The art of cooking out there: How to cook the perfect meal in the wild?
There is something magical about preparing food in the heart of the wilderness. The crackling wood in the campfire, the smell of conifers in the air and the nature that surrounds you create a dining experience that can't be compared to even the fanciest restaurant.
Cooking in the wilderness isn't just about the food itself. It is inherently an art form that awakens our natural and forgotten instincts. It's a connection with nature at its rawest.
And since we at ZAJO are big fans of this art ourselves, we've put together a few tips and principles in this article that will make your cooked meal not only nutritious, but also an unforgettable adventure.
Plan your menu precisely
The process of cooking in the wilderness doesn't start out there, it starts at home. Careful planning is invaluable before you ever head out into the wild, taking into account the conditions in which you'll be cooking. Consider the following:
Food as fuel for the body: Cooking in the wilderness naturally involves movement - you need to be moving around, hiking up somewhere, all with a pack on your back, which adds to your overall energy expenditure. So your meals should be planned to be nutritious and provide your body with enough calories to keep functioning. For example, nuts, dehydrated fruits, pasta or rice are excellent sources of energy.
Simplicity: The wilderness is no place for complicated meals. A classic example of simplicity is instant oatmeal - just add hot water and you're ready to eat. Of course, the vast majority of meals require a bit more work and ingredients, but don't overdo it.
Packability: Choose foods and ingredients that are light and portable. Your best friends will be dehydrated and freeze-dried foods, which bind minimally but retain their flavor and nutritional value. For better packability and smaller volume, you can use vacuum bags, for example.
Don't go overboard with seasoning: When it comes to condiments and seasonings, less is more in this case. Sure, your favourite spices or chilli sauce can take your food to a whole new level, but don't overdo it - the longer the hike, the more every gram counts. Not to mention valuable space in your backpack.
What will you need?
If you want to turn your idea of cooking in the great outdoors into reality, you'll need the right equipment.
A portable gas stove: A portable stove is a reliable option and your pass if you're in an area where there are restrictions on starting a fire. Also in our product portfolio, you'll find lightweight, compact and powerful gas stoves that can be set up anywhere in seconds.
Outdoor cookware: Cooking in the wild calls for pots and pans made of lightweight and durable materials such as aluminium or titanium, ideally with a removable handle.
Handy extras: Don't forget the little things that are easy to forget, yet all the more important to remember. We're talking about accessories like cutlery, can openers or a knife.
Fuel for the fire: A fire needs fuel. In the case of an open fire, this is naturally wood, paper and dry grass; for gas stoves, it's the gas cartridges that are attached to the stove. Consider all the circumstances, including location and weather. And be prepared for the alternative that everything doesn't go to plan. So be sure to take a variety of resources for starting a fire.
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Techniques for cooking out there
With the obligatory part out of the way, let's get to the fun part - cooking techniques that are perfect for the wilderness.
Open fire: If allowed, few things beat the opportunity to cook over an open fire. If you can start, maintain, and eventually safely extinguish a fire, you can grill, cook, even bake without a problem. Try foil potatoes with garlic and rosemary, for example, or skewers of marinated chicken and vegetables.
One-pot recipes: The ideal recipes for cooking in the wilderness are those that are characterised by the term "one-pot". These are dishes that don't require a lot of different utensils and space, while they are also usually nutritious, filling, and require minimal cleanup. Very often these various forms of stews or pasta dishes.
Foil packets: Wrap your favourite ingredients in foil and simply throw them on the coals. This method of preparation is excellent for vegetables, fish, and various forms of desserts, for example. Try making a packet with salmon, lemon slices and dill, for example. The fire will take care of the rest.
Meals on the gas stove: Modern gas stoves have enough power to cope with a really wide range of recipes. For example, you can also cook curries with rice, various pasta dishes or risottos. But most importantly - coffee.
Things to be careful of
Cooking in the wilderness is both an experience and a challenge. It is therefore always a good idea to remind yourself of the potential risks and dangers involved in cooking in the wilderness.
Risk of fire: Observe all local regulations regarding fire and camping. It's a good idea to have plenty of water nearby in case you need to quickly extinguish, an efficient campfire “killer” is dirt or sand. It is practical to know the basics of starting a safe and effective fire before you head out into the wilderness to cook. Therefore, the fire should be kept as small as possible; do not use large pieces of wood, but only smaller sticks with which you have better control over the size of the flame. All the wood we burn should then be burnt to ash.
Food safety and impact on nature: Keep your hands, equipment and utensils clean to avoid the risk of disease. Use biodegradable detergents and water from a safe source for cleaning. Washing should be done at least 60 metres away from the water source and you should bring that water from there.
Bears: If you are staying in an area that is typically bear prone, keep this in mind, especially during the night. Hang your bag of food from a tree, ideally at least three metres high.
Leave nature as you found it
Don't forget to clean up really thoroughly after your foodie adventure and try to leave behind nature as you found it, so that generations after us can enjoy it. Take all your rubbish and any food scraps with you, and respect the wildlife and other visitors of nature.
Wilderness cooking is a graceful combination of culinary artistry with the ability to survive in the wilderness. In this way, you are able to connect with nature on a deeper level, and you get to eat too. So plan your menu, get your gear together, and equip yourself for a culinary adventure that will feed not only your body, but your soul as well. See you out there!