Home > Camping

Get Outside, Get Cooking: GearJunkie’s Guide to a Dialed Camp Kitchen

Take your camp cooking to the next level with GearJunkie's ultimate guide to tips, tricks, gear, systems, recipes, and more.

Camp Cooking Gear Gift Guide(Photo/Matt Granger)
Support us! GearJunkie may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article. Learn More

Some of the best meals I’ve ever had have been outside, saddled up to the car at the campground or miles into the backcountry. Maybe I was just hungry after a long day kicking around in the mountains. Or maybe food tastes better when it’s eaten outside. Either way, having a dialed camp kitchen makes those meals enjoyable to eat and cook.

Over the years, my setup has evolved as I’ve developed new systems and collected new gear. Once upon a time, my camp kitchen was pretty rudimentary. Those days are long gone, though. Now, I’ve got my favorite stove, table, utensils, cookware, hot sauces, and even a kitchen sink (that’s not a figure of speech).

Sometimes, I worry I’m more equipped to cook outside than in my home kitchen. But there are worse problems to have.

In short: Building your camp kitchen is almost as fun as using it. So, as you prepare for camping season, here are some things to consider to dial yours in, develop your systems, and delve into the wide world of cooking outdoors. We’ve included discussions of gear, cookbooks and recipes, tips, tricks, and hacks to refine — and perhaps perfect — your camp kitchen and outdoor cooking game.

Getting the Gear, Building a Kitchen

rivian electric truck snow peak kitchen
(Photo/Snow Peak)

It’s rare that anyone buys all their camp cooking and kitchen gear at once. Most of us have cobbled together our camp kitchens over years of camping trips. Some of the gear in mine isn’t even made specifically for camping. A lot of it is, but I also use my camp cooking arsenal as a retirement plan for my actual home kitchenware.

Regardless of where the gear came from, here are the essentials for any camp kitchen.


(Photo/Will Brendza)

You’ll invariably use the most basic camp cooking gear, so start here: plates, bowls, mugs, and cups in your camping gear should be metal, plastic, rubber, or silicone. Glass and porcelain don’t generally mix well with the outdoors.

You can buy camping tableware from tons of different brands. Mountain Summit Gear, Snow Peak, GSI Outdoors, and many others make tableware sets that are relatively affordable and durable enough for camping.

If you want plates, bowls, or mugs for backpacking, you’ll probably want to look for something light and multi-use. MSR makes titanium-insulated mugs and cups. Snow Peak makes a great titanium bowl for backpacking. Sea to Summit has a lightweight collapsible tableware set. You can walk into any local outdoor store and find something similar.

Utensils and Silverware


This is where hand-me-downs from the home kitchen come in handy. Plastic and silicone spatulas, ladles, and stir spoons are prime for your camp cookware collection, as are old sets of silverware.

If you’d rather have camp-specific utensils and silverware, plenty of brands make them. You can get plastic, stainless steel, or titanium spoons, forks, and sporks; they come in sets, individually, or in Swiss-army-knife-style tools.

Choosing Your Stove(s)

Jetboil Genesis Basecamp Stove - For carcamping
(Photo/Sean Jansen)

There are so many cool outdoor stoves to choose from. Some are full-on grills or smokers that require a car to move. Others are handheld, lightweight jet engines that can boil water in seconds.

The stove you choose should depend on what kind of camping and what kinds of cooking you’re doing with it. But don’t worry — you don’t have just to pick one. Anyone who camps, backpacks, or picnics outdoors often will probably have a couple in their collection.

If you’re looking for a tabletop stove with burners and wind protection, check out GearJunkie’s guide to the Best Camping Stoves. If you want something light, packable, and compact, peruse our guide to the Best Backpacking Stoves.

(Pro tip: Some devices like the FlipFuel allow you to consolidate fuel between gas canisters so you don’t have a bunch of partially empty ones. Other devices like the CrunchIt from Jetboil will enable you to punch a hole in any empty isobutane fuel canister to legally recycle it.)


Detour Collection Sea to Summit Camp Cookware
(Photo/Will Brendza)

I know plenty of folks who shop for their camp cookware exclusively at thrift stores to great success. Camp cookware, like all camp gear, gets used pretty hard. So, having pots, pans, skillets, and kettles that you don’t mind beating up is advisable. Some people love using cast iron for camping, as it doesn’t require soap to wash, it’s rugged, and it can be used over fire. However, I tend to prefer lighter cookware at camp.

