Camping Kitchen Equipment Guide

Great camping food starts with having the right equipment in your camp kitchen. In this guide, we share what we consider to be essential camp cooking gear for front country car camping.

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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 need to get started.

There are so many fancy camp cooking gadgets and gizmos out there, it’s hard to know what’s worth it and what’s not. So we decided to put together this stripped-down list of must-have essential camp cooking gear.

Camping Kitchen Essentials: What gear you need to cook while car camping? This camp kitchen checklist has all the details!

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 drastically increased. So if you’re new to camping or looking to build your camp kitchen from scratch, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s get started.

Our Must-Have Camp Cooking Essentials

1.) Camp Stove

It doesn’t get any more fundamental than a camp stove. But with dozens of models out there, finding the perfect stove can be a challenge!

If you are just starting out, we recommend you steer clear of the funky alternative options and go with a classic 2- burner propane stove. They’re versatile, allowed everywhere (even during most fire bans), they use widely available fuel (1 lb green propane canisters) and operate just like your home range.

Dive Deeper: Guide to Choosing the Best Car Camping Stove

Camp Chef Everest Two Burner Camp Stove
Camp Chef Everest

We’ve upgraded to the Camp Chef 2-burner stove and have nothing but great things to say about it. Solidly built, high-powered 20,000 BTU burners, excellent simmer control, great wind protection, and adjustable legs. By going overkill on the burner strength, this camp stove overcomes cold weather and blustery conditions. It’s hands down the best camp stove we’ve used.
Check price on Amazon

Eureka Ignite Plus Stove
Eureka! Ignite Plus

While we haven’t used this stove personally, the people over at REI have been giving it rave reviews. Slim profile, great simmer control, and substantial 10,000 BTU burners. This is definitely one to check out.
Compare price: REI | Backcountry | Amazon

The Yeti Tundra 35 cooler

2.) Cooler or Fridge

We camped for a very long time without any form of refrigeration, but once we invested in a cooler for car camping and a refrigerator for our van, the quality and freshness of our meals improved tremendously. No other piece of camp cooking equipment has had a greater impact. Also, cold beer. Who can argue with that? Yes, a cooler or fridge is a lot of money upfront, but in our opinion, it has been absolutely worth it.

Dive Deeper: How to Pack a Cooler Like a Pro

Yeti Cooler
Yeti Cooler

There has been a lot of advances in cooler technology over the years with Yeti leading the pack. After shopping around, we finally landed on the Yeti Tundra 35. It’s super rugged, insanely insulated, and just the right size for a long weekend camping trip. We know Yeti gets a lot of hype, but we can say that ours has lived up to expectations.

Compare price: REI | Backcountry

Dometic fridge
Dometic Fridge

We installed a Dometic CFX65 in our camper van, which is a fairly large unit. However, Dometic also sells a lot of smaller sizes like the CFX40 that would be perfect for overlanding and/or car camping. They even sell a Lithium-Ion battery bank so you can keep the fridges running when off the grid.
Compare price: Amazon | REI

The main advantage of a fridge over a cooler is obvious: no ice to deal with. No ice taking up half the space of the interior, no ice melting away in the hot sun. With a fridge, so long as it’s hooked up to power, it’s always cold.

3.) Water Jug

Being able to store a decent amount of water close to your campsite is a must. If you want to be able to get any serious cooking done, don’t want to be making multiple runs to the water spigot. So picking up a water jug makes sense. But here’s the catch: every single camp water jug, jerry can, or aqua cube we’ve ever used has leaked. So what’s to be done?

orange water cooler
Igloo Water Cooler

Don’t waste your money on a chronically defective “camping” water jug that will fail you the first chance it gets. Use what every construction worker and little league coach has been using for decades: an Igloo water cooler. They’re tough, won’t leak, and as an added bonus, keeps your water cool.

Check price on Amazon

A cast iron skillet on a camping stove

4.) Cast Iron Skillet with Lid

This is the MVP of our camp kitchen. With a good cast iron skillet, you can cook nearly all of the car camping recipes we have on this website.

