Camp Cooking

Whether it's cooking a stir fry on a gas powered fry-pan or brewing up a hot stew in a camp oven over hot coals - this article will provide you with some great outback cooking tips. We discuss the various camp stoves and the different preparations involved with camp cooking. We reveal some tips on bush cooking with some great recipes and then finish up with everyone's not so favourite part of cooking - the washing up. NOTE: Butane Cookers have been withdrawn from sale Australia as at April 2015. See further details within article.
Article By: ExplorOz Team
Created: November 2006
Revised: February 2016
Latest Feedback: September 2016

Cooking Techniques

Deciding what to cook often depends on what sort of cooking method is available at the time. If you are staying at a caravan park or National Park for instance, you normally cannot make an open fire. In these circumstances you are restricted to using a gas burner, or hopefully a gas or even electric bbq supplied at the establishment. However, if you are travelling in the outback you generally can make an open fire provided you only use dead wood and do not cut down trees or parts of trees. Knowing your wood will help in making a good campfire as some wood will simply never create coals, whereas other woods will create fantastically hot coals ideal for camp oven cooking.

Once you have established which method of cooking you'll be using for your meal, you can then select what would be the best cooking implement.

The trick to camp cooking is to know your equipment and how to use it. Then all you need to do is plan meals that can be cooked with these tools and pack the appropriate ingredients. In many cases you can cook exactly the same meals as you do at home.

The main cooking methods when camping are:
  • Cooking with gas/fuel

  • Cooking with fire wood

  • Cooking with heat beads

Cooking with Gas/Fuel

Frypans, billys and hotplates can all be used on a gas burner. Frypans and billys come in cast iron (excellent heat retention but heavy), aluminium (lightweight but a health risk and food is prone to sticking/burning), enamel (lightweight and cheap but prone to chipping and then food can stick/burn), stainless steel (lightweight, durable but expensive).

Personally, we prefer stainless implements. We carry 2 billys that nestle inside one another plus a billy with a spout for use as a kettle. The only problem we have had is that our equipment uses rivots, which have eventually created weak spots and leakages (after approx. 4 years use). This problem is overcome with a spot of welding.

We also carry a thin cast-iron hotplate that is designed to fit 2 burner gas cookers. These are available from most good camping stores and means you can have a BBQ without an open fire.

Some people prefer gas cooking, simply because they find campfire cooking too dirty. However, gas cooking is often your only option when fire restrictions are in place or where firewood is scarce.

There are three main types of gas/fuel camp stoves.

LPG Stoves

These stoves are very popular due to the significant advantages over other stove types. LPG is a fairly inexpensive fuel to purchase. It burns clean and efficient, leaving the stove to be cleaned afterwards with ease. The LPG gas bottles are readily available at most hardware, camping and service stations for direct bottle exchanging or refilling. LPG bottles can be used to power other devices such as LPG lanterns. Last but not least, some trailers have welded LPG bottle holders built in to carry them safely.

Dual-Fuel Stoves

These stoves are quite expensive to purchase and can run off Coleman fuels and unleaded petrol. Being designed to run of off unleaded petrol definitely has its advantages because unleaded fuel is cheap and easily available. Most travellers also carry extra unleaded petrol in petrol cans or jerry cans for various uses. The main problem, is that if you spill unleaded petrol or get it on your hands, you will have a hard time getting rid of the odour.

Butane Stoves

As at April 2015, this style of gas cooker has been totally withdrawn from sale in Australia. Consumers owning any portable butane "lunchbox" style cooker are warned to stop using them immediately. The warning comes from a result of Australian gas regulators who have identified that some models are unsafe as they fail the overpressure tests with a risk that the cookers may explode if they overheat. Testing has found a fault with the cookers' shut-off valves. A comprehensive list of affected models can be found on the ACCC website here. The list mostly includes models that are currently available. This does not mean that older models are any safer. The ACCC recommends that you also stop using all models, including older models not listed.

