Great camping food starts with having the right equipment in your camp kitchen. In this article, we share what we consider to be essential camp cooking gear for front country car camping.
What camping cooking gear do you recommend? What equipment do I need to cook your recipes? Ever since we started Fresh Off The Grid, people have asked us what camp cooking equipment they should get to get started.
There are so many camp cooking gadgets and gizmos out there, it’s hard to know what’s worth it and what’s not. So we put together our list of must-have essential camp cooking gear (as well as a couple of nice-to-haves!)
With this gear, not only will you be able to cook all of the car camping recipes we share on Fresh Off The Grid, but your overall enjoyment of the outdoors will be increased significantly.
So if you’re new to camping or looking to update your existing camp kitchen, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s get started!
Our must-have camp cooking essentials
It doesn’t get any more fundamental than a camp stove. But with dozens of different models, finding the perfect stove can be a challenge!
Over the years we’ve seen plenty of super “innovative” stove designs come and go, but we prefer to stick with the classic 2-burner propane stove. They’re versatile, allowed everywhere (even during most fire bans), use widely available fuel, and operate just like your home range.
Other than the cook space, the two versions are more or less the same. Same 10,000 BTU burner, slim design, Piezo self-ignitor, adjustable legs, and Jetlink technology (to daisy chain stoves together). This is a great 2-burner stove for nearly all front-country car campers.
If you’re shopping on a budget, look no further than the Coleman Classic. This is the 2-burner stove we launched Fresh Off The Grid with and it powered us through our first year on the road! The design hasn’t changed in years, and while it lacks some of the bells-and-whistles of newer models (like a self-ignitor), it’s still a really solid stove.
Camp Chef Everest
If you frequently find yourself in windy conditions, the Camp Chef Everest 2x is a great stove to consider. It’s definitely bulkier than the above-mentioned Eureka, but it comes with two high-powered 20,000 BTU burners. (Which are stronger than most home ranges!) When combined with the windscreen and recessed design, this stove can power through just about anything.
I know we said we prefer 2 burner stoves, but… a one-burner stove has its place if you’re committed to cooking one-pot meals, or if you need a flexible option to add another burner when cooking for larger groups.
The Eureka SPRK+ is a great option to look into. It runs off butane, rather than propane, so it won’t work great below 32F degrees. But for summer camping trips, it’s great (and super compact).
Since investing in a cooler for car camping, the quality and freshness of our meals has improved tremendously. Also, cold beer! Who can argue with that? While the cooler market has come a long way in recent years, the truth is: you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to get a great quality product.
The Igloo BMX represents a big step forward in cooler technology and design at a more affordable price. It features lightweight blow-mold construction, extra thick insulated walls, and claims to have 5-day ice-retention: all for around $100.
For most weekend camping trips, this cooler will be MORE than sufficient. Plus it comes with a 3-year warranty and it’s made in the USA.
Lifetime High Performance Cooler
Boasting up to 7 days of ice retention, the LifeTime High Performance Cooler is another low-price cooler with high end performance. We’ve seen dozens of videos of this cooler going head to head against premium brand coolers and winning. Easy latch system, integrated bottle opener, Grizzly bear certified, made in the USA, plus a 5-year warranty! All for a fraction of the price of a premium brand cooler.
Igloo TrailMate Journey
Booked a “walk-up” campsite? Want to bring the cooler down to the beach? A cooler with some serious roller wheels, like the Igloo TrailMate, can really come in handy. Now you can bring the cooler along with you off-the-beaten-path without throwing out your back!
Addressing the Yeti in the room: “Hey, wait, didn’t you use to recommend Yeti?” Yes, we did. We purchased a Yeti Tundra 35 a few years back. We still own it and it is still an excellent cooler. However, we no longer think Yeti coolers are worth the ultra-premium price tag. The rest of the cooler market has really caught up and now many low cost alternatives perform just as well as a Yeti. Plus, performance has so much more to do with HOW you pack your cooler, rather than WHICH cooler you own.
Check out our guide on How To Pack a Cooler Like a PRO so you can get the absolute best performance out of whatever cooler you own!
We know that purchasing new camping equipment can really add up, so check out our favorite websites for finding discounted camping gear. We also have a great deal for our readers: save 15% off your first order at Backcountry.com using our code “FRESHOFFTHEGRID” at checkout (exclusions apply).
Being able to store a decent amount of water close to your campsite is an absolute must. No only for drinking, but for cooking and washing dishes. A good water storage container can make your life at camp so much easier.
Igloo Water Cooler
We’ve owned countless cheapo camping water jugs, water cubes, and jerry cans over the years and they have all failed. Instead, we recommend using what every construction crew and little league coach has been using for decades: an Igloo water cooler.
They’re tough, won’t leak, insulated, come in various sizes, and most of all they’ve very affordable. If you have the space, this is a great option.
