If you're a so-called foodie, the thought of campfire cooking like baked beans and roasted hot dogs or prepackaged freeze-dried meals might turn you off from taking to the wild forever. But culinary snobs rest assured, you still have your place in the forests and under the stars so long as you take control of the menu and plan out your meals like a head chef at your favorite eatery.
Sure, gourmet outdoor cooking can be a challenge if you let it—"but there's no good reason why the food you make in the woods should be bland or lackluster," says Morgana Jacques, owner of Northern California's Bonne Vie Crepes. Here are a few tips that'll make impressing your friends with your high-end campfire cooking seem like, well, a piece of cake.
Organize your menu into all the meals for which you want to be responsible, do as much prep as you can at home and figure out what other preparations and cooking methods you'll be using at camp. Obviously, your capabilities will vary depending on how much you can bring with you, whether you drive or hike into your campsite (and how far), and how long you'll be camping.
If you can keep things chilled, chop and marinate meats and veggies before you leave. Keep them marinating in plastic bags in your ice chest. Do the same with sauces. "I love to bring pesto that I make in advance and freeze," Jacque says. "It's pretty clutch to have something so bright and flavorful to go along with a night in the great outdoors."
While she realizes that not everyone has a food dehydrator, she recommends the investment. "If I'm on top of it, before a trip, I'll make a project out of dehydrating fruits and vegetables to bring along with me," she says. "Dried vegetables are an awesome addition to any dish, softening as they cook and adding all kinds of flavor. They don't need refrigeration and weigh almost nothing." Dehydrated mushrooms are a personal fave. "I bring them on all of my excursions. All they require is a little soak time and they're nearly as good as the real thing."
The same goes for fruits. "They make the best dry snacks on the trail," she says. "Or, when simmered in warm water over the campfire, they become instant, delicious fruit compote."
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"Obviously, keeping your pack light is critical when setting out on a camping trip, but when it comes to food, there are a few things I just won't skimp on," says Jacques. "First of all, you can never bring enough olive oil. It's delicious in just about anything and doesn't require any refrigeration."
And get creative with your non-perishables. Think quinoa or couscous instead of boxed mac and cheese. Accent recipes with dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Divvy up and pack any spices you may need—they also won't go bad.