The Ultimate Camp Kitchen

Some testers preferred the single burner stove option add it added versatility to their cooking setups.
Article By:
David Allfrey
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Saturday
March 21, 2015

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When you head out for a deluxe car camping trip, there is nothing worse than setting up your stove to cook that gourmet dinner, only to find that you forgot your silverware, or you don't have a scrubber to clean the dirty dishes with. These are the sort of things that every car camper loathes to deal with; we have compiled a checklist for you to make sure that you are prepared for your trip and that you have everything you will ever need, every single time you get outside.

Related Articles: The Best Camping Food and The Best Camping Cookware Review

Putting together the ultimate camp kitchen set that is ready to grab and go is really not very time-consuming and it doesn't have to be expensive. Most of the items that you will want to include can be bought at the thrift store. There is no need to drop $10 on a titanium fork at the fancy camping store just to keep it in your car camping bin; keep that in mind as we go through this list.

The goal of this list is to create a fully prepared and organized bin that has all of the items you could possibly need for your camp kitchen. You can leave it all together, in the bin, and just grab it on the way out the door. To get started, we recommend buying a nice bin that will hold all of your camp kitchen items; you can fill up this bin with all the things that you will need to complete your kitchen and leave everything in it (don't forget to wash dirty items when you get home). This helps so that you are never without that much needed little gadget (like your cheese grater, can opener, or corkscrew). Let's get started!

Cooking up the local mushrooms!
Cooking up the local mushrooms!


Storage

  • A Durable Bin - Having something like the Rubbermaid 20 gallon tote is great. We recommend buying a higher quality, durable bin that won't break and will last longer. The 14 gallon tote is also a good option, but it can be really nice to find a bin that will fit your camp stove (we slide ours into the 20 gallon bin at a diagonal and pack the other items around it, more on this to come).

Stove

  • A Two-Burner Camp Stove - The first item that is a must-have in the car camping world is a quality two-burner camp stove. Having a high-quality burner to cook on is more than a luxury, it is mandatory! The Editors' Choice Award Winning Camp Chef Everest will allow for real cooking, with real, full sized pots and pans, over a proper amount of heat from the burner. If you're in need of a new camp stove, check out the Best Camping Stove review to find your new stove!

Brian breaking out the 14" skillet for yet another group feast.
Brian breaking out the 14" skillet for yet another group feast.

Propane Tank

  • A Propane Tank and Tree - having a small, refillable propane tank is definitely the way to go when it comes to the camp kitchen. A small Worthington 1-Gallon Propane Tank is a favorite (way better than many green bottles). If you combine this with a Propane Distribution Tree, you can connect multiple stoves and have one zone for cooking and one zone for boiling water.

This stove struck the best balance of performance and affordability  thus selected as our winner of the Best Buy award.
This stove struck the best balance of performance and affordability, thus selected as our winner of the Best Buy award.
The wind screens in action in Joshua Tree. We Attached our big propane tank to the Coleman PerfectFlow and noticed it increased its boiling speed by 10-20%.
The wind screens in action in Joshua Tree. We Attached our big propane tank to the Coleman PerfectFlow and noticed it increased its boiling speed by 10-20%.

Cookware

  • Pots and Pans - Having a good pot and pan set is important for cooking a quality meal; however, you don't have to break the bank to get it. In fact, you could easily hit the thrift store and buy a medium pot and a fry pan and be good to go. If you want something that is budget-friendly, is a little lighter, and packs away a little neater, you could buy a nice set of hard anodized pots, like the Texsport Anodized Cookset, $32. The Alpine 2 pot set or Solo 3 pot set are also good options. REI and other camp stores will have plenty of lightweight or midweight options; another favorite is cooking with cast iron. Though the pan initially requires some attention in regards to seasoning, this investment will literally last you a lifetime (as long as you take care of it). The Lodge Cast Iron Skillet 10 in or Lodge Cast Iron Skillet 12 in, as well as the Lodge Dutch Oven - 8 quart are great cast iron cookware; if you need some ideas to get started with cast iron cooking, consider reading 101 Things to Do with a Dutch Oven or refer to The Best Camping Food for more tips.