Cast iron can be used on a camp stove, over a campfire, or nestled in a bed of charcoal. It has a naturally non-stick surface, superior heat retention, and is virtually indestructible.

Dive Deeper: How to Season a Cast Iron Skillet

Cast Iron Skillet
Lodge Cast Iron Skillet

What love about Lodge’s skillets is that they’re very well-made and very reasonably priced. The 10-inch skillet is ideal for two people, the 12-inch skillet is better suited for 4 people.

Compare prices: Amazon | REI

We highly recommend picking up a lid for your cast iron skillet. It lets you trap heat inside, so you can wilt leafy greens, steam rice, or finish cooking the whites of a sunny-side-up egg. You can also place charcoals on top of your lid, so you can cook from the top down.

cast iron skillet lid
Lodge Cast Iron Lid

You can buy a cast iron lid separately for your skillet, which inexplicably turns out to be a better deal than buying them together. 

Check price on Amazon

black and red pan scrapers
Pan Scraper

A lot of people are freaked out by how to clean a cast-iron skillet, but ever since we picked up one of these cast iron pan scrapers, clean up has been a breeze. Just scrape it out under warm water, dry completely, and lightly oil. That’s all you need to do.

Check price on Amazon

5. Non-Stick Skillet

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. If paired with an appropriate silicone or wooden spatula, this skillet will last for years.

Bugaboo Skillet
GSI Bugaboo Series

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 this series. We carry one 8” skillet one 10” skillet in our camp kitchen. The handles fold away making them super easy to pack.

Compare price: REI | Backcountry

6.) 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. A flat lid with rim allows you to stack charcoals on top, while support legs on the bottom allow you nestle coals underneath.

If you are new to camping, you can probably get by without one, but it’s definitely the gateway into making the really fun stuff.

4 quart Dutch Oven
Lodge Dutch Oven

There are some very expensive camping Dutch ovens out there, but if you’re just getting started then we recommend you pick up this one by Lodge. It’s reasonably priced and does a fantastic job.

Compare price: Amazon | REI

7.) Heat Resistant Gloves

If you plan on doing any amount of cooking over a campfire, we highly recommend picking up some heat resistant gloves. Pick up cast iron skillets, adjust campfire grill grates, and even rearrange smoldering logs in the fire by hands.

Grill Armor Gloves
Grill Armor Heat Resistant Gloves

We’ve used gardening gloves, welders mitts, and oven hot hands in the past, but none of them compare to these gloves. The heat protection they offer is unbelievable. Just don’t get them wet – which can produce scalding hot steam.

Check price on Amazon

 

8.) Decent Knife + Cutting Board

Whether you’re slicing steaks, chopping vegetables, or whittling the perfect s’more stick, having a good knife is essential when you’re preparing a meal in the outdoors.

Just like in your home kitchen, the quality of your equipment is important, both for function and for your safety. So invest in a good set of knives for your next camping adventure.

Camping Knife Set
Knife Set with Sheaths

If you have the room, why not pick up a whole set of relatively inexpensive set of stainless steel knives? We really like these with the protective sheaths, so they get dulled or accidentally puncture something during transport. 

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Breakfast hash on a blue enamelware camping plate next to a cast iron skillet

9.) Tableware and Silverware

Ceramic plates are too fragile and plastic forks & knives seem too wasteful. If you’re serious about camping, it’s worth investing in some dedicated outdoor tableware.

Enamelware Camping Dish Set
GSI Enamelware Set

You can’t go wrong with enamel camping plates. They’re super durable, easy to clean, and the speckled finish captures that classic camping look.

Compare price: REI | Backcountry

Camping enamel dish set
Crow Canyon Plates, Trays, and Mugs

If you would like a more refined “Sunset Magazine” look to your tableware, Crow Canyon Enamelware offers a variety of very elegant designs.

