Cooking is one of the best parts of camping and food always tastes better when outdoors. But cooking can also be a major pain if you don’t plan your camp kitchen properly. Here’s a list of camp kitchen essential items and how to set it up so you have a simple yet functional place to cook at camp.
Camp Kitchen List
1. Camping Stove, Fuel and Lighters
You’ll need a portable gas stove for camping. These usually use canisters of gas. If you are going to be camping for a long time or in a large group, then you may want a stove which connects to larger propane tanks.
Note: Even if you plan on cooking over a campfire, you will still need to bring a stove camping. Campfire cooking simply isn’t practical for most things. For example, you don’t want to light a fire each time you need hot water for coffee. It also takes a long time to cook over campfires and is difficult to do in the rain.
Recommended: Coleman Classic camping stove
2. Table or Kitchen Station
At the very least, you will want a table for your kitchen. The main reason is because it is safer to keep your stove on an elevated surface – especially if there are kids, dogs, or drunk people running around camp. Having a table also makes it much easier to prepare the food without having to hunch over on the ground.
If your campground has picnic tables at each campsite, then you can get away with not bringing a table. However, it’s nice to have a dedicated table for the stove so you can reserve the picnic space for eating and hanging out. Some camping kitchen tables have built-in shelves and hooks for your cooking equipment.
See these best portable camping kitchens
3. Food Storage
- Cooler: If you want to bring any items which require refrigeration, you’ll need a cooler. There are some electric ones which you may be able to charge at camp or even with solar.
- Large Storage Bins: I’ve made the mistake of keeping non-refrigerated food in plastic shopping bags while camping. It’s annoying and messy to have to search through 10+ bags each time you want a snack. Bins also help keep insects out of your food.
- Storage Baggies and Plastic Containers: You’ll need some storage baggies and containers for uneaten food. These are also useful for repackaging snacks or sandwiches to take with you on day hikes.
- Bear Canister: Depending on where you go camping, you may be required to put food in a bear canister. Read about them here.
4. Storage Bins for Cookware
You’ll want a separate bin for keeping all of your camp cookware, utensils, and other non-food supplies. This will make your life much easier in terms of organization. You can just grab the entire bin instead of having to carry each item over to the stove individually.
5. Tarp Shelter or Kitchen Tent
This is optional but really nice to have – especially for cooking in rainy weather or hot sun. The cheapest solution is to buy a tarp and some rope to set up a shelter above the kitchen area. The easier solution (especially when there might not be trees for anchoring a tarp) is to buy a kitchen tent.
6. Dishwashing Items
- Drying rack or bin
- Biodegradable dish soap
- Dish sponge
- Scrubber brush
- Dish towels
A note about camping sinks:
Lots of campgrounds have dishwashing stations. You’ll still need a way of carrying your dirty dishes to and from the station though. The easiest solution is to bring two plastic bins: one for dirty dishes and another for the clean dishes. Put a drying rack in the second bin if you need the dishes to dry faster.
If the campsite doesn’t have a place to wash dishes, then you’ll need to set up your own sink. This can also be done with two plastic bins: one for washing water and another for rinse water. A third bin or a drying rack is then helpful for storing the clean dishes while they dry. There are also plenty of camping sinks you can buy, some of which pump running water from reservoir tanks.
*Read this post to learn more about portable camp sinks
7. Water Jugs with Spigots
It’s annoying to walk to the camp spigot each time you need water for things like filling a pot or your water bottle. Instead, bring along some large water jugs with a spigot on the bottom, like these ones.
It’s almost inevitable that you will have to do some cooking or cleanup at night. Make sure you have a lantern to hang near your camp kitchen for better visibility. Check out these best solar lanterns.
9. Trash Can
The simplest solution is to bring plastic bags, hang them from a tree, and use this as your trash can. The trash can attract bees and flies though, so it might be worth it to bring a dedicated trash can with a lid that closes.
