Maintain a chuck box to make camping less stressful, more fun
We discovered the old chuck box tucked away in a corner of my mother-in-law’s basement.
How long had it been there, forgotten? Twenty-five years, at least.
We went on a lot of outings in the two and a half decades since I joined the family picture, but there’d never been a hint of its existence. It hadn’t seen a picnic table or tailgate, certainly.
And its contents were evidence enough of that.
So, remember those lawn chairs everyone had in the 1970s, with the aluminum frames and woven plastic webbing? They had wide, flat armrests.
Tucked inside the chuck box were plastic cup holders meant to fit over the arms of those chairs.
Along with those we found a shoe box full of mismatched plastic silverware, a couple of wicker paper-plate holders and a contraption that, I think, is meant to hang dish rags. Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not really sure, to be honest.
Clearly, though, that chuck box was a workhorse at one time. It’s well designed and well built, evidence of caring hands crafting a tool meant for lots of use.
Made of plywood, it’s perfectly fitted and stained. The front door drops open to sit parallel to the ground. Covered on the inside by a thin layer of vintage vinyl, it serves as a rustic countertop.
An expandable rod, which attaches to the door, braces it on the ground. There’s a plastic paper-towel holder attached to one outside edge of the box — added some time after its initial construction, I suspect — and a couple of shelves and a few cubby holes inside.
I’m really glad that we found it and that it was gifted to me.
But, to be totally honest, we don’t use it all the time. That chuck box is heavy, even empty. Boy, is it.
Stock it with a cast iron skillet or two, and moving it becomes a two-person operation.
So on week-long car camping adventures, or those lasting longer, it goes with us, a connection to generations of like-minded outdoor lovers long gone. But on weekend trips it stays home, replaced by a 20-gallon plastic tote. Similarly packed, it’s still lighter.
Both, though, serve the same purpose. Packed with everything from pots and pans to utensils to dinnerware to spices to dish soap to cooking oil to matches to paper towels, they are great camp kitchens.
And make no mistake, there’s real value in that.
Statistics compiled by various camping organizations show roughly half of all campouts occur on the fly, with no prior reservations.
Now, some of that, maybe even a lot, is probably attributable to RVers and truck campers and the like who travel spot to spot, finding places to spend the night as they go. But people do a lot of spur-of-the-moment camping, too, when they find themselves with a weekend free at a time when the weather promises to be nice.
That spontaneity is great. After all, we should grab any moment we can to get outdoors.
But frenetically scrambling to gather everything you might need for an overnighter often, dare I say invariably, leads to leaving crucial tools at home.
Been there, done that.
By comparison, maintaining a well planned, well stocked chuck box or “chuck tote” makes camping so much easier. You just grab it and go, knowing you’ve got a full kitchen in the process.
So, we keep our chuck box and chuck tote both ready to roll.
They’re products of two different eras, one crafted by hand, another molded by a machine. By comparison, one’s a lot more romantic than the other, for many reasons.
But both get us outdoors, and that’s what matters most.
A chuck box checklist
A well stocked chuck box contains everything you need to make meals in camp. Here are some ideas on what to carry in yours.
- Cookware. Pack your choice of cast iron or lighter pots and pans. Those that nest together take up less space.
- Cooking oil
- Dinnerware, like plates, bowls and cups
- Utensils (spatula, spoon, tongs, whisk, etc.)
- Can opener
- Coffee pot
- Seasonings, from salt and pepper to other favorite herbs and rubs
- Aluminum foil
- Paper towels
- Dish rags
- Fire starters
- Matches or a lighter
- Dish soap
- Hand soap and/or hand sanitizer
- Measuring cups
- Trash bags
- Pot holders and/or oven mitts
- Cutting board and knife
- Closable plastic zipper-type bags