How to Organize Camp Kitchen
Updated: Jan 9
The camp kitchen is an essential set of camping gear comprised of everything you need to prep and cook food whether you are glamping in a campground, backpacking, or sleeping under the stars.
Sure, you can get by with very little if you're camping for just a night. However, in this article, I am going to cover everything you need to pack for a well-organized camp kitchen.
I will discuss essentials such as equipment, camping food, tips for cooking in the outdoors and tips to save space, cookware, and more to ensure you can go camping and not go hungry.
After all, a family camping trip isn't much fun when the food falls into the fire or gets stolen by a wild animal.
These are things that have happened to me, and I want to offer up my ideas for how to do it better so it doesn't have to happen to you.
Packing your camp kitchen
Before you can hope to start cooking over the fire, you first have to get everything to the campsite.
If you look online, you can find dozens of ideas on "how to build a chuck box," essentially a box to carry all your camp kitchen supplies.
Now, you can get as fancy with this as you want, and you can even pay hundreds of dollars for one of these lavish boxes that serve only the purpose of storage for your stove, pots, pans, etc. Or, you can be like me and make your own "chuck box" by getting a plastic tote or two out of the garage and organizing your entire camping kitchen for only the money you spend on the kitchen gear itself.
Bringing along a camp kitchen that will impress your peers isn't about the brand of the decorative box you store everything in. It is about organization and being the one everyone counts on to pack all the essentials for eating well in the outdoors.
This process will be much easier, and cheaper, if you remember to concern yourself more with what you're packing than what you're packing it all in.
If you do want something more sturdy than the plastic totes I choose to use to store my camp kitchen, there are outdoor suppliers who manufacture camping gear boxes for this exact purpose. These are usually animal-proof and sturdy enough to where they won't be damaged easily.
Organizing your camp kitchen gear will somewhat depend on your preference and also how your mind works.
Read on to learn how I tend to pack out my camp kitchen, and this will hopefully give you some ideas on how to organize your own.
Camp kitchen gear
Camp stove or other heat source
Personally, I like to bring a camp stove with me for my heat source.
Stoves might not always be an option for you, especially if you are planning a long backpacking trek. However, if you're going on a camping trip for just a a day or two, stoves are a great option for heat.
A camp stove typically is equipped with one or two eyes to heat up a pot or pan. This allows you to cook with more versatility than just a hot fire.
A camping grill is also a fine option depending on what you might want to cook. If you're looking to grill some burgers or dogs, then this might be your heat source of choice. Otherwise, an old-fashioned fire might be your best bet if you're trying to pack as light as possible.
The hot coals of a fire can be the best heat source you'll have, but it takes a little more patience and skill to successfully cook a meal over a fire than it does with a camp stove or grill.
Your heat source could easily take up the bulk of your storage space, so keep this in mind. If your campsite has to be reached on foot and takes several miles of hiking to get there, camp cooking over fire will start to sound better and better.
I have taken camping trips where I was able to fit my entire camp kitchen in a backpack because I left behind the bulky camp stove. This brings me to my next point and suggestion.
If you're adamant about not having to rely on a campfire for your camp cooking heat source, a single-eye burner stove could be a great option to still save storage space but have more control and versatility than open flame.
A single burner stove will allow you to have the functionality of a camp stove but still save space and keep your camp kitchen gear lightweight and portable.
A single burner stove will typically take a propane cannister that can be detached in order to store more compactly.
How you pack your heat source will vary on the heat source you choose.
If you decide to go with a camp stove, many of them are equipped with a carrying case of their own. If not, adding the camp stove to your storage case of choice will do fine.
As stated before, stoves tend to be bulkier than other methods of camp kitchen heating devices, so you might have to find the best way to store yours based on what else you're packing.
Again, if you choose to go with a single burner, you should be able to just throw one of these in your backpack.
A camp grill will be bulky like a camp stove, but they can likely be stored and transported the same way as stoves can.
Pots and pans
Pots and pans are integral to any solid camp kitchen gear set.
You don't need to go crazy here. One pot and one pan will usually do for cooking outdoors.
This will allow you cook anything from eggs to pasta while camping, so if you're going to forget something, don't let it be these.
The great thing about pots and pans for camp cooking is that you can usually find sets made just for camping at your local outdoors supplier or online.
Many times they're compact for organization and storage space, and they might even come with their own carrying case. I would highly recommend going this route.
If you need to do any baking or want to get a nice sear on your meat or veggies, a dutch oven is also an option for your camp kitchen.
A dutch oven can even substitute for a pot and pan, depending on what you're going to be cooking. However, if storage space or convenience of transport is a significant concern for your camping trip, I would recommend leaving the dutch oven behind, as it is bulky and heavy.
For storing and packing a pot and pan for your camp kitchen, again I would recommend getting a set manufactured specifically for organized camp cooking.
Having a grate to setup over your fire is great if you plan on using fire as your heat source.
These can be purchased inexpensively, and they are usually collapsible for convenient storage.
If you have a camp stove or grill, this is not needed, but this will all depend on how much, or how little, equipment you want to pack with you.
Plates, bowls, and containers
Unless you plan to eat out of your hands, you will certainly want to add plates, bowls, or both to your camp kitchen.
If you're lucky, you might even be able to eat at a picnic table.
Just like pots and pans, dishes can be purchased as a camp cooking set from outdoor suppliers.
Buying a set of dishes for your camp kitchen made for camping will again allow you to store and pack efficiently, and it will allow you to refrain from using plastic or paper.
As a lover of nature, I try to avoid using paper plates because they are easily wasted. I would much rather reuse dishes if I can.
Containers also need to be a part of your camp kitchen gear so if you have leftover food, or just need containers to store anything small, you'll have a way to store it.
Containers for camp cooking can also be purchased as a set, and you can even find containers that are collapsible for optimal organization.
A good set of camping containers can also help reduce waste.
Depending on what you will be eating, utensils might need to be a part of your camp kitchen cookware in addition to your dishes.
Forks, knives, and spoons are cookware utensils that can be purchased at outdoor suppliers if you're looking for utensils that are compact and reusable.
I would try to steer clear of plastic utensils, and if anything just go with the forks and knives you have at home.
For knives specifically, I would recommend going with a nice set, depending on what you're cooking.
You might need to prep vegetables or cut meat, so knives are pretty important for a camp kitchen utensils set.
Storage for utensils should be easy and straightforward, as they shouldn't take up much space.
Having a cooler will more than likely be a necessity when camping, even if your camp kitchen is lacking in other areas.
Depending on how long you will be at the campsite, you might need a more insulated cooler, which unfortunately means more expensive. However, insulation will preserve ice longer; sometimes for multiple days depending on the quality of cooler.
An insulated cooler is essential for keeping meat or dairy cold so that they don't spoil.
When backpacking significant distances however, a cooler might get a little tricky. This is where a backpack cooler can come in handy, but you won't have a lot of storage space, nor will it keep things cold for as long as a hard-shell insulated cooler.
Some coolers on the market come with dividers and baskets for better organization. You can keep your meats away from your other cold items, store other things besides cold items in the basket, etc.
Food to bring
A camp kitchen is useless with no food to prep or cook.
In edition to equipment, you will also want to plan what you want to have for a meal each day and night you will be outdoors.
Here, I have put together a list of some food items that I try to never do without when organizing my camp kitchen.
Eggs are great for your camping kitchen food checklist because they are cheap, can be made a multitude of ways, and they can be stored in your cooler.
One of the many helpful tips I have picked up along the way is to wrap some paper towel around the individual eggs in the carton so they have more protection and won't break.
Cooking eggs is easy with a pan or skillet, so this will be where your camp stove comes in handy.
If you don't have a camp stove, you hopefully at least brought the aforementioned campfire grate with you.
You can make an entire meal out of just pasta, so including this in your camping food is a good idea.
As long as you have a pot, some clean water, and a heat source, you can cook pasta in just a few minutes.
Pasta typically comes in a box, so you can store it anywhere it will fit, as it doesn't need to be kept in a cooler.
Meat will require a little more prep, and it must be kept cold in a cooler, but having it as a part of your camping food is recommended.
Cooking meat outdoors can be done several different ways.
Some meats can be cooked directly over the campfire. Or, if you have your grill or camping stove in your camp kitchen, you can cook meat that way as well.
Pair your meat with your pasta for a nice hot meal under the stars.
Coffee or tea
Having a cup of coffee at the campsite might not be an essential for you, but it sure is for me.
There is nothing better on a crisp morning in the woods than having a hot cup of coffee. I would recommend coffee or tea in a bag versus a box or can, as is easier to store.
Since it doesn't need to be kept cool, just always store it in your camp kitchen set so it is always ready to go when you are.
Now, this article is more about camp cooking than it is about snacking, but this is still worth mentioning.
Dried snacks can always be kept in your camp kitchen, as they don't need to be kept hot or cold, depending on what they are.
Beef jerky, nuts, granola, and energy bars are great for when you go camping and don't always want to cook, or need something in between meals.
If you keep them in your camping kitchen set, you won't have to worry about forgetting them when you are ready to head out to the campsite.
Oil and spices
Cooking typically requires some kind of cooking oil, especially when it comes to cooking meat. Also, no one likes bland food so add some spices and seasonings to your camp kitchen gear set.
You don't need to get fancy with this, just some salt and pepper will do nicely.
When cooking outdoors with oil, take great care, as the last thing you want to do is start a grease fire with hot oil in the middle of camp surrounded by forest.
We have discussed how to pack your camp kitchen to get ready for a camping trip. Now I'd like to also mention packing everything out.
It is crucial that when camping, or participating in any outdoor activity for that matter, that you leave no trace.
You need to have some way to dispose of trash or at least take it with you. No one wants to get to a campground or campsite and find trash left behind from the people before them.
Always be sure dispose of unused food and other trash in trash receptacles or bags so as not to disturb the environment or disturb future campers.
Trash bags can easily be stored in your camp kitchen, so don't forget these.
Organizing your camp kitchen doesn't have to be a daunting task.
Essentially, you want to have as many of the mentioned essentials as possible to remain comfortable outdoors, all while still preserving storage space.
This might take some tweaking, and you might even think of some things to add to your camp kitchen gear that I didn't mention here.
Much of the gear you might need for your camp kitchen can be purchased as sets from outdoors suppliers. This allows for the most compact storage while having quality pieces of gear.
I hope this guide on organizing your camp kitchen helped to give you some ideas on how to stay organized and efficient with your camping food and camping gear.
As always, thank you for reading and be sure to check out some of my other articles for all things outdoors.