Trek Southwest - Hiking and Camping the Desert Southwest

DIY Camp Kitchen and Supplies Checklist

in Campfire Recipes and Cooking

A lot of people ask us, “Where do I buy a camp kitchen?” The best answer is, don’t buy one. They’re a waste of money for the most part. There’s no need to buy one of those bulky contraptions put together by one of the camping supply companies.

Those bulky contraptions put together by one of the camping supply companies are generally flimsy, overpriced, and not all that functional.

Typically, they have a little tiny spot for a camp stove and a tiny little prep area that’s barely functional. Having a hook to hang utensils and bags or drawers to put things in really doesn’t help all that much either, but I suppose it looks cool.

We’ve found that a plain old 6′ folding table (the kind that folds in half for easier storage) and a plastic tub with our cooking supplies in it works better than anything else for a DIY camp kitchen.

A camping trip with great food makes for the best experience, and we sometimes have to cook for a group, so having all that prep area on the table makes it easy. Doubling as a picnic table doesn’t hurt.

By keeping all of our supplies in the plastic tub, we have everything in one place where we won’t forget anything. We just grab it and go when we’re ready to head out the door.

As for breaking out the saw and welding rig and building a fancy DIY camp kitchen, why bother? Our setup works perfectly for us, and packs up fairly small. Instead of spending a weekend building some bulky camp kitchen system that’s not going to make your life any easier, pack up and actually go camping.

The most important thing for a camp kitchen is for it to be portable and for you to be able to put it up and take it down easily. You don’t need it to look fancy.

DIY Camp Kitchen Supplies Checklist

Below is a full list of the supplies we keep in our camp kitchen kit. Just click on each tab to open it up.

Table and Tub
6′ Folding Table (or 4′ if you want something smaller) – It’s not super sexy, but a plain old 6′ folding table works best for us. It folds up small enough to put underneath all of our stuff for car camping and can be used for more than just camping trips. They aren’t light, but the space is nice for prepping food and setting up your cook stove. The weight also helps to keep it upright if there’s a wind gust.

Plastic Tub – The best places to pick one of these up are Lowes, Home Depot or Walmart. We’re using the 14 gallon size, but you should check the dimensions and what you plan on packing before you get it. You may not need something that big, and it may not fit in you vehicle.

Making Heat
Cook Stove w/ Griddle – We use a Coleman Triton Series 2-Burner Stove along with the griddle.  We’ve found that the griddle gets used as much as the burners by themselves, if you get it though, be certain that you don’t use a metal spatula on it. The non-stick coating comes off fairly easily. We bought the carry case that goes with it, but never use it because the griddle doesn’t fit, and the stove carries just as easily without the bag as with it.

Extra Stove Fuel – I always pack at least one spare unopened cannister in my kit. Sometimes more for longer trips.

Long Lighter – Bring two. Somehow these things can just quit working for no reason. I bring a spare just in case. No bow-drills and rubbing sticks together for me.

Duraflame Roasting Logs – I usually keep a couple of the small logs in my camp kitchen kit. They don’t take up much space and are really useful if there isn’t any available firewood, or its all wet. In some cases, when there’s a wood fire ban, some parks will let you use firelogs (ask first).

Cooking Oil – We keep a small bottle of vegetable oil in our camping kit. Cooking oil can go rancid, so by using a smaller bottle, it gets rotated out often enough that we don’t have to worry about it. It also takes up less space and keeps the weight down.

Salt/Pepper/Spices – We have a Coghlan’s Spice Pack that we carry around. We don’t use some of the spices that it comes with, so we just refilled it with things that we do use. Our kit contains salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder and Italian seasoning, but arrange yours according to your taste. If you want to just pack regular spice bottles, that works too.

Foil (Heavy Duty) – Make foil cooking packs, line your dutch oven, etc. Just make sure its the heavy duty kind. Regular foil doesn’t hold up well.

BBQ Spatula, Tongs and Grill Brush – Grab a cheap set from Lowes, Home Depot or Amazon. You’re going to want the long reach over a firepit. There’s no reason to get fancy here, cheap is fine.

Nylon Tipped Spatula – Metal tipped spatulas could mess up the non stick surfaces on your pots and pans.

Ladle – Nothing is worse than trying to spoon stew out of the pot with a regular soup spoon. Toss a cheap ladle in your kit, just in case.

Kitchen Knife w/Sheath – I don’t like trying to cut up meat and vegetables with a multi-tool. I keep a cheapish (not too cheap or it wont hold an edge) kitchen knife with a sheath in my kit. If you don’t already have a sharpening stone, you might consider grabbing one and tossing it in your kit so that you can keep an edge on it (you’re less likely to cut yourself with a sharp knife than a dull one).

Forks and Knives – Plastic forks and knives seem like a good idea, but why create more trash. Toss a few cheap metal forks in your kit and use your pocket knife to cut with, or you can grab a few of those fancy titanium cutlery sets that can also double as your lightweight backpacking utensils.

Butterfly Can Opener – We like the small butterfly can openers since they take up next to no space. They’re easy to forget if you don’t keep one ready to go in your kit.

