counter top and break it in half. Shape each half into a loaf.
- 7Lay out 2 dish towels and sprinkle each generously with rice flour. Place each loaf into a towel, seam-side up, and carefully transfer the each to the strainers. Let sit for 3-4 hours, covered with another wet dish towel, until they are about 1.5 times the original size.
- 8Heat up your campfire and get your dutch oven up to about 475 F.
- 9When the oven is heated, remove the lid, and carefully roll one bit of dough into the dutch oven. With a sharp knife, slice a slit across the top and replace the lid.
- 10Bake for 20 minutes. Check it out and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until it’s dark brown on top. Remove, readjust/add coals to your fire, and bake the other loaf the same way.
- 11Let each loaf fully cool and enjoy.
Sourdough is the king of the bread world, but it can be a devil to make. This is one recipe where you’ll need a bit of time on your hands and is best saved for a camping trip where you’re going to be in one spot for a few days.
I recommend following Emily's exact detailed recipe and instructions at the Dirty Gourmet-site. As with so many things in camping, it's not difficult, you just need practice!
The reward for your efforts? Fresh crusty bread for your morning brunch. Just don’t forget the butter!
Camper's tip: Sourdough bread is perfect for dipping into a rich cheese fondue. Check out this recipe for Forest Fondue.
Campfire Roasted Caramel Peaches with Pecans
- caramel sauce
- pecan halves
- 2 peaches, ripe, yet firm
How to do it:
- 1Let your campfire burn down to hot, white embers.
- 2Wash your peaches and slice them in half, removing the pit.
- 3Butter a square piece of aluminum foil, about the size of your hand, and drizzle with a tablespoon of caramel or brown sugar.
- 4Scatter pecans evenly over the caramel.
- 5Arrange the four washed peach halves, cut side down, on top of the pecans. Drizzle with remaining caramel sauce.
- 6Wrap peaches up tightly and place them in hot campfire ashes.
- 7Cook slowly for about 20-25 minutes.
- 8Remove from heat and open package to allow steam to escape. Invert dessert onto a plate, letting all the cooking juices drain out of the foil.
- 9Serve warm and enjoy.
Baked bananas and s’mores are all very well but they’re not exactly gourmet desserts. If you fancy something a little bit special, this fruity dessert is rich, luxurious and simple to make.
Camper's tip: There are lots of variations on this dish you can try. Just pick a fruit this in season, pair with your favorite nuts or seeds and add a naughty dash of chocolate, caramel or maple syrup.
I hope I’ve managed to convince you that camping food doesn’t have to be boring or bland. And if you’ve worked your way through all the recipes above and are still looking for new ideas, many of the meals you cook at home can be adapted for camp cooking.
If you’re worried that your efforts at gourmet cuisine aren’t quite up to the level of the masters, don’t forget the magic final ingredient...
Food just tastes better outdoors. And that’s one thing that no Michelin chef can recreate in their restaurant.
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.