Related Review: The Best Camping Cookware

A 12" skillet takes up most of the cook space on this stove. We recommend pans 10" and smaller.
A 12" skillet takes up most of the cook space on this stove. We recommend pans 10" and smaller.
  • Cups, Plates, Bowls and Utensils - You should make sure you always have the previously mentioned items in your camp kitchen bin. You'll need a set of cups; some sort of handled coffee cup is probably best. A set of plates and bowls for four is always handy; even if you are typically just two people, having an extra plate or two won't hurt and then you'll always be ready to entertain a guest. Making sure to have a set of utensils (forks, spoons and knives), plus a few extras is always helpful; again, you don't have to rush out and buy a $10 Snow Peak Titanium Spork, as a set of silverware from the thrift store should do fine. But, if you really want to have that ultralight spork for backpacking, that is totally understandable, but definitely not necessary for the car camping bin.

If you don't have any of the camp cookware items (cups, plates and bowls), there is a lot of merit in buying a complete set like the Outdoors Bugaboo Camper Cookware Set. This set is nice because it comes with all the needed items for four people, including pots, a fry pan that doubles as a lid, cups, plates, and bowls and it all packs neatly into its own stuff sack. This is a great starter kit that will help keep things organized (a real plus). A few other additions that would make car camping more luxurious include the Crossover Kitchen Set or the Destination Kitchen Set; both of these sets include a variety of camp cooking tools that are sure to satisfy the gourmet camper. If you're into light and fast, consider the Pack Kitchen 8; the 8 kit provides the barest essentials for outdoor cooking and includes waterproof salt and pepper shaker, condiment containers, serving utensils, and a camp towel and scrubbing pad.

Dishes

  • Bowls - An awesome option is to use something like the Delta Bowl with Lid. This bowl can double as a Tupperware which will provide a great place to keep the leftovers! Another option would be to stock your camping kit with actual Tupperware instead of normal bowls (or in addition to if weight is not an issue); either way, you will likely find that it is nice to have a place to store a little extra food that you don't want to throw out. Leftovers are also great to take with you on your adventure the next day.
  • Cups - Having at least two insulated cups for warm drinks (think coffee, tea, or hot chocolate) is really brilliant. The GSI kit mentioned above comes with plastic cups (that have insulated cozies on them); while this is nice, a proper insulated hot drink mug might be a better option to keep your coffee warm on a cold morning.


Necessities

  • Pot Grabber or Oven Mitt - Don't forget to bring a pot grabber that works with your pots and pans, or at least have an oven mitt in the bin - you don't want to burn your paws.
  • A Tea Kettle - Have a separate water kettle for boiling water, instead of planning to use your pot. Often times we find that pots can be left overnight without being cleaned and may not get rinsed until the morning. This can pose a huge problem if you are a 'first-thing-in-the-morning' coffee drinker; some can't be bothered to wash dishes to boil water before having their morning coffee. If you own an MSR Reactor or a Jetboil Flash, these are great to keep in the car camping kit and use strictly for boiling water with all those half-empty fuel cells that you used on your last backpacking trip (and can't trust to take into the woods again).

