4 STEPS TO CRUSH YOUR CAMPING FOOD
+ MY DEATH VALLEY RECIPE ROUNDUP
Just because you follow the Paleo Diet, doesn’t mean you have to cook like a caveman.
I love camping. I love the opportunity to unplug, immerse myself in nature, live simply, and slow down. I love the feeling of awe and inspiration that washes over me when I’m in the presence of an incredible rock formation or scenic vista created by our beautiful planet Earth. I love the refreshing perspective that I am just a small person on a very large planet where nature is truly the one in control.
Oh, and I LOVE cooking over a campfire!
Last weekend one of my best friends and I hit the road to spend a long weekend camping in Death Valley National Park and I seized the opportunity to create a nutrient packed menu to fit the logistical challenges of cooking like our Paleolithic ancestors! Just because you’re in the middle of nowhere, doesn’t mean you can’t fuel up for your adventures and enjoy a delicious dining experience.
In this camping roundup, I’ll breakdown how to make planning and preparing your camping menu fast and efficient, what cooking equipment you need, and I’ll give you all the recipes on my Death Valley camping menu.
LAYING THE BATTLE PLANS
There are 4 key steps to lay the foundation for a successful camping menu:
- Pick Your Recipes & Compile Your Grocery List
- Grocery Shop
- Camping Food Prep
PICK YOUR RECIPES & COMPILE YOUR GROCERY LIST
Start by writing down a list of how many meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) you’ll be eating on your trip. Perfect – that’s the number of meals you’ll need to pick recipes for.
Next, figure out how your itinerary impacts your meals. My rule of thumb is that breakfast and dinner are the right times for campfire-cooked meals since I’ll likely be at my campsite at those times. On the other hand, lunch should be a meal that can be easily packed in a backpack and eaten cold (like a sandwich or a wrap) since I’ll be out and about adventuring. Once you have an idea of your cooking constraints, write “hot” or “cold” beside each meal to narrow down your recipe search.
Now it’s time to start selecting the recipes to fit your camp food needs! For recipes ideas, simply Google phrases such as “paleo camping recipes” or “campfire recipes” and start browsing the links for meals that make your mouth water.
But you can’t just go with your taste buds – you have to be strategic about your recipe selections. Look for recipes with minimal ingredients to keep your grocery shopping and meal prep simple and quick. And pick recipes with straightforward, uncomplicated instructions. A recipe that’s easy to make at the campsite will minimize stress and let’s be honest… it’ll lower your chances of screwing something up!
Write each recipe title next to one of the meals on your list. And it’s okay if you want to use a recipe twice. If it’ll save you time and stress, go for it! For example, I made a double batch of chicken salad so that we could have chicken salad wraps for lunch both Saturday and Monday. Killing two meals with one recipe – now that’s efficient.
Once you’ve matched your recipes up with all the meals on your list, compile the ingredients from each recipe into a master grocery shopping list. Additionally, scan each recipe for any essential cooking accessories (tin foil, skewers, etc) and add those to your shopping list. Next, erase or cross out the ingredients you already have in your kitchen. The items that are left over? That’s your grocery shopping list! Oh, and don’t forget to add the snacks, alcohol, and desserts you absolutely need for your trip!
It’s time to grab that grocery list you’ve compiled and hit the grocery store. Shop like a ninja and try to pick that one grocery store that carries ALL the items you need, saving you valuable time and energy.
Make sure you have at least 2-3 bags of ice on your grocery shopping list. You’ll need ice to keep all the food in your cooler cold so you don’t get food poisoning from spoiled food and spend your trip vomiting and shitting instead of hiking. Only the important stuff here. If you have enough room to store ice in your freezer, purchase the bags of ice at the same time as your groceries. But if you don’t have extra room in your freezer, you’ll need to stop at a grocery store or gas station just before you depart!
