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Basics of Cooking in Camp

Menu Planning

Important issues:

1. Nutrition and personal tastes

2. Activities/environment

3. Weight of food and storage requirements

4. Equipment available/needed

5. Price and quantities

6. Recipe sources


From ``Dietary Guidelines for Americans''

( )

What Counts as a Serving?

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta



Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts

Note: Some foods fit into more than one category. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, and taro (poi), can be counted as servings in the grain products group instead of as vegetables. Dry beans, peas, and lentils are in the meat group but can be counted as servings of vegetables instead. These crossover foods can be counted as servings from either one or the other group, but not both.

This results in a daily caloric intake of 1600 to 2800 calories. For strenuous activity or cold weather, more calories will be needed.

Shopping Planning Chart

This is contained in a Postscript file.

Cooking terms

from Camp Cookery for Small Groups, Boy Scout Fieldbook (2nd ed.), and Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

Add shortening if needed -- add if food begins to stick

Add water as needed -- if liquid is low, add more water

Al dente -- pasta cooked only until it offers a slight resistance to the bite

Bake -- cook by dry heat

Baste -- drip butter or sauce over foods frequently while cooking to add flavor and prevent drying out

Beat -- make mixture smooth by briskly whipping or stirring

Blanch -- partially cook fruits, vegetables, or nuts in boiling water or steam

Blend -- thoroughly combine all ingredients until smooth

Boil -- large bubbles breaking out all over surface of liquid

Braise -- cook meat by browning in hot fat then cooking in covered pan, usually with added liquid

Broil -- cook meat directly over open fire

Brown (meat) -- cook in grease until golden brown to seal in juices (see sear)

Brown (baked goods) -- cook until golden brown to give better appearance

Butterfly -- split foods through middle without completely separating halves, then spread to resemble a butterfly

Cut in -- blend cooking fat with flour to make dough, by pressing in with fork or two knives or cutting in fine chunks with knife

Deep fry -- cook by immersion in boiling or very hot fat or oil

Diced -- cut into small cubes or pieces

Dissolve -- stir a dry substance into a liquid until no solids remain

Dollop -- place scoop or spoonful of semi-liquid food on top of another food

Dredge -- coat meat with flour (often seasoned) before frying

Fillet -- cut lean meat or fish into pieces without bones

Flake -- break food gently into small pieces

Fold -- gently mix ingredients using a folding motion (cut down through mixture with spatula or spoon, cut across bottom of bowl, then up and over; turn bowl often to get even mixing)

Fry -- cook in open pan with a small amount of fat

Glaze -- brush mixture on a food to give it a glossy or hard finish

Marinate -- tenderize or flavor meat by covering with spiced vinegar and oil, salad dressing, or similar mixture

Pan broil -- cook meat in very hot skillet with a minimum of fat (pour off fat while cooking)

Pare -- cut off outer covering with a knife or parer

Plank -- fasten meat to a board and broil before a fire

Poach -- cook just below boiling point of water (i.e. in a simmering liquid)

Roast (meat) -- place meat fat-side up on a rack in a shallow pan and cook in oven

Rolling boil -- slightly faster bubbling than boil

Sauté -- cook or brown food in small amount of hot fat

Scald -- heat to just below boiling temperature

Score -- cut narrow grooves or slits in outer surface of a food

Sear -- to seal the surfaces of meat by exposing to intense heat so that juices are confined (see brown (meat))

Simmer -- cook over low heat, small bubbles breaking out

Steep -- soak food in hot water

Stew -- cook meat by searing, then simmering until tender, usually with vegetables added; also to cook vegetables and fruit

Stir -- mix around ALL contents of pan to avoid burning ingredients at bottom

Tenderize -- render meat easier to cook and chew by softening tissues by pounding on, with chemicals, or by marinating

Toss -- tumble ingredients lightly with a lifting motion

Whip -- beat food lightly and rapidly to incorporate air into the mixture and increase its volume


Note: the equivalences between cups and ounces are for fluid ounces. This can be quite different than for ounces of weight.

One Pot Meals

Good because get complete meal's nutrition with only one pot to clean! Especially useful for backpacking since it decreases the amount of equipment you need to have.

Examples include beef stew, chili; ``one and one-half pot'' meals like spaghetti and stroganoff use two pots, but only use the second pot for noodles (easier to clean than more complicated foods). The basic idea is to combine a meat (or meat substitute), a starch, some vegetables, and a sauce such that most of the nutrition needed for the meal is gotten in one dish.

Examples of meats that can be used on the trail are fresh, canned, or smoked fish; jerky; hard salami and sausage; pepperoni; bacon; vegetarian meat substitutes; dried beans; lentils; canned chicken; canned meats; and split peas. In camp, meats like hamburger, beef (stew meat), and chicken can also be used, as well as dried beans requiring longer soaking periods.

