I absolutely despise having to clean camp dishes, especially on longer trips. I also enjoy hot, flavor-filled meals–and won’t be trading my stove for a cold can of beans anytime soon. On a simple overnight trip, dishes are less of an issue. Cook your food, throw the dirty dishes in a bag and take them home to clean later.
On multi-day trips, dishes are mandatory. So I went ahead and mastered cooking decent meals with minimal cleanup. No more scrubbing stubborn pots caked with burnt remnants of your daily breakfast and dinner. Here’s a bit of what I learned on how to keep your campsite dish cleaning to a minimum.
Pre Cook a Few Days of Meals
Do yourself a huge favor and pre-cook a few meals. I do breakfast burritos and leave them a little soggy so they heat up nicely without drying out. Wrap your burritos in foil at home and freeze them for a day. As with all pre-cooked and frozen meals, it serves double duty by keeping your cooler temperature down. For the burritos, I mix cheese and eggs then precook bacon or sausage and hash browns. Mix it all up and bring enough hot sauce for everyone.
Chili also makes a great freezer meal. I like to freeze bags of pre-made slow cooker chili and save them for the last dinner. The flavor seems to improve when chili is heated up the second time around. Waiting until the last day means you won’t be washing the pot at camp. Take it home and soak in hot water for a night to ease the cleanup. If you must clean the pot at camp, add water and boil it for twenty minutes to soften everything. It makes the scrubbing process easy.
Dehydrated meals are always an option but they are not cheap. I prefer saving these for backpacking trips where weight is critical. You can easily find other instant meals that are simple and surprisingly fulfilling at camp. I would never make a cup of noodles at home but it’s a treat on a cold night in the woods. Boil water, add to the noodles, let it sit a few minutes and you are set. It doesn’t always soften them perfectly like the microwave but they are edible and still pretty good. You can always boil some ramen too.
My favorite instant meals are the pre-made curry dishes that come in a bag. These bags are made to heat in a microwave, but you can also drop the bag in boiling water for 5‑minutes to create a delicious Indian meal. I will boil the bag of food alongside a boil bag of rice for a quick and filling meal that comes with zero dishes. Dump the old water and you are finished. Minute rice would also work well with Indian meals. Bombay Potatoes and Channa Masala are two of my favorites. If you really want to get fancy, add Naan bread to mix. I dump the rice right into the bag and eat without a plate to really minimize the cleanup.
Food that Cleans Your Pan
Certain foods are made to clean up sloppy meals. Tortillas are undeniably the best. They are perfect for cleanup duties and leave your pots and plates ready for a quick rinse and dry without much scrubbing. Breakfast tacos are always a hit and the tortillas cleanup most of the mess. Eggs over-medium combined with cheese and sauteed onions, garlic, and bell pepper makes for a filling breakfast when topped over a tortilla or two. Rice also works as a substitute for the tortilla. It absorbs a good bit of the mess and balances the meal. I use rice when leftovers are available from the previous dinner.
I will even wipe down the pan with a tortilla and eat it myself or share with my dog. She loves helping with the cleanup. A tortilla wipe-down followed by a paper towel wipe-down is often adequate for cleaning a breakfast pan.
The absolute best camping meals are made over a hot fire. Cooking over a fire is fun, and many fire-made meals are extremely simple. Foil packs are your best friend for cooking vegetables and potatoes. I’ve also done meat and fish in the foil pack and it turns out great. Salmon is especially good when done this way. Add onions, lemon slices salt, pepper, and butter to a salmon fillet or a few trout and place it directly on a hot bed of coals. Fish will cook in 5–10 minutes while a foil pack of potatoes and vegetables takes around 15–20 minutes. Make sure you have plenty of seasoning and butter or oil. A little water with potatoes will also help to steam them if you want a faster cooking time.
Lay out a piece of foil, roughly 16–20 inches in length. Add another piece to double layer the bottom. Add your food, seasoning, and ingredients to the foil, leaving a few inches of cushion around the edges. Cover the food with a third piece of foil. Roll up the edges to connect the top and bottom foil pieces while sealing the food inside. You can really get creative here and make just about anything with a disposable foil pack.
When I have steaks, pork chops, asparagus, and anything that picks up the flavor of an open flame, cooking on a fire grate is my preferred method. Make a fire, set the grate over the flames and treat it just like a barbecue. No pots or pans are required for cooking gourmet meals over a fire and you can whip up some incredible meals.
Tip: Cook a foil pack with squash, potatoes and onions for dinner. Make extra and fold up the foil for the morning. Add eggs over easy and mix into the leftover veggies and potatoes for a great breakfast with minimal effort.