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Campfire Meals

Heading out on a 10 day camping trip with an 8 and 10 year old.  Anyone have any favorite campfire meals?

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.
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13 Replies

One of our favorites and very easy is beanie weanie..cook hot dogs over fire open can of baked beans simmer with brown mustard mix together......

@PFM61 I love those!! Great idea!!


Hi Karen


I know this is an older post but what kind of camping are you planning?  What I'd suggest for drive up tent camping would be differnt than for a paddling or backpacking trip.  And what would you be cooking on?





@LanceR I was car camping and using both a two burner stove and I brought a Jetboil as well (I mean I do work at REI!).  I am a great cook at home so wanted to translate that to the outdoors and not just eat beanie weinies, plus my 10 year old is a vegetarian.  It is hard enough to get her to eat at home!  I found cannelli and black beans in a soft sided container at my local grocery store so i stocked up on them and we did have some pasta meals, but with lots of fresh vegetables i brought from our garden.  Day five and six got a little trickier because we were at least 30+ minutes from ice or water. If you have any great favorites I would love to hear them! 

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Hi Karen, I'm glad for you that you got to spend the time with them.  Our six kids are long out of the house but over the last few years we started over again as we are now camping and backpacking with grandkids.  It has been a blast!

Having worked with a lot of youngsters (and adults) in camp and on trails, I realize that there is often some flexibility in "vegetarian". For instance, would some bits of ham in pea or black bean soup be an issue?  Or, maybe like our vegetarian DIL who will eat ham or white meat chicken is the vegetarian diet less than absolute?  And a lot of vegetarians experience weakened resolve at the smell of bacon....

FWIW,  our long experience around Boy and Girl Scouts and church youth groups in the outdoors has made it pretty clear that while healthy balanced nutrition is important over the long haul, for the relatively short time in camp that palatability for the kids and relative ease of preparation for you trump perfectly balanced meals.

Do you have a dehydrator?  And maybe a vacuum sealer of some sort?  Both can really broaden the horizons of easy camp and trail cookery.

As far as ice in coolers; when out in the sticks we find that assuming equal quality of insulation, two smaller coolers are more efficient and stay cold lomger that one big cooler.  Packing the stuff you'll use early in one cooler helps the other one stay colder longer (a full cooler with a lid that stays closed as much as possible is a happy cooler) and when the first cooler gets empty you can transfer any remaining ice over to the second cooler.  And freezing some of your water in plastic milk/juice jugs does double duty in transporting some of your water and in keeping the cooler cold, especially as blocks of ice far outlast ice cubes.

And consider a good quality of instant dry milk instead of hauling fresh milk.  I grew up on non-fat dry milk but we use Nido dry whole milk for backpacking as it has such better flavor and in cooking it adds aa welcome richness that is often missing in freeze dried or dehydrated foods where the food needs to be very low in fat tfor the sake of storage stability.  Some grocery stores carry the Nido but you'll get the best prices online.

BTW, the Greensboro, NC store is the closest one to us.  Are you anywhere near there?




@LanceR Wow, lots of great advice. We did do the frozen water and Gatorade bottles and ended up transferring from two cooler to one. I love the powered milk idea, not sure why I didnt think of that. My vegetarian really only will eat bacon (you called it) and a good salami so I brought both of those. Thanks for all the tips and I am not near NC.  I live further north in Wisconsin. 

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Hi Karen.  I'm glad some of that rambling helped.  Do you have a vacuum sealer and/or a dehydrator?

Will the vegetarian eat/drink dairy?  If so, that opens a lot of doors. Any chance some diced cooked ham, chicken or turkey can be slipped into the rotation?

And as she will eat bacon you might want to give bacon flavored Spam a try.  It has bacon in it and really does taste like bacon.  Being fully cooked it doesn't need refrigeration and when heated it loses very little fat so you get a lot more food for your buck than you do with bacon with a lot less smelly critter attracting grease to dispose of.  Spam does well browned in slices, cubed or slivered added to home fries, scrambles or omelettes etc.

When we have an active scedule, are on the trail or we're with kids we want to put a meal together that doesn't take a lot of cooking time or pots and pans.  To the extent we can we do the prep and cooking at home. And making our own pre packaged meals gives us far better portion control that whatever some facotry is calling a serving to make their nutrition label look good.

If spagetti, mac & cheese etc fit your meal plan you can cook the pasta at home, rinse it well in cold water to prevent sticking and tote it along in a zipper lock bag in the cooler.  A few seconds in hot water and it's ready to serve or hit the next step of the recipie.

Pastas, especially mac and cheese can be workhorses for camping particullarly with lids.  Serve mac & cheese alone, with a can or two fo chili, with some hot dog...err salami chunks, a can or two of solid pack tuna with the water from the can, or ham chunks (more on ham later)-you get the picture.  Be careful to read labels though. 

