Dream vs. Reality: Camp-Cooking Edition

camp cooking, dream vs. reality

Meals outside taste so much better.

There’s no better way to fully immerse oneself in the outdoors than a camping trip with good friends. Abandoning the amenities of home life is both liberating and daunting, and nothing exemplifies this duality more than camp cooking. Buying a cookbook and some compact kitchen gear is easy enough, but executing an elegant meal with primitive supplies in a rugged setting can be a tall order. Let’s see how the dream matches up to the reality.

Driving back to camp from the trails, sun sparkles through open windows, and you grin ear-to-ear thinking about the dinner ahead. Your truck glides smoothly up the dirt road and the light breeze feels refreshing after a hot day. One of your friends spots a bald eagle, perched on a tree. You stop to admire it before turning into the campsite, surely a good omen for the rest of your trip.

You crack a cold one while preparing to get crafty in the camp kitchen—you’ve chosen beef Bolognese for this evening’s al fresco fare. Opening the lid to your YETI, you find nothing melted or misplaced—food and ice are organized and at the perfect temperature. God, life is great. Your friends join with drinks of their own and everyone reminisces on the day while helping prep: chopped onions, garlic, parsley, and basil; thawed-but-cold ground beef; a couple cans of tomato paste—of course you remembered the can opener.The propane stove fires to life and soon the delightful smell of sizzling aromatics fills the air. Everyone is eager to dig in. As you ladle the meaty Bolognese over piles of perfectly-cooked pasta, your buddy hands you another beer, commending you on your expert cooking skills. The sun paints the sky an array of bright colors and a deer and her fawn silhouette themselves on the nearest ridge just as you take your first bite. Cooking outside is the best.

You’re famished and sweaty, cursing your truck’s shoddy A/C system as dust swirls in every direction. Dinner thoughts started as soon as you hit the trail, but now you can barely think as your sense of direction and time warps with every winding mile back to camp. When you arrive, clouds quickly roll in, as does the rain shortly thereafter.

After raking through the completely disorganized cook bin to find a pot but no lid, you set up to cook in the rain, stomach growling. Though soup wasn’t on the menu, the cooler’s contents suggest otherwise. The scorching heat melted all the ice and your veggies are steeping in a gazpacho of ground beef and broken eggs, which smell like they shattered on the bumpy ride in. Revolted, and too tired to deal with the disaster, you put the cooler aside and rummage around the dried-food bin. A bag of rice and a can of black beans—burritos it is. Actually, just rice burritos—it seems you forgot the can opener.

Your butane stove roars at its non-adjustable and seemingly only setting: maximum. Eyeballing the water-to-rice ratio doesn’t go as planned—the rice is somehow both soggy and burnt, with a paste-like texture. Conversation is minimal as everyone nibbles at the bland concoction, quietly cursing you between sips of warm beer. You leave the rice-encrusted pot out to soak in the downpour, drawing a band of curious chipmunks. Tired and nauseous, you swear that next time you’ll bring dehydrated meals. Everything always goes smoothly with those... right?