8 Ways to be a Backcountry Chef

From Eno Team Member, Carolyn Ellison

With Spring in the air, our weekends will soon be filled with hammocking, camping, playing in rivers and then when we’re all done…we’ll be hungry. Cooking–or eating rather–is personally one of my favorite times of camping trips. You just can’t get that campfire taste at home. There is an art to cooking out in the middle of nowhere however. Read on to explore these tips on how to become a backcountry chef!

Can It1. Can It

Depending on what kind of camping you’re doing, try to minimize the amount of space your kitchen-on-the-go takes up. For example, if you’re doing car camping, opt for canned goods instead of taking up up valuable real estate in your cooler.

Chop it2. Chop At Home

Try to minimize the amount of work you have to do on site by preparing as much as possible at home. Does your recipe call for onion? Then before you head into the woods, chop the necessary amount at home. So peel, mince, dice and pack it up!

SOG Multitool3. Simplify Your Tools

If you think you’re a star in the kitchen, you probably have an affinity for kitchen gadgets and toys. However try to resist the urge to haul all these out into the wilderness with you. By the time you’re breathing the fresh air and the smell of campfire hits your nostrils–your resourceful instincts will kick in and you’ll be totally content with just using a multi-tool.

make a plan4. Make A Plan

Plan your menu! And as you are planning it, keep in mind the environment you’ll be cooking in. In other words, research recipes that are suited for cooking on a campfire or camp-stove. Camping recipes have already considered the elements that you’ll be cheffing it up in. This will aid you in an easier–but just as tastier–cooking experience. You can always try out a dehydrated meal too!

time5. Time Is Of The Essence

As a backcountry chef, remember that 10 minute dinners are awesome too. Keep in mind some short and super easy meals for multiple day trips. You don’t want to get back to camp after an active day playing in the woods for ten hours and return to camp hungry with multiple hours of prep, cooking, and waiting for that intricate recipe you had planned.

spice6. Spice It Up

You can still spice it up in the woods. Just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you have to leave the salt, pepper, and olive oil at home. These items somehow taste better miles away from civilization. But you don’t need to lug them out in their original packaging. Bring along portable containers and if all the spices are going to get mixed together anyways, go ahead and blend them at home and throw them in the same container.

pan7. One Is All You Need

Laziness is easily translated to efficient-ness when cooking as a backcountry chef. Don’t be afraid to mix up the recipes and modify them to one pot shots. No one likes to clean, especially in the dark in the woods. Make it easy and get to marshmallows and guitars sooner than later.

bears8. Don’t Feed The Bears

Clean up and put it all away. This is important. Unless you’re camping someplace where you have no threat of wildlife, it is crucial you properly clean and store your food and food items before you turn in. Try to camp close to a creek or river so you can wash your pots and utensils. Put all food and things that still smell like food in a bear bag and go properly hang it up. There’s no way to ruin a trip faster then to have an unexpected run in with a hungry bear.

Finishing Things Up With A 3 Course Camping Meal

A three course camping meal is on today's menu.
A three course camping meal is on today’s menu.

If you’ve been following our week of cubicle cooking you may have noticed that each day our meals have fit a theme but they haven’t always complimented each other. Well, Trent and I were ready for something that meshed and decided that we’d finish things off with a three course meal consisting of a main course with a side and dessert. We picked out three Backpacker’s Pantry pouches including their Santa Fe Chicken, Garlic Herb Mashed Potatoes and Creme Brûlée.

Throughout our project, Trent and I have kept the accuracy of serving sizes into consideration. In most cases, we’ve found the two serving pouches from Backpacker’s Pantry are not quite enough to fill up two people. We expected that with an entree used in tandem with a side dish or even just a dessert, two people would be plenty satisfied. All three meals put together might just be a little more food than two people can comfortably eat, even after a long day of adventuring.

We set up the JetBoil, water tank, meals, bowls and utensils for the last time of the week. I told Trent not to cry but he can be an emotional guy sometimes…

Santa Fe Chicken. Yummy!
Santa Fe Chicken. Yummy!

Meal 1, the Main Course: Santa Fe Chicken

The Santa Fe Chicken wasn’t the first course that promised a southern flair (see: Huevos Rancheros in our Trail Breakfasts yesterday) but we were still excited all the same. This one mixed green chili, chicken and cheese over rice – a New Mexico specialty! We were both sold immediately.

Lots of stirring for this one and about 15 minutes later we had our meal…

Joseph’s Review: I’m glad we ended with this one because it was GREAT! The meal might be better labelled as tortilla soup, as that fit the consistency and the taste in my opinion. It wasn’t thick but had enough substance that I wouldn’t call it watered down. Every bite I felt like I was getting lots of flavor and good texture. I really can’t describe it any other way than it tasted just like tortilla soup, and a good one at that! This goes down as one of my top meals of the week for sure.