Depending on your camping inventory, you may also require an outing to your local sporting goods store to stock up on items from my “Required Camping Cooking Equipment” list below. Only you know what camping gear is hiding in your closet beside those skeletons, so I’ll let you figure that shopping list out for yourself.
CAMPING FOOD PREP
You’re going to do the majority of the food prep at your campsite, but there are a couple of items you’ll want to make before you go:
- Spice rubs
In a nutshell, any food items that:
- require small amounts of many ingredients
- require a lot of kitchen equipment (measuring spoons, cups, whisks, blenders, etc)
- are extremely messy to prepare
By prepping these types of food in the comfort of your own fully stocked kitchen with modern conveniences such as running water for easy clean up, you eliminate the need to bring 25 different bottles of vinegar, oil, and spices, all of which you only need a teaspoon of, leaving room in your car for essential things like, uh, your tent.
And the best part of prepping? LESS DISH WASHING WHILE CAMPING. Instead of washing all your teaspoons and tablespoons in a grody campground restroom sink, you’ll only need to wash the spoon you ate dinner with! Not only will this save you from doing more of something that sucks, but it may also prevent a fight over dishwashing amongst your fellow campers.
So here’s what you need to do: make each sauce, dressing, marinade, seasoning, and/or whatever your gut tells you to prep ahead of time, and put it an appropriately sized sealable mason jar or container. Now you can revel at how tiny your packing footprint is in comparison to the 25 different ingredient containers you almost packed. Speaking of which…
It’s the day before you leave. Time to get your food stuff organized so you have all the tools you need to crush your camping menu and impress your friends at the tips of your fingers.
Separate your goods in to the following 3 piles:
Cooking Equipment > Clear Plastic Storage Bin
- It’s best to put that pile in a clear plastic storage container so when you’re frantically searching for your wine bottle opener (or other items), you’ll have a better chance of locating it without having to tear your nicely packed bin apart.
- Also, your cooking equipment adds up and can get a bit heavy, so it’s important to have a sturdy container that will keep its shape and prevent mischievous forest animals from breaking in.
- For the most part, you’ll be returning home with all the cooking equipment you brought so it’s not like you’ll save space in your car on the tail end with a more malleable container.
Room Temperature Food > Reusable Shopping Bag (or two)
- Food that can be stored at room temperature (chips, protein bars, some vegetables, fruit, trail mix, canned goods, etc) should be placed in a reusable shopping bag
- You’ll consume the majority of this food by the end of the trip so as your food dwindles, the space your bag takes up in your vehicle gets smaller!
Refrigerated Food > Cooler
- This is the one “two-parter” packing job. The night before you depart, assemble all your refrigerated camping food on one shelf/ in one area of your refrigerator you don’t risk forgetting anything when you’re trying to run out the door the next day.
- Then immediately before you depart, transfer all this food in to your cooler (then go get ice!)
REQUIRED CAMP KITCHEN EQUIPMENT
- Basic Mess Kit (cooking pot, pan, lid, etc)
- Table Set (plate, bowl, mug, utensils)
- Cooking Utensils (spatula, tongs, cutting board, knife, scissors)
- Cast Iron Skillet
- Mini Propane Stove (optional, but AWESOME)
- Sponge & dish soap
- Matches or a lighter
- Fire Starter Material (newspaper, cardboard, paper)
- Fire wood (at least 1 bundle per night)
- Gallon and quart ziplock bags
- Several garbage bags
- Paper towels
- Heavy Duty Tin Foil
- Wine Bottle Opener (or whatever other alcohol accessories you need)
And one final, rather important item of business… before you go, you need to have a basic understanding of campfires:
First, the anatomy of a campfire ring (see graphic to the right). Most campsites provide a campfire pit like so, with the following components:
- Fire Ring: contains a campfire, prevents forest fires. Smokey Bear approved.
- Campfire: the empty center area is where you will build your campfire
- Grate: prime cooking real estate. This is where you’re going to cook most of your food.
