Being able to make gourmet meals when cooking in the outdoors really isn’t that hard with a little planning, imagination, and the right tools. I picked the brains of three rafting-company owners, whose outfits each offer riverside dining for their guests, about how to set up the perfect camping kitchen. Here are their tips.
Get a Dutch Oven (or Three)
Dutch ovens were at the top of the list for all three outdoor chefs I polled. “We bring six dutch ovens with us, ranging in size from 10 to 14 inches,” says Will Volpert, owner of Indigo Creek Outfitters. He uses GSI Outdoors Aluminum Dutch ovens ($ 62) because they can pull double or triple duty by subbing in for a boiling pot or saucepan. “You don’t have to just bake in them. We cook bacon, rice, and pasta—they’re very versatile.” While cast iron dutch ovens—like my favorite 12 Inch/8 Quart Deep one from Lodge ($ 81)—disperse heat more evenly, they are heavier, harder to clean, and rust more easily than their aluminum counterparts.
Use a Blaster
To save on stove space, bring along a one-burner blaster, which can boil a huge pot of water in minutes. Pete Wallstrom, whose Momentum River Expeditions brings along a bartender on some of its trips, prefers Woodland Power Stoves ($ 154) because they have a raging 65,000 BTU output, less than the Partner, just in a sleeker, smaller package. “The old blasters, you could kill someone with them—they were like 100 pounds,” says Wallstrom.
Have Plenty of Stove Tops…
“I love the simplicity of a one-pot meal,” Volpert says, “but if you are making more than one course, multiple burners are key. That way we can have more than one dish going at the same time and everything can be served at once.” Both Volpert and Wallstrom prefer to maximize their cooking space with Partner Steel Stoves ($ 413). Svelte they are not, but they’re dependable and nearly indestructible. “We’ve dropped them to the bottom of the river and they have been fine,” Wallstrom says.
…Not to Mention Prep and Serving Space
Always bring two Camp Time Roll-A-Tables ($ 99), says Lars Alvarez-Roos, owner of raft and adventure travel company Bio Bio Expeditions. Having ample space to chop and prep will make sharing the cooking duties feel fun rather than crowded, and give you the room to spice things up and get fancy with presentation.
Don’t Forget the Ambience
Alvarez-Roos suggests bringing four pewter serving trays, a lantern, aprons, and washable tablecloths even if you are only heading out for a weekend. While that might seem excessive, atmosphere is a key part of adding a gourmet feel to an outdoor kitchen. MPowered's Luci Lux Pro Inflatable Solar Lantern ($ 35) does a better job than most for setting the mood.
Bring a Few Bins
Alvarez-Roos and Wallstrom suggest bringing along a few different sizes of bins, like the Rubbermaid Roughneck Containers ($ 42), for different purposes. “We have a specific box that we wash out and use every time to bring things like pots and pans,” Wallstrom says, "then a different one that has items like oil that we have to restock after each trip.”
Invest in a Nice Cooler
All of the beautiful ingredients, gear, and thoughtful prep in the world means nothing if your food goes bad because you weren’t diligent about keeping it cold. I’ve been car camping with a Yeti Tundra 50 ($ 330) for years and still trust it with the most expensive perishable ingredients. Wallstrom agrees. “If I am going to buy one myself, it’s a Yeti,” he says. “They are super solid, don’t leak, and hold ice longer than almost any other cooler.”