Regardless, make sure your cookware fits the stove burners you’re using. Otherwise, you might overcrowd yourself or weigh the stove down with more than it can handle. It also doesn’t hurt to shop for compact or nesting cookware. That makes packing up and storage much more efficient.

Camp cookware is not hard to find at places like REI or Backcountry.

Camp Kitchen Furniture


Not every campsite you pull up to will have a picnic table waiting for you. Sometimes, you need to bring your furniture. That’s OK. There are many options out there that span price ranges, form, and function.

You can buy cheap folding tables and chairs at Walmart or on Amazon. Classically, I almost always bring a folding beer-pong table when car camping for late-night games and activities, as well as food prep and cooking.

Beyond tables and chairs, ALPS Mountaineering makes its Iron Ridge Cook Station, and Mountain Summit has a Roll Top Pantry for food and ingredient storage. REI makes a pretty standard medium-sized Roll Table that rolls and folds up. Helionox also makes a lightweight folding hardtop Camping Table.

Then you have brands like Pecos, which makes $700 plastic utility tables. There really is something for every budget.

Keeping It Clean, Organized

snow peak
(Photo/Snow Peak)

Trust me when I tell you, letting your camp kitchen gear fall into a hellish state of filth and chaos is easy. So many bits and pieces make up a camp kitchen, and by and large, every last one has to be cleaned (on-site or at home) and stored in an organized way.

That becomes more challenging and more extravagant as your setup becomes more complex. It necessitates systems for keeping it clean and organized that are equally sophisticated.

Cleaning Camp Kitchen Gear

Doing dishes with the Geyser shower system; (photo/Geyser)

I keep a garbage bag next to the washing station strictly for dirty dishes. In our camp kitchen bag, we keep soap, a sponge, and a rag for on-site dish duty. Hoist your waterjug onto a table and let the water trickle out while you scrub. This can be water-intensive, so I try to be as conservative as possible.

Some dishes can’t be cleaned at the campsite, though. Or, more accurately, I put off cleaning them so I can use my home sink. There’s no shame in that. I just keep dirty dishes in a trash bag and ensure that’s one of the first orders of business when I get home.

Organizing Camp Kitchen Gear

Yakima MOD

The more gear you add to your camp kitchen, the more organized you need to be. I am a big fan of plastic totes for this. They’re durable. They’re relatively cheap. They come in many different sizes and are a piece of cake to clean out. Some people prefer totes designed for camping and outdoor equipment like those made by RUX. However, the cost of those is prohibitive for my budget.

Organizing your kitchen like this also makes it easy to grab and go. When everything is in the same bag, box, or tote, you only have one thing to grab instead of 40. Just chuck it in the car, and you don’t have to worry about what you forgot. It’s all there.

Camp Cookbooks and Recipes

Chef Corso of Outdoor Eats and his library of backpacking meals and camping recipes
(Photo/Steven Corso)

OK! So, you’ve got hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars in camp cooking gear. You’re outfitted with a sweet outdoor stove, cookware, tableware, utensils, tables, and chairs. Heck, maybe you’re even wearing your Carhartt apron.

Now for the fun part: Actually cooking outdoors. Where to start?

Luckily, there is a wealth of knowledge, recipes, and cookbooks aimed at outdoor cooking. Dirty Gourmet is a book that sprouted from a blog in which three outdoor-inclined foodies started to share their passion for backcountry cooking. Dutch Oven & Cast Iron Cooking is a classic camping companion for the cast iron-inclined. And, of course, there’s Falcon Guide’s Lip Smackin’ Backpackin’ series.

GearJunkie has also covered backcountry chefs like Chef Corso of Outdoor Eats. His website has over 300 third-party, taste-tested backpacking meal recipes using common grocery store ingredients. He’s also written seven cookbooks focused on backcountry cuisine.

11 Pieces of Our Favorite Camp Cooking Gear

Yakima Open Range Deluxe - testing
(Photo/Berne Broudy)

Whether you’re checking items off your list or shopping for the camp chef in your life, these are some of GearJunkie’s favorite camp cooking products. Adding any (or all) of these to your kitchen arsenal will take your camp cooking game to the next level.