Sea To Summit Water Cell X
The Sea To Summit Water CellX is a durable and flexible water storage solution that actually works. While it’s available in a variety of sizes, we suggest getting the largest model (20 liter) for car camping since it can be collapsed when not in use.
It features a wide mouth cap for easy filling, integrated straps so can be be hung up, and gravity powered water pressure can be released via a flow-controlled spigot or shower heat attachment. We own this product and would highly recommend it.
Hydroblu Pressurized Jerry Can 15 L
While nearly all established campgrounds in America offer potable water, if you do a lot of dispersed camping in locations where you need or want to filter your water, the Hydroblu Pressurized Jerry Can is a great water storage option.
It features a 10,000 gallon water purification system (better than a filtration system), a hand pump for manual pressurization, and can hold up to 15 liters. In the world of water purification, this is a robust solution for a very reasonable price.
We highly recommend picking up a few pieces of dedicated camp cookware. Not only will this prevent you from accidently dinging up your nice home cookware, but it will make cooking at the campsite so much enjoyable. The good news is you don’t need to break the bank here. All you need is a few essential pots and pans to get started.
Lodge Cast Iron Skillet
Cast iron cookware can be used either on a camp stove or over a campfire. They have a naturally non-stick surface, offer excellent heat retention, and are virtually indestructible. We absolutely love cooking on cast iron and think it’s a must for any camp kitchen setup!
We are big fans of Lodge cast iron skillets because they are well-made and very reasonably priced. (Cast iron is ancient technology after all) The 10-inch skillet is ideal for two people, while the 12-inch skillet is better suited for 4 people.
Additionally, consider picking up a cast iron lid to fit your skillet. This lets you trap heat inside, allowing you to wilt leafy greens, steam rice, or finish cooking the whites of a sunny-side-up egg! You can also place charcoals on top, to turn your skillet into a rudimentary Dutch oven.
GSI Bugaboo Series
Whether or not this is an “essential” piece of camp cooking equipment is debatable. You can get by without it. But if you are cooking scrambled eggs, pancakes, salmon, or anything else delicate, then there is no substitute for a good non-stick skillet.
We have burned through (in some cases, literally) a few nonstick pans over the years, but we have been very impressed with the durability of the GSI Bugaboo Frypans. When using non-stick, be sure to only use silicone or wood utensils to preserve the finish.
Lodge Dutch Oven
A Dutch oven is one of the most versatile pieces of camp cooking equipment you can own. Sauté, steam, boil, fry, and bake – if you can imagine it, you can probably make it in a Dutch oven. If you are brand new to camping, you can probably get by without one, but it’s definitely the gateway into making the really fun stuff.
There are some very expensive camping Dutch ovens out there, but if you’re just getting started then we recommend you pick up a Lodge Camping Dutch Oven. The 10” (4 quarts) is great for 2-3 people. The 12” (6 quarts) is great for 4-6 people. They are reasonably priced and do a fantastic job.
Interested in Dutch oven cooking? We have an entire Dutch Oven 101 article that will teach you everything you need to know to get started!
Omnia Stove Top Oven
The Omnia Stove Top Oven has been one of the best “upgrades” we have ever made to our camp kitchen setup. Unlike a Dutch oven, which requires wood embers or charcoal in order to bake with, the Omnia oven only needs a burner from your camp stove!
With just a click of the stove, you’re ready to bake! The ability to quickly and easily bake cinnamon rolls, fresh bread, or a tray of nachos has significantly expanded our camp cooking abilities.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Omnia Stove Top Oven (how it works and how to use it) we have a complete tutorial on it here.
Rome Pie Iron
Okay, okay, so this isn’t a camp cooking essential per se, but it’s just so much fun we had to include it! Decadent triple decker grilled cheeses, delicious hand pies, and homemade pizza hot pockets are just some of the amazing campfire snacks you can make using a Pie Iron.
We recently purchased a Rome Pie Iron (they are not expensive) and just had so much fun with it. It felt like being a kid again. We don’t know why it makes us so happy, but it just does.
Cooking utensils, knives, and accessories
There are many camp kitchen accessories that only reveal themselves to be essential after you’ve had the misfortune of forgetting them. That is why we are huge advocates of buying dedicated camping kitchen utensils that are stored separately. Rifling through your kitchen drawers right before a trip is exactly how you forget the all-critical can opener or spatula!
Vremi 5 Knife Set
We can’t stress enough the importance of having full-sized knives when camping. Small folding knives are fine for cheese plates, but if you want to do any serious food prep – safely and efficiently – we highly recommend picking up some quality knives for your camp kitchen.