10. Eating Supplies
- Cups and/or mugs
- Large serving bowls
- Serving spoons
- Water bottles
11. Cooking and Food Prep Supplies
In addition to the above camp kitchen items, you’ll need these items for preparing food:
- Pots and pans
- Stirring spoons
- Chopping knives
- Cutting board
- Pot holder or lifter
- Grill rack
- Bottle opener, corkscrew, can opener
- Coffee maker (see these portable coffee makers)
- Cheese grater
12. Food Essentials
This will vary depending on what you plan to eat while camping, but you’ll probably want to bring:
- Cooking oil
- Herbs, spices, and seasoning mixes
- Coffee, tea, hot chocolate
- Energy bars
- Cereal, oatmeal, pancake mix
- Instant meals
- Pasta, instant rice, coucous…
- Canned foods
*See these easy camping meal ideas which don’t require refrigeration.
13. Other Kitchen Items
- Paper towels, napkins
- Fire pit (check campground fire regulations)
- Hatchet (read why here)
Tips for Setting Up Your Camp Kitchen
1. Establish Dedicated Cooking and Prep Area
It’s probably obvious that you want a dedicate place for your camp stove, but you also want one for food prep.
Ideally, you do NOT want to use the picnic table for food prep. Why? Because it’s incredibly annoying to clear away all of the cutting boards, knives, etc. before you can sit down to eat.
2. Deciding Where to Put the Camp Kitchen
Set up your camp kitchen someplace that is:
- Not in high-traffic areas, such as right in front of a tent or too close to your car
- Close to where you will be sitting to eat
- Has a natural wind block or shade (if you don’t have a kitchen tent)
- Is on flat ground
3. Keep Insects Out of Your Food and Trash
- Close opened food items immediately
- Regularly throw out trash
- Clean up dishes right after eating
4. Use Storage Bins for Everything
Cheap plastic storage bins will help you stay organized. They also are really important for keeping things clean – like when it suddenly starts raining and splashes muddy water all over your utensils, pots, and pans…
5. Choose Simple Meals
I know it’s tempting to plan elaborate camping meals, but even “simple” meals like pancakes can be a hassle when camping. The more complicated your meals are, the more kitchen stuff you will have to bring camping – thus making your camp kitchen cluttered and disorganized.
To make your life easier, choose meals which:
- Only use one pot or pan
- Can be prepared in advance at home
- Don’t require refrigeration
- Can be made without cooking (such as canned soups) or cold-soaking methods
Most important, PLAN ALL YOUR MEALS so you don’t end up with leftovers or bring unnecessary supplies.
6. Go Minimalist
A camp kitchen can quickly get disorganized. Unless you want to spend all of your time organizing and cleaning up the kitchen area (you don’t!), then try to be as minimalistic as possible:
- Only bring one cup and mug per person
- Keep condiments to a minimum
- Ask yourself whether you really need it before packing it
7. Check Campsite Rules about Animal Safety
Wild animals are a big issue at many campsites. In bear country, you’ll probably be required to lock up all food and cooking items in a bear locker. Even outside of bear country, you may have to clean up everything so smaller animals like raccoons don’t carry it off.
In these situations, you’ll really want to avoid elaborate camp kitchen setups. Instead, make sure everything fits into a couple big plastic bins which you can quickly take out and put away.
8. Cast Iron Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be
I know a lot of people absolutely love cast iron for camp cooking, but it’s not as easy as they’d have you think. The first issue is that cast iron is ridiculously heavy and annoying to bring camping. Cast iron cookware doesn’t pack well either. It is also annoying to carry a massive, heavy cast iron pot to the table.
It’s perfectly find to bring your normal pots and pans camping (so long as you keep the handles out of the stove flame). Or choose a lightweight, more packable camping cook pot like one of these.
9. Do Dishes Immediately
I know it’s a pain to do dishes once the sun has gone down, but you don’t want to “leave them for tomorrow.” By then, the food will have stuck to the plates and you may have critters crawling all over them. Do yourself a favor and wash them immediately.
10. Test Your Stove Before Leaving
This applies to all camping gear: make sure you set it up and test it before leaving. You don’t want to arrive at camp only to find out that your stove is leaking or has some other issue.
What other advice would you give about camping kitchens? Let us know in the comments!