Primus Kenjia Stove: $210

(Photo/Bergen Tjossem)

The Primus Kinjia two-burner stove is a tiny and lightweight car camping stove. But that doesn’t mean it’s weak — this stove puts out 10,200 BTUs. It has a wide temperature range and is capable of cooking burgers, sauteeing veggies, scrambling eggs, and boiling water efficiently. This is a packable piece of equipment at 8.2 lbs and a 19” x 12” base. That is why we named it the Best Compact Camping Stove.

Shop at REI

AeroPress Coffee Maker: $40

(Photo/Will Brendza)

When I wake up at a campsite, I’ve already been looking forward to my first cup of coffee for 30 minutes. And there is no easier way to make a near-perfect cup of coffee than with an AeroPress. You simply scoop your grounds in, pour the hot water over them, and press the plunger. Frothy coffee pours out, and you’re caffeinating before you can even grumble, “Good morning.” I don’t camp without my AeroPress.

Shop at REI

Jetboil Flash Cooking System: $130

Our full Jetboil cook setup Jetboil Summit Skillet, Micro Mo, pot support, and fuel canister
(Photo/Xiaoling Keller)

Even when I’m car camping and have a bigger stove to boil water with, I still bring my Jetboil. These things heat so efficiently that it’s like having boiling water on tap. When you want tea, coffee, or a dehydrated meal, that’s a massive convenience. Jetboils are ideal for backpacking, but mine has a permanent place in my camp kitchen setup.

Shop at REI

Sea to Summit Detour Collection Camp Cookset: $200

Detour Collection Sea to Summit Camp Cookware
(Photo/Will Brendza)

collapsible camp kitchen gear is nothing new. But Sea to Summit’s take on collapsible cookware is pretty unique — because unlike most collapsible dishes, this series is compatible with convection and gas stoves. You can boil water and cook food with the Detour pots, skillet, and kettle. GearJunkie gave its impressions on the Detour Collection in this first-look review.

The set also includes collapsible bowls, mugs, stainless steel plates, cooking utensils, and silverware, which are sold separately from the five-piece kit. All of the handles and tabs are removable and reversible for the most efficient nesting storage possible.

Shop at REI

Sea to Summit Kitchen Sink: $23-33

Seat to Summit Collapsible Camp Kitchen Sink
(Photo/Sea to Summit)

We can all agree that the worst thing about any meal is dirty dishes. This is especially true while camping, but this collapsible kitchen sink makes washing up easier.

Folding down into the size of a large deck of cards, it’s equally useful backpacking and at the campground. Soak dirty dishes in warm water, rinse them efficiently, or fill your sink with kibble for a large, impromptu dog bowl. The possibilities are endless.

Shop at Backcountry

Dometic GO Hydration Water Faucet: $100 and Dometic GO Hydration Water Jug: $70

Dometic HYD Hydration Water Jug 11 - Hydration Water Faucet - sink
(Photo/David Young)

Nothing beats having running water at the campsite. I have used a basic 10-gallon jug for a long time, and it does the job. But it’s nowhere near as luxe as having a touch-activated faucet that runs a consistent stream of illuminated water.

The Dometic GO Hydration Faucet only works with the Dometic GO Hydration jug, so you must buy them both if you want this system. I’ll tell you from experience that this makes a camp kitchen feel far less “camp-y.” A working faucet really does take things up a notch. It’s wicked helpful in washing hands and dishes.

Shop faucet at REI Shop jug at REI

BearVault Food Canister: $84 and Ursack Bear Bag: $110

(Photo/Will Brendza)

Anyone heading into bear country must take proper precautions with their food — for their safety and the bears’. When done properly, bear bags like the Ursack Bear Bag work well. But sometimes, you go camping where bear canisters are recommended or trees are sparse.

The BearVault canister is an excellent piece of bear country kit. It’s see-through, so you can see what you’re trying to reach. The large size (pictured) can be a bit burdensome to pack, but it comes in two smaller sizes as well.

Shop BearVault at REI Shop Ursack at REI

Opinel Nomad Cooking Kit: $85

opinel Nomad Cooking Kit

Chop, peel, slice, dice, and pop open the vino with this handy camping knife set. The kit includes a paring knife with a built-in corkscrew, a serrated knife, and a peeler. Each item folds into its handle for space-saving storage, and the included dish towel doubles as a storage pouch. It is packable, portable, and multifunctional.

