Camp cooking is one of the best parts about camping and, trust me, I love a good feed. These days there are bucket loads of options when it comes to buying cooking gear. Seriously, there’s so much more than butane cookers to choose from these days, and some of these concepts will bring a tear to your eye!
Truth be told, there is no clear winner in this field, because what’s perfect for one person might not be any good for the other, not to mention how many different styles of camping there are. Then there are all the hidden pros and cons you only find out after using the gear for a while. I mean, if I had a dollar for every time I heard someone complain they didn’t know their butane canister would ice up and freeze in cold conditions, I’d be sitting as pretty as Richard Branson in budgie smugglers.
The point is, until you own a bit of gear and really put it through the wringer you usually wouldn’t realise its pros and cons, no matter how big or small they are.
So to save you from any unexpected surprises, we thought we’d put a bunch of gear to the test to work out what does what best. And to make things even more exciting, we’ve got hold of some of the more interesting styles of gear, too.
One thing’s for sure, this is one test that’ll have everybody drooling when they get a whiff at camp. So let’s check it out.
WEBER BABY Q
One bit of kit that has gained plenty of popularity among campers these days is the Baby Q from Weber. Put simply, it ticks a heck of a lot of boxes for the keen camper!
It’s basically an oven and a barbecue in one, and is the perfect size to cater for everything from a couple to a whole family. Seriously, this little beauty will cook everything from a leg of lamb or a full chicken to kebab sticks, pizzas and snags. You can even bake scones or a pudding if you want. Yep, you can live off this bad boy for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert, and the only extra bit of cooking gear you’ll need is a stove to boil something up.
It’s about as efficient as they come, too. In fact, don’t be surprised if one 4.5kg gas cylinder lasts you an entire trip to the Cape and back again, at least it did for me and that was cooking on it every night with plenty of pancakes or melted cheese on toast in the mornings, too!
Now this unit is quite compact, which makes it portable. Cleaning is nice and easy if you keep on top of things, but the lid gets pretty dirty as it always needs to be in the down position when you cook to generate enough heat, which can be annoying. That said, after the dog knocked it off the table half a dozen times, it’s still going strong, so it’s pretty resilient. Oh, and if placing it on a table and hooking the gas up sounds like too much hard work, fitting this unit to a slide on the camper will just make things so easy it’s almost cheating!
If it’s versatility, efficiency and reliability you’re after the Weber Baby Q is a dead-set cracker!
It’s hard to beat cooking with fire, and the Campman Jnr is hands down one of the best ways to do it, I reckon. Our tested unit was made by Hilltop Heaters, which is actually a small operation that makes them from scratch. It was designed in conjunction with ‘The Camp Man’, who’s currently a few years into the big lap, that’s right, a few years! So it’s no surprise it’s one of the most practical, well thought-out little cooking systems around. Why do I say that? Well, it’s fairly lightweight and portable for what it is, and can bake, roast, smoke, boil and barbecue like a freaking champion.
As with any open fire cooking, the downfall is to get the fire going consistently it can take some prep-time and patience, plus perfecting the cooking temperatures can be a bit tricky, too, if you’re fresh into camp school.
Being fairly small means it’s hard to get a long lasting fire going, so you’ll need to either keep feeding wood into the fire, or add a few heat beads to the mix to help maintain a more consistent heat. The hotplate is nice and thick, so it holds the heat well. Plus you can simply wrap everything in aluminium foil so there’s virtually no clean up required.
When you think about it, this system is basically a camp oven and hotplate all in one, with the added benefit of a self-contained fire pit which won’t cost you a cent to run. That’s unless you can’t find any kindling to get it going. How’s that for versatility?
HILLBILLY COOKING STAND
When it comes to cooking straight over the coals, this is a great bit of kit to have. This type of system can be as elaborate or as basic as you want, but its main advantage is its ability to improve the performance and practicality of standard cast iron cooking equipment. Take the humble hotplate for example; using it with a cooking stand allows you to fine-tune the cooking temperature by simply adjusting the height of the hot plate in relation to the coals instead of fiddling with the fire. The same goes for things like boiling the billy, and even using a camp oven stand. Another plus is a cooking stand system allows you to use multiple bits of cooking gear at the same time. So you can have a couple of hunks of steak on the hotplate going while the camp oven cooks the veggies, and the gravy simmers in the billy, too.
When it comes to setting this system up, you’ll find it’s fairly easy when the ground is soft enough for the stand to dig into. If it’s rocky, hard or super soft, you’ll have a hard time knocking the main pole in and keeping it there, which really limits where you can use this design. The good news is, pretty much all of the cooking accessories used with this system can be used without the stand, but you might need to be a bit creative to make it work properly.
RRP: From $55
DREAMPOT THERMAL COOKER
Thermal cooking with a setup like a DreamPot is a real contender in the travelling world these days. It’s easy too, simply start cooking your meal normally to get a bit of heat into it, then transfer the cooking pot into the thermal cooker, which traps the heat inside and keeps it cooking for hours. That’s it! No cords or constant power sources required, and you can’t burn, boil dry or overcook your meal!
It’s an efficient and very safe way to cook, and it can be done while you’re travelling. Yep, that’s right, you can kick those lamb shanks off first thing in the morning and let them slow cook until you pull into camp that night. It’ll cook everything from soups to lasagne, bread and of course my favourite, a full roast if you boil it in an oven bag. And it’ll also act as a cooler or yogurt maker, too. Plus running costs are at a minimum.
But there is a catch; some of these recipes need to be tampered with for the meals to work. So mum’s lasagne might not taste quite the same! Plus, it requires a litre of water or so to work too. On the upside, the pots can be used for other cooking so it’s a good use of space.
Which one’s for me?
What’s the best system, you ask? Well, for a quick and easy solution that will feed the whole family anything from a full roast to a cracking barbecue reliably it’s pretty damn hard to go past the Weber Baby Q. They’re just so easy! But if you’re going for the more traditional style of cooking where only cooking with fire will do, something like the Campman Jnr is among the most versatile for touring, especially if you had to retreat to a caravan park where no open pit fires are allowed.
That being said, for full bush camping I reckon you just can’t go past good old camp oven and hot plate, chuck in a stand and you’ve got the ultimate feed on your hands, at least in my opinion anyway!
Check out the full feature in issue #102 July 2016 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.