Your car camping cooking setup

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Outdoors24

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I am thinking about updating my car camping setup, and I am curious what everyone else does for their cooking setup? I currently have a tote for most of my cooking stuff, but I feel like I could do better at being organized with it. For a little bit of background I usually cook for 2-4 people when out camping. Thanks for your help!
 

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regehr

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I'm not claiming to be organized but this is my setup:
- two-burner coleman canister stove (does anyone car camp except with one of these??)
- a table (preferably the nice solid one that came with my tent trailer, othewise an ultra-flimsy one I picked up for cheap somewhere)
- water jug up on the table
- large orca cooler alternately serves as seating and extra prep space
- food goes in those big tupperware bins, these can get left out all night as long as you put a rock on the lid
- utensils etc. go in a smaller tupperware container
- nesting cookpot set I picked up cheap
- always bring a potscrub, the "finger scrub method" is only for backpacking
- there's "clean" dishes and there's "camp clean dishes"
 

Titans

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Great question, I'm curious what everyone recommends, we struggled with the same, using a tote and a plastic bin. It didn't feel organized.

We switched to just boiling water and sharing a nice freeze dried meal after a long day of hiking. And a beer or two! Tuna and crackers as appetizer. o_O
And though we are not (!) Vegan, we were super happy with the taste of the "Food for the Sole" bags we purchased in Moab. We cook extensively at home, but I'm not sure we would go back to cooking at camp, as long as we can get the "Food for the sole" bags. Less stuff to worry about in the cooler on our trip. I'm green with envy when I see the yummy food on @Nick 's river trips, but I can't pull it off after a long day of hiking and setting up camp.

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Nick

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I'm green with envy when I see the yummy food on @Nick 's river trips, but I can't pull it off after a long day of hiking and setting up camp.
The only reason that really works out is that we rotate camps/meals in teams. So typically on a week long trip, me and one or two other people will do dinner and breakfast including setup and dishes in one camp, and then the rest of the trip we kick back and relax while other people cook for us. That said, I still get exhausted by the complexity of it and I'm planning on trying a more simple method this year that is more like what I'd do if I were car camping solo. I like to keep it really simple.
 

Wanderlust073

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To my surprise, my wife has been dropping a lot of hints about getting into car camping this coming year. Do any of you guys use those powered refrigerated coolers? I am half heartedly hoping that car camping will be a gateway drug to get her out on a backpacking trip, but I don’t think freeze dried meals are going to grease the wheels of that wagon lol. Or do those expensive yeti coolers keep things cold for two or three days at a time?
 

regehr

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To my surprise, my wife has been dropping a lot of hints about getting into car camping this coming year. Do any of you guys use those powered refrigerated coolers? I am half heartedly hoping that car camping will be a gateway drug to get her out on a backpacking trip, but I don’t think freeze dried meals are going to grease the wheels of that wagon lol. Or do those expensive yeti coolers keep things cold for two or three days at a time?
I have a few pretty solid not-powered coolers and that's always been good enough. Would only go the powered route if I were doing week+ trips and I can't manage that until later in life.
 

wsp_scott

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I have one of these "5 day" coolers, with enough ice at the beginning, it will keep ice for 4-5 days in the southeast in the summer

For organization, I have big flat shaped totes, think 10 inches deep. A couple of those stack and because they are not deep, it is impossible to lose stuff in them.

I also have some smaller shallow totes https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O8WLI70/?tag=backcountrypo-20
2 of these fit perfectly on top of the bigger one.

FWIW, the totes were a lot cheaper at Lowes or Home Depot
 

regehr

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Great question, I'm curious what everyone recommends, we struggled with the same, using a tote and a plastic bin. It didn't feel organized.
I always spend a hella long time digging in those huge tupperware bins, ugh. Would love to have a better way. Can never find anything in the dark.