Shop at Amazon

Swiss Advance Crono N5 Pocket Knife: $27

Swiss Advance Crono N5 Pocket Knife

A good multitool is indispensable. And one that weighs in at a scant 41 g is downright amazing. Made of German steel and constructed in Switzerland, this handy pocket tool has a bit of everything, including a fork, screwdriver, fish scaler,  square, wire cutter, ruler, hexagon, screw wrench, and more. This is the epitome of an EDC (everyday carry). Get one, give one, and be ready for whatever life throws at you.

Shop at Amazon

Camp Chef Pro 16: $350

Camp Chef Pro 16
(Photo/Will Brendza)

You won’t be taking this stove backpacking with you, but it’s an incredible piece of cooking equipment for car camping or BBQing away from home. It uses a regular 5-gallon propane tank, folds down and fits into a bag for storage and transportation, and opens up with shelf space and wind blockers.

This stove comes in two- and three-burner options. The burners all put out 30,000 BTUs and have matchless ignition. Camp Chef also sells accessories that fit the Pro 16, like a pizza oven, griddle, and BBQ box. When you bring this thing camping, you don’t feel confined by your cooking space or options.

Shop at Camp Chef

EcoFlow Glacier Portable Refrigerator: $1,100

ECOFLOW GLACIER Car Refrigerator,
(Photo/Kraig Becker)

If you’re trying to go all-out with your camp cooking setup, you should look into the portable refrigerator from EcoFlow. This electric cooler has a compartment that’s kept at fridge temperatures, and it creates ice. You read that correctly — this cooler is also an ice machine.

This porta-fridge has a 40-hour battery life. It can hold up to 60 canned beverages, has dual climate zones, and has a compressor that cools the inside from 86 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit in just 15 minutes.

Shop at EcoFlow

Frequently Asked Questions

Great Condiments to Spice Up Your Camp Cooking
(Photo/ Joseph Lee)

What is camp cooking?

When you go camping, many people swear by canned food, dehydrated meals, or high-preservative snacks. But it doesn’t have to be like that! Cooking while camping is an experience unto itself. You’re outside, you typically don’t have anything else to focus on, and you often have to get creative with the flavors and the gear you’re using.

To put it simply, camp cooking is cooking while camping. It can be done on a picnic table, from the back of a truck, or inside an RV or trailer. I’ve even seen hunting camps with full canvas tents dedicated to kitchen space. It’s fun. And maybe it’s because you’re out in nature, but a lot of times, I find the meals taste better than they ever would have at home.

Taste Meets Practicality 8 Great Condiments to Spice Up Your Camp Cooking
(Photo/ Joseph Lee)

How do you build a camp kitchen? (TL;DR)

If you’re starting from scratch, get the basics first. You’ll need to shop for the utensils you want: plates, bowls, mugs, and cups. collapsible camp tableware has become popular, and many brands offer their versions. Then, build on your collection from there.

You’ll want to shop for a camping stove or, depending on where you plan on cooking, maybe a backpacking stove. GearJunkie has guides to the Best Backpacking Stoves and the Best Camping Stoves, with lots of options spanning uses and price ranges.

Once you have a stove, you’ll probably want some designated camping pots and pans. By nature, camp kitchenware gets abused as it gets used, so you don’t want to bring your nice home skillet set, pots, or pans. That doesn’t mean your camp kitchenware must be a beater set. You can find high-quality cookware (like the Sea to Summit Detour series mentioned above).

Finally, round out your camp kitchen with some furniture. Numerous companies, like Camp Chef, Mountain Summit, and REI, make camping tables of different sizes that roll and fold up for easy packing. If you’re trying to go pro, get a tarp tent or shade structure you can set up to protect your kitchen in rain or shine.

outdoor gifts holiday knife pinecone map

Gear Lust: 23 Gifts for Outdoorsy People

From a versatile Pelican backpack cooler to a down jacket from L.L. Bean, we've chosen 23 outdoor gifts that will be sure to please anyone who loves the outdoors. Read more…

Subscribe Now

Get adventure news and gear reviews in your inbox!

Join Our GearJunkie Newsletter

Get adventure news and gear reviews in your inbox!