Car camping isn’t about braving the wilderness with just a knife, a wool blanket and your wits. It’s about temporarily living in nature with some of civilization’s comforts — which should absolutely include a top-notch camp kitchen. Here’s what you need to build your own.
The Gear Bin
Make sure your camp kitchen is easy to toss in the car and go. This eliminates the time-consuming tasks of packing and unpacking (except for post-trip cleaning), leaving you always ready to roll. A simple, large plastic bin such as the Rubbermaid Roughneck Storage Box ($24) will accomplish that goal. Made with tough polyethylene, the 25-gallon bin measures 28-by-19-by-16 inches (spacious enough for a basic camp kitchen) and has a snap-on lid. rubbermaid.com
Want something more organized? Pick up the Camp Chef Sherpa Camp Table and Organizer ($125). This collapsible unit features a 27-by-17-inch aluminum roll-top table, four zippered compartments and dividers, and telescoping aluminum legs. It packs down to 27-by-18-by-16 inches, too. campchef.com
Your next critical piece of kitchen gear is, of course, the stove. For top performance, the two-burner Camp Chef Everest ($125) tabletop stove justifies its price with convenience, power and durability. Its propane burners crank out 20,000 BTUs and provide excellent flame control. Weighing just 12 pounds, it folds up into a sturdy case with a solid latch. campchef.com
The Coleman Classic Propane Stove ($70) is a solid less-expensive option. It assembles in a couple of minutes, fires up in an instant and delivers 20,000 BTUs of heat from its two burners, which will accommodate a couple of 10-inch pots or pans. Burner control is good, whether you’re boiling water or dialing it down to cook rice, and the removable grate makes cleanup easy. coleman.com
The GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Base Camper comes in three different sets ($75-$95) of nonstick pots and fry pans with strainer lids — and arguably the best pot grippers on the market so you don’t drop dinner in the dirt. The large set has 3- and 5-liter pots — big enough for feeding a big, hungry family. 3 lbs. 4 oz. (large set), gsioutdoors.com
If you want perishables to stay cold for a long weekend, get the Coleman 70-Quart Xtreme 5 Cooler ($84) —
a super value that Coleman says keeps ice frozen for up to five days in temperatures up to 90 degrees. 11 lbs. 6 oz., coleman.com
No kitchen is complete without the tools of cooking, and the 12-piece GSI Outdoors Crossover Kitchen Kit ($35) has everything you need packed into a lightweight tote. The kit includes a folding spatula and cooking spoon, cutting board, spice shakers, scrubber and camp towel. 9.6 oz., gsioutdoors.com
For dinnerware, there’s hardly a better value out there than the Stansport Deluxe 24-Piece Enamel Tableware Set ($46), which includes four 10-inch plates, six-inch bowls and 12-oz. mugs, along with sets of spoons, knives and forks — all made of stainless steel double-glazed with an enamel finish. stansport.com
Can you have nature and your French press? With the Planetary Design Table Top French Press ($42-$63, three sizes), the answer is an absolute yes, thanks to its double-walled vacuum-sealed construction offering top insulation and durability. planetarydesign.com
Want to be really popular at camp? Pull out a Rome Popcorn Popper ($31). It makes three quarts of popcorn and features all-steel construction, a hinged lid to keep popcorn inside, and a barbecue-grade baked enamel cooking surface. The long wooden handle doesn’t heat up when held over an open fire. When done, the popper doubles as a bowl.
1.8 lbs., romeindustries.com
Tips and Tricks
For storing utensils (forks, spoons, knives), keep a small zippered bag made of a tough fabric that won’t tear easily or a long, flat plastic container with a resealable lid. Keep other essentials like butane lighters and matches in a small stuff sack.
Similarly, devote one small stuff sack to storing must-have spices like black pepper, salt, crushed red pepper, curry — whatever makes your list.