Thursday, March 03, 2005

Top Ten Tools for the Camp Kitchen

This is one of the most popular articles I passed out at Pleasanton. It's a re-hash of an older article of mine that's available elsewhere in the Internet. I publish it here in case you haven't seen it.

By now, you've seen that I'm a proponent of anything cast iron, especially camp Dutch ovens. Sure, they're heavy. But nothing beats cast iron. It's versatile, hold heat and cooks evenly. So, it's no surprise that cast iron cookware is king in my camp cooking outfit.

But cast iron isn't the only type of cookware in my camp cooking kit. Over the years, I've put together enough cookware to feed my family of five, plus a few visitors. Although my top ten list only covers cookware, my kitchen outfit includes everything from cookware to water jugs to an extra table or two.

Here's what I'd carry if I were limited to 10 pieces of cookware:

Dutch oven with accessories--If you only take one piece of cast iron cookware, make it a 10- or 12-inch Dutch oven. They're versatile: One-pot meals, bread, biscuits and much more can be cooked in camp ovens. And the lid can even be used as a griddle.

Cast iron skillet--Next to a Dutch oven, a cast iron skillet is a must, especially if you sauté, pan-fry and braise your way to flavor-packed camp meals. An eight- to 12-inch cast iron skillet should work for most families. Also buy a tight-fitting lid for your skillet. It helps you cook everything from fried eggs to stews.

Coffeepot--What camp kitchen isn't complete without a hanging coffee pot? There's nothing better than drinking a cup of your favorite coffee next to the morning campfire. If you don't drink coffee or tea, a coffeepot can be used to boil hot water for other beverages and for the dishes.

Fire grate--A must for campfire cooking. If you enjoy cooking over the campfire like I do, you'll need a sturdy fire grate. Last spring, I purchased a 16-inch by 20-inch grate from Texsport.

Pots--Two-quart and three-quart saucepans should work for most meals in the wild, especially if you take a Dutch oven and skillet. Although you can initially build a camp kitchen with old kitchen pots and pans, it's wise to eventually invest in quality pots and pans.

Stove--Unless you cook with fire exclusively -- as I do on occasion -- you need a petroleum-fired camp stove. If you have room in your vehicle, I recommend investing in a Camp Chef two-burner propane stove. It sure beats pumping a white gas stove. No more fires, flare ups or worn out generators.

Knives--Unless you're going to butcher cattle alongside the trail, two or three knives are all you need. I carry a 10-inch French knife, a 6-inch boning knife (to pare vegetables, not strip meat from the bone) and a 12-inch slicer. And, unless you're a gourmet, Henckels and Wusthof don't have to be part of you cutlery collection. As a professional cook, I've used the Connoisseur line by Russell Harrington Cutlery for over 20 years.

Utensils--Okay. I took a little writer's liberty and lumped all utensils into one group. After all, my list would have 30 items if I didn't. Here's the minimum outfit: spatula, solid spoon, slotted spoon, wire whip, ladle, measuring spoons, can opener, potato masher, tongs, cutting board and meat fork. Depending on your cooking style, a few other items are useful. I find that a citrus zester, for example, is a must-have item. I also include an old hand-crank meat grinder, a garlic press and lemon press. But be careful. Things quickly get out of hand when you try to include every gadget that's listed in the latest catalog.

Thermometer--Using a thermometer is the only way accurately to test for temperature. Get a digital thermometer. They're more accurate and less subject to jarring than the so-called instant-read thermometers. Cooper-Atkins make thermometers for home and camp use.

Kitchen box--The most important item is a gearbox to hold all this cookware. I've used an Army footlocker for the past decade. I place all of my pots, pans and utensils in the box. Everything has its place. The only thing that doesn't fit is the cast iron. (I converted to a chuckbox several years ago.)

This list should give you a few ideas to help you build your own kit.

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