Re. freeze dried food, I eat that stuff all the time backpacking but only use it as backup when car camping. I think the key for car camping is to balance the prep time vs. meal quality. Some of my tricks include:
  • fajitas using pre-cooked chicken + pre-sliced peppers and onions
  • those "salad in a bag" things you see at the grocery store and are too proud to buy, most of the time. we super love the ceasar salads.
  • walking tacos -- open a bag of fritos / doritos and dump some spiced ground beef + veggies on top
  • those bags of pre-coooked indian food from the store + boil-in-a-bag rice, this is a super satisfying meal
  • pasta and jarred sauce
  • canned soup to heat up
  • cheapo ramen + whatever
  • instant couscous + raisins, olive oil, whatever else seems good
Getting hungry just making the list.
 

Titans

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To my surprise, my wife has been dropping a lot of hints about getting into car camping this coming year. Do any of you guys use those powered refrigerated coolers? I am half heartedly hoping that car camping will be a gateway drug to get her out on a backpacking trip, but I don’t think freeze dried meals are going to grease the wheels of that wagon lol. Or do those expensive yeti coolers keep things cold for two or three days at a time?
* Nope- regular cooler, but we go in late fall/winter, so it's less of an issue. (What is an issue is finding fresh produce in the areas we go).
* I think you have an excellent chance of getting her into backpacking by trying car camping first. We have never been closer to getting a backpack.
* IME the food desire/interest changes in the wilderness/outdoors when you are surrounded by a sunset or sunrise, the moon, the stars, a campfire- your wife might surprise you. I eat some food in the wilderness, which I would never eat at home, like chicken ramen noodles for breakfast, ha. In contrast I have no desire to eat my normal cold breakfast. The "Food for the Sole" bags have A LOT more taste than many other brands we tried. We are still trying to re-create the taste of those first 2 freeze dried meals at home :)
 

Udink

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I almost always just get away with eating canned/dried foods when car camping, using a Camp Chef Stryker (Jetboil knockoff) whenever I need boiling water for coffee/ramen/etc., or a camp fire to heat canned foods. But occasionally I bring the good stuff: a Coleman two-burner stove, small cooler with all cold goods already prepped, 4' folding table, and 18-gallon Rubbermaid Roughneck tote full of pans/plates/utensils.

On my latest trip to NM last month, I ate orange chicken with snow peas, French dip sandwiches, pork stir fry with veggies, and steak. I prepped and froze all the meat before the trip so I didn't have to wash cutting boards and knives. The weather was cold enough that I didn't need much ice to keep everything cold in the cooler, but I still used two blocks of ice in there made ahead of time using a couple of large whipped topping containers. Each midday I'd get out whatever meat I'd planned for dinner to thaw. Used a Lodge 12" cast iron pan for all my cooking, and disposable plastic or plastic-coated paper plates to eat on, plus plastic utensils (except for the steak knives).

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Udink

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like chicken ramen noodles for breakfast, ha.
That's hilarious--I almost always eat a cup of noodles for breakfast when camping now. I started doing it a few years ago in the Mojave Desert, and it's replaced my usual fare of donuts or fruit pies or some other sweet breakfast food (though I still enjoy coffee with my ramen). :)
 

regehr

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That's hilarious--I almost always eat a cup of noodles for breakfast when camping now. I started doing it a few years ago in the Mojave Desert, and it's replaced my usual fare of donuts or fruit pies or some other sweet breakfast food (though I still enjoy coffee with my ramen). :)
This is good material. I've tried a lot of breakfast stuff -- fast-cook cereal, poptarts, probars, all sorts of stuff -- and just have a hard time choking it down. Last few years I mainly just eat a smaller amount of whatever I was going to eat for snack/lunch and that has proved better than any of the other alternatives. But ramen, yum!!! Mi goreng cost about nothing and are quite good, I routinely eat these for lunch with a fried egg and some kimchi: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HXIXWKM/?tag=backcountrypo-20
 

Titans

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That's hilarious--I almost always eat a cup of noodles for breakfast when camping now. I started doing it a few years ago in the Mojave Desert, and it's replaced my usual fare of donuts or fruit pies or some other sweet breakfast food (though I still enjoy coffee with my ramen). :)
great! A large ramen noodle supply from our Jeep was also a big hit with our friend‘s kids (sick), while visiting in Denver.