We recommend this Vremi Knife set for a couple of reasons: 1.) They are super affordable, so picking up a set specifically for camping isn’t such a big financial hit. 2.) They’re stainless steel, so they can be easily sharpened. 3.) Each knife comes with its own fully enclosed sheath. Not only does this protect the blade from dulling when you toss it into the camp storage box, but it keeps your fingers safe when unpacking everything.
While there are plenty of camp cooking utensil sets on the market, we find most of them to be cheaply made and include a lot of superfluous items. The same goes for silverware: the camping versions are just more expensive and literally does the same thing as normal silverware.
Our suggestions: think of the utensils you’ll likely use and just buy a dedicated camping set of each (a thrift store is a great place to look!) or even IKEA. Here few items to consider:
- Silverware (forks, knives, spoons)
- Tongs (metal and/or silicone)
- Spatula (metal and/or silicone)
- Wooden Spoons
- Can Opener
- Bottle/Wine Opener
- Flat Metal Skewers
- Box Grater
- Cutting Board
Grill Armor Heat Resistant Gloves
We highly recommend picking up some heat resistant gloves. Now you can pick up cast iron skillets without fear, adjust campfire grill grates, and even rearrange smoldering logs in the fire by hands. If you do a lot of cooking over a campfire, these gloves are a must!
We’ve used gardening gloves, welders mitts, and oven hot hands in the past, but none compare to these Grill Armour Heat Resistant Gloves. The heat protection they offer is unbelievable. But just be sure not to get them wet – which can produce scalding hot steam inside the glove.
Instant Read Thermometer
If you’re new to cooking outdoors, it can be very helpful to know – exactly – the temperature of a piece of meat, or, the inside of your Dutch oven. Until you develop the senses to go by feel, it’s better to know.
This instant read thermometer is a great way to take the guesswork out of whether that steak is finished cooking or not. It’s fairly affordable, comes with two heatproof probes, and has a built in alarm. This is the instant read thermometer we own and use regularly.
Campfire cooking accessories
Campfire cooking has a lot of crossover with backyard grilling. So if you do a lot of home BBQ-ing, then some of this might be familiar to you. Still, there are a few accessories we find to be particularly useful to have at a campsite.
Charcoal Chimney Starter
This collapsible portable chimney can get your coal going in minutes without the use of noxious smelling lighter fluid. We own this Campmaid version, which fits inside a 12” Dutch oven and holds up to 45 briquettes. If you are looking for more capacity, consider this version by RedCamp.
While most campgrounds have campfires with grates, their condition can be less than appealing. This portable grill can be placed on top of the campground grill grate (with the legs collapsed) or used on it’s own (when free-standing). This can be particularly useful when free camping on public lands, where there are no grill grates that accompany fire pits.
Ceramic plates from home are generally too fragile for a campsite, so we think it’s worth investing in some dedicated outdoor tableware.
Camp coffee maker
This is one of our favorite sections! There are SO many different ways to make coffee while camping. But what’s important is that you have a way that works for you and your group size.
If you’re interested in hearing about all the options available, we have the ultimate guide to Camp Coffee. However, but here we will recommend our personal favorite methods:
AeroPress Coffee Maker
This is our #1 favorite way to make coffee. A combination between a pour-over, French press, and a pneumatic press, the Aeropress is an innovative brew method that delivers incredibly rich and smooth coffee.
It compresses the grounds into a small puck, making cleanup a cinch. We’ve been using the Aeropress to make our coffee every morning (at camp and at home!) for the past few years. Since this method produces one cup of coffee at a time, it’s best for two people.
Porlex Coffee Grinder
If you’re going to buy high-end whole bean coffee, then it is essential you have a way to grind them at the campsite. We have this Porlex manual coffee grinder that we have used for many years. The conical ceramic burr grinder is adjustable, allowing for anything between near Turkish coffee fine to French Press coarse. It’s a bit of a vigorous workout in the morning but it makes for one fine cup of coffee.
A kettle is a great thing to have at a campsite. Not only does it allow you to make coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, but it can be really useful when washing dishes. Just warm up a little water and pour as needed. Tragically our favorite stainless steel kettle by GSI has been discontinued, but they still make the Halulite Tea Kettle (a hard anodized aluminum model). This kettle comes in a 1qt and a larger 1.8qt version.
In our opinion, the best way to make A LOT of coffee for larger groups is to use a stove top percolator. It gets the most out of your grounds, the glass dome lets you know when the coffee is done, and the coffee can be kept warm by simmering over a very low flame. You can also get it all set up the morning before, so all you need to do is stumble out of your tent and turn on the burner.
For a large capacity stove top percolator, we recommend the EuroLux 12-Cup Percolator. Nearly every percolator on the market has some little quirk that people seem not to like, but we think this one minimizes them the best it can. We also really like the wood handle which won’t melt or burn your hand if placed over a campfire.