And for the love of Smokey Bear, please learn how to start a campfire before you’re up in the mountains, cold and hungry, without cell service to YouTube it. Check out charming video guide by the friendly and informative Canadian National Parks staff.
Great job! You’ve successfully prepped and packed for your tastiest camping trip ever!
MY DEATH VALLEY CAMPING FOOD
DAY 1: LUNCH
Chicken Salad Wraps with Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
Chicken Salad Recipe: Avocado, Apple, and Chicken Salad by Paleo Leap
- Modifications: I like a creamy chicken salad, so substituted Primal Kitchen’s Primal Mayo for the olive oil/ garlic powder/ lime juice dressing.
- I food prepped the chicken salad before leaving and stored it in an airtight container in my cooler so it would be ready for a quick and easy lunch.
Wrap: Julian Bakery’s Turmeric Paleo Wraps
DAY 1: DINNER
Asian Chicken & Vegetables in Foil Packets
Recipe: Asian Chicken & Vegetables in Foil Packets by Rachael Ray
- Modifications: I substituted several ingredients to make this recipe paleo:
- I food prepped the Asian sauce before leaving
- I cooked this meal by setting foil packets on the grate built in to the campfire ring, which puts the foil packet above the campfire flames and not IN them.
DAY 2: BREAKFAST
Triple Peak Paleo’s Green Eggs & Bacon
Serves: 2*, Time: 10 minutes, Paleo
- 4 slices of bacon
- 4 pasture raised eggs
- Trader Joe’s individual guacamole packets
- Trader Joe’s salsa verde
- Build a *small* fire
- Place your cast iron skillet on grate above fire OR get crazy and place it directly on the fire logs if they provide a stable, level surface.
- Place bacon in cast iron skillet. Cook for 4ish minutes on one side and then flip with the tongs. Cook bacon for approximately 2 minutes on other side. Cooking times may vary depending on heat output of fire. The best thing you can do is keep a close eye on your bacon so it doesn’t burn to a crisp. No one wants sad, black bacon.
- Once bacon is finished, remove from skillet and set slices aside on a paper towel.
- Crack eggs in to the skillet with the bacon grease. Let cook for 4-5ish minutes or until egg whites and yolk are set to your desired runny-ness. Again, cooking times will vary based on the intensity of your blaze.
- Once eggs are finished, remove from cast iron skillet with spatula and place in a bowl or on a plate. Add strips of bacon to your eating vessel. Top with desired amount of guacamole and salsa verde. Enjoy your food as you breathe in the fresh air and sit by a glorious campfire.
* To feed more hungry campers, increase the amount of ingredients accordingly!
DAY 2: LUNCH
Frittata and Spinach Salad with a Side of Turkey from the Amargosa Cafe
When traveling, especially for pleasure, I believe it’s incredibly important to sample the local cuisine. Food gives you a window in to another culture through the ingredients, preparation, spices, and presentation. Yes, I’m only visiting the opposite side of California this trip, but I still wanted to see what a little town called Death Valley Junction, population: 2, had to offer. And I was very pleasantly surprised to find this gem of cafe in the middle of the desert.
Modifications: This cafe had very few paleo options, so I picked the menu item that was most in line with my eating preferences: the veggie frittata with the spinach side salad. And because the frittata lacked significant protein, I paid a couple of dollars extra for a side of turkey (I saw some sandwiches on the menu that featured roasted turkey and asked the dude at the counter if he could make it happen).
DAY 2: DINNER
Triple Peak Paleo’s Pineapple BBQ Burgers with Sweet Potato Fries
Serves: 2*, Time: 20 minutes, Paleo
- 8oz grass-fed beef (formed into 2 patties)
- 1 small can organic pineapple rings
- Steve’s Paleo Goods peach BBQ sauce
- 2 medium sweet potato
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Salt & Pepper
- An hour or so before cooking, form your burger patties and set them in a ziplock bag is a generous pour of peach BBQ sauce. Make sure the sauce evenly coats the burger patties in the bag.
