I finally got smart and created a kitchen tub for camping. It has everything I need in it and is always ready to go! Before a camping trip, I used to race around the kitchen grabbing the utensils and items I thought we’d need and shoving them in a bag. Inevitably, I’d forget something (like the time we planned to make scrambled eggs at the beach and forgot a spatula).
So, what should you keep in your car camping kitchen tub? The items can be broken down into four categories. You need items to prepare food, cook food, eat food, and to clean up. Here are the basic items I recommend for each category:
|– Measuring cups |
– Covered knife
– Cutting board
– Can opener
– Cooking oil
– Cooking spices
– Prep Bowl
|– Camp stove & fuel |
– Lighter & matches
– Spatula & tongs
– