How to up your camping food game: from portable nachos to pre-cooked beans

Eating under the stars has its own charm, especially if you put some thought into the meal

Ready-cooked beans are easy to reheat. Photo: Scott Price
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Winter is finally here and that means going camping should be at the top of your to-do list. Whether you’re a seasoned pro with all the gear or a relative newcomer to sleeping al fresco, a great camping trip hinges on many things and one of them is most definitely the food. Read on for our top tips and ideas on how to eat well under the stars.

Snacks on arrival: portable nachos

There’s no denying it: setting up camp is a bit of a faff (and always takes longer than anticipated). Serving up a great snack the moment bags are finally unpacked and tents standing proud will immediately restore good humour among your crew and help ward off hunger pangs as the fire does its thing and the main course cooks.

Tasty, fun, quick to prepare and novel enough to become a talking point, portable nachos are a great option. Here, snack-size packs of tortilla chips function as not just the base of your appetiser, but as hand-held, no-mess, zero-crockery-required receptacles too.

Present every camp member with a bag of tortilla chips, then lay out pots filled with favourite fixings – sour cream, salsa, jalapeno peppers, sliced spring onions, shredded cheese, guacamole – you get the idea. Encourage everyone to customise their own snack and get stuck in.

The main event: smokey beans

While nothing beats the taste of a smoke-kissed steak, coil of boerewors, skewer of giant prawns or husk of corn grilled a la minute, it certainly pays to bring at least one element of the main course with you ready-cooked.

A hearty pan of smoky beans rich with spices, thick with slow-cooked tomatoes and tangles of golden onions, and decorated with handfuls of coriander or parsley is camping food at its finest. Not only is the dish filling, economical and full of flavour, it’s also endlessly versatile and suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

To serve six, set a deep cast-iron pan with a little olive oil over medium heat. Add two thinly sliced onions and cook until softened and starting to turn golden brown. Add three finely chopped garlic cloves, two teaspoons of sweet smoked paprika, one teaspoon chilli powder and a quarter teaspoon ground cinnamon. Stir well, cook for two to three minutes, then add one tablespoon tomato puree, two tablespoons brown sugar, two teaspoons Worcestershire sauce and two teaspoons balsamic vinegar. Pour in a 400-gram can of chopped tomatoes, then fill the can with water and add to the mix along with two 400g cans of mixed beans. Season generously with salt and pepper, stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transport to your camping site in the pan ready to reheat when required.

Matters of dessert: cinnamon roll skewers

When it comes to campfire desserts, simple yet indulgent is the way to go – save the complicated, assemble-at-the-last-minute puds for another time. That doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun along the way, though, as these cinnamon roll skewers prove.

While still at home, mix ground cinnamon and granulated sugar together and pre-slice cinnamon roll dough into rounds. When you’re ready for dessert, thread the rolls on to metal skewers or wooden sticks and toast over a low flame, turning frequently, for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle all over with the cinnamon sugar. If you then pull out a squeezy bottle filled with icing or chocolate sauce for an extra-special finish, we doubt there would be any complaints, particularly from little campers.

Fail-safe tips for camping food success

Give breakfast a bit of forethought

As romantic as grilling bread over an open flame sounds, come morning you might lack the time, or inclination, to get the campfire lit again. With that in mind, packing a pre-assembled breakfast will serve you well. No need for anything complicated here, just something that feels a bit more exciting than cereal and will quickly satisfy bellies made hungry by all that fresh air. Tried-and-tested favourites include overnight oats made at home and finished with a handful of berries, wedges of banana bread topped with sliced bananas and baked-the-day-before cheese and tomato puff pastry pinwheels or muffins.

Prep ahead

Before you leave home, slice a baguette in half lengthways and spread with garlic and herb butter (grated cheese optional). Wrap tightly in foil, then warm through in the embers of the campfire.

You could also cook a batch of your favourite grains – quinoa, couscous, farro, bulghur wheat – and a tray of roasted vegetables. Leave to cool completely and pack into separate resealable bags or Tupperware, then toss together on-site for an instant grain salad.

Finally, save space and reduce waste by decanting salad dressings, sauces, olive oil, honey and the like into small airtight containers rather than bringing full-size jars and bottles with you.

Call in the big guns

Treat yourself and your camping clan to some premium protein to accompany your smoky beans. Bespoke butcher CarniStore stocks a great range of quality meats from steaks to kebabs, chops to chorizo, while artisan sausage makers Sausage Fabrique prepares all its products by hand and you really can taste the difference. The British Butcher Shop also does a great line in campfire fare and has recently added a selection of plant-based products, including vegan burgers and mince, to its offering. If fish is more your thing, seafood specialists Fresh Express should be your go-to.

Check your supplies

Before you leave home, do a last-minute equipment check. You’ll no doubt have your own list, but from experience we count kitchen roll and heavy-duty foil, a sharp knife and chopping board, bin bags and cleaning equipment, serving plates and bowls, tongs and scissors, airtight containers for storing food and plenty of tea and coffee (always coffee) among our essentials.

Don’t forget the marshmallows…

Because no matter how good those toasted cinnamon rolls taste (and they really are good), you know there will be a campfire meltdown if twilight falls and the inevitable calls for s’mores go unanswered.

Updated: December 15, 2021, 3:31 PM