Most camp food is terrible or the opposite of Primal. Or both.
It’s either an expensive REI tetrapak full of wheat flour, dehydrated “meat,” and desiccated Crisco, a Dough Boy, or the entirely overrated s’more. I’ll get flak for that last one, but I don’t care. S’mores rarely live up to the hype past age 12.
Just because you’re living out of a tent doesn’t mean you have to settle for terrible, unhealthy, unappetizing food. If anything, you should be eating healthier when you camp. It feels corrosive to defile the sanctity and purity of the wild with processed junk food wrapped in plastic. You generate all this trash. Whole, Primal foods taste even better when you camp; packaged garbage somehow tastes even worse.
I’ll cover backpacking food in a future post, but car camping cookery is my specialty. That’s what I’ll cover today—the kind of weekend trip that allows for a sizable cooler, some extras flourishes, and more than a single cooking pot. There’s nothing better than turning your campsite into a full-fledged camp kitchen, creating hearty meals whose scents permeate the grounds, arousing jealousy and any nearby wandering bears. There’s something about serving up dark chocolate chili and a nice Malbec while the family next to you nibbles PopTarts, heats up the $12 freeze-dried dinner from REI, and plays their 20th game of “War.”
What are my go-to car camping favorites?
Sometimes I’ll just do the basics: eggs, bacon, a piece of meat or fish, some grilled asparagus.
More often, I’ll turn to my favorites….
The Hobo Pack
The hobo pack harkens back to those ancient days when hobos, tramps, and vagabonds of all sorts would travel the dusty roads and endless railroads of classic America carrying heavy duty aluminum foil pouches of meat, taters, and vegetables.
The hobo pack is versatile and forgiving. Anything works, and almost anything will end up tasting damn good. Create a pouch with two layers of aluminum foil. Fill the pouch with meat and vegetables. Place pouch on coals.
Pot Roast—beef, onion, carrot, garlic, salt, pepper, a little red wine.
Whatever you do, pair your meats and vegetables well. Fish cooks quickly, so you’ll want to include vegetables that cook quickly, too. Beef chuck takes longer, so you’ll want something heartier, like sweet potatoes.
Buried Winter Squash
My absolute favorite winter squash is the honeynut squash. It looks like a butternut squash, only about 1/3 the size and a deep orange. The taste is phenomenal.
Get a nice bed of coals going. Bury your squash in the coals and hot ash. Cover it on all sides.
When they’re soft and tender all over, pull them out. Brush off most of the soot and slice lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds.
They’re good plain, with a little butter, or even a scoop of chevre (soft goat cheese) and salt.
Heat up a dutch oven over the fire. Add olive oil, a few chopped garlic cloves, one chopped hot pepper, one chopped sweet pepper, and a tablespoon of ground cumin. Sub cayenne and sweet paprika if you don’t have fresh peppers. Cook until fragrant.
Add the harissa along with a can of crushed tomatoes (or the equivalent in fresh tomatoes, if you have access) and two teaspoons of tomato paste.
Reduce until thickened, salting to taste. When it tastes just right, make a few indentations in the sauce and crack an egg in each. I aim for at least 6 or 7 eggs.
Cover and cook until eggs are cooked to your desired doneness. I like the yolks runny. Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt, creme fraiche, sour cream, or labneh.
Pancakes with Camp Preserves
For the pancakes, I’ll either do these almond pancakes or these blueberry pancakes. One time, I even mixed some masa harina (lime-treated corn flour, the same stuff used in traditional tortillas) with an egg and a little coconut milk; turned out great. Any Primal pancake recipe you like will work.
For the camp preserves, just chop up whatever fruit you have. I’ve done mangoes, bananas, pears, and strawberries. I’ve done apples and pineapple with cinnamon. I’ve done blueberries, raspberries, blackberries. Every combination I’ve ever tried has worked. I just heat up a pan over the fire, add a little butter (seriously, not much), and throw in the chopped up fruit. Cook until soft, add a little water, mash, and reduce until you have thick camp preserves. Spoon over the pancakes.
Every time I camp, I make a pot of this chili. I won’t expand on the recipe; you can just read the link. But there are a few ways to streamline the process.
Chop all the peppers and onions and garlic before hand.
Mix all the spices together so you can just keep them in one container and add them in one fell swoop.
Oh, and in the last 10-15 minutes of cooking, drop in a bar of 85% or higher dark chocolate. The one that seems to work the best for me is Valrhona Le Noir 85%. If you can’t find it, any high-cacao content bar will work.
You can also transform the entire character of the dish by adding a tablespoon of cardamom pods with the other spices. That alone makes it almost curry-like. If you go this route, you can also get away with doing lamb instead of beef. Just be sure to strain out the cardamom pods before serving.
Lemon Onion Wings
The day before your trip, blend one large or two medium onions with the juice from 5 lemons and a couple tablespoons of fish sauce in a well-sealed baggy or tupperware container. This is your marinade.
The morning of, place 4-5 pounds of chicken wings in a reliable Ziploc bag and pour the marinade over. You’ll want this to marinate for at least a day, so having this for dinner that night works perfectly.
When you’re ready to cook, place a grill over the campfire. Lay out the wings on paper towels and wipe off most of the marinade. Some bits of lemony onion will remain. That’s fine.
Salt and pepper the wings all over. Place on grill.
Assuming you’ve allowed enough time for the marinade to penetrate, grilling these wings over open flame/hot coals caramelizes the onion-imbued skin. Turn frequently. You want char, but not burning. When you suspect they’re ready, remove the largest wing and cut it open. If it’s done and no pink remains, take the rest off.
Primal Chocolate Cake
Take a Japanese sweet potato—the ones with the purple skin and white flesh. Bury it in some coals and hot ash. If you like the charred flavor and prefer extra caramelization, throw it directly into the coals. If you like a more steamed tuber and wish to avoid charring, wrap it in foil.
Remove from coals after 30 minutes and give it a squeeze. If it’s soft, it’s done. If there are any hard spots, throw it back in for another 5-10 minutes.
Once it’s done, split it down the middle. Insert several squares of good dark chocolate. Sprinkle sea salt. Mash, eat. Primal chocolate cake.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of car camping food, but it’s a solid list of dishes I’ve found to be both doable/realistic and delicious. You’ll notice that the carb counts for many of these dishes are a bit higher than usual. That’s because when I camp, I’m usually very active—hiking, swimming, exploring, playing. You should be, too.
Now I’d love to hear from all the campers out there. What are your favorite Primal foods to cook in the great outdoors?
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.