We taste-tested and ranked four dehydrated and cook-in-the-bag camping dinners. Our control groups? A can of store-bought beef stew… and dog food.
After miles of hiking, collecting firewood, and jumping in the lake you can work up quite an appetite. The market of pre-packaged camping meals has grown, and over the years we’ve tried our fair share.
We decided it was time to put some to the test.
But how to make it more interesting? Since the best camping meal would taste like something you’d make at home, we added a can of beef stew from the grocery store. And since the worst you could eat would be something you’d only give your dog, we also included dog food (albeit a premium dog food choice). Really.
How’d dog food stack up? See the video and results below, but let’s just say it fared much better than anyone in our office expected.
Camp Meal Lineup
We performed a blind taste test of four camping meals, a can of beef stew, and a can of wet dog food. The contenders were:
Preparation: Boil 4.5 cups water, stir in contents, cover and let stand.
Time: 20 minutes
Packed weight: 11.4 oz.
Makes: 4 x 12-oz. servings
Preparation: Boil 2.5 cups water, add to bag, stir and reseal.
Time: 20 minutes
Packed weight: 8 oz.
Makes: 2 x 3.5-oz. servings
Preparation: Add 3-5 ounces water or other non-flammable liquid to bag, seal, and stand. (Follow full instructions on bag.)
Time: 5 minutes
Packed weight: 10.8 oz.
Makes: 1 x 8-oz. serving
Preparation: Boil 2.5 cups water, add to bag, stir and reseal, let stand.
Time: 10 minutes
Packed weight: 6.4 oz.
Makes: 2 x 2.7-oz. servings
Preparation: Heat over flame.
Time: 15 minutes
Packed weight: 1 lb. 4 oz.
Makes: 2.5 x 8.3-oz. servings
Preparation: For the test, we heated over a camp stove. Typically, open it, close your eyes, and eat it.
Time: From 0-10 minutes.
Packed weight: 12 oz.
Makes: As much as you can stomach
Taste Test: Camp Meals Ranked
We prepared each meal according to the instructions on the package. The meals were lined up, assigned a number, and tasted blindly one at a time.
We judged each offering according to taste, texture, smell, aftertaste, and overall satisfaction. We then rated the meals one to five stars, one being a gym sock stewed in moose drool, five being rainbow-marinated unicorn steak. In the vid below, we used a 10-point scale, but we crunched it here for simplicity.
Camp Meals vs. Dog Food: The Results (from worst to first)
6) The Worst: Essential Everyday Beef Stew – ★★
So much for our hypothesis. The store-bought canned beef stew came in dead last with a gelatinous gravy, mushy potatoes, and “undeniably odd, beef-meat flavor.”
5) Backpacker’s Pantry Stroganoff Sauce With Beef & Noodles – ★★+
This should be called Noodles, With Some Other Stuff. Noodles don’t translate well to a quick-cooking camp meal, and this was very heavy on noodles. The texture was soft and there was no strong flavor. There was a slight stroganoff aftertaste that came with post-test burps.
4) Good To-Go Three Bean Chili – ★★★
After our test, we probably would have called this “Not Bad To-Go” instead of “good.” The texture was, unfortunately, what you’d expect in a rehydrated meal: mush (maybe adding less water to the mix would be a good idea). The taste wasn’t great, but there were no weird flavors we noticed.
3) Dog Food: Evanger’s Braised Beef Chunks With Gravy – ★★★+
Unbelievable. If you can get over the smell, which is very much like wet dog food, this is definitely edible in a pinch. There was more salt here than in the competition, which turned out to be a good thing. Far and away the meatiest offering on the table. No shame.
2) Trailtopia Beef Stew – ★★★★
Right out of the bag we were surprised. Trailtopia’s beef stew looks like anything but. The gravy is light, the meat is minimal, and there were more veggies here than the competition. This had good seasoning compared to the others, and if you close your eyes (which we did), it tastes like a simple home-cooked meal.
1) Omeals Lentils With Beef – ★★★★+
While it didn’t merit a five-star rating, this was the most flavorful of anything we tried. It’s hearty, not-too salty, and had a good mix of lentils and meat. It was just wet enough to be a stew, but hearty enough that you wouldn’t call it a soup. Filling and tasty. The Omeals patented heating pack not only makes it perhaps the easiest camp meal on the market to prepare, it also prevents the flavor effects of dehydrating.
— There are dozens of options when it comes to choosing a camp-friendly meal. What are some of your favorites? Comment with your ideas and we may include it in our next taste test.