Essentials for Outdoor Cooking

If the idea of outdoor cooking beyond grilling hot dogs or roasting aluminum wrapped vegetables in the fire intimidates you I hope this list of my essentials for outdoor cooking will help ease any fears.

While I wouldn’t ever consider a backpacking adventure with these supplies I do like to keep a very tight checklist for our outdoor adventures. Partly for ease of loading and unloading and also because I love the challenge of cooking an unforgettable feast with a few tools and pantry staples.

These are the items that always come with me when I’m planning to cook outdoors. Fresh ingredients are either gathered from the grocery store or found right in the woods, lakes or streams. These are the items that are often already packed and ready to go when we say “adventure time!”

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Supplies & Equipment

Wood/Charcoal - It’s important to note that most campsites will sell wood onsite and in fact require that you use their wood. If I’m packing up to cook on a private site then I will bring in a mix of hard and soft wood. Soft wood in the form of kindling helps to really get the fire going and then hardwood is preferred for cooking as it burns longer and hotter and produces consistent coals. Also keep in mind flavor. The type of wood dramatically affects the final dish. It’s best to play around and experiment and figure out your favorite.

It’s also not cheating if you happen to have some charcoal at the ready. I keep some all natural charcoal nearby if I’m needing to speed up the process a bit. I may be a romantic when it comes to over the fire cooking but I’m also a realist.

Matches - Of course there are other ways of starting a fire but I find these to be quite handy.

Paper - Or other dry goods to help get that fire going. In the summer when the ground is dry and fallen bark and leaves are plentiful I rarely have need for paper but when it’s wet it sure comes in handy.

Cooler - For day trips I’m partial to this backpack cooler but for extended outdoor adventures we use this Stanley cooler. A bit of dry ice at the bottom really prolongs the life of your ice.

Over the fire grill grate -

This has become one of my absolute favorite tools for cooking over the fire. It can be used for cooking food directly on the surface or can help elevate a pot or skillet over the fire to adjust the heat. It packs flat and is very durable.


I always have my knife bag packed and ready to go in case of the sudden need to head out and start cooking. In it I keep all my kitchen essentials; knife, microplane, oyster shucker, wooden spoon, fish spatula, etc. It’s great to have a dedicated tool kit of sorts that is always packed and ready. That way I’m never fishing around my kitchen for that one knife that is perfect for camping. It’s waiting for me.

Ax - In case emergency and the need to fend off zombies or build a shelter or if you just need to break down larger logs or need to prepare kindling. Either way, it’s useful to have an ax handy.

Knife - My go to outdoor knife is the Opinel No. 8. While I often will also bring with me a larger chef’s knife if I had to this slim little knife could help me prepare a restaurant worthy meal.

Cast Iron Skillet - For the outdoor cook a cast iron skillet is a badge of honor. We’ll wax poetic about the years of care and the memories of meals past all shellacked into a slick coat the shines with pride if properly cared for. We’ll talk more about the care of cast iron in future posts but for now I would equip yourself with at least one large skillet. I like to have many sizes but I find myself most often reaching for my 12 inch skillet.

Dutch Oven - For braising, roasting, steaming and baking. I’ll often use mine directly over the fire but it’s fun to play around with the tripod too.

Large pot  - I’ll leave this at home unless pasta is on the menu. Cast iron is not ideal for boiling water as that can tend to mess with the hard earned seasoning you’ve fought for. This can also work for boiling water for coffee or tea or I may bring a kettle.

Tongs - I bring two; one long and one regular. I’m always reaching for the tongs.


These are the ingredients that I always have on hand. They are my everyday essentials and the items I reach for constantly. My outdoor kitchen is like the best of the best version of my everyday kitchen. My favorite flavors and tools are always close at hand.

As I mentioned before, fresh ingredients are gathered in the wild or along the way to the adventure. Often I’ll grab cream, hard and soft cheese, butter and loads of produce and my protein. With all those ingredients stocked I have literally thousands of recipe choices to choose from.

  • Pepper

  • Water

  • Dijon

  • Olive oil

  • Vinegar

  • Lemon

  • Sugar

  • Spices (cumin, chipotle or some other chile powder, paprika, fennel, oregano, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger)

  • Small cutting board

  • Plates, cups, and utensils

  • Bug spray (We usually have a few with various levels of deet.)

  • Bus tub for doing dishes

  • Compost Bags

  • Aluminum Foil

  • Side towels

  • Biodegradable soap (Dr. Bronners)

  • Sponge

  • Linens

Download a printable PDF to use as a packing list.

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