Consumers who have been using these successfully for many years may be reluctant to stop using them however if you choose to ignore the ACCC recall and warnings, you are advised to research the specific safety faults that have been identified and take heed to avoid using the unit if it displays any unusual functioning and especially to watch for abnormal heat build-up in the base. You should also avoid using the unit in any way that will trap heat. Do not use oversized pans or large grill plates. The pot/pan should not overhang the butane cartridge area. Never use aluminum foil on or around the burners or on any part of the unit. Try to always allow for adequate air flow over the top and sides of the unit. Use on very hot days should also be avoided. Do not place the unit on any hot surface, like a metal table, ute tailgate, or bitumen in the sun. Avoid direct exposure to the sun.

Cooking with Fire Wood

There is definately an art to preparing a campfire suitable for cooking but with a little know-how and practise anyone can do it.. Please refer to our section on Fires in our Environment article and also our section on Campfires in our Travel Etiquette article.

The main styles of open fire cooking are:
  • Grilling/toasting - open grill wire, cast-iron jaffle press or a stick!

  • Boiling - billy/camp oven

  • Roasting/baking/stewing - camp oven

  • Sauté/frying - frypan/camp oven

  • Barbeque - hotplate
Each method requires a different style of campfire, amount of wood & cooking time.

TIP

You will need a few extra campfire implements to make removal of pots from the fire safe such as: a long wire handle with a hook to remove pots from fire, leather gloves to handle hot pots, a brush to dust coals off lid of camp oven, plus your regular cooking utensils such as long and short handled tongs, metal spatula, wooden spoon etc.
When you only have limited supplies of wood, or wood that will not form coals that will hold their heat for long, then a grilled meal is your best choice. Just remember that you should always avoid cooking on the naked flame - all open fire cooking is best done on hots coals. Allow the flames to die down and the wood will start to create hot coals. Then just place the pot amongst the coals. Add or remove coals to achieve the desired temperature. Note - more heat is generated by coals than flame so take care. If you do prefer to cook using the naked flame, you need to elevate the food above the flame using a tripod.

Camp Ovens are extremely versatile and most experienced campers wouldn't go anywhere without one. From boiling water to cook shellfish in, to slow cooked casseroles, roasts, soups, risottos, bread, even lasagnes, you could get by with just this one pot. Just about any recipe you have at home can be adapted to cooking in camp oven, with curries and casseroles being particularly easy.

Cooking with Heat Beads

When it comes to camp cooking, cooking over heat beads is a great alternative when wood fires are not possible. One of the popular cookers, is the Cobb Cooker that makes use of heat beads as BBQ fuel. If you wish to enjoy tender, juicy food for every meal then all you need is a firelighter to set the beads alight. The key is to wait about 15 minutes until the flame disappears and then start camp cooking. Heat beads are eco-friendly and a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

TIP

The main advantage of cooking with heat beads is that you can still have a BBQ meal when fires are not permitted.

Recipes for Camp Cooking

If you're looking for a bit of inspiration for your next camping trip, then take a look at the free ExplorOz Online Recipe Book. With 100 recipes & 18 categories all shared by the ExplorOz community, you're bound to find some great ideas.

If you'd prefer a hard copy book then pop over to our online shop. We have found some of the best camp cookbooks on the market and these are available right here.

Washing Up

Don't forget that washing dishes, cups and wiping down surfaces will still have to be done when on holiday. Here's a few simple tips to help make the chore a little easier:

  • Keep 2 sets of sponges (colour-code to remember which is which). One for dishes, one for cleaning dust off surfaces!

  • To clean a camp oven and keep it rust-free, don't wash it up with detergent after cooking. Simply boil up a bit of water in the empty pan and tip it off. Then spray a light layer of spray oil on the inside and outside surfaces. Rub lightly with paper towel and store in a canvas bag.

  • If possible, choose a washing basin that has a double purpose - eg. baby bath. Square tubs are often better as they can stack/pack better than round basins.

  • Look for dishwashing liquid bottles that won't leak. Small cheap plastic bottles of dishwashing liquid with flat screw-top lids in concentrate form are ideal.

  • Pack at least 2 tea-towels.

  • Consider how you will prepare your hot washing-up water. This will largely depend on your kitchen configuration and what cooking method you are using, along with your available water supplies. Avoid using valuable drinking grade water if remote camping, and consider using the vegetable drain-off water rather than tipping on the ground. It might look a bit dirtier than what you use at home, but you'll get used to it.

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