Coffee is a must.... and though we have some backup instant coffee, I have to admit using a mini French Press while enjoying fabulous sunrises in the San Rafael desert! Miss it :)
 

Titans

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This is good material. I've tried a lot of breakfast stuff -- fast-cook cereal, poptarts, probars, all sorts of stuff -- and just have a hard time choking it down. Last few years I mainly just eat a smaller amount of whatever I was going to eat for snack/lunch and that has proved better than any of the other alternatives. But ramen, yum!!! Mi goreng cost about nothing and are quite good, I routinely eat these for lunch with a fried egg and some kimchi: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HXIXWKM/?tag=backcountrypo-20
@regehr - that was a link for a 30 pack of Mi goreng !
 

Miya

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If I am CAR camping, I bring everything AND the kitchen sink (collapsible).
I have 3 burners. I only need one for breakfast: eggs and meat. I usually use my backpacking stove to boil water for oatmeal.
Lunch = snacks.
Dinner is all 3 burners: veggies, meat, and a pasta dish.
I use 1 ice chest, 1 large tote (food), 1 small tote (pots, skillets, cuterly, fine china), and no tupperwares. To organize, I either neatly sort everything in the food locker (if available) or in the trunk of my car. I will make sure to take a picture next time. If you know what 5S is, it is basically like that. Ahhhh the fun of being OCD!
 

Nick

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This is coming from someone with a pop up camper in the bed of their truck, so take it for what it's worth. After having an electric fridge, and having lots of friends with them (in campers and not in campers), I'd never go back even if I was just tent camping out of an SUV, wagon or truck. You can get an electric fridge that connects into your car electrical system that is much smaller than an ice cooler but holds just as much. Add to that that your food isn't swimming in water and your meat isn't leaking all over the place, etc. Most of them are super efficient as well, and depending on your use would require very little modification to your electrical system. An extra battery and a little bit of solar would be nice though. It's not for everyone, but if you get into gearing up, it's one of the first things I'd add to a regular camping vehicle. Screw ice coolers, I use them on the river still and all I think about is how I could rig it up to be electric (not going to happen though).
 

Nick

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One more thing, after futzing with a myriad of different car camp stoves over the years, all I can say is that I wish I'd bought a Partner Stove 20 years ago. They're not cheap, but they're the best by a mile and they'll last you forever. Get them in any configuration you want, they fold up and they're tiny for what they are. User serviceable and no funky regulator issues like with a lot of camp chef, coleman, etc. It's pretty much all you see on river trips, and for good reason. I have an 18" 4 burner folding with detachable hinge, and a smaller 9" 2 burner folding with detached hinge. I only use the big one for big groups on the river.
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Okay, two more things actually... river camping has taught me the value of using a fire pan, even when you don't have to when you're car camping. Historically they've been big, heavy, cumbersome things, but the new-ish Campfire Defender Pop-up Pit wins my gear of the year award for 2019. It weighs 8 pounds, packs down like a camp chair, and you've got a nice, elevated fire anywhere you go. Even when I car camp near a real fire pit I usually use one now. The height is much better and you can sit closer. And on top of that, they have an awesome grill attachment you can pickup to BBQ on. Absolutely love this thing.
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Double panning it.
86590
 

Nick

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Okay, a third thing...

If you do use ice, do like @Udink and make it in a way that won't leak all over your stuff. I prefer square-ish 1 gallon water jugs like Arrow(?) water ones. As they melt, they double as ice cold drinking water, and on hot days, awesome iced coffee. I buy them at Costco and keep at least a dozen in my chest freezer at all times. It sounds crazy, but I'm certain that they last longer if they've been in there for more than 2-3 weeks. Just be sure to pour a little out before you put them in to freeze.
 

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