Insulated Coffee Mug
While this isn’t a true “essential”, we can’t imagine camping without this. An insulated camping mug makes a world of difference. Now we can leisurely sip our coffee all morning long without accidentally burning our hands or rushing to consume it before it gets cold. It has definitely brought us much joy.
Not too big and not too small, Hydro Flask makes a great vacuum-sealed camping mug. They come in a bunch of cool colors so you can really brighten up your morning routine. We own these mugs and highly recommend them.
Camp kitchens and cook stations
While nearly every established campground comes with a picnic table, it’s just nice to have a separate dedicated cook station. Something that’s at counter level height and can be placed somewhere convenient. It’s also really nice to be able to sit down at the table to eat once the meal is ready, instead of having to hastily break down the kitchen setup just to have a place to sit.
GCI Outdoor Slim-Fold Outdoor Cook Station
This collapsible outdoor cook station folds up into a super slim profile, making it easy to transport. The cook surface stands at 32 inches, which is standard counter height, so you don’t have to hunch over. The foldable side extensions provide ample storage space for prep work, utensils, and ingredients.
GCI Outdoor Master Cook Portable Folding Camp Kitchen
This GCI Master Cook is a slightly more luxurious version of the cook station mentioned above. It includes a much expanded work surface, an overhead lantern hook, and soft-fabric sink with drain. All of which, collapses down into a remarkably slim profile.
Clean-up and dishwashing
Cleaning up is probably everyone’s least favorite part of camp cooking. It is what it is. But with the right setup, dishwashing can be a much better and much faster experience for everyone involved.
Pop Up Trash Can
First things first, this whole hanging a plastic bag off a tree for a trash can has got to stop. It’s impossible to dump anything into it, the bag invariably tears at the worst possible time, plus it’s a field day for yellow jackets. No more!
We recently switched to this Coghlan pop up trash can (which we place a trash bag liner inside) and it has made a world of difference. Now we can place the trash somewhere convenient, we can easily dump scraps into it, and when we’re not using it, we put the lid down and keep the bugs out. When we get back home, we can collapse it down and put in our camp storage bin.
UST Collapsible Sink
Unless the campground you are staying at has a designated dish washing station, the expectation is that you wash your dishes at your campsite. The best way to accomplish this is with a portable, collapsible sink.
We recommend these collapsible sink buckets from UST. They’re really durable, stand up with or without water, and collapse down flat. This 4-gallon version is the perfect size.
After washing your dishes, add one of these Steramine tablets to your rinse bucket to disinfect against bacteria and viruses. It’s more effective than old-fashion bleach and much gentler on your skin. 150 tablets come in a bottle, so you should be good for the next couple camping seasons!
Organization and storage
Keeping your various cookware, dishware, and pantry food stuffs organized has got to be one of the biggest challenges of any camp kitchen. Taking a moment to get set up with a good system can really elevate your entire camping experience.
When it comes to storage bins, nothing really compares to the Action Packer. They are super durable, strong enough to sit on, come with heavy duty latches, and are made in the USA. We own a few Action Packers, and use them for our camp kitchen gear, pantry food, and our miscellaneous campsite gear.
They make 8, 24, 35, 48 gallon versions. The best part is they are very affordable! Especially when compared to other premium storage bins.
REI Pack Away Adjustable Cube
This is a great soft-sided adjustable storage / organizer solution from REI. The interior partitions can be adjusted to accommodate different size dishware or pantry ingredients. It also can be covered with a zipped mesh screen, so you can still see what’s inside without letting bugs and critters in. It also provides ventilation in case the dishes weren’t put away perfectly dry.
Rubbermaid Sealable Food Containers
We use tupperware reusable food containers all the time and think they are an absolute camp kitchen essential! We highly recommend these Rubbermaid containers, which have an airtight/watertight gaskets, tight locking latch system, and come in a variety of sizes.
Here are just a few of the many ways these containers can improve your camp cooking experience:
- At home, you can use them to store chop veggies, marinate meats, homemade sauces & dips, and pre-portion out bulk supplies (like rice or flour) so you don’t have to bring the whole bag with you. This is also a great way to discard excess food “packaging” at home, instead of having to deal with it at the campsite.
- Use them to pack your cooler! Everything in the cooler is eventually going to get wet, so sealing your hot dogs in a waterproof container is a must!
- No more food waste! Leftovers are no problem if you have a few resealable containers with you. Just seal it up, put it back into the cooler, and next day heat it up in a skillet for lunch!
We’re committed to reducing single-use plastic wherever we can, which is why we’re so happy that we found these (Re)zip reusable baggies. They’re perfect for storing all types of food stuff: hiking snacks, pancake mix, blocks of cheese, etc. They have a water tight seal, multiple sizes, and most importantly: they are way cheaper than some of the alternatives brands!