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Megan using an Aeropress coffee maker with woods in the background

10.) Coffee Setup

There are lots of different ways to make coffee while camping, what’s important is that you have a way that works for you.

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 method:

Aeropress coffee maker
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.

Check price on Amazon

Dive Deeper: How to Make Camp Coffee Using an Aeropress

Stainless steel kettle
GSI Stainless Steel Kettle

We’ve used this kettle to make coffee nearly every morning for the past two years and have nothing but good things to say about it. Durable stainless steel can be placed over a campfire or stove, the spout doesn’t dribble, and the compact size is perfect for 2-3 people.

Check price on Backcountry

11.) Insulated Mugs

While this isn’t a true “essential”, we can’t imagine camping without them. 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.

Red yeti mug
Yeti Mug

The Big Gulp of coffee mugs, these vacuum insulated mugs by Yeti are great for car camping. Most standard size coffee mugs are 12 oz, but the Yeti Rambler is 14 oz. And some mornings, those extra 2 ounces can make all the difference!

Compare price: REI | Backcountry

olive green coffee mug
Hydroflask Coffee Mug

Not too big and not too small, Hydroflask mugs are a great vacuum-sealed camping mug. They come in a bunch of cool colors so you can really brighten up your morning routine.

Compare price: REI | Backcountry

Nice-to-Have Equipment

While we wouldn’t consider any of these pieces of gear to be absolutely essential, they are very nice to have nonetheless. Depending on the type of camp cooking you’re doing, they can be quite useful.

Wine Glass
Taza Shatterproof Wine Glass

Glass stemware is not really cut out for adventures in outdoor wine drinking, but these shatterproof wine glasses are.

12 egg holder
Egg Holder

There are a lot of bogus, borderline gimmicky camping accessories out there, but a plastic egg holder is actually worth it. We lost a lot of good eggs before we decided to get one of these.

chimney starter
Charcoal Chimney Starter

Particularly useful when using charcoals, this collapsible portable chimney can get your coal going in minutes without the use of noxious smelling lighter fluid.

Camp Chef Grill
Portable Grill

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.

Digital thermometer
Instant-Read Thermometer

When you’re just starting out cooking in the outdoors, knowing the exact temperature of a piece of meat or the inside of your Dutch oven can be very helpful. Until you develop the senses to go by feel, it’s better to know. This probe thermometer is a great way to take the guesswork out of whether that steak is finished cooking or not.

orange sink bucket
Collapsible Sink

We recently picked up these collapsible buckets to use as a camp sink. They feel really durable, but we’re a little disappointed that they don’t nest into each other when collapsed. Still, a pretty good find.

bottle of steramine
Steramine

After washing your dishes, add one of these 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.

Dive Deeper: How to Wash Dishes While Camping

Dedicated Camp Cooking Utensils

Buying a new set of “camp kitchen” utensils is one of the smartest things we’ve done. It’s so much easier to have our dedicated gear stored all in one place rather than hunting around the kitchen and trying to multipurpose items right before we head out the door. It really reduces the risk of arriving at the campsite and realizing you’re missing a critical piece of gear.

↠ Tongs
↠ Spatula
↠ Ladle
↠ Wooden Spoons
↠ Can Opener
↠ Bottle/wine opener
↠ Flat Metal Skewers
↠ Box Grater
↠ Cutting Board

  • Hi. Thanks for the post. I’d be curious to know how this might have evolved now 11 months in! If time permits to reply or perhaps, and better yet, update post, this reader would be entirely grateful! Thanks for doing what you do! Amanda

    • Hi Amanda! We are actually working on updating this soon! While things have evolved over the last year, for the most part nothing major has changed. I’d say the biggest difference is that we switched out that enamel pot for a Dutch oven, and then a few small things here and there. We’ll have our updated setup posted in the next month 🙂

    • Hey Amanda! So we just updated this whole list yesterday. Removed some items ( that after this summer we decided we can’t really vouch for anymore) and added a bunch of new ones. Consolidated some sections, expanded others, and added photos to make it easier to search.

