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It’s no secret that car camping is our favorite way to travel and explore the outdoors. We love everything about it — setting up camp, chilling around the campfire, sleeping under the stars, and yes, planning and cooking our car camping meals. I have to admit that last summer I got into a bit of a rut, though. I was camping four nights out of the week, without much time to prepare my meals in advance. Often I would rummage through my cabinets just hours before my camping trip, throwing whatever I could find into a box and hoping I would be able to turn it into a meal when I got to my campsite.
You know what saved me on all those car camping adventures this summer? My awesome spice kit! Whether I was whipping up ramen noodles, frying eggs, or throwing some veggie-filled foil packets onto the campfire, my camping spice kit never let me down. In fact, you can rescue just about any otherwise boring car camping meal with a well put together spice kit. Keep it handy all summer so you can take off on unplanned adventures whenever the mood strikes you. You can even keep it in your car next to your first aid kit so you never leave home without it. Here’s what you need to create the best car camping meals ever with an awesome spice kit.
Creating a Homemade Spice Kit for Great Camp Food
Before you begin to gather your ingredients together, you need to find some containers to store your spices and sauces. We have used all kinds of containers for this purpose, but we have the best luck with Nalgene food-grade plastic travel bottles. I like them because the caps screw on tightly and the bottles are guaranteed not to leak. We generally buy one travel kit a year and add it to our collection. By now we have 30+ containers in our spice kit, and we’re always losing lids so we keep stocking up.
Once you’ve got your empty jars and bottles, you just need something to keep them in. Any rugged toiletry bag will work, We use this REI Shower Kit bag, which hangs nicely from a tree limb near our camp kitchen, and keeps all of our spices and condiments close at hand. We’ve had this bag for two years now, and it seems to be wearing well.
What Should You Put in Your Spice Kit?
So now that you have your jars and bottles ready, what should you fill them with? In part, this will depend on your family’s personal tastes and preferences, but we tend to use the same spices over and over to jazz up our car camping food. These are listed in order, from our can’t live without ingredients, down to our “pack if we have room” items.
- Salt – The most obvious ingredient in any spice kit, salt can save many a meal. Beware though, because oversalting can make your camp food totally unpalatable, and many prepackaged foods and sauces are already salty. We keep an ounce of salt in our spice kit for most camping trips.
- Pepper – ½ oz. of pepper is probably all you’ll need to enhance your meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Cheddar Shake – Cheddar Shake is made by Cabot so it’s easy for us to get in Vermont. I know it’s not available everywhere, but if you can get it, it’s worth packing in your kit. It’s basically shelf-stable, powdered cheddar cheese. Great on pasta, soup, eggs, and veggies. We usually pack our cheddar shake in a 2 oz. plastic jar. We seriously love the stuff. I only wish they were paying us to say it.
- Sugar – Sugar isn’t exactly a spice, but it lives in our spice kit because that’s the first thing I grab when I’m boiling water for morning drinks. If we are just using it to sweeten drinks, we pack it in a 2 oz. jar. If we are baking with it, we bag extra and pack it with our food ingredients.
- Granulated garlic – This is a popular seasoning in our family – good on campfire pizza, spaghetti, and soups, and a must in salad dressings and sauces.
- Curry powder – Curry powder is good in certain soups, stir fries, and other Middle Eastern dishes. We like to add it to vegetables, coconut milk, and rice for a quick one-pot meal.
- Cinnamon – Delicious in baked goods, sprinkled on hot cocoa, mixed in with oatmeal. Cinnamon is a must for all your car camping drinks and desserts. You can also use pumpkin pie spice, which will add nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.
- Cumin – You have to have ground cumin for refried beans, or at least I do, and we always have at least one bean-centric meal when we’re camping.
- Thyme – Thyme is my favorite dried herb for camping meals. I use it in most dinners, but I especially love it in soups and on potatoes.
- Oregano – Oregano is yummy on pasta, pizza, rice, and quinoa.
- Fennel – We started carrying fennel when we began making white bean and kale soup. The recipe calls for a fresh fennel bulb, but we use a teaspoon of the spice instead. Chewing on a fennel seed after a meal is also good for your digestion.
As I mentioned earlier, the Nalgene travel bottles have never leaked on us, but I keep bottles in an additional plastic bag just in case.
- Olive Oil – Olive oil is a must for just about every car camping meal. We use it when sauteing veggies, cooking eggs, frying pancakes, popping popcorn, and making salad dressing. I usually buy a small, 8 oz. bottle from the grocery store before heading out.
- Tamari or Soy Sauce – Tamari is a great salty seasoning for rice and grain dishes, vegetables, and meats. A little goes a long way. We pack tamari in a 1 oz. bottle for most weekend camping trips.
- Vinegar – Great for salad dressing and other sauces. Sometimes we pack balsamic, sometimes white wine vinegar, depending on what we’re cooking (and what we have in the cabinet at home). 2 oz. is usually plenty.
- Vanilla – Vanilla is awesome mixed into hot drinks and morning cereals. 1 oz. is more than enough.
A Few Tips for Creating Great Car Camping Meals with Your Spice Kit
Your car camping spice kit will serve you well if you use it wisely. It can save many a meal, but it can just as easily ruin your food if you accidentally use too much vanilla, or add curry powder to your pancakes. Here are a few tips for making the best use of your spice kit.
- Mark every single bottle and jar with the name of the spice in permanent ink. As the camp cook, you may not mistake vanilla for soy sauce, but your kids definitely will!
- Pour into your hand first! As you’re seasoning your camp food, pour each spice into your hand and then sprinkle it over your food. If you go overboard, your meal won’t be ruined.
- Don’t overseason. As food cooks, the flavors intensify, so food that tastes just right in the pot may be too spicy or salty when serving. You can underseason while you’re cooking, and then pass spices around at the table while you’re eating. This is especially helpful if you’re serving food to kids.
Ready to add some YUM to your car camping food? Take twenty minutes to prepare your car camping spice kit, and take it with you whenever you’re sleeping away from home. When it comes to camp food, it’s a total life changer!
For more car camping recipes and meal ideas, check out these posts:
And for organizing your camp kitchen: