Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Camp Kitchens

When we're camping we usually like to do a lot of our cooking outdoors, even when we camp in an RV and have brought an indoor kitchen with us. Some RVs now come with an optional outdoor kitchen. A lot of folks cook over the campfire, set up a BBQ, or use a camp stove outside instead of taking advantage of the home-like galleys in their RVs that compare favorably to their home kitchens. Cooking outside is especially advantageous in hot weather when it is good to minimize heating up the inside of your RV.  It is also nice to take things with strong odors outside so they don't pollute the interior.  The residual odors of yesterday's fish can be downright stomach turning after a day or two in a hot RV.   I picked up a big Camp Chef stove I like to use. It has much larger burners than a typical Coleman camp stove and grill/griddle options that provide a near professional method for cooking hot cakes or hamburgers. It also has a "BBQ Box" that turns it into an ideal cooker for burgers etc along with the pair of grill/griddles that are great for pancakes and steaks.. Cooking outside helps keep the RV cooler and avoids the accumulation of odors in the furnishings. There is an increasing trend toward "outdoor" kitchens in new RVs. Although manufacturers are claiming these are a new innovation, in reality they are an adaptation and re-creation of the kind of kitchen used by the teardrop trailers of yore. Some RVs now offer optional outdoor kitchens ranging from a BBQ or a sink and fridge that slide out from a curb-side storage compartment to full-wall units that include microwave ovens, refrigerators, sinks, counters, cabinets and even TVs. Some implementations are built in to the RV wall and you gain access by opening large doors that then serve as wind breaks. Some are on the curb side and others are on the rear (even more reminiscent of teardrop trailers). Some slide out perpendicular to the RV wall. A common feature is a swing-out or slide out BBQ tucked into a "basement" compartment. With many of these variations, you have everything you need to prepare and serve a meal and clean up in one convenient outdoor location, without having to constantly run in and out of your RV or overheat the interior.

RV galleys usually provide most of the conveniences of your home kitchen, often on a reduced scale. You will want to organize your RV kitchen to make it as easy and convenient to use as possible. Keep frequently used items like utensils and spices within easy reach. Stock your RV kitchen with the items you find most useful and enjoy using. Not everyone needs the same pots and pans and your needs may vary from outing to outing. Basic items like a frying pan and various sizes of pots are pretty much standard equipment for any camp kitchen. If you plan to do any baking, make sure you have the appropriate baking pans on board. A small, hand-held electric mixer will usually suffice for most camp recipes and takes up little room. If you're tent camping, a hand-cranked mixer will do the trick.  For RVs equipped with a built-in food processor base, acquiring the various attachments can add a lot of convenience. The basic unit usually includes a blender. Other typical options include a mixer, a can opener, an ice crusher, a juicer, and a knife sharpener. When using your RV kitchen be sure to provide plenty of ventilation. There should be a vent above the range but opening some windows and one or more roof vents for improved air flow will prevent a build-up of both stove exhausts and cooking fumes and odors. The limited space in the galleys of most RVs will restrict the number of people who can reasonably help in preparing meals, another reason outside cooking is popular.

Outdoor kitchens are by no means limited to fancy RVs. Pretty much by definition, if you are tent camping, your "kitchen" will be outdoors. Traditionally a tent camper's "kitchen" consists of a camp stove and an ice chest. A plastic dishpan or portable sink probably rounds out the features. That all works pretty well if you are in a developed campground with picnic tables where you can set up your "kitchen". But what if you are boondocking and there are no picnic tables? Well, of course you can bring your own folding table and you probably will want to for dining convenience. There are also a number of folding "camp kitchen" units available to help organize your outdoor kitchen. They are usually made of aluminum and collapse into a compact package 6" square or less. When opened up they provide a stand for your cooler, camp stove, cooking utensils, and sometimes even a little bit of counter space and maybe room for a dishpan or sink. Units like these are too large and too heavy for back packing, but for base camps and car camping, they provide a lot of convenience. They also make a good alternative for RVs that don't have outdoor kitchen facilities so you don't have to further heat up the inside of your RV cooking inside on hot days.  The run the gambit from simple stands for your camp stove to more complete units like the deluxe Camp Kitchen at Cabelas.

You might build your own chuck box, patterned after old time chuck wagons.  You can design it to fit in whatever available space you may have -- in your trailer, pickup bed, the back of an SUV or station wagon, or even to fit in the trunk of your car.  Here is a sample build it yourself chuck box  you might want to check out for some ideas.  For more information, see my post on Chuck Boxes.  Remember you'll have to load it into your vehicle and carry it to your camp site so don't make it too big!  If you include a sink, use a separate water jug to keep down the weight of the box.  Of course, if your chuck box is built in to your trailer, you don't have to worry as much about weight and can focus on convenience -- both for setting it up and using it.