Metal Skewers – Make easy shish kabobs or use them for roasting marshmallows. Get the cheap ones that are all metal, the ones with the rubber or plastic grips just get ruined.

Work Gloves – While it’s not necessarily a utensil, having a decent set of leather work gloves comes in handy when breaking up kindling, picking up hot items and a hundred other things.

Pots, Pans, Etc.
Coffee Percolator – Some people may not consider this a necessity, but I do. My favorite part of camping trips is waking up before everybody else, making a pot of hot coffee and watching the sunrise. You can also just make some cowboy coffee if you don’t want to buy a coffee percolator. Don’t forget to bring the coffee though! To save space, you can put your coffee grounds in some Ziploc Bags and store it in your coffee pot prior to going on your trip.

Plastic Cutting Board – We like to have a good cutting board when we’re car camping. There’s no need to struggle with one of those tiny backpacking cutting boards. Additionally, plastic cutting boards are always better, especially when working with meat. The plastic is easier to clean, wood weighs more and can absorb bacteria.

Skillet and Pot with Lid – We’re currently using the GSI Outdoors Cooking Set, but we’re planning on switching to the Snow Peak Titanium Multi Compact Cookset due to it being lighter and having a metal lid. You can’t use the plastic lid included in the GSI while you’re cooking.

Mugs – We generally just bring a couple of cheapo enamelware mugs, but you can also grab a couple of Toaks Titanium Mugs if you want something that will double as a lightweight backpacking mug.

Plates and bowls – We don’t usually like to use paper plates. Since you’re camping and you may be standing up to eat or eating out of your lap, cheap paper plates just don’t cut it, you really need to buy the sturdy, expensive ones. We also don’t like to have to deal with a lot of trash. We like Preserve brand plastic plates and bowls. They’re weirdly easy to clean and stack well in our kit.

Clean Up
Dish Soap – We use the Campsuds brand since its concentrated, and we assume that it’s safer for the environment (not too sure on this one, but it does say all natural and biodegradable).

Scrubby Brush – A simple, small, dish scrubber brush from Walmart works just fine. Remember, small is better. Also, don’t get the scrub brushes that hold the soap in the body, they have a tendency to leak. On your next trip, you might find dish soap all over the bottom of your kitchen kit.

Paper Towels – I don’t think this needs any explanation.  You can make them pack easier by pulling out the cardboard tube and flattening them out.

Regular Dish Towels – Dish towels always come in handy for tasks like drying dishes, picking up hot pots and pans, etc. Just grab a couple of old ones from the kitchen and you’re all set.

Trash Bags – Trash happens. Keep it off the ground.

Kitchen Sink – You can use the storage tub you’ve packed your camp kitchen in, but we’ve found that it’s a pain in the butt to unload everything long enough for your dishes and tub to dry. We like to use the Sea to Summit Kitchen Sink because it folds down so small. We’ve found that the 5 liter version is plenty big enough.

Small folding shovel – We’d be really cool if we recommended some sort of fancy high carbon steel folding shovel that you could fight off zombies with, but all you really need is something cheap that you can bury a campfire or dig a cat-hole with. We keep a cheapo Coleman Folding Shovel in our kit. It doesn’t take up much space and it works just fine. Somehow we’ve avoided zombie attacks on all of our camping trips, but I suppose our luck could always change.

Optional Extras
Since these items are bulky or heavy, we generally don’t bring them along unless we have plans on using them.

Pie Irons – They don’t fit into our tub, so we don’t pack them every trip, just when we plan on using them. They are nice for making quick grilled cheese sandwiches over a campfire though.

Large Pot with lid – If you plan on making a stew or some chili, you might want to bring along a larger pot with a lid.

Dutch oven with lid lifter and lid stand – This is one of our favorite tools for cooking outside. As long as it’s seasoned properly, it’s hard to mess up a meal if you have a good recipe. It also takes very little work to make an awesome meal happen.

Campfire Grill Grate – If you are heading out to the boonies and there aren’t any fire-rings with the built in cooking grates, you may want to bring one along. Some people just bring a regular wire grill grate from a barbeque pit, but we like Texsport Camp Grills because the legs keep things level and stable. The biggest one is our favorite, because otherwise, you’ll have to build a narrow fire-ring to accomodate the grate. We use the dutch oven lid lifter (above) to slide the grate back and forth over the fire.

Charcoal Chimney – We only bring this along when we’re going to use charcoal for our dutch oven and don’t plan on building a campfire. It helps the charcoal light easily and we can moderate how many briquettes we light.

Keep It Together

All of our camping kitchen items are extras of what we have in our home kitchen (generally cheaper versions), so we don’t have any reason to take them out unless we’re camping.

One thing that we’ve found is that if we take something out of our camping kit to use at home, it never fails that we’ll forget to put it back in.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

As with anything, change up your DIY camp kitchen however you like.

One of our favorite things to do when going on a long car camping trip is campfire cooking and we generally have plenty of space in our vehicle to bring along our large DIY camp kitchen set up.

You may not have the love for cooking outdoors that we do, or you may be camping out of a smaller vehicle, so you can easily pare it down if you like by buying a smaller tub, or even a smaller table. This is just what works best for us, especially when we’re cooking for a larger group.

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