Trent’s Review: I would call this the heartiest meal of the week. It had great flavor and I agree with Joseph that it was very much like Tortilla soup. If you see that it has green chiles and are afraid of the spice, don’t be. This one had almost no kick at all. I would put this in my top three for the week. Definitely recommend this for anyone adventuring out in the desert… or for a cold night as I could see it fitting both perfectly.

The Garlic & Herb Mashed Potatoes.
The Garlic & Herb Mashed Potatoes.

Meal 2, the Side Dish: Garlic Herb Mashed Potatoes

The Garlic Herb Mashed Potatoes are one of several camping meal side dishes that we offer. They cost significantly less than an entree like the Santa Fe Chicken ($3.39 compared to $9.39) but despite having two servings, they won’t come close to filling up two people. Other options include things like Strawberries, Vegetable Medley, Apple Sauce, Sicilian Vegetables and more.

They take the same amount of time to cook up as a regular meal and were ready to eat in about 15 minutes.

Joseph’s Review: I really enjoyed these. They’re simple but true to their name – mashed potatoes with a hint of garlic and butter. On their own, I’d call them a little plain and would recommend bringing something to mix with them (some kind of seasoning or sauce might be all you need).

Fortunately, we had a bowl of Santa Fe Chicken, AKA tortilla soup, sitting right next to them. It didn’t take long for me to mix these two meals together and boy did they go great with one another. The somewhat plain potatoes quickly soaked up all that flavor in the Santa Fe Chicken and they turned into one of my favorite meals this week. I’m going to be eating these two meals together on the trail again soon.

Trent’s Review: Joseph kind of hoarded these when he started mixing them with the Santa Fe Chicken, but I had a bit of it plain. I thought the flavors were good but for my tastes the potatoes themselves were a little dry. I could see how mixing them with another meal would work well or if I happened to have some milk on the trail, I think it would taste great mixed in.

For dessert, Creme Brulee!
For dessert, Creme Brulee!

Meal 3, the Dessert: Creme Brûlée

We pulled out the camp blowtorch and got started with this Creme Brûlée. Ok, not really, but the Creme Brûlée was probably the most complicated dessert we’ve had to cook this week, though that’s not saying a lot. Rather than adding water, stirring and let sit for 3 minutes, this meal included a sugar topping packet, a 2 minute mixing period and then 10 minutes of  standing. Was it worth the wait?

Joseph’s Review: This was a very creamy and sweet dessert that felt a bit too complicated to make. We were cooking in the heat and while the sugar packet was sitting out it all melted together, resulting in some chunky sugar. While the taste was good this one wasn’t my favorite dessert of the week.  

Trent’s Review: I enjoyed the flavors and taste and unlike some others we have tried this week it wasn’t overly sweet. I agree that it was a bit complicated to make but the outcome wasn’t bad. I’d go for this one again.

Favorite Meals For The Week

Trent and I really enjoyed ourselves eating lots of great meals for our week of cubicle cooking and thought we should share which ones we liked most. Here are our lists:

Joseph doing some cubicle eating.
Joseph doing some cubicle eating.

Joseph’s Favorites

Favorite Overall Meal: Backpacker’s Pantry Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken. True to it’s name with a little spice, this meal was VERY filling and tasty.

Favorite Dessert: Trail Foods Chocolate PB Pudding. This was the perfect serving size, not too sweet, simple to make and had a taste I know and love.

Favorite Breakfast: Trail Foods PB Banana Oatmeal. I really appreciate Trail Food’s added ingredients to help boost trail performance and I think that’s extra important for breakfast. Couple that with a great taste and you have a winner!

Favorite Lunch: Backpacker’s Pantry Cold Potato Salad. Eating a trail lunch should be simple and easy. I really enjoyed this meal and I could see myself bringing it along for a day hike and appreciating the fact that I wouldn’t need to bring my JetBoil too.

Trent’s Favorites

Favorite Overall Meal: Backpacker’s Pantry Santa Fe Chicken. I am glad we ended with this one because it was great. Hearty and with a taste I know and enjoy.

Favorite Dessert: Trail Foods Bananas Foster Bread Pudding. Wasn’t the most appetizing in appearance but when I finally tried it, I really liked this one. I preferred the texture over other desserts we tried which were usually more goopy.

Favorite Breakfast: Trail Foods PB Banana Oatmeal. Combined great taste, nice consistency and lots of goodness to prepare you for the day. Can’t go wrong with this one!

Favorite Lunch: Tie between Trail Foods Tuscan Alfredo and Backpacker’s Pantry Cold Pasta Salad. I couldn’t choose between the great flavors and easy-to-cook Cold Pasta Salad or the Classic Tuscan Alfredo. They were both great!

We hope you’ve enjoyed following along with our cubicle cooking. Let us know your experience with ACK’s line of camping foods by commenting below!