For starches on the trail, you can use macaroni, noodles (egg, spinach, Raman, etc.), spaghetti, dried potatoes (instant mashed, diced, shredded, sliced), wheat/bulgar, rice, cous cous, quinoa, packaged mixes (Rice-a-Roni, Hamburger Helper, Lipton, etc.), and instant stuffing. The concern is finding starches which cook quickly so that they do not require long cooking times. In camp, regular potatoes and noodles and pastas requiring longer cooking times can also be used. Dumplings can be added to stews and such by spooning biscuit mix on the top with 20 minutes left in the cooking. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes and then covered for 10 minutes. A similar thing can be done with cornbread for chili.

Vegetables on the trail will generally be dried or freeze-dried. Some of the available choices are onions, carrots, celery, tomato, tomato powder, peppers, green beans, and vegetable flakes. In camp, you will probably want to use fresh, canned, or frozen vegetables, and you can add vegetables such as rutabagas which are not generally available in dried form.

For a sauce, there are again a great number of options. For trail dinners, the powdered sauces generally available at a supermarket include cheese, sour cream with dried milk, stroganoff, spaghetti, gravy (brown or white), sweet and sour, and a large variety of soups. For stationary camps, you can use canned soups and cans or jars of the sauces to give a bit more variety.

To provide a bit more variety, additional foods may be added, such as sunflower seeds, nuts, coconut, margarine/butter, sesame seeds, wheat germ, roasted soybeans, bacon bits, and cheese. Also, the addition of seasonings such as salt, pepper, bouillon (beef or chicken), marjoram, dill seed, summer savory, parsley, garlic (fresh, dried, powder, or salt), chives, basil, thyme, caraway seed, curry powder, or a commercial mix like Mrs. Dash can dramatically improve the meal, although care should be taken so that the spices added do not clash with those in the sauce used.

For further ideas, see the part about one pot meals in Chapter 5 of the Scout Handbook. I would like to thank Steve Tobin, Cannon Falls, MN, for many of the ideas on this page, which are taken from his WWW site in the file

Meal Preparation

Arrange cooking times so that everything is ready together.

Gather all the ingredients and equipment together before starting.

Read the instructions through TWICE before doing anything. Make sure you have gotten everything you will need.

Wash hands before handling foods and after handling uncooked meats.

There should always be two cooks, a head cook and an assistant cook. The head cook is in charge of everything that goes on in the cooking area, and is the only one who seasons the foods.

For thickening sauces and such, corn starch is very good. Instant mashed potatoes will also do a good job.

When cooking at altitude, adjustments to the recipes will often be needed. For cakes, usually you will need to either reduce sugar and baking powder of increase the liquid and flour. The oven temperature should be increased about 20 degrees . For yeast doughs, you will need add more liquid and punch down the dough several times. For recipes calling for steaming or boiling of foods, the cooking time will need to be increased and more liquid will be needed. Deep-fat frying requires that the fat temperature be lowered about 3 degrees for every 1000 ft. of elevation. If making food from a mix, check the package for high-altitude instructions.

For dutch oven baking with charcoal, a good rule of thumb is about 25 degrees per briquet (although occasional checking of cooking progress is important to ensure good results).

When everything is ready, call group together for grace. Not only does this show ``reverence,'' it also gathers everyone in one place for the beginning of the meal. The head cook leads grace (unless he convinces someone else to take his place).

Sample graces

We thank thee, Oh Lord
For all we have here,
This food, these companions
And all we hold dear.

Tireless guardian on our way
Thou has kept us well this day
While we thank thee we request,
Care continued, pardon, rest.

Father for this noonday meal
we would speak the praise we feel
Health and strength we have from thee
Help us Lord to faithful be

(Philmont Grace)
For food, for raiment,
For life, for opportunity,
For friendship and fellowship,
We thank thee, oh Lord. Amen.

Noontime is here, the board is spread.
Thanks be to God, who gives us bread. Amen

Good is great, God is good.
Now we thank him for our food. Amen

Health Issues

To multiply, bacteria need warmth, moisture, foods, and time. All raw products can carry harmful bacteria, although some are more likely to than others. People can (and generally do) carry bacteria and other organisms. In order to prevent contamination of foods, surfaces that contact raw food need to be cleaned and sanitized before cooked food touches them. In addition, meat and eggs should always be cooked thoroughly, and cooking utensils should never be used for tasting or eating foods. In addition, foods should only be allowed to stay in the ``danger zone'' of 40\xbc -150\xbc for short periods of time.

Burns are a major first aid hazard when cooking. To prevent them, always remove pot lids carefully and away from you, arrange pots on the stove so that the handles aren't in a position where they are likely to be knocked off, and be extra careful with hot grease. The other major first aid concern is cuts. Most cuts in the kitchen come from mistakes with knives. To prevent these, always keep knives sharp and use the right knife for the job. In general, you should cut away from yourself, although there are times when it is necessary to cut towards yourself, and if you drop a knife, don't try to catch it (just get out of its way). Always wash knives separately (NEVER drop knives into a soapy dishpan), and put knives away properly and promptly. Running and playing are also never allowed in the kitchen area.

