Camp Kitchen Bug

As my children have been getting older, we have started camping as a family, and this year we had an epic summer vacation with stops at multiple national parks. I’m the family chef, and so obviously cooking immediately comes to mind after shelter and clothing. When we camp, I like to provide my family with food cooked from scratch similar to what I can cook at home, and naturally I like to geek out a little over the kit I use to prepare that food.

We have what I consider a fairly complete camp cooking setup, with a commonly available coleman pack-away kitchen and a couple folding tables. These are typically set up underneath an EZ-up providing shade from sun or cover from rain, depending on the weather. There is ample counter space for prep work, while folding sinks and a sprayer make for a workable dish washing process. (I have to give credit to my sister-in-law who has shared her camping setup with our family over multiple years while camping in southern Oregon, as well as to my wife, who did the grunt-work of researching equipment lists and procuring the gear.)

We broke in our own camping setup in summer 2016. Our first trip was with some family friends to River Bend Park near Sweet Home, the second was a one-nighter to McNeil Campground near Zigzag with just our family, and the third was to Oxbow Regional Park with our daughter’s schoolmates. Other trips with the same setup followed, and it has worked out pretty well so far.

At River Bend, there were a few times when I had my dual-burner propane stove going (usually with a griddle on top) while our friends had a single-burner iosbutane backpacking stove cranking out hot water. We also had a fire pit, so my dutch oven was also used to make beer bread and pizza. The experience started me thinking about about off-grid stoves, fuels, and stirred feelings of nostalgia for campouts from my youth. There’s a whole spectrum of cooking technologies from open-fire cooking, to high-tech jetboils, and even outside of casual camping season here in the pacific northwest, the wide world of stoves continues to periodically creep back into my brain.

In contrast to the high-volume and near-meticulous duff-free River Bend, McNeil had dry twigs and cones from pines and doug firs throughout the campsite. My wife continually reminded me that twiggy duff is a common scenario throughout the tree-infested pacific northwest, so naturally my thoughts turned to wood-burning stoves. The solo stove was a first hit for web search, but I’m not backpacking with my family (at least not yet), and it seems geared more towards boiling water rather than extended controlled temperature situations needed for cooking, like simmering. The biolite stoves also seemed interesting, until I read reviews which indicated the USB charging is not terribly effective. Adding electronics to a device that could potentially be needed in an emergency off-grid situation seems an overcomplication.

The conclusion of our camping season in 2016 ended up with a very wet weekend at oxbow regional park. In my haste, I neglected the scout motto, and did not have my rain jacket or pants packed with me. We brought two EZ-ups with us, but only unpacked one to set up over our kitchen area. The wet weather came a day earlier than expected, so I didn’t have our second EZ-up set up over our tent to keep things dry. This meant packing up a day earlier than planned. Since I didn’t get to make my dutch oven beer bread at the campout, when we returned home I fired up some charcoal in my driveway so I could cook my bread at home. (I could have just cooked it indoors, but that’s not as fun.)

As the weather started turning, I felt obligated to squeeze the fading echoes of summer by cooking a couple dinners for my family outside. In contrast to car camping, I have a 20# propane tank connected to a grill at home. After a trip to gather provisions, I had my suitcase propane stove cranking away on my back patio. In my wild remodel fantasies, I would have a covered outdoor kitchen with fireproof counters which could be configured for wood stove cooking, dutch oven (charcoal) cooking, or propane. Maybe a small fireplace or hearth for a cozy fire. And since this is all make-believe, there would also be an easy path between my indoor kitchen and outdoor kitchen so I wouldn’t have to duplicate food prep areas. Or maybe a small food-prep area with a sink and multi-powered (AC, DC, propane) fridge?

2016 summary: I enjoy cooking. I enjoy cooking outdoors. I’ve got a camp kitchen bug. I can’t shake it. Some of it may have to do with being chased out of my own kitchen by children setting up train tracks all over the floor and counters, horrifying political nonsense blaring in from the other room, and I getting some sanctuary by cooking. (dancing toddlers optional.)

This post was started in 2016, and got a little out of hand over the last couple years…