Running down some camp-kitchen essentials for every outing
Big Blue, as it’s known for short, simply got too big in the end.
It’s dimensions didn’t change. A blue 18-gallon plastic tote, one with locking handles, it’s as squarish now as it was at the start of spring.
But the lid didn’t seal completely on the edges anymore, even when you could force the handles overtop of it.
A reorganization was in order.
The tote holds our camp kitchen essentials. When we’re heading out for a weekend or longer of truck camping, when neither space nor weight are issues, it goes into the vehicle complete.
That cuts down on the chances we’ll forget something. In theory, all of what we need to cook and eat is inside, every time.
But we’d gotten carried away. And a bit lazy, too.
Over the course of multiple outings between spring and fall, we’d added things necessary for camping, but not for cooking. Inside were a hatchet and a couple of small flashlights, for example.
Then, too, in a rush to go on our next outing without completely checking it after the previous one, we threw in things like a roll of paper towels without realizing we were already stocked with two of the same.
Things came to a head a few weeks ago when I tried lifting the monstrous behemoth off the shelf it occupies in our garage and felt a twinge in my back. It bothered me all weekend.
So, in preparation for next season, I’ve been purging.
I removed non-kitchen-related camp essentials from Big Blue and gave them their own tote, next to our camp stove, cooler and table. Next, I pared down some of what stayed (why did we think we ever needed 12 spoons, anyway)? And finally, I gave away some gear we’d carried for years and never once used.
The result is an efficient mobile kitchen that’s largely ready to roll.
We still tweak it from time to time, based on where we’re going, what conditions we’ll encounter and what we plan to do or to cook. But it’s got all the basics.
So what’s in it?
Here is what falls into our six categories of camp-kitchen essentials:
You needn’t worry about weight when it comes to pots and pans for car camping. Not like you do when backpacking.
So equipment scavenged from your home kitchen or even a second-hand store works just fine. We used that kind of gear for a long time and still do on occasion.
But a few years ago we added a set — a frying pan and three pots, all nonstick and with lids — that nests together. It’s plenty big for my wife and I and still suffices when the kids are with us.
And, nesting as it does, it takes up a lot less space in Big Blue.
If you want to know soul-crushing disappointment, watch your longed-for burger, sizzling oh-so-deliciously over an open wood flame on a camp grill, fall into the ashes because you tried flipping it with a breakfast spoon.
So we maintain in our tote, always, a selection of cooking utensils that includes things like spatulas, serving forks and spoons, tongs, a whisk and more. They’re packed with our eating utensils, a can opener and a few odds and ends like measuring cups.
We keep all those things, excepting only a small cutting board, in a smaller, clear plastic tote that nestles inside Big Blue. That way, they’re always together, rather than lost at the bottom of the larger tote.
Likewise, in a second small clear plastic tote, we keep our spices, everything from salt and pepper to steak, chicken and fish seasonings, cinnamon, and more.
Besides corralling everything together, the clear tote serves two additional purposes here.
First, should one of those spice bottles come open, the clear tote keeps it from coating everything else.
And second, it’s a bit of a vapor barrier. It’s hardly foolproof in that regard, but it prevents too much moisture from getting into the spices too quickly, turning them into gloopy messes.
Plates, bowls, cups
Ours is a mishmash, to be honest.
Our plates, bowls and mugs started out as a set, a four-piece setting. Over time, though, we’ve replaced parts gone missing, while adding others to accommodate a growing family.
What once was uniformly color-coded is now more rainbow-like.
The cups we use for cold drinks meanwhile, are even odder. They are an eclectic combination of 1970s leftovers from my wife’s grandmother’s picnic basket (thrown in for nostalgia), a couple of big-box-store clearance-aisle finds and one or two fishing-themed cups received as holiday stocking-stuffers.
But they’re always on hand in all their diverse glory, ready to use.
My wife teaches cooking, so cross contamination and foodborne illness are buzzwords in all of our campsites.
And that’s good. Being neat, tidy and clean not only keeps campers healthy and critters at bay but makes cooking the next meal all that much easier.
So we keep a small bottle of dish soap in Big Blue, along with a selection of dollar-store dishcloths, potholders and pot scrubbers suitable for nonstick cookware. There’s a small container of bleach in there, as well, along with hand sanitizer.
All are kept in a third small container, this one with a screw-on lid, to contain any leaks.
Add in a few garbage bags and paper towels and/or napkins, and this part of our setup is done.
Whether you’re cooking or storing leftovers from cooking, it pays to have some food-storage options on hand.
Big Blue contains a couple of small plastic food-storage containers with lids. We also always pack a handful of re-sealable, zipper-style food storage bags, both quart- and gallon-sized.
That’s in addition to a roll of heavy duty aluminum foil that can be used for cooking and storage.
Our tote also includes a few odds and ends in this category, from fire starters to a tablecloth.
Going camping requires taking other equipment, of course, from stoves and fuel to tents to lanterns to coolers. I have a small folding table we often carry for meal prep, too. And either our Can Cooker Jr. or Dutch oven go on most outings.
There are various checklists out there that highlight what you need. One hangs from the shelf where I store most of my camping stuff.
But our camp kitchen, at least, is all tied together in one container. It’s a big one, but no longer an unmanageable one.
So long as we’re a little more disciplined next season, that’s how Big Blue will stay.