Of course, you can always resort to more primitive methods, and that can be kind of fun. Re-discovering the techniques used by our ancestors can be interesting and educational. How did the American pioneers prepare their meals during long wagon-train trips across the plains? How did trappers and "mountain men" live for months and even years between trips to town? How do they make do during a "walkabout" in the Australian outback? How did the Aztecs, Incas, and American Indians handle routine household tasks without the modern conveniences we enjoy today? A little research on the Internet can answer many of these questions and give you some ideas for some interesting adventures. Learn how to cook meat and even bread on a stick over an open campfire. Try some "ash cakes". Swap your traditional Cheerios, cornflakes, or Fruit Loops for some old-fashioned corn meal mush. What facilities made up the "camp kitchen" of a wagon train or a cattle drive? Count on finding a lot of cast-iron cookware and perhaps a tripod among their preparations. Also count on finding easy, basic meals that can be quickly prepared with simple ingredients and limited resources. Like the cattle drive cook in the movie "Cityslickers" said about his grub: "It's hot, brown, and plenty of it!" Rustic camp furniture may not be as light weight and comfortable as today's camp chairs, but they were functional and, you might need to know about them if you find yourself in a survival situation. Need something to sit on? You can make a temporary camp stool from a couple of pieces of flat wood. Take one just a little shorter than from your knee to the ground. Stand it on end and balance another one, about a foot to a foot and a half long centered on top of it. With a little practice you can sit on this "one legged stool" quite comfortably. And even though you can't recline like you do in your favorite camp chair, it sure beats sitting the dirt or mud and is easier on your back and knees than squatting by your campfire to do your cooking.

Regardless of the type of camp kitchen you use, you want to make it convenient. Keep extra fuel handy, but safe from heat. Keep your pots and pans and utensils close to where you'll use them and well organized. Keep spices and flavorings within easy reach. Keep your food preparation area clean and try to clean and put away items as you use them instead of piling them up to wash after dinner. Doing them as you go will make it a lot easier to find items if you need to reuse them and will significantly reduce clean-up time after dinner. Cleaning as you go also avoids stuff "baking on" to implements. For a simple example, consider fried eggs. If you wash your plate while the residue is still wet, it is easy to clean. If you wait until it has dried, it will take a LOT of scrubbing and/or soaking to remove it. Residue in pots and pans can be even worse. Simply filling a pot with water after the food has been removed but while it is still hot will go a long way toward making it easier to clean when the time comes.

Portable camp kitchens can make meal preparation and doing dishes a lot easier in camp. These are collapsible aluminum frameworks that hold your camp stove and usually have a place to hang cooking utensils. The larger and fanciers ones will also have a shelf for a cooler and perhaps even a plastic sink and some counter space. Some have little wire-rack shelves to hold spices and/or cleaning supplies. A camp kitchen frees your picnic table for eating and avoids getting it scorched by hot stoves or greasy from cooking spills. Click here for an example of a basic Coleman Camp Kitchen.  There are links on the page so some of alternate versions too.  While portable camp kitchens are mainly designed for tent campers, RVers could use them as outdoor kitchens too.

If you are a tent camper, keep your kitchen stuff organized in plastic tubs so it will be easy to use when you need. it. We got so used to having everything "including the kitchen sink" in our RV that I found myself quite unprepared when I took my boys on a dirt bike outing using just our enclosed motorcycle trailer. The next time out, I had stocked a couple of plastic bins with basic camp cooking gear. Not only did they make the occasional trailer-only outing easier, I used them on a number of tent trips with the Boy Scouts. I included things like plastic utensils, plastic plates, bowls, and cups, cooking and serving spoons, dish soap, dish clothes, dish towels, paper towels, napkins, can opener, kitchen knives, some basic pots and pans, and some common spices like salt and pepper. For added luxury I tossed in some envelopes of hot chocolate. If you expect any kind of bad weather during your outing, or if you just want to be prepared in case bad weather comes, set up your camp kitchen to protect you and your food if things do "go south". If you need to cook in the rain, you'll need a tarp high enough to allow smoke and fumes from your fire or stove to escape and not be trapped where they will choke you and burn your eyes. A wind break might be in order too. DO NOT plan to cook in your tent! Cooking in your tent may cause a fire, could suffocate you and other occupants, and could infuse the fabric with odors that will make it nearly uninhabitable as they age. I suggest using separate tarps for your kitchen because they will get coated with cooking residue making them unsuitable for other uses.

