A Beginners Guide to Cooking Outside

Summertime means hot days and warm nights cooking up some of your favorite meals outside. If you’re a fan of the outdoors, chances are you’re planning on cooking up a meal or two outside (or for a whole week, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). 

Whether you’re out in your backyard or on a backpacking/car camping adventure, cooking ouside provides you with several different challenges that would otherwise not even come to mind when preparing a home-cooked meal indoors. 

In this article we’ll take a look at some equipment to use when taking your cooking outdoors, how to prepare your food, what kind of food you should bring (and how much), how you should store it if you’ll be camping, snacks and more.

Now, if you’re staying within the comfort of our own back yard, chances are you’ll have everything you need within a few steps. However, the grill can still be quite intimidating for a novice user. 

Cooking With the Grill

Grilling with gas may seem overwhelming, but with a few simple rules to keep in mind you’ll be cooking some delicious meats and veggies in no time. So what are some tools you need before getting your food ready to go? 

Let’s start with the basics, shall we? No matter what you plan on cooking, there are a few key tools you’ll want to be sure you have. First thing’s first, you’ll need a box of matches and some lighter fluid. This is especially important if you’re hoping to cook over an open fire. You’ll also want to bring easily, portable dishes along. These include lightweight pans and pots, aliminum foil and a portable grate that you’ll be able to place ver a fire pit (if you are planning on doing some campfire cooking). Some other basic utensil include tongs, a thermometer and maybe even some wooden skewers. 

When it comes to grilling with gas, there are 3 points you’ll want to keep in mind. First, be sure togive the grill some time to heat up. Similar to a charcoal grill, a gas grill requires time to preheat (although much less). Once the grill is lit, turn the burners to high and preheat the grill fr 10-15 minutes. Then you’re safe to reduce the heat as needed for your particular recipe. 

It’s also important to know the grilling zones. This is a sufficient method of grill cooking that pairs direct and indirect heat for maximum efficiency. These two main zones are based off of direct heat vs. indirect heat. While both are pretty self-explanatory, direct heat is best used for searing, quick-cooking veggies and shrimp. Indirect heat is when you use a burner next to a direct heat source (that is often times turned off). His indirect heat relies on convection (the built up heat from when the grill is closed). This is better used for low-slow heat that is better for cooking meat to the correct internal temperature. 

But what if you’re camping and can’t bring a grill along? Well, you’ve got a few different options. 

Different Methods of Cooking

Of  course you’ve got the tradiitonal campfire which doesn’t require anything but tin foil and some wet newspaper or paper towel. That’s right, no pot or pan necessary. The wet paper will help keep the food from burning as it cooks. The key with cooking over a traditional campfire is to cook over the coals, not the fire. 

Another popular way is by usuing a backpacking stove. A basic two-burner camp stove is ideal for an easy set up and food prep station. A burner camp stove can replicate the same meals you cook on a stove top fairly easily. All you really need to do is ilght the flame and cook sas you normally would. 

A canister stove is another must-have for individuals who like their morning oatmeal (or anything that requires boiling water, for that matter). A pot will be helpful if you’re looking to make soups, stews or pastas. As mentioned before, you’ll want to start a fire and let it die down to hot coals (unless you are using a burner) and then place the pot over them to begin cooking your food. 

Another piece of equipment that’s a bit heftier is the trusty dutch oven. Learning to cook in one of these can be a bit intimidating at first, but once you’ve got it down it’ll open up many more options for your go-to camping meals. You can use it to fry, saute, bake, stew, roast or even slow cook! It can be used any time of day for pretty much any type of meal. 

A camp-style dutch oven typically comes as an aluminum pot o cast-iron and features legs that let the pot sit above the coals. The non-stick coating found on cast iron pans is called “patina” or seasoning, which builds with each use. The maintain the quality of the patina, you’ll want to wipe it down with a layer of oil before each use . This will uphold the nonstick properties of the oven. Often times charcoal briquettes are used to cook meals in the Dutch oven, but you can also use real wood coals as well. 

Knowing the temperature you’ll want will help determine how many briquettes you’ll need. For  dutch oven cooking, you’ll need: a dutch oven (of course), one bag of charcoal briquettes, lighter fluid or a charcoal chimney starter, matches or a lighter, long-handled tongs, heavy duty barbecue gloves and last but not least, your recipe ingredients.

So you know the best cooking equipment to take along, but what about actual food to make? There’s no need to change up your whole diet just because you’re cooking outdoors. You can bring your usual favorites like potatoes, chicken, meat, etc. What sounds better than a steak grilled on a fresh campfire? 

However, meat can be a bit harder to take on long campiring trips due to storage and keeping it fresh. This leads us to our next point -- keeping foods fresh.

Keeping Food Fresh

Having cooking equipment is important, but if you don’t keep your cold foods cold, you’ll have a much bigger issue. That’s why a cooler wil be your top priority camp kitchen item. Packing the cooler with frozen foods is a great way to ensure the food doesn’t leak and it can help keep the other foods cold as well.

Another mistake people often make for their grand outdoor adventures is that they simply don’t pack enough. Think about it, you’re going to be expending calories the whole time. You’ll be burning alot more calories as you’ll be active and being outdoors encourages a lot of activity. You don’t have the luxure of being in the comfort of your own home and while camping is fun, it takes a lot of work and extra labor. This is why fueling your body with enough calories and quality foods is key. 

Our Go-To Meals

So what are some of our favorite meals to make when we’re out on an adventure? Some of our top picks are: 

  1. Grilled salmon with boiled potatoes

  2. Dutch oven potatoes and pork chops

  3. Grilled chicken, mashed potatoes and butternut squash

  4. Pancakes, bacon and eggs

So now that you’ve got the knowledge, get your equipment ready and get outside while you can! The summer and fall seasons are perfect for your nights on the deck grilling or your long weekends spent out in the woods. If you’re feeling intimidated about it all, start out small. Start with your grill and work your way up to the burners and campfires so you have a better idea of how the wind and weather affects your cooking.