Wendy Pollock boiling with the MSR Reactor.
Wendy Pollock boiling with the MSR Reactor.
  • Cookware and Camp Goods - Having all the possible cookware items that you may want is a huge luxury that we can't recommend enough. If you don't have any extra at home for your camp kitchen kit and your budget is low, you can take items directly from your kitchen; or, it shouldn't cost more than a few dollars to find each of these things and will definitely make life deluxe when out in the wilderness!
  • Spatula
  • Serving Spoon
  • Cheese Grater - use a flat Cheese Grater; it takes up less space than the normal box grater; if space isn't an issue, go for the cheapest that you can find.
  • Strainer - There is nothing worse than dumping your pasta all over the ground when you are starving. A Collapsible Strainer will fit nicely into your bin and will save you some major headaches.
  • Collapsible Large Bowl - Similar to the collapsible strainer, having an awesome Collapsible Serving Bowl is a great little addition for gourmet camp cooking. You can use this handy bowl to serve a salad, mix up brownies, or mix anything that you normally would in a mixing bowl.
  • Chef Knife with Sheath - The Tomodachi 7" Santoku Knife comes with a super convenient sheath to protect it when tossed in your bin. These are surprisingly high quality knives despite the cheap price tag. You can find this knife in several other sizes and styles.
  • Corkscrew + Bottle Opener
  • Can Opener
  • Dish Soap and Dish Scrubber - We recommend Campsuds, which is a fully biodegradable soap that you can use on dishes or your body.
  • Cutting Board - A simple thin, plastic cutting board is a great option, as it's durable and easy to clean.

More food prep with the Griptillian. The large and high quality blade of the Griptillian rivals many fine kitchen tools.
More food prep with the Griptillian. The large and high quality blade of the Griptillian rivals many fine kitchen tools.
  • Trash Bags - having a few trash bags or grocery bags is a good idea; don't get caught without a place to put your garbage, and of course, make sure it ends up in the trash.
  • Paper Towels - have a roll of paper towels (and maybe toilet paper) in your bin for clean-up.
  • Table cloth - Obviously this is not necessary, but it sure can be nice to have a homey tablecloth to cover that dirty, carved up picnic table!
  • Tin Foil - Great for campfire cooking or storing leftover food.
  • A Lighter or Matches - Don't forget to throw a few lighters or matches into your kit; maybe add an extra just in case one walks away.
  • A Coffee Maker - Now this is a whole article on its own! The Top Pick Aerobie AeroPress brews tasty coffee, is clean and easy, and is small enough not to be a hassle. The AeroPress is more durable than a regular coffee cone, which can get crushed easily. I mean, what other coffee maker has a world championship!? Check out the best in class review for The Best Camping Coffee Makers.

Aeropress
Aeropress
  • Water Jug or Bladder - Having a sizable water jug or MSR DromLite Bags is a must have item. The small pinhole spout is a great way to use very little water to wash your hands or rinse dishes.

The MSR Dromedary is available in ten  six  four  and two liter versions.
The MSR Dromedary is available in ten, six, four, and two liter versions.
  • Spice Kit - Having a well thought out spice kit can help you cook the same amazing meal three times in a row and convince people that it is a different meal every time! If you haven't heard of Penzeys Spices, be sure check them out - they will change your life when cooking at home and when camping. There are several different options for storing the spices; it is helpful to buy several small plastic bottles (in the 2-4 oz range) and fill them up with some basics, this will help you always cook a tasty, new meal.
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Cumin
  • Curry Powder
  • Red Pepper
  • Italian Spices
  • Burrito or Taco Spices
  • Cooking Oil - It is a great idea to keep a medium or small sized bottle of cooking oil in your food bin, as it can be something that is hard to remember when getting your food items together.
  • Lantern - Having a lantern to light up your cook area is a huge bonus. We no longer recommend propane lantern because LED lanterns are just so affordable, easy to use and high performing. The Black Diamond Apollo is a great item to have; it is much smaller, yet still bright and is a worthy competitor, winning our Editors' Choice Award.

Black Diamond Apollo
Black Diamond Apollo

Extra bonus Items for the real deal luxury camping experience!


Having all of the small odds and ends on the list, like your spices or silverware, stored into a small closable bin (that can fit within your bigger camp bin) will be really helpful. The more organized that you can make the bin, the better; this will help you keep track of all of your different items.

