“I just wanted a hot dog,” my partner said as I assured him the diced potatoes only needed five more minutes before I could add a can of corned beef to make a delicious campfire hash.
The potatoes were still crunchy. By now it was dark enough the lantern had to be turned on and the mosquitos were out. Getting a campfire going took longer than we thought as amateur campers, but as a devoted foodie I wanted an over-the-top spread.
I’ve since streamlined the process, prepping as much at home and being realistic at how much time it takes for the food to be ready, factoring in getting a fire going and the cleanup.
Those who are camping experts probably already have their favorite dishes and tried-and-true methods, but for budding outdoor enthusiasts, here are some tips.
Everything will take longer than you think
Any time you’re cooking in an unfamiliar environment you’re going to move slower because you’re not used to the setup.
Be cognizant that you’ll want to get a fire going before the sun starts to set, especially if you’re new to camping and will likely need a few tries for the fire to catch. (Pack lots of matches or a pilot lighter.)
And it’s not just the cooking time, there’s also the cleanup.
Take into account whether you’ll be supplying all of your own water, or if there will be a water source elsewhere and how far it is from the camps.
Be sure to check the campsite’s rules when it comes to properly disposing gray water.
Not all flames are the same
In addition to wastewater rules, check the fire regulations at your campsite before arrival.
Bruce Peninsula National Park, for example, requires that you only use firewood sourced from that area to prevent the spread of invasive pests and diseases.
Once a fire is established, you need the appropriate flame for what you’re making. If it cooks fast, say a hot dog, you can just hold the skewer over the flame. (If using wooden skewers, soak them in water beforehand to prevent them from burning.)
If you’re using a rack or grill, wait for the flames to slightly go down because they should never go above the rack or you’ll risk burning the food.
If you want to cook something slowly, say potatoes wrapped in foil or a pot of stew, wait for the wood and embers to turn white hot to achieve a consistent heat.
Premake as much stuff as possible
Keep the number of steps required to cook at the campsite to a minimum, and plan out every meal because not having enough food in the woods is not fun.
If I were to redo that campfire corned beef hash again, I would have pre-cooked the potatoes and corned beef at home and finished them off over the fire for a few minutes to get them crispy.
Consider ready-to-eat meals
This doesn’t mean you’re reduced to peanut butter sandwiches — though if that floats your boat, go for it.
You can set up a DIY wrap station with containers of pre-washed and cut vegetables, spreads, cold cuts and cheeses. Or, bring containers of roasted vegetables, hummus and baba ganoush to make a mezze spread.
Take advantage of all the flatbread options throughout the Greater Toronto Area for a utensil-free meal: pitas from Adonis, tortillas from Maizal, barbari from Khorak Supermarket, or injera from Desta Market, to name a few. Speaking of bread, I also recently learned on Twitter of a brilliant upgrade: using croissants instead of hot dog buns.
There are also meat pies and sausage rolls (check out But ‘N’ Ben Scottish Bakery and High Street Fish and Chips); onigiri from grocers like T&T Supermarket and Galleria Supermarket, or the smaller spots such as J Town By The Sea or Sanko; and buns from your local Chinese bakery (they’ll last a day or two).
Jerky is a classic camping snack, but consider heading to an Asian grocer like T&T that, in addition to beef, has a whole aisle of vegetarian and seafood jerky. Soy and spicy squid are my favorites.
Food safety and storage
Black plastic takeout containers and deli cups are ideal for camping. They’re stackable and washable and already come with lids that can be written on.
The black plastic containers are perfectly sized for individual meals, and their high walls prevent spillage if eating from your lap or the ground.
Fill water bottles or the aforementioned plastic containers with ice for the cooler (cold cans of pop and beer also work). As the ice melts the water can be used for washing and drinking.
Stack the cooler with the stuff you’ll be eating first at the top to prevent the cold air from escaping.
I would advise against bringing raw meat. Especially if you’re not used to cooking over a fire and aren’t bringing a meat thermometer — it’s unpleasant enough using an outhouse when you don’t have food poisoning.
For first-timers, precook the meat or opt for thin cuts that cook fast like kebabs.
I keep an eye out for supermarket s’mores kits that provide graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows in manageable portions. (They often go on sale by midsummer.)
You can also try different biscuit bases (Oreos are a popular option), chocolate bars (peanut butter cups and cookies and cream bars) and add in sliced fruit for a counterbalance to the processed snack taste.
If variety is what you want, head to Bulk Barn where there are different cookies and chocolate bars to choose from, and you can buy exactly how much you need.
Consider the others you’re camping with
Live out your foodie dreams, but if making elaborate campfire meals isn’t on everyone’s, factor in how much actual prepping, cooking and cleaning agenda can be accomplished after a full day of hiking and swimming.
Think about if others at your campsites are willing to put up with your “Iron Chef” aspirations. Speaking from experience, an Instagram-worthy spread isn’t worth it when your camping mate is giving you a death stare off-camera.