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No-cook camping

Many tasty and nutritious foods require no cooking at all. Crackers, canned or packaged meats, cheeses, spreads, crusty breads and fresh vegetables provide all that's required.
Many tasty and nutritious foods require no cooking at all. Crackers, canned or packaged meats, cheeses, spreads, crusty breads and fresh vegetables provide all that's required.
Photo by Janda Raker

Do you hate to cook but love to camp? So your brother takes his huge barbecue grill on camping trips and fixes steaks and veggies to suit the crowd. And your parents always made pots of stew and chili over the open campfire. And you’d rather go for a hike, read a book, or play cards than cook. Not better, not worse, just different. And if this seems to present a problem, that you have to choose between camping with cooking and not camping, there are solutions.

Dining at Vedauwoo, a national forest camp in southeastern Wyoming, enjoying a no-cook meal.
Dining at Vedauwoo, a national forest camp in southeastern Wyoming, enjoying a no-cook meal.
Photo: Janda Raker

Go camping anyway. If you camp within a quick, economical drive to a restaurant or fast-food place, you can go there to eat or pick up take-out and eat back at your campsite. Or you can choose foods that don’t require cooking or other preparation. Or, depending on your definition of “no-cooking,” you can prepare some of the popular freeze-dried camping meals or heat up some of the pre-prepared meals from supermarket shelves. The variety is endless, and the quality is amazing.

Eating out has continued in popularity, even through the recent recession, with the average American now eating out almost 5 times per week, including restaurants and fast foods. So accessing that food may be an easy choice.

Another possibility is what some call “cracker dinners,” meals that don’t require any cooking. They might include canned or packaged meats, cheeses, and spreads, which can be eaten on crackers, chips, or fresh vegetables. Many of the meats and cheeses don’t require refrigeration, a positive for those who tent, car campers, boaters, and others who don’t carry ice chests. Possibilities include tuna, pepperoni, vienna sausages, kippered herring, deviled ham, smoked oysters, sardines, and salami. Spreads like peanut butter, almond butter, and cheese spreads are all tasty and nutritious.

Backpackers who choose not to carry a stove will find all of those handy, though cans and the liquids they contain do add weight to a pack. If you’re backpacking using public transportation like trains, buses, and ferries, especially in Europe and South America, you’ll find many stops in small communities with markets. There you’ll be able to replenish supplies frequently, so not much food will need to be carried. Take along a tiny kit of silverware and a “GI can opener,” providing all that’s needed if you’re not cooking. (See attached photos. To purchase the less-than-one-ounce can opener, click REI).

If you’re RVing and have a microwave, Hormel’s Compleats, their Dinty Moore brand, and other manufacturers have created tasty meals, individual portions so each person can have his or her choice. These are available on supermarket shelves and don’t require any refrigeration or preparation other than heating. Though they are a bit bulky to store and the packaging must be disposed of, you can eat straight from the container, with no dishes to wash. Varieties include spaghetti and meatballs, beef stroganoff, chicken and noodles, beef stew and many other favorites.

Backpackers have long enjoyed freeze-dried meals, but many other campers are discovering the delight of the tasty and easy-to-prepare selections. The light weight of the meals and endless variety are priceless. From lasagna to Katmandu curry, from salmon to enchiladas, from barbecue to turkey tetrazzini, from Cajun to oriental dishes, the selections are endless. Popular brands are Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry, Natural High, AlpineAire Foods, and Mary Jane’s Farm. Several offerings are organic and/or vegetarian. And several scrumptious desserts are available. There’s no pan to wash, and if you choose individual servings, you can eat from the bag as well, saving dishwashing.

Whether you use your old backpacker stove, a JetBoil or other almost-instant method of heating water, a Coleman-type stove, or the microwave or stovetop in your RV, just boil water, add it to the bag, and you’ll be eating these tasty selections in 10 minutes or less. And, yes, you could heat the water over a campfire, but perhaps that defeats the purpose. Doesn’t that really seem like cooking? Most dinners are sold in packages for two diners, with prices ranging from about $6 to $14 for dinner for two. They can be purchased at REI, Gander Mountain, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shop and many other stores which sell camping gear, as well as online at their websites. With the light weight of the meals, shipping costs are low, and you can even have your food shipped to where you’ll be traveling next. Add fresh carrots and crusty bread, and you have a meal for royalty.

So you can go camping and have a good meal without cooking. Which type of meal depends on the amount of effort you want to put in. But you definitely don’t have to cook to enjoy camping.