  • Hey guys, great web site, very inspiring for my future motorcycling journeys
    Coming up starting in spring 2017…. can’t wait.
    Really appreciate you sharing your experiences….
    Peace & love to all fellow brethrens of the roads less traveled!

  • G. Brumfield says:

    I don’t camp very often, but I’ve been wishing that I could find a way to carry embers with me, so that when I got to the next campsite, I didn’t have to light a fire from scratch.

    • carry some cotton balls and vaseline, much safer than driving around with hot embers

  • Thanks guys for providing little bit experience of camping. I never went for it but always wonder how it feel. Thanks for sharing some experience and thoughts. This is really great!!

  • wow, after reading this now I want to go out camping. Am gonna look for good camping sites nearby…here in India, there are few and far.

  • I never went for it but always wonder how it feel. Thanks for sharing some experience and thoughts

  • Hi,

    Love your site! Your passion shines through for sure. Best of luck!

  • Awesome guide!
    Probably one of the best I have read:-)
    I really need a aeropress coffee maker!!!
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • joel centeno says:

    This is a great article. Nicely organized and very clear. I am just getting into camping and when looking at tips, products, gear, etc. your head can explode with some much info out there. I like the way this article explains what you really need, I just made my list and going to the store (and ordered some stuff online too), thanks to this article I feel more confident on what I need to get. Thanks for sharing, awesome work!

  • You could wrap clear packaging tape around the outside of your Nalgenes to keep the measurements from rubbing off.

  • Thank you for this blog! My husband and I are new to camping and this site has helped a ton!

  • great article. agree with all the positive comments above and appreciate the effort and thought. I have referenced several times in my effort to update and enhace my setup for month+ trip from CA to Teton to Yellowstone to Glacier in September.
    Cheers.

  • I love the organization in this article, it is well written as well. We operate camping safaris in Uganda and finding equipment has been a nightmare. We will use the references here.

  • If you are into Dutch Oven Cooking, I feel the Maer lid lifter is a must. It gives you the ultimate control and holds up really well.

  • Coffee: I take whole bean and a Zassenhaus hand mill when camping. I used to use one of those 3-cup stovetop percolators, but am switching to a pour-over cone & natural brown filters for quicker, easier clean-up.

  • Sea-Summit now also offers a collapsible cone for drip coffee. It has a fine mesh, but I still use paper inside. More options! Strictly Organic coffee roaster in Bend, OR. is one of the few places where you can get Ethiopian Yirgacheffe…As an former coffee roaster myself, that is one of the finest coffees in the world….don’t tell anyone, the crop is not very large 😉

    Don

    • We’ll have to check out that Sea-to-Sumit collapsible cone. And we definitely won’t swing by Strictly to inquire about that coffee. 😉

  • Paul Jackson says:

    One thing I would add is a meat thermometer. Especially useful when you’re drunk in the dark!

    • I think you’re right. Why guess if your food is done when you can know. We added it to the list. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • That’s a great article! I have also planned to go for a hill camping, can you please suggest anything related to camping in hilly areas?

    • Thanks Pat! Our biggest suggestion for cooking anywhere there is uneven ground is to make sure you have a table or camp stove with adjustable legs. It’s really hard to find anything level at a normal campground, nevermind if camping in the hills. So yeah, find adjustable legs for your table and camp stove.

  • We LOVE LOVE LOVE your recipes! Your kitchen gear list is pretty good too! I would just mention that the lid of your Dutch oven can double as a skillet, we find a tortilla warmer comes in SUPER handy if cooking in batches (for lots of people or multiple menu items that need to stay warm) and anyone serious about camping should consider building a patrol box (aka chuck wagon) w/legs and fold out counter space that houses all camp kitchen gear! It’s a game changer!!!

    • Thank you so much! We just updated this article to mention that a Dutch lid makes for a great skillet lid too. Megan’s father actually just built out his own chuckwagon from scratch and now we’re super jealous.

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