- When you’re ready to cook, build a sizable campfire and lower the grate on top.
- Slice sweet potatoes in to “fries-size” (approximately 3/8″ thick). Throw sweet potato fries into gallon ziplock bag, add tbsp of olive oil and a couple shakes of salt and pepper. Seal bag and shake vigorously to evenly coat fries.
- Place cast iron skilled on one half of campfire grate, towards the center of the campfire ring, to preheat (see photo below).
- Set a double layer of heavy tin foil over half of the grate (fold the tin foil in half to make it extra heavy duty). Fold the edges of the tin foil up to prevent rogue fries from jumping to a fire-y death.
Carefully scoop sweet potatoes out on to tinfoil baking sheets. Try not to let too much extra olive oil out of the bag (this is why we’re scooping, not pouring) because the olive oil will catch on fire if exposed to flame. Move sweet potato fries around often to ensure even cooking.
- Remove your burger patties from the marinade bag and set them in the cast iron skillet (dispose leftover BBQ sauce in bag). Let cook for approximately 5 minutes.
- Open the can of pineapple slices and set 4-6 pineapple rings directly on the grate behind the skillet. There should be room on your grate closest to the campfire ring, out of the direct flames. Do not set pineapple rings over direct flames or they will burn to a crisp!
- Use your spatula to toss sweet potato fries if you haven’t already.
- Next, flip your burger patties and let cook for another 3-5 minutes.
- Check on your pineapple slices. Once you see those sought after grill marks, flip them to cook on the other side.
- Cook the sweet potato fries for approximately 8-10 minutes total, or until golden brown. Cooking time will vary depending on campfire heat output. The best thing you can do is keep a close eye on them. Once finished, carefully take the entire sheet of aluminum foil that the sweet potatoes fries are cooking on and relocate it to a safe place to cool. Fold half of the aluminum foil over top of the fries to keep warm.
- Check burgers for desired level of “doneness”, and once they’re ready, relocate each to a plate.
- Remove the pineapples to from the grate (each side should have beautiful grill marks by now) and add 2 or 3 to each burger. Top burger and pineapples with a little pour of peach BBQ sauce. And finally, divide the sweet potato fries between each plate. Bon appetite!
DAY 3: BREAKFAST
Easy Applesauce Protein Pancakes Leftovers Bowl
Recipe: Easy Paleo Applesauce Protein Pancakes by Triple Peak Paleo
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- Toppings: leftovers!
The toppings on your pancakes are your golden opportunity to use any fruit, nuts, etc, that you didn’t consume during your trip! Got any smashed up fruit leftover from your hike? Got one random slice of bacon left in your cooler? This is your chance to compile a random yet delicious feast and chow down. Don’t be afraid to get creative! Those ingredients are all pretty darn yummy on their own, so what’s stopping them from being yummy as one giant leftover bowl?!
Pro Tip: One thing to note is that I did cook these pancakes in a non stick pan from my basic mess kit over a mini propane stove (a great addition to every camping kitchen!). I know, I know, why squander an opportunity to cook over a campfire? But as I’ve noted, the heat output of a campfire can be hugely variable, which can result in disaster for more delicate recipes. I didn’t want to chance it, so I opted for my handy-dandy mini propane stove in order to have maximum cooking control. The result was worth it – all my pancakes cooked to a perfect golden brown. Feel free to take your chances over the campfire, but don’t come crying to me when half of your pancakes are charred black and the other half aren’t cooked!
GO CRUSH YOUR CAMPING FOOD
Campfire cooking has come a long way since the Paleolithic Era, so do you ancestors proud and take advantage of what modern cooking techniques have to offer! When you take a little extra time to plan your camping food, not only will you reduce your stress and impress your campmates, but you’ll be fueling your body to hike further, climb higher, and go harder, and ultimately, get those most out of your weekend getaway!