Modern Outdoorsman: Backcountry Cooking
Our favorite part of summer camping is the fireside meals. Whether it’s whipping up pancakes and cowboy coffee before a sunrise mountain bike ride, or baking a Dutch Oven batch of cornbread, campground cooking is always fun. However, we’ve all got our go-to easy backcountry cooking and sometimes we need to break out of our habits and explore new tastes. With that in mind, we spoke with Jennifer Scism, founder of Good-To-Go backpacking food, and a former co-owner of Annisa restaurant in New York.
After traveling the world studying regional cuisine, cooking in 4-star restaurants, and even besting Iron Chef‘s Mario Batali, Jen took some time away from New York City with her husband David Koorits. While spending long trips backpacking around their home in Maine, Jen discovered that much of the dehydrated backpacking food on the market was lacking in taste. While it hit all the nutritional notes, it was very sodium heavy and developed for a stable shelf life rather than providing palatable satisfaction. Using her experience, Jen started making her favorite recipes and dehydrating them in her kitchen. Her trial and error eventually lead to Good-To-Go, and the rest of us can now enjoy her approach to healthy cooking while out on the trail.
Of course, when you’re car camping, tailgating, or heading out for a day at the beach, you don’t have to pack your entire kitchen in on your back. While backpacking food is a clever solution for more endurance focused trips, bringing a full gourmet experience to your basecamp can be much more involved – and fun – than simply boiling water. We asked Jen for some of her best advice on cooking for both car camping and backpacking trips, as well as a recipe we could try out.
1. The first thing I think of when car camping is what do I want to eat and then what will I cook it on! We have a Jetboil Genesis. It’s an amazing stove with simmer capabilities equal to that of a good quality home gas stove. It also brings a large pot of water, 4 quarts, to a boil in just a few minutes. When car camping, weight is not an issue so I would never set up my outdoor kitchen without it.
2. Even though you’re in a car and there’s more room than a backpack, things can still get a little messy and out of control. I find it best to pre-plan all my meals, prep as much as possible before leaving and pack almost everything in vacuum sealed bags. Packing this way is a life and food saver. It takes up much less space in a cooler. You can safely have things packed in ice or icey water without things getting water-logged. And when you’re ready to make dinner, all you need to do is cut open the bag and you can get cooking.
3. Do a little research. If it’s a campground you’re going to, call ahead and find out what type of facilities they offer. Do they have picnic tables? Are there grills or a communal cooking area. And lastly, clean up. Some places have actual sinks and kitchens but you may be relegated to a cold water spigot. Don’t forget the essentials. It’s also fun to bring a little surprise as well, candles and flowers can make a nice finishing touch.
1. I never ever ever ever backpack without individually wrapped Dove Dark Chocolates. They are delicious, made even better by slipping them inside your coat and getting them soft and ready to melt in your mouth. After you eat them you also get a little inspiration quote on the inside of the wrapper. A great way to reflect on your day.
2. I also never hit the trail without my Starbucks Via. These easy and delicious instant coffee packets are a must for every morning. I first found the French Roast but I’ve quickly gotten turned on to the Italian Roast and their Pike’s Place. I’m a half and half girl so I also travel with my non-dairy creamer.
3. Lastly, David and I bring a Platypus of wine for our first night out. It’s a treat after a long hike up the mountains. I like to pair my wine to my food, so what I bring is meal dependent. If it’s our Good To-Go Marinara, I’ll bring Chianti, or if it’s our new Pad Thai, a riesling is fantastic. I’ve seen kids hike in cases of beer! That’s crazy, beers should be hidden in the river at the trailhead for easy retrieval of a cold one after several days in the woods.
Given Jen’s expertise with world cuisine, we expected to get a recipe that would be a little intimidating – after all, how often do you get to prepare a meal created a a successful restaurateur and backcountry cooking gourmet? Jen’s Chicken Tagine was anything but intimidating, even for novices like us (aside from trying to find a store with preserved lemons in stock).
Per the instructions, we spent the night before our first spring camping trip – just to visit the woody end of our horse pasture considering the Wasatch Range still has hundreds of inches of snow on the ground – deboning chicken thighs, dicing onions, and pitting olives. We also made some traditional Middle Eastern Naan Flatbread to go along with our Tagine. We cooked ours in a 5-quart cast iron dutch oven in the absence of traditional Moroccan pottery, but we think the results were still pretty amazing. In short, the Tagine served over a bed of couscous, alongside a helping of Naan, is the best campsite meal we’ve ever cooked. If you’ve got twenty minutes of preparation and an hour of cook time to spare, this meal definitely needs to be on your menu the next time you find yourself heading into the woods. Your taste buds will thank you, and your friends will be impressed with your backcountry cooking skills.
Of course, kitting out your basecamp with the best gear goes hand in hand with building your trailside chef skills. Here is a quick run down of our favorite basecamp kitchen gear.
YETI Tundra 50 ($380): Our YETI sees regular duty on every long weekend excursion year-round. It will hold 32 cans of beer and ice with ease. The dry goods rack keeps fruit and yogurt out of the icy water. This mighty little cooler has held ice for nearly week on climbing trips, and because of that, we never leave home without it.
Gerber Freescape Kit ($88): With a sturdy kitchen knife and smaller paring knife that tuck into this portable cutting board, the Freescape kit handles all our needs out on the road. We love how well the blades hold an edge, and all three pieces are dishwasher safe for clean up when you get home.
Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven ($63): We’ve been using Dutch Ovens for campfire peach cobbler for years. Adding the Chicken Tagine to our repertoire means we may have to go out and spring for another one of these amazing little cast iron pots.
Good-To-Go ($11.50): When we’re crunched for time or out for long days of climbing, sometimes the easiest meal is a dehydrated one. While we do prefer fresh food when we’re car camping, the Thai Curry and Marinara are comfort foods that can’t be beat when you’re out in the wild.