What's On The Menu?
May 1, 2019
Due to the difficulty of carrying large amounts of cooking fuel, campers often require their meals to cook in a short amount of time (5–20 minutes). Many campers prefer a 'just add boiling water' method of cooking, while others enjoy a more involved, and therefore, often higher quality meal.
The amount of cooking time can be disregarded if campers are able to cook over a campfire; however, due to the possibility of a burn-ban being in place, campers do not often rely on this option.
Here Are Some Things To Consider When Camp Cooking
Camping foods are often shelf-stable, that is, they require no refrigeration. Campers may be outdoors for days or weeks at a time, and will often pack food for the entire trip. Campers will sometimes take fresh food that can be consumed in the first day or two of a hike but will usually not risk carrying perishable food beyond that timeframe.
Campers hiking in the snow or other cold conditions or campers with access to a cold-water source may be able to store perishable food in the snow or secured in a bag and kept in the cold water to act as a refrigeration source.
Backpackers must carry everything with them so they require all of their gear and food to be as lightweight as possible. Campers often turn to freeze-dried and dehydrated meals and ingredients for this reason, but they will also sometimes take a pouch of tuna or some other ingredient with a high water content with them as a treat, providing that the item has nutritional value.
Backpackers, canoeists, climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts often cover many miles every day, consuming thousands of calories to keep their energy level high. Backpackers require an average of 480 calories per hour as well as higher sodium levels.
Because of the high levels of nutritional burn and emphasis on weight, backpackers monitor the ratio of calories-to-ounce that their food provides. To ensure their bodies are properly nourished, campers must pay close attention to their meal plans.
To prepare meals that work well outdoors, campers employ a variety of techniques. All campers are advised to prepare meals that are made of easy-to-prepare ingredients.
Freeze-drying requires the use of heavy machinery and is not something that most campers are able to do on their own. Freeze-dried ingredients are often considered superior to dehydrated ingredients, however, because they rehydrate at camp faster and retain more flavor than their dehydrated counterparts. (Note: Frozen dried eggs can be shelf stable for up to 25 years.)
Freeze-dried ingredients take so little time to rehydrate that they can often be eaten without cooking them first and have a texture similar to a crunchy chip.
Small amounts of freeze-dried ingredients are sometimes available for sale from emergency supply outlets or from stores specific to camping. Freeze-dried ingredients that have not been combined into a meal are often hard to find, however, and are often sought out by campers.
Dehydration can reduce the weight of the food by 60 to 90 percent by removing water through evaporation. Some foods such as onions, peppers, and tomatoes dehydrate well. Dehydration often produces a more compact, albeit slightly heavier, end result than freeze-drying.
Full meals or individual ingredients may be dehydrated. Dehydration of individual ingredients allows the flexibility to cook different meals based on available ingredients, while precooked and dehydrated meals offer greater convenience.
Several cookbooks and online grocery stores specialize in dehydrated foods. A Fork in the Trail and Another Fork in the Trail are both backcountry cookbooks that focus on dehydrating full meals.
Surplus military meals, Meals-Ready-To-Eat (MREs) are sometimes used by campers. These meals contain precooked foods in retort pouches. A retort pouch is a plastic and metal foil laminate pouch that is used as an alternative to traditional industrial canning methods.
The final type (mentioned here) of ingredients available to campers are those that are typically found in the grocery store. Some examples of these types of food are polenta, grits, quick-cooking pasta (such as angel hair pasta), uncooked, instant ramen, instant potatoes, dried soups, jerky and pouch meats such as tuna, SPAM or salmon.
When using these common ingredients, campers often repackage them to reduce packaging or combine them into a meal-ready package, therefore reducing prep-time at camp. The main requirement that campers look for in these types of ingredients is the cook-time with 20 minutes' being the longest amount of cook-time that many campers will tolerate.