Clean Up

Car camping:


Sample Meal Evaluation Sheet

Information provided by Scott Dillard, Scouter

From The Dutch Oven Cookbook, by Mike Audleman and John W. Lyver, IV,
as presented by R. Gary Hendra -- The MacScouter

Here's an evaluation sheet that the Patrol Leaders have in their Troop Leaders Notebooks and use from time to time to evaluate how their meal process i s (or is not) going:

__ Was the food good?
__ Was there enough food for everyone?
__ Was there not too much food wasted?
__ Did everyone get his fair share of food?
__ Was the duty roster posted and used?
__ Did everyone do his job without complaining?
__ Did everyone offer to help others with their jobs when they could?
__ Was it a well-balanced meal?
__ Did you say grace before the meal?
__ Did you give your patrol yell?
__ Is the patrol area clean after the meal?

__ Was there enough water for the meal?
__ Was there enough water to put out the fire?
__ Was the fire prepared on time?
__ Did you use a fire starter?
__ Was it a "legal" fire starter?
__ Was there a ready means for putting out the fire in case it got out of control?
__ Was there enough firewood for the entire meal (without having to go get more)?
__ Was the fire kept going through the meal until the KPs were through?
__ Was the fire properly extinguished when KPs were done?
__ Was the fire always attended (never left alone)?
__ Was the fire the right size for the job?
__ Did anyone who was not busy offer to help the fire/water crew?

__ Was the meal prepared on time?
__ Was the food warm when it was served?
__ Did the cooks wash their hands before they started?
__ Did the cooks have the food ingredient list for this meal?
__ Did the cooks have all the food ingredients they needed?
__ Did the cooks know how to prepare the meal?
__ Were the cooks ready to cook when the fire was ready?
__ Did you have the right hardware to do the job (for example, pots, pans, utensils, can opener, gloves, HPTs)?
__ Were missing hardware items written down by the Patrol Quartermaster so that you will have them next time?
__ Was the fire right for cooking (not too cold or too hot)?
__ Were the outside of cooking pots soaped before they went on the fire?
__ Did the cooks serve the food?
__ Was the entire meal ready and served at the same time?
__ Did the cooks have enough help?
__ Was a little water put in emptied pots to keep food from hardening?
__ Did the cooks make sure the kitchen area was clean when the meal was done
__ Did anyone who was not busy offer to help the cooks?

__ Was KP completed on time?
__ Was a sump hole used for the wash water?
__ Was the sump hole located in a proper place?
__ Was the wash water hot when the patrol finished eating?
__ Was there enough fire to heat the water quickly?
__ Did everyone AP his own personal gear?
__ Did the KPs AP the kitchen gear?
__ Was everything AP'd before it was washed?
__ Was the gear washed and rinsed properly?
__ Was the dutch oven properly cared for?
__ Was the sump hole filled in if this was the last meal of the day?
__ Did anyone who was not busy offer to help the KPs?

Don't Forget the Spices!

Virtually anything that you are served can be made edible with enough salt, peeper, or tabasco. But the real gourmet always travels with a variety of spices, flavorings, and condiments. Imagine the envy as one of your trail pals laments ``Gee wouldn't it be nice to have a bit of nutmeg or cinnamon, to put in our coffee?'' and you confidently reach into that special bag, and produce ``the stuff''.

One should always carry an ample and diversified selection of your favorite spices and condiments. Start by looking in the kitchen. Most of us have all we need, right at home. Start with the basics: salt, pepper(black), white pepper (good for stir fry or chinese), cayenne, chili powder, mustard powder, garlic powder, curry powder, oregano, basil, parsley, celery seed, dill, bullion cubes, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves (good for tea), paprika, tabasco or texas pete, and build from there.

Many of these spices are available at grocery stores, or good outdoor stores, in the form of a ``wheel'' with four or five spices in about a 3" diameter container. This is great to get started, but usually will go bad (by drying or caking or getting wet) unless you are taking a long trip. Film canisters work ok, but remember to label them, and take care when packing them to prevent them from being crushed, they will open very easily. You can store them in a pot for transporting, or better yet get a small plastic box, like a first aid kit size, it will concisely store what you need. I have found that some medicine bottles (be sure to clean thoroughly) work well, particularly the type that they dispense dry antibiotics for infants in. The best way to carry items like tabasco is in the original bottle. Wrap them up well in your dirty socks, to prevent inadvertent breakage (and Hey, if they do break, the socks will help neutralize the smell!) [editorial note: Film canisters are now discouraged for uses which involve storing of food. A better choice is clean pill vials with safety caps (less likely to come open), which are generally available from your local pharmacy. Another option is to use small ziploc bags to put the spices in.]

Happy Trail Eating
Ed Mussler
ASM Troop 357, Raleigh, NC
Eagle Class of 1974


Last Modified: 05:44pm MDT, April 25, 1996