The best part of camping is waking up. Chirping birds mix with the zshhhh of tent zippers and shifting sleeping bags to form a glorious but alarm-level predawn cacophony, and the brisk mountain air in those early moments is like a healing tonic for your lungs. The worst part of camping is also waking up: The temperature difference between the interior of your sleeping bag and the outdoors is a terrifying abyss, more bracing than even the blackest cup of coffee — something you desperately need because the glaring sun woke you up three hours earlier than your usual weekend consciousness. Your body is stiff from ground sleep; dirty from, well, dirt; and your bladder is telling you it’s time to pee somewhere weird and cold and very much not a toilet.
Then ... breakfast. Out here, amid the humbling hugeness of crisp skies, drifting meadows, mammoth trees, and craggy mountains, everything tastes a little better, a little sharper, and a little more earned. Even a crumbly protein bar satisfies in a different way when you’re sitting on a stump in the dappled morning sunlight, surrounded by pine needles and nothingness. So then imagine a hollowed-out winter squash, smoky from a night in the embers of your fire, filled with a mess of eggs, chorizo, and dill-infused yogurt. Or maybe it’s a PB&J, dunked in egg batter and fried to gooey French toast magnificence. With these, the lousy night’s sleep vanishes, your body temperature rises, and the birds sing louder as the sun finally crests the mountaintop. You’ve achieved the camping nirvana that lured you out here in the first place, and it’s barely 7 a.m.
There’s no reason why camp cooking can’t be an exhilarating experience, a fire-kissed series of meals just as alluring as the fresh mountain air. To that end, Eater has teamed with some of America’s most experienced camp cooking enthusiasts — Lucas Sin, Kena Peay, Kirsten Kirby-Shoote, Nettie Colón, Al Culliton — to plan out an epic (but achievable!) start-to-finish three-day meal plan. Their breathtaking culinary adventure features everything from a salmon crunchwrap (perfect for throwing in a backpack and eating atop a vista) to a lovingly tended-to skillet chocolate chip cookie to beefy naan tacos, best devoured beneath the stars. (Seriously, though, if the idea of a multi-day cooking project seems too out of reach, we get you — there’s a guide to the best ready-to-eat meals, too.)
And because preparing for a camping trip can feel like a maximalist exercise to the extreme, we have your grocery lists and your pre-trip prep schedule, plus tips on everything, including equipment, packing a cooler, doing dishes (because you have to), and all the ways to avoid literally dying while camping — foraging is very cool but please don’t eat those mushrooms. Also, bears are real. And hungry.
Consider this guide the key tool in your kit for having the most delicious no-brainer camping trip of your life, whether you’re a first-timer or an honorary forest ranger. S’mores obviously included.
Want to get a head start on your weekend in the great outdoors? Many components of this blowout, multi-meal itinerary can (and, dare we say, should) be made ahead to guarantee you more time to enjoy the natural surroundings, and less time sweating over your campsite cutting board. Before you embark with your trunk and cooler packed to the gills, consider tackling the following:
Up to 3 Days Out:
- Make the ginger lime syrup (for the rye coffee and Riverside Fire Society punch)
- Make the piri piri sauce (for the naan tacos)
- Make the trail mix
Up to 2 Days Out:
- Make the rye coffee
- Make the Riverside Fire Society punch
- Make the cookie dough (for the skillet cookie)
1-2 Days out:
- Roast the squash (for the squash breakfast bowl, if you don’t want to cook it fireside)
- Make the chimichurri (for the naan tacos)
- Make the salmon-mayo mixture (for the crunchwrap)
- Make the yogurt sauce (for the breakfast bowl)
- Make the French toast mixture (for the PB&J French toast)
The night before, to prep:
Here is our recommended cooking-equipment packing list:
- Cast-iron skillet(s)
- Dutch oven with lid
- Sharp knife
- Medium or large bowl
- Bowls/plates for eating
- Cutting board or some other kind of portable surface
- Measuring spoons
