I spent the last two weeks of September car camping with my brother as he moved across the country. It was tremendous fun. Car camping is not for everyone: I know lots of people who would rather be roughing it with their gear on their backs and a lot fewer stops for gas; and then there are certainly folks who would rather not sleep on the ground every night, who would rather not give up electricity.

But car camping is definitely for me. I love tent camping, I love campfires, I love long hikes. But I also love hiking without a backpack, covering long distances in good time, and most importantly, access to a good amount of cookware.

At the beginning of this trip, we decided to cook as often as we could–and we did. Every night that we camped, we cooked. That is, mostly my brother cooked, and I learned a lot about cooking without tons of ingredients or my beloved food processor(s).

Bacon, onions and rice cooking in a cast iron pan, with maybe just a splash of bourbon.
Bacon, onions and rice cooking in a cast iron pan, with maybe just a splash of bourbon.

One of our new favorites was using his cast iron dutch oven set low over the campfire. We made a delicious black bean soup with bacon & rice that way: fry chopped bacon and onions in oil in the cast iron pan until translucent, add rice and water and cook until water has mostly thickened. Then add a can of re-fried beans (that’s what we had on hand–whole beans would also work) and heat until the rice is thoroughly cooked, adding more water if desired. Season with salt, pepper, paprika. Easy! Delicious!

Bean soup with bacon and rice
Black bean soup with bacon and rice

Another great campfire cooking tool is aluminum foil. Root veggies store easily, so they’re great for car camping, but they take a long time to cook. A sachet of roasted veggies cooks up well without any trouble (read: you can do this in the dark if needed). Chop up carrots or potatoes, package them up in foil with some olive oil and salt, then place the sachet over the fire for about 30 minutes, and you’ve got an easy, tasty accompaniment to your beans & rice (or whatever).

It's really hard to cook carrots too long in foil, if the heat is high and there's enough oil. Wait until they are sweet and slightly crispy.

We did burgers one night, too, over a tiny skillet on a small propane stove. With a little melted cheese (sharp Wisconsin cheddar, brought along from home, of course) and some fried onions, they are a nice treat.

Burgers on a tiny skillet
Bacon cheeseburger on sandwich bread
Bacon cheeseburger on sandwich bread

I was really satisfied with our camp-cooking–with the right staple foods and tools in the car, it was easy, mostly healthy, and saved us a lot of money over eating out or buying pre-packaged meals. I’m looking forward to trying these ideas out again on my next road trip!

October 11, 2011

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