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Stop the Culinary Sufferfests: Pro Chef Shares Tips for Cooking Better Backpacking Meals

Dissatisfied with bland, dehydrated meals in a bag, Chef Corso set out on a mission to elevate backpacking meals — he now has over 300 camping recipes. We connected to tap into his culinary wisdom.

Chef Corso of Outdoor Eats and his library of backpacking meals(Photo/Steven Corso)
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Chef Corso has a passion for the outdoors that is rivaled only by his passion for good food — and he’s got beef with bagged meals. As a chef, food has always been an integral part of his life — and one he felt was being neglected by backpackers and campers alike. So, in 2019, he founded Outdoor Eats, a mission-focused business bent on elevating the backcountry dining experience.

He started making camping recipes using common grocery store ingredients — many of them fresh, non-freeze-dried, and undehydrated — and sharing them on the Outdoor Eats website. In the years since, he’s created over 300 backpacking meal recipes and written seven cookbooks. And now, he’s got a new TV show that just aired on July 20 called “Outside Eats TV“.

GearJunkie connected with the chef to talk about cooking in the backcountry, recipes, ingredients, and how much better life on the trail can be when you ditch the dehydrated and freeze-dried meals.

Q&A With the Chef: Outdoor Eats Backpacking Meals

Chef Corso of Outdoor Eats makes camping recipes
(Photo/Chef Corso of Outdoor Eats)

GearJunkie: How did you decide to get into backcountry cooking and recipe making, after a career in restaurants?

Chef Corso: I noticed that a lot of folks [in the backcountry] were just boiling water and adding it to a bag and calling it dinner. As a chef, I kind of cocked my head at that and was like, “Well, this is interesting. I don’t really enjoy that very much. And I think there’s a great opportunity here to have food be more of a complement to the outdoor experience rather than just an afterthought.”

The standard way of meal planning is mac and cheese pouches, packaged meals, bars, and jerky, and you just sort of go on that culinary sufferfest. I’m here to share that you don’t have to do that.

Do you ever get tired of cooking after you just hiked all day or worry about carrying fresh ingredients unrefrigerated?

There are a lot of trips where you’ve made it to your destination, you’ve got water all set up and tents all set up. And you have some time to enjoy your campsite. Our recipes are all ready in 30 minutes or less. So they are very, very quick … some of them come together in 10 or 15 [minutes], so if you are a hungry bear, and you need to eat now, you can definitely do that. But that time at camp is meant to enjoy and rest and recharge for the next day.

What are your favorite backpacking meals to cook in the backcountry and why?

I love cooking noodles. Whether that’s a quick pad thai or elevated ramen with some dried mushrooms and fresh veggies, they are very satisfying outdoors. Additionally, polenta/grits make my meal plan for every trip. It’s a quick, filling, and versatile ingredient.

(Photo/Chef Corso)

What are some of the other versatile ingredients for backcountry cooking?

Every meal plan starts in the pantry. Rice/ramen noodles, grits/polenta, instant rice, dried mango, and coconut milk powder are all tasty and versatile ingredients to pack along. You don’t always have to have dry, salty, dehydrated items. Snap peas, bell peppers, citrus fruits, and aged cheeses last longer than you think with minimal issues and add great texture, freshness, and micronutrients to your backpacking meals.

Beef jerky, or any sort of animal jerky, also rehydrates surprisingly well in your camp stoves. Using that in beef stroganoff or pizza, or even adding it to ramen, is a really great option. It just gives you another protein source in the pantry rather than just packaged chicken and packaged tuna.

What useful cooking hacks have come in handy for you in the backcountry?

Whittle up some campy chopsticks from some fallen twigs! Meal plan together and share the load for great meals on the trail. Use those soy sauce and condiment packets from your drawer right now. Just make sure to pack them out.

How can people plan their backpacking meals, to carry less and still have a variety of camping recipes on the trail?

I always share [with friends, so we can] meal plan together. Volunteer to plan the [backpacking] meals for the group and divide up the ingredients for volume and weight. For longer trips, do your best to use ingredients multiple times throughout the trip. That way you don’t have to pack the whole pantry. Then use spice and gravy mixes to change up the flavor profile quickly. 

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

What’s the best outdoor cooking advice you could give someone?

Start slow, and it doesn’t have to be super fancy. Soups are a great place to start. They are very forgiving (not much opportunity to burn), satisfying, and less mess for clean-up.

What other benefits are there to cooking your meal instead of buying the prepackaged one?

The other thing that’s really interesting about the packaged meals, aside from that they’re really high in sodium and preservatives, is that they’re very, very expensive over a longer trip. If you and a buddy are going on a 3- or 4-week trip, you’re each spending way over $100 for your meals. And a lot of our recipes are $0.50 to $1 per portion. And they give you a way better experience, better fuel, better nutrients, and better satiation for those kinds of trips.

You also have meal testers who test your camping recipes. Why do you do that instead of testing them yourself?

It’s way more fun to share my experience and that also brings [other backpackers] under the veil a little bit … and makes sure that [the recipes] work on a lot of different styles of camp stoves, at different elevations, and different locations that people are taking the recipes and ingredients to. It’s been a really, really fun way to share the whole experience and just connect to the mission, which is to share great food outdoors.

This isn’t just about our recipes; it’s about building a community around them. It’s about the experience of what we’re doing outdoors and injecting food into the conversation.

Outdoor Eats TV: Backpacking Meals Televised

(Photo/Chef Corso)

Chef Corso has been making videos for his own YouTube channel for years now. Some of them cover his trip reports from various adventures around the world. Others cover recipe experiments as he tries new meals out in nature. But, they all have to do with backpacking and food in some way or another.

Now, he’s taking that to the next level. His new TV show, “Outdoor Eats TV,” aired on Bally on July 20, and on Outside TV on July 31. And Corso is discernably excited about it.

“There’s a lot of great outdoor content out there currently. But I call it pretty ‘epic.’ It’s peaking four 14ers in a day or running the Mojave Ultra Marathon, which is interesting to watch. But most folks aren’t going do that,” he said. “I really want to share approachable food stories.”

He and his team will find a cool trail somewhere and set out loaded with a menu of camping recipes and bags full of ingredients.

“It’s a combination of a Saturday morning classic food show … combined with a travel show and with an adventure show,” he describes. It’ll be like Bobby Flay meets Survivorman. “We have the opportunity to go on some fun trips, but then also share the journey and share the food story as we’re going along.”

Finding Chef Corso

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

Last we heard of the chef, he was bound for another backpacking trip — this one, a personal vacation with friends in a remote part of Canada. He said he was fully loaded with a thorough meal plan, and all the necessary ingredients for a good time.

When he’s back, though, it’ll be full steam ahead. He and his crew have already filmed two episodes of the new show, but there are more to shoot, Corso said. And there will always be more backpacking and camping recipes to come up with.

In the meantime, if you want more of Chef Corso, he’s got a lively Instagram profile full of recipes, videos, backpacker food porn photos, info on his books and TV show, and updates on what the chef is up to. For his library of over 300 recipes, or to sign up to be one of Corso’s recipe testers, check out the Outdoor Eats website.

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