- Lunch: Your First Lunch While Camping Should Be Restaurant Takeout Before you spend a few days working hard to feed yourself, first enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labor
- Dinner: A Mapo Tofu and Canned Beans Mashup Perfect for Campfire Cooking Chef Lucas Sin shares the best way to gussy up a plain can of beans: Spicy Sichuan flavors borrowed from mapo tofu
- Dessert: The Ultimate S’mores Generator A simple calculus of outside thing + oozing thing + fun filling, with big potential to get weird
- Cocktail: A Rum Punch Recipe With Woodsy Daiquiri Vibes Bartender Al Culliton’s take on a daiquiri brings in green tea for an ideal drink to sip around the fire
- Breakfast: Shakshuka Is the Breakfast of Camping Champions Nettie Colón’s shakshuka is a hearty, flavorful, and easy way to kick off your first day
- Lunch, cooked edition: A Salmon Crunchwrap Recipe You Can Throw in Your Bag for Later Kena Peay’s endlessly customizable crunchwrap is a perfectly portable, eat-it-later lunch
- Lunch, grazing edition: How to Build the Perfect Picnic Menu at Trader Joe’s Lucas Sin shares how he creates the perfect picnic at one reliable grocery store
- Dinner: Grilled Steak Tacos With Naan Are Your Dinner Showstopper Nettie Colón’s piri piri and pineapple and onion relish make for a meal that just might upstage Mother Nature
- Dessert: A Truly Extra Skillet Cookie Recipe That Outshines Any S’more Kena Peay’s cast-iron skillet cookie is crisp on the edges, gooey in the center, and a little bit of a stunt
- Cocktail: Brew Up a Batch Cocktail Perfect for Campfire Hangs Al Culliton uses cold brew and rye whiskey for a make-ahead cocktail perfect for a group
- Breakfast, sweet edition: A Gloriously Messy PB&J French Toast Recipe Trust us, this is a sandwich that will require a knife and fork
- Breakfast, savory edition: A Coal-Roasted Squash Breakfast That’ll Bowl You Over Kirsten Kirby-Shoote’s breakfast bowl recipe is the ideal way to end a camping trip of extraordinary eating
Meet the Chefs
Al Culliton is a writer, bartender, and cocktail historian based in western Massachusetts. They are the president and chief correspondent of Al’s Cocktail Club, a weekly newsletter for curious, history-loving home bartenders.
Kena Peay is an outdoor enthusiast and chef whose outdoor cooking videos have been featured on Yahoo.com, Buzzfeed, WorldStar, and Backpacker magazine. The winner of episode two of the inaugural season of NBC’s Food Fighters, Kena has a social media community of over 400,000 followers, and is passionate about diversifying representation in the outdoors.
Kirsten Kirby-Shoote, a member of the 2021 Eater New Guard, is an Indigenous urban farmer and cultural food worker based in Detroit, Michigan. In addition to growing, she hosts pop-up suppers to educate the public on traditional foodways and Indigenous food sovereignty efforts.
Lucas Sin, a 2019 Eater Young Gun, is the chef of Nice Day Chinese and Junzi Kitchen in New York City and New Haven, Connecticut. Raised in Hong Kong, Sin opened his first restaurant at the age of 16; before opening Junzi and Nice Day, Sin got his start hosting a pop-up in his college dorm, and working in Michelin-starred restaurants.
Nettie Colón is the ever-roaming chef/founder of Minneapolis’s Red Hen Gastrolab, which has been dubbed “the persistent pop-up.” Always up for the challenge of where to cook the next meal, she specializes in fire- and earthen oven–cooking methods, such as pibil, pachamanca, and curanto.
- Editorial leads Erin DeJesus, Rebecca Flint Marx, Lesley Suter
- Editor Elazar Sontag
- Developer Graham Yan MacAree
- Designer Alyssa Nassner
- Contributors Nettie Colón, Al Culliton, Farley Elliott, Brenna Houck, Matthew Kang, Kirsten Kirby-Shoote, Nicholas Mancall-Bitel, Rebecca Flint Marx, Meghan McCarron, Kena Peay, Lucas Sin, Elazar Sontag, Lesley Suter
- Recipe testers Ivy Manning, Deena Prichep
- Illustrator Rachel Jung
- Photographer Dina Avila
- Copy editor Kim Eggleston
- Engagement Adam Moussa, James Park, Milly McGuinness
- Art director Erin DeJesus
- Photographer Dina Avila, assisted by Arthur Hitchcock
- Food and prop stylist Nathan Carrabba, assisted by Donna Grisham
- Model Anthony Adams
- Materials provided by REI, Duluth Trading Company, Red Wing