There are a few other items that are great to add to your camp kitchen bin that aren't directly kitchen related. This is a great place to keep those things you want to have when out camping, as they can be easy to misplace.
  • Medical Kit - A small med kit with a few basic odds and ends can be very beneficial.
  • Thermos - A 1L Thermos is great for making tea or hot drinks for 1-2 people. It's an incredible insulator that works well when making hot or cold drinks (or keeping your winter butternut squash soup warm).
  • Camp Chairs - Be sure to have at least one or two camp chairs to really live it up. Check out the Best Camping Chair article to find your perfect camp chair.

Coleman Oversize Quad Chair with Cooler
Coleman Oversize Quad Chair with Cooler
  • Hatchet or Saw - This is a great thing to throw into the bin so that you are ready to chop up wood that you have either brought, collected, or bought. Plus, isn't half the fun of camping starting the campfire?!

Chopping wood for the campfire - essential for dutch oven cooking or for staying warm while camping during colder months.
Chopping wood for the campfire - essential for dutch oven cooking or for staying warm while camping during colder months.
  • Cooler - Most likely this item isn't going to fit into your Ultimate Camp Kitchen Bin, but it is ultra handy to have a nice cooler. To compare all of the models that were tested, refer to the Best Cooler and Ice Chest Review to compare the top products on the market. Depending on your budget, you can spend anywhere from $50 for something like our Best Buy winner Coleman Xtreme 5-Day 70qt cooler or as much as $350 for the incredible Editors' Choice Yeti Tundra 65. While expensive, these high-end coolers can keep things frozen (as in, frozen solid) and cold for multiple days, even in a hot car. If you still have questions, read How to Choose a Cooler.

Half a load in the Coleman Xtreme.  This is the perfect size for long weekends and big families.  A solo or coupled traveler will not need quite so much space.
Half a load in the Coleman Xtreme. This is the perfect size for long weekends and big families. A solo or coupled traveler will not need quite so much space.

Dutch Oven Pizza
Dutch Oven Pizza
  • Multi-Tool - Having a multi-tool in your kit could save you some hassle if you need to fix something. You don't have to drop $100 to get a good tool; in fact, less than $30 will get you a Leather Wingman, which wins our Best Buy Award. If that is too much money, check your local Home Depot, you can often find a cheap tool for less than $10.
  • Pocket Knife - You may find a pocket knife useful on more than one occasion. To compare all of the pocket knives that we tested, check out the Best Pocket Knife review.
  • Playing Cards - Why not have these in there, right? You never know when you are going to need a hot game of poker or a lonely game of Solitaire.
  • Marshmallow Skewers - You want to be fully prepared right? At least throw a coat hanger into the bin if not a Telescoping Marshmallow Fork.

This wraps up the items for the Ultimate Camp Kitchen Bin. So, rummage through the kitchen, buy a good bin, and get that permanent, well-organized set of cooking items together. The next time you decided to head out on a last minute camping trip, you won't have spend over an hour preparing the kitchen items and you will be psyched that you put this kit together.


More Ideas


If you'd like more ideas as to what kind of food to bring with you, check out the Best Camping Food. If you have weight restrictions, read the Best Backpacking Food.

Find your Dream Backpacking Gear List or perfect your Backpacking Checklist to get prepared for your big trip!

Finally, you'll want to browse the OutdoorGearLab Checklists and How To Guides to prepare for anything!

David Allfrey
About the Author
David Allfrey grew up in California. He found the mountains with his parents as young kid through regular camping trips and rock climbing with his father. When he went to college at the University of California at Santa Cruz, he rediscovered rock climbing and became obsessed. Over the last nine years, he has traveled around the globe climbing, but always returns to his original stomping grounds in Yosemite Valley. David is an accomplished big wall climber, with ascents of nearly thirty different routes on El Capitan and over 40 trips up the big stone. He has set many speed records including climbing seven different routes on El Cap in seven days and also an enchainment of the three largest big walls in Yosemite Valley. David currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where he spends most of his time free climbing, when he isn't writing, of course.

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