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The perfect kit for camping cookouts

For many campers, mealtime is synonymous with pleasure. You can prepare real feasts on the campsite - a welcome reward after a day of outdoor activities! All it takes is careful preparation and the right equipment. Follow this guide to prepare memorable meals, no matter what type of camping you undertake.

Caribou | © Sépaq

What should I bring?

Before packing your bags, find out what equipment is available on site. Is there easy access to drinking water? A fire ring for cooking? Are utensils, a gas stove, and pots and pans available at the ready‑to‑camp site? By finding out in advance ‑ Sépaq's website provides all the details ‑ you can avoid unnecessary hassle. In any case, simplicity is the keynote… despite what many outdoor equipment retailers would have us believe!

For campgrounds accessible by car or for ready‑to‑camp stays, the weight of luggage is generally less important. You can bring a large camping stove and fill a sizeable cooler. Rather than bogging down the space with bags of ice, consider freezing certain foods. The ice won’t melt for a few days and will keep fruit and vegetables nice and fresh.

On the other hand, on more rustic sites with no car access, the weight and size of what is brought becomes paramount. As everything has to be transported, the goal should be to bring light food and equipment.

When canoe‑camping, we can afford to bring along some heavier equipment: the canoe's buoyancy is our ally. But beware: when portaging, the kilos quickly become overwhelming!

Caribou | © Sépaq
Caribou | © Sépaq
Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier
Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier Mikaël Rondeau | © Sépaq

Water management

When camping, it becomes clear just how precious drinking water is, and that there’s a tendency to waste it with a tap at hand. When water has to be transported, filtered, or boiled before consumption, every drop counts. 

If there's a source of drinking water nearby, as is the case on most serviced campsites, it's best to bring along a large jug. Some have a handy little tap so you can pour yourself a drink without having to handle a heavy, cumbersome tank.

When you're near water (on a canoe-camping trip, for example, or on the shore of a lake), water treatment is a must. Outdoor stores offer a vast array of options, from manual pumps to gravity filters and small UV lamps (practical and fast, but expensive). Disinfectant tablets are also available, but they affect the taste of the water and can cause intestinal discomfort for some people during long stays. They are, however, a quick and versatile alternative.

Finally, there's the classic boiling technique, which must be carried out for at least one minute at a rolling boil. That said, the boiling process requires a lot of fuel and a large pot with a lid. If you're cooking over an open fire, you may consider this option, but it will quickly drain the cylinders of your burner.

Caribou | © Sépaq
Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier
Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier Mikaël Rondeau | © Sépaq

Some like it hot

Cooking over an open fire is a real pleasure when drought alert levels, wood supplies, and facilities allow. All you need is a grate to place your pots and pans over the embers. For Marc Conti, a seasoned outdoorsman who has worked in alpine refuges and organized countless canoe-camping, bicycle-touring, and long-distance hiking expeditions with his nuclear family, cooking over a fire is an art that can be learned. "The key to cooking over wood is to prepare your pit properly," he says. One way of doing this is to use the large stones that line the designated areas of campgrounds to lay your grate stably before throwing a match on it. "And you need to have enough wood on hand to generate a good blaze really fast," he continues.

If you're planning to cook over an open fire, it's a good idea to have a burner. You'll appreciate this apparatus when it's raining cats and dogs, or when making your morning coffee without having to rely on embers!

If there’s room to park nearby, you can bring along a larger propane burner in the car. When weight is a constraint, a small, portable burner is more appropriate. There are many models on the market, some of which are extremely compact and lightweight. They attach to a small cylinder or are connected to a bottle that you can fill yourself.

Caribou | © Sépaq
Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier
Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier Mikaël Rondeau | © Sépaq
Caribou | © Sépaq

Everything you need for cooking up a storm

Although there's a wide range of ultralight utensils and plates on the market, a set of affordable, unbreakable crockery (metal or plastic) usually does the trick. What's more, an isothermal mug lets you enjoy hot coffee for a longer stretch in the cool of the morning.

When it comes to pots and pans, it's best to avoid bringing your Lagostina set - camping crockery really takes a beating, especially if it's subjected to the harsh ordeal of the fire's embers! You can buy inexpensive cooking gear, or invest in a high-performance, ultra-light package. There are aluminum, non-stick, and titanium models to choose from, depending on budget considerations, weight, and frequency of use. 

If you're planning to cook over an open fire, and weight isn't a constraint, the cast-iron skillet is an invaluable ally. "It goes in the fire, on a grill, it goes on a rock if the fire is too hot... In short, it's super versatile," explains Antoine Masson-Delisle, chef-founder of and a fan of cooking over an open fire while camping. You'll also need a large saucepan for hot water "that you won't mind watching blacken right before your eyes," suggests the chef. With these basic tools," adds Marc Conti, "you can prepare a wide variety of meals (pancakes, omelettes, grills, soups, fried rice...) and always have hot water available for drinks or dirty dishes. With a bit of daring, you can even try some desserts (fruit crumble, upside-down cake, homemade maple pudding...)." Sweet tooths beware!

Coffee lovers will want to take along a filter holder, a small percolator, an unbreakable Italian or French press coffee maker, or an AeroPress to get their day off to a good start. Aficionados beware… there are even portable espresso makers! UHT or powdered milk are also available – as are packets of sugar – if you don't like your coffee black.

Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier
Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier Mikaël Rondeau | © Sépaq
Caribou | © Sépaq

A few tools not to forget: a colander for draining pasta, a small plastic cutting board, a multi-purpose Swiss Army knife, and a minimum of cooking utensils, chosen according to the menu (spatula for pancakes and eggs, ladle, wooden spoon, small cheese grater, and the like). Antoine Masson-Delisle recommends long tongs for seizing food without burning fingers. And if you're planning a wine and food pairing, don't forget the corkscrew!

Since a good meal will require its share of washing-up, you'll also need a sponge, biodegradable soap (outdoor stores sell small bottles of ultra-concentrated liquid that can be used for both hygiene and dish washing) and a small sieve to catch the bits of food in the dirty water. It's essential to find out about "trace-free" techniques beforehand: with hundreds of campers coming and going, soap and food scraps have a heavy impact on the environment. No, the fish don't like your leftover Chinese macaroni.

Jazzing it up!

To keep camping cuisine from becoming bland, many enthusiasts prepare a versatile "flavour kit" capable of jazzing up many dishes. Depending on your tastes and planned menus, you can include a mix of herbs, curry powder, hot sauce, miso paste, and/or soy sauce packets. Instant bouillon cubes and freeze-dried vegetables – "soup mixes" are available in many grocery stores – can also be added to rice and pasta dishes. Thai curry pastes and powdered coconut milk can be used to prepare tasty stews in a jiffy, and instant soups are popular on chilly evenings. And don't forget to bring a small bottle of oil for browning… along with salt and ground pepper!

Caribou | © Sépaq
Thomas Tessier | © Sépaq

How about some creature comforts?

In addition to the must-haves, there are a number of accessories that make the camping cookout a little more comfortable.

For die-hard foodies, buying a food dehydrator (some ovens also have a dehydration function) means you can prepare your own food that will keep for a long time and weigh less. This way the menu options for long-distance or off-the-beaten-track outings can go forth and multiply: chili, cooked meats, vegetables, scrambled eggs, rice and many other dishes can be rehydrated and reheated for an easy-to-prepare home-cooked meal. And dried fruit and jerky make affordable nutritious snacks.

A large plastic tarpaulin installed over the table will keep it dry in case of rain. Remember to bring rope for purposes of installation. Depending on location and season, a mosquito net may also be part of the plan. 

Nowadays, there are many rechargeable or solar-powered LED lamps and lanterns. Garland lights of this kind, which can be hung over the dining area, create a magical atmosphere, an invitation to extend the evening. Failing all that, candles (rather short and thick, not small tealights) will do the trick.

If the site doesn't have picnic tables, the comfort of a folding chair may be preferable to that of the ground. Small folding tables are also available.      

For Antoine Masson-Delisle, an instant-read meat thermometer can come in handy. "The heat of a fire is much more unstable than that of a propane barbecue or our stove," he explains. “A tool that tells us precisely where we are in the cooking process is much appreciated."

Finally, the chef considers oven mitts to be a "necessary luxury" for those who wish to cook over embers. They make it possible to "move stones or logs, as well as all instruments, particularly the cast-iron frying pan, which become very hot indeed," stresses Antoine Masson-Delisle. Marc Conti agrees but adds that "you have to put them away in the evening to prevent them from getting damp, especially if you're cooking on the beach."

Before cooking over an open fire

Once back at home, there's still some work to be done. All equipment must be thoroughly washed and dried, ensuring that no trace of moisture remains before storage. Particular attention needs to be paid to burners and water purifiers, which require specific maintenance detailed by each manufacturer. We also recommend storing gas cylinders outside the house. And don't leave a wet sponge at the bottom of a bag, otherwise mildew will burst into full bloom! 

A good habit to get into: take note of any missing or superfluous items on your return, so that you can improve your kit for the next adventure. With each outing, you'll refine your techniques so that outdoor cooking becomes gastronomical!   

Before cooking over an open fire

In Sépaq parks, campfires and cooking fires are permitted only in areas set aside for the purpose and may not be fuelled by elements found in the wild. Designated firewood is prescribed, and SOPFEU rules must be respected. If lighting fires is prohibited, a plan B must be provided for cooking. At all times, fires must be supervised by a responsible person and extinguished before bedtime.

Handy guide

  • Camping fire-cooking essentials: fire-cooking gloves, grill, aluminum foil, meat thermometer, lighter, aluminum pans, cast-iron skillets, and tongs.
  • Lightweight kitchen kit: seasoning kit, cutlery, multi-function pocket knife, can opener, mini grater, small chopping board, camping stove, and mess tin
  • Water supply tools according to the type of campground: multi-litre water jug, folding water tank, filter pump, and disinfectant tablets.
  • For your table setting, bring along an easy-to-clean polyethylene tablecloth and light, unbreakable crockery.
  • The "flavour kit" for camping: salt and pepper, oil, maple syrup, chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes, spices (curry, paprika, garlic salt, Italian or Provençal spices), barbecue spices, and granulated miso paste.
  • The complete kitchen kit for car-accessible campsites: tablecloth, cutting boards, dish cloths, Italian coffee maker, spices, oil, maple syrup, aluminum foil, tongs, cutlery, utensils, portable lamp, colander, frying pan, pots, serving spoon, wooden spoon, spatula, knife, corkscrew, can opener, telescopic camping fork (for sausages and marshmallows!), a few reusable bags.
  • The little extras: a carton of eggs, a portable lamp, a good chef's knife, fleur de sel, a mini pepper mill, a cast-iron griddle to put on a two-burner camping stove, a mini toaster oven, and a collapsible wine bag.
  • When you're well equipped, it's a real pleasure to cook up a storm when camping.
  • The washing-up bowl is a must, as is biodegradable dish soap, without forgetting the sponge. 

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