Camp cookware. There are many options for camp cookware. If your budget is limited you can get by with bringing along some of your regular kitchen pots and pans. Just be careful about putting lightweight aluminum pans in the fire or overheating them on the stove. I've seen aluminum cookware melted down into puddles in campfires. If you are in an RV or are primarily car camping where weight is not a major consideration, cast iron cookware is a traditional camp standard. It is durable and generally provides even heat. You aren't likely to damage it in even the hottest campfire. Cooking with cast iron takes some practice and remember you need to "season" it before you first use it or after it has been scrubbed. To season cast iron cookware, coat the cooking surface with oil (shortening, butter, lard, bacon grease) and heat it until the oil burns away. This will leave a "patina" on the surface that is necessary for proper cooking. There are many camp "mess kits" on the market. They are usually made of aluminum so be careful not to melt them. Good camp cook sets are made to "telescope" or "nest" inside each other to conserve space. Often the lid for the big pot doubles as a fry pan. Many camp cook sets include plastic plates, cups, and flatware, kind of an all in one meal time solution. These are a good choice when space and weight is a major factor. A good, old-fashioned coffee pot is a good way to heat water for beverages and other uses. I use an the old "speckle-ware" pot. Be sure you have heavy leather gloves or a good hot pad to handle it, 'cause the handle WILL get very hot! Thrift stores and garage sales are good places to look for inexpensive items to build or supplement your camp cookware so you don't have to risk losing or damaging your pots and pans from home.

Survival cookware. If you get lost or your OHV breaks down far from camp you may find yourself in survival mode and without any normal cookware. This is definitely an opportunity to get creative. You can cook meats and breads (assuming you have a way to obtain the ingredients) on a stick or on a flat rock. You may be able to heat water in a clay pot -- form clay or mud into a bowl shape, fill it with water, and drop in hot rocks from your fire until the water reaches the temperature you desire. If you have access to large leaves you may be able to use them to wrap meat or fish, and vegetables together to make a tasty stew. The best place to cook one of these packages is in the coals. If you try to cook it over open flames, you will probably dry out and burn the leaves and set the whole thing on fire long before the food inside gets cooked. See what resources you have available. In a survival situation you might remove the headlight "bucket" from your OHV and use it for a cooking pot. In survival mode you may have to forage for food. Learn what plants and animals inhabit the areas where you'll be going before you get there and be on the watch during normal activities for edible plants and animal signs so you'll be prepared if you find yourself in survival mode. Learn how to make simple traps from natural materials.

Outdoor cooking in bad weather presents some special challenges. Tempting as it might be, cooking in your tent or under your RV awning or dining fly is NOT a good idea. You may have to hold an umbrella in one hand and cook with the other during rain -- or get a fellow camper to hold the umbrella for you. Sometimes in developed campgrounds there will be a canopy or pavilion you can use for protection. Rain or wind may make it difficult to keep your fire going at the right level long enough to prepare your meal. I've seen the time when it was so windy my gas BBQ would barely warm meat instead of cooking it! Plan ahead and try to schedule your cooking between squalls and keep plenty of dry firewood handy to keep your fire going. Wind can make things very difficult. Even gas-fired BBQs and camp stoves will need wind guards to remain effective and efficient. If you don't have wind guards to fit your stove, you may have to improvise using tarps and camp chairs to block the wind. Or have several people stand close together on the windward side to provide some shelter. I have seen creative campers stretch multiple tarps high over an entire campsite to protect a whole group of people from the rain. There was room for cooking on camp stoves and eating on picnic tables.  They kept the cooking near one edge and had the tarp high enough that it didn't present a fire or smoke problem. With the tarp high enough in the middle and an adequate vent opening they were even able to safely maintain a modest fire without smoking everyone out. Fortunately there was enough breeze to carry the smoke away. Often it rises up and gets caught under any roof and curls back down to annoy campers. If you MUST cook under any kind of awning or tarp, make sure it is high enough over the fire or stove so it isn't scorched or melted by the heat. Put your stove or BBQ near the edge of the awning, with the wind at your back (while facing out from under the awning) while you're cooking so smoke, fumes, and odors won't accumulate under the awning. Your shelter won't last long if it catches fire and then you'll be much worse off than when you started.

Have fun cooking out!

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