For example, I was in a restaurant supply grocery store two days ago.  One of the things I wanted was bulk cheddar cheese powder or a good cheese sauce mix.  Of the two choices, both of which made a gallon of cheese sauce if you used the whole pouch, pouch A had an ingedient list that started with maltodextrin.  What! Yuck!! Corn sugar is the largest part of this crud?  And it got worse!  Of the next 3-4 ingredients 2 of them were more sugars.  The cheddar cheese powder was 3rd or 4th on the list.  Pouch B started off with sharp ceddar cheese powder, milk solids, butttermilk solids etc.  Guess which one is on the shelves with our bulk freeze dried backpacking foods?

Premixing your own mac and cheese mix is easy once you find good cheese powder.  Check a box of store nmac and cheese the kids like and weigh the cheese powder and pasta to get a proper ratio.  The Nido dry whole milk I mentioned reconstitutes at 1/4 cup dry milk to a cup of water.  Since the boxed mac and cheese calls for a quarter cup of milk and 4 tablespoons=1/4 cup you now know what each box equivalent is.  Package what your family will eat, consider precooking the pasta at home and be prepared to add shot of ghee to replace the butter/margerine and some water to the pasta to make up for the missing water in the milk and butter so save a bit of the cooking/reheating water when you drain the pasta in camp.

Wait....ghee....if you aren't familiar with ghee this is a great time to try it.  Ghee made from unsalted butter and I often describe it as what the drawn butter often served with lobster wants to be when it grows up. It has a rich nutty almost butterscotch flavor and aroma and can replace butter/margerine for a lot of things at home or camp.  It is shelf stable for a couple of months at room temperature and far longer in the fridge.  But we've never had it last for the "cople of months".....  And it has really high smoke point-480F.

To make ghee put a pound or two of insalted butter in a dutch oven or heavy saucepan and place the uncovered pan in a 250F oven for 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours until the water evaporates off and the mik solids are golden brown.  Strin through 2-3 layers of cheesecloth (a good paper coffee filter will work in a pinch but be much slower.

A pound of butter makes about 4/5 of a pint of ghee.  We keep it next to the cook top at home, keep a pint jar next to the stove in our camper and carry a screw top Nalgene jar on the trail.  It's really hand for camping/backpacking.

More to follow....




Seasoned stuffing mixes and good quality instant potatoes are great starting points for quick and easy camp/trail meals.

If the vegetarian can stretch to diced chicken or turkey they can be cooked at home (poaching is easiest) and you can make a really tasty approximation of a Thanksgiving dinner in camp....or a lot of other things with the chicken/turkey.  For a Thakgiving like meal take some frozen veggies (whatever your clan will eat) and put them in a zipper lock bag that will go in the cooler.  And as much of the chicken/turkey as you need....and more.  Pack a handful of dried cranberries such as Craisins and maybe some turkey gravy mix.  In fact, be sure to take the gravy mix....  Or and pack the turkey or chicken stuffing mix.  Be sure that's on the packing list-really sure (don't ask, please)

In camp, make the stuffing mix per the box, add the veggies and diced chicken/turkey and wrap the covered pot in a towel long enough for the meat and veggies to warm through.  And you will likely need a little bit extra boiling water-check after 5-7 minutes  of hydrating/heating through and add a bit at a time as needed.  When warmed through and hydrated, fluff with a fork per the instructions, serve and bask in the compliments, especially if you have gravy.....  You did make the gravy, didn't you?

By now you know what to do with the mashed potatoes so I'll stop here.  We often use  the flavored stuff as the base to build on.  Adding a little ghee at the end can really send this stuff over the top or just about anything else.

Back to the ham though.  Buy a couple thick slices (slabs really) in the deli and be sure to look for something like "Ham off the Bone" and only buy it if it says "Ham' (unlikely) or "Ham with natural juices" on the label.  Ham and ham with natural juices has the least amount of added water and is hands down the best value and the best tasting stuff in the store.  All the prepackaged slices and the rest of the deli stuff will be "Ham with water added" or "Ham and water product".  Buy that and you will be paying ham prices for water.... and watered down ham......

Ham, is kind of a Swiss army knife in a camp kitchen.  It can be an entree, a breakfast side, chunked or shredded in everything from omelettes, to soups, to home fries, stuffing, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, ham salad for sandwiches or a snack spread yadda, yadda yadda.

And remember that cheese powder/sauce mix?  Camp nachos anyone?

I hope I haven't been preaching to the choir here but my experience has beenthat pretty much any dinner built around mac & cheese, stuffing ot mashed potatoe will be a hit in camp.  There are a lot more options for sure but these are also easy to prepare in lousy weather si they are good to have in your kid friendly arsenal.

How do they feel about stir fries or Mexican food?  Desserts?  Pea or black bean soup (maybe with some shredded ham)?  Hmm, roasted poblano and black bean enciladas can be prepped ahead of time.  I wonder if I can convert the oven recipe to stove top.  All you'd be lacking is the browning on the cheese (unless, like me, you use a propane torch to light campfires....). 

Karen, it's been a ball posting this stuff.  I really hope it helps.


Lance Robson



Wow @LanceR this is amazing!! Thanks so much. Now I need to plan another trip to try some of these.

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.