Four Car Camping Cooking Systems: Pros and Cons of Each

 Cooking is one of the most important systems that a camper needs to choose when starting out. In this blog, I go over the pros and cons of cooking via camp stove, electric kettle, campfire, and bringing food that needs no cooking at all. These are all from my own experience. Keep in mind that your experiences might be different from mine. Also keep in mind that you might need more than one solution in your rig. If you want to look at how cooking fits into the larger picture of your car camping rig, read this blog post


a gas camping cooker

Gas Camp Stove


These come in several forms. You can get cute little ones that fit in a pocket when disconnected from the fuel canister, which are also perfect for backpacking. You can also get two burner stoves that fold up like a suitcase. 


Pros: They heat up very quickly, and don’t require much futzing to get going. They will continue to work in the rain and elements. They come in a variety of sizes to meet your needs. You can take them off the grid safely. 


Cons: Fuel canisters will need to be replaced. Larger stoves can be clunky and large, and smaller ones are sometimes tippy and need to be baby-sat.


Best for: People who spend lots of time off grid. Larger foldable stoves are also nice for those who will be traveling for a long time and need a decent stove, or who have a larger group to cook for, and who have the space to spare. Pocket sized stoves are good for backpackers and those with extremely limited space. 



An electric hot plate

Electric kettles and Hot Plates

These plug into electricity. Electric kettles should really only be used to heat water, while hot plates can be used for heating oil, such as for making toast or sauteing vegetables. 


Pros: You don’t need to carry fuel when camping at paid campsites. Setting up is easy. There is no open flame, which means you might be able to get away with cooking inside your vehicle safely, depending on your setup. You can cook most of the same types of food as with a gas stove. 


Cons: If you go off the grid or camp in unconventional spaces, you might need to bring a power bank, power station, or power inverter to cook, which is bulkier than propane and butane. Kettles are only good for cooking one or two meals at a time. Similarly, you will need multiple hotplates if you plan on cooking for a crowd. 


Best for: one or two people staying in conventional campsites with power, or who already have an electricity supply added to their camping rig. 


cooking hotdogs on a campfire

Campfire cooking

This is the most nostalgic, if the least practical way of cooking. Who doesn’t love a campfire!


Pros: Smores, pie iron pizzas, and grilled meats are simply impossible to replicate with the other methods listed here. Fire helps keep bugs away and creates a cozy atmosphere.


Cons: Wood is less cost effective than other fuels. Wood must be used up on site, since traveling with wood fuel can spread invasive and noxious species. Fire can be harder to cook with, especially in bad weather. High heat can make fire uncomfortable to cook with, and can even be illegal if a burn ban or fire advisory goes into effect. 


Best for: Occasional campers, or parties with children who need entertainment. Also makes a good relaxing treat for regular campers, especially you get that smores craving


a salad and strawberries

Heatless Cooking

This includes all foods that don’t need heat to be prepared. Salads, sandwiches, fruits and veggies, overnight oats, and cold-soaked ramen would be great examples. 


Pros: no fuel, no location limitations. Works just as well for groups of all sizes. 


Cons: it only works if you like those types of foods, and don’t mind slightly limited options. Getting a variety of foods cheaply might be more difficult for some locations. Not ideal in the winter, since hot food can help you regulate body temperature.

Final thoughts

There are other options for cooking not listed here. For example, crock pots, toasters and 12-volt mini ovens might also be valuable options for some rigs. I highly recommend keeping at least two options available at all time, in case the weather or location don’t work in your favor. This could mean bringing a stove in addition to your campfire supplies. In my case, I often camp with my trusty electric kettle, a gas backpacking stove, and a few non-cooked meals. 


The best combination is unique to you and your rig. I hope this was helpful, Happy adventures!


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