The term “must-have” might not always be the most believable, but in the case of camp cooking, there really are certain items you can’t do without. When you’re in the great outdoors, far from the conveniences of home, you can’t go down the street to pick up more grill fuel or run inside to grab cookware — what you bring with you is all you have. And unless you’re content nibbling on energy bars and pre-made sandwiches for the duration of your trip (Wouldn’t you rather roast delicious s’mores instead?), you need to make sure your camp kitchen is stocked with all the necessities.
Below you’ll find our list of camp-cooking essentials, covering everything from fuel and grilling accessories to campground considerations that’ll make your grill setup safer and more efficient. Remember that these products are what we define as true must-haves; if you’d like a comprehensive list of what you could bring camping, then take a look at our camp cooking checklist and make your packing plan from there. In the meantime, let’s trek through the cooking tools and supplies every camper should keep in tow.
As we noted above, backcountry wilderness and even frontcountry campsites don’t exactly have hardware stores brimming with propane tanks and bags of charcoal or wood pellets. How much fuel you need depends on the duration of your trip and how often you intend to grill, so take some time to outline your camping meals. (For reference, a 1-lb propane tank should last about 1½ –2 hours on high heat.) If you plan to cook with wood logs instead of a grill, buy them from near your campsite instead of harvesting them yourself from the surrounding wilderness.
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Cooking sizzling meat over hot coals in the great outdoors is about as primitive as it gets, but you should still be focused on safely and efficiently starting your charcoal fire. You can kick it old-school with lighter cubes and fire starters, get an easy-to-use charcoal chimney in the mix, or sneak in a bit of modern convenience with the battery-powered Looftlighter X lighter. Whatever you choose to get your charcoal camping grill started, always be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper use. Smokey Bear is watching.
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It’s hard to make a full meal at home without a fleet of cookware pulling some of the weight, so why would that be any different out in the wild? Durable, versatile outdoor cookware will help you take your camp kitchen to the next level, whether you’re using a simple set of pots and pans or more specific accessories like a roaster or rib rack. We’re particularly fond of Camp Chef cookware and Magma outdoor cookware sets, the latter of which has individual pieces that nest together to save valuable space both in your bags and at the campsite.
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Grilling Tool Sets
Would you go for a hike without bringing a pack, or go climbing without all the necessary safety gear? It follows, then, that you wouldn’t try grilling in the great outdoors without a trusty tool set to see you through the adventure. You can handle most jobs with at least a spatula and tongs, though you’ll be better covered with a more robust set that also has extras like basting brushes and meat forks. Heat-resistant handles, like those on Wusthof’s 4-piece stainless steel tool set, are another huge plus when it comes to safety and comfort.
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Insulated Grill Gloves
It’s never a bad idea to cook with heat-resistant grill gloves, especially if you’re roasting items over a campfire (make some s’mores for us, please!). Though you’ve certainly got that first-aid kit packed and ready to go, you’d rather not have to use it to treat burns that could’ve easily been avoided with insulative materials like aramid fiber or leather. Look for a pair with non-slip silicone near the palms to help with gripping tools and cookware — and refreshments, if you partake — which can be difficult to do in a poor set of gloves.
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Just like an indoor (or outdoor) kitchen needs counter space, your camp kitchen isn’t complete without a place for the indispensable prep work. The best camping tables also double as dining areas, making it wise to look for an adjustable-height camping table that can accommodate a variety of tasks within a moment’s notice. The Camp Chef Sherpa table and organizer takes things a step further with a lightweight design and padded carry handles for easy portability, along with 4 removable, zippered compartments that provide convenient storage.
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Roasting Sticks & Skewers
Though our researchers concluded that it’s technically possible to enjoy a camping trip without roasting marshmallows or cooking hot dogs over the fire, the data clearly shows us why it’s such a cherished activity. Sharing laughs, stories, and s’mores with your best friends is even more of a treat with BBQ Dragon marshmallow roasting sticks; they extend up to 45” to keep you out of the heat, with easy-to-clean rubber grip handles that won’t burn. So, leave those dirty sticks where you found them and be the roasting host with the most instead.
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Being in the elements brings out some of the best in human ingenuity: tents to keep the weather at bay, fires to keep the chill away, and camping grills to keep our bellies full. We even figured out how to beat the dark with the guiding light of lanterns, which allow you to cook and find your way around camp after sunset. Just imagine trying to frantically complete a meal in an unfamiliar place as night settles in, unable to fully see your camping grill or any protruding roots silently waiting to trip you. Yeah, you’ll want to bring a lantern.
Fire plus forest equals… well, you get the picture of the not-so-great possibilities. There will always be some degree of danger associated with cooking in the wilderness even if you follow every safety protocol you can find online and on the trail. While camping grills are safer than open fires because they’re more confined and can be more easily controlled, it never hurts to keep a fire extinguisher nearby in the event something goes wrong. If anything, it can give you peace of mind and help you stay ready for any scenario when camping.
We’ve never met a grilled camping meal we didn’t like — or that didn’t create waste of some kind. Whether it’s food packaging, chopped bits that need to be discarded, or after-dinner scraps you can’t save, every single piece of trash you produce needs to end up in an approved waste receptacle. Oh, and we didn’t even mention things like paper towels and disposable dinnerware! Properly bagging and throwing away trash will not only protect our sacred environment, but also prevent curious critters from interpreting your waste as a welcome sign.