Anyone who’s ever made sandwiches for a crowd with fingers still dripping wet from the ocean, or plucked a hot dog off the end of a charred stick, knows how easy it can be to whip up a euphoric meal in the open air. Maybe it’s something coded into our DNA or just a placebo effect brought on by acute hunger — either way, food always seems to taste better when it’s prepared outdoors.
When you’re feeding a group of people around the campfire, there is one trick to pulling off delicious meals without sacrificing taste, quality, or nutrition: be prepared. Simple right? Sure, you might get style points for knowing how to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew and how to start a fire without matches. But preparation beats out scout tricks nine times out of ten. Wouldn’t you rather just remember to bring the matches and not waste time collecting sock lint or rummaging through your pack for batteries and steel wool when you’ve got a crowd of hungry campers to feed?
Tips to Keep in Mind
1. Begin by mastering the art of making a checklist. Get everything in writing so you can freely delegate tasks to the other members of your group. Remember that everyone else wants to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, too. Ignoring this fact is rookie mistake number one — don’t let that untapped labor go to waste! Mistake number two is getting so caught up with packing the groceries and gadgets that you forget essential items like utensils, napkins, dishes, backrests, placemats — all those little things that set dinner service apart from dog sitting.
2. Don’t over pack! If you’re camping out of your car in a designated area, your footprint may only be restricted by the spending limit on your credit card. Dispersed campers, backpackers, and “thru-hikers” should consider other factors such as fire restrictions and pack weight. The fact that you’re cooking for a group doesn’t mean you need a Viking range or enough dry wood to last a winter — in fact, you may find it’s easier to stick with a minimalist approach and feed your flock with a single pot and a three-ounce canister stove. Even if you’ve got a Suburban’s-worth of space at your disposal.
3. Brush up on your campfire cooking skills. Whether you’re heading out to the beach, backcountry or just to the backyard, take a minute to familiarize yourself with these tips and handy survival apps to ensure everyone gets fed. And remember: Camping gives you one free pass to rescue food off the ground, but you only get to punch that card once. Twice if nobody’s looking.
4. When planning the menu, don’t go crazy. Remember, it’s not your at-home stove you’re cooking on, so don't plan something overly complex. That means no dishes with long cooking times or with too many steps.
5. Be Prepared. Here are 10 essentials that we wouldn’t head into the wilderness with a group (that expects to eat well) without.