Top tips for camp cooking from executive chef

Firing up the barbecue is as good as sounding any bell or alarm. Once the sizzle of snags or aroma of grilling vegies hits the air, everyone will miraculously start appearing back at the campsite. After a day hitting the waves at the beach, riding the bikes around the caravan park or exploring bush trails, your family is sure to have worked up an appetite.

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Camper van holidays make cooking a breeze – but these tips apply to tent camping too. Credit: Shutterstock

Taking care of food when camping or road-tripping is one of the most important parts of the trip. A camper with a loaded plate is a happy camper. Thanks to kitted-out caravan park facilities and high-tech caravan cookers, camp cooking on the road is as easy as homemade pie. Forget two-minute noodles or baked beans. There’s no reason your camp kitchen can’t pump out Michelin-worthy meals in no time at all. Shirk the stress and get straight back to your riverside views, Uno game or paddle-boarding.

Jayco, Australia’s favourite caravan and RV manufacturer, brought us some camp cooking tips hot off the barbie. As part of their new YouTube video series, Jayco featured New Zealand-born Dan Hawkins, who is executive chef of the Prince Hotel and a frequent camper. In the first episode, Dan cooks a scrumptious dinner in the external kitchen of an off-road hybrid Jayco Crosstrak, parked by the Goulbourn River. Read on for Dan’s camp cooking tips and a special recipe.

Dan Hawkins is just as comfortable in an RV as in Prince Hotel kitchens. Credit: Nicole Cleary

Camp Cooking Tips with chef Dan Hawkins

  1. Stock up on pantry staples – make sure your pantry (or plastic crate, as the case may be) includes your favourite spices, herbs and oils that you use frequently at home. According to Dan Hawkins, there are three key ingredients you must keep in the pantry of your camper: olive oil, vinegar and mustard. “If you’ve got those three things, you can create flavour magic,” says Dan. “You can marinate meats, you can make dressings, you can enhance sauces.” Outside these three, Dan recommends lots of herbs and spices to elevate the flavour of any dish. We say remember your salt, pepper and tomato sauce!
  2. Prep and plan like mad – sit down before you leave and map out meal by meal. This will make grocery shopping a lot easier and guarantee you have just the right amount of food. It will also help make meal times quicker. Dan pre-packages spice combos which he keeps in small containers, ready to chuck in to season his meat or grains. 
  3. Keep things simple – Dan is a big fan of the one-pot wonder. Reduce the clean-up by cooking simple meals in one or two dishes. 
  4. Go traditional – rustic camp staples are favourites for a reason. You can’t beat damper on the fire. Kids can get in on mixing and kneading the dough.
  5. Don’t forgo fresh ingredients – Even if you are heading off the beaten track, there’s no law confining you to canned corn and long-life milk. Fresh fruit and veg taste all the sweeter on the road. For items that hold well in the pantry, Dan recommends potatoes, onion and garlic.
  6. Keep an eye on what is seasonal – the central philosophy in Dan Hawkins’ own kitchen is to let menus be governed by produce that is fresh and available. This is also a good budgeting tip for families.
  7. Try local produce – A crate of mangoes from the side of the road? Delish! Stop in at farm gates or to chat with locals about what is grown in the region.
  8. Get creative – camp cooking sometimes involves cutting corners or being flexible. Reinvent your favourite at-home recipes by substituting whatever ingredients you have with you.
  9. Don’t forget the utensils – it takes practice and a few camping trips to fine tune your list of must-have kitchen utensils. I am always grateful to have cling wrap, foil and extra containers for food storage. Chopping boards, a good knife and tea towels are another must-have. I’m also a fan of my non-stick barbecue sheet, which you unroll on any cooktop for an easy clean-up. I have also figured out that I can forget a mug – I’m not a tea or a coffee drinker, so I stick to my water bottle.

Special Camp Recipe from Dan Hawkins

Read on for Dan Hawkins’ Latin Spiced BBQ Steak. Perfect for the camp barbie, most of the three easy steps can be prepared at home.

Start salivating – this is one scrumptious and stress-free steak! Credit: Jana Longhurst

LATIN SPICE RUB

This versatile product can be used in many different ways. Use it as a dry marinade for meat and poultry before grilling, as a spice on the table, or even use it to season roasted nuts as a snack. Make it at home before you leave and keep in an airtight container for up to 3 months. 

Ingredients

100 g Smoked Paprika

50 g Garlic Powder

50 g Fennel Powder

50 g Cumin Powder

50 g Chili Powder

25 g Cayenne Pepper

25 g Dried Rosemary 

50 g Castor Sugar

50 g Fine Salt

Method

  1. In a dry bowl add all the ingredients and mix well to combine.
  2. Pack down in an airtight container. The spice will keep for 3 months.

BARBECUING STEAK

A timeless debate of how to cook a steak on the BBQ. Turn it once? Turn it as much as you like? Here is my technique for the perfectly cooked steak every time.

  1. Lightly oil and season the steak with the spice rub and place onto very hot grill bars. 
  2. Allow to cook ¼ of the way to your desired temperature.
  3. Turn the steak onto the raw side and allow to cook for the same degree.
  4. Turn the steak again, back on to the first side. This time, rotate 90 degrees and cook for another 1⁄4 of the time. This creates the criss cross grill bar effect. By this stage you should be at 3⁄4 cooking time.
  5. Turn again on to the final side, and repeat the process above, rotating 90” and finishing the cooking time.
  6. As with any cut of meat, roasting, grilling or pan cooking, allow to rest before serving. Resting time is generally ½ of the cooking time

SALSA VERDE

Salsa verde is a great go to sauce to have in your bag of tricks. It goes really well with grilled meats, fish and poultry and can be whipped up in about 5 mins flat. Made from pantry staples and fresh herbs it should be no trouble for even the novice of camp cooks.

Ingredients

1 Garlic clove

½ bunch of parsley or 30g of leaves

¼ bunch of basil or 15g of leaves

¼ bunch of mint or 15g of leaves

1 Tablespoon of capers

1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard

2 Tablespoons of Cider vinegar

50 ml Extra virgin olive oil

Method

  1. Pick and wash all herbs and finely chop
  2. Chop the garlic clove and the capers
  3. Mix together the mustard, vinegar and olive oil
  4. Add the finely chopped herbs, capers and garlic, mix well and serve

Read more:

Top 10 Aussie adventures with Jayco

Camping hacks for a stress-free holiday

Family Camping 101

Why you need to go camping with kids

This a Family Travel online exclusive story, with thanks to Jayco. Make sure you don’t miss any exclusive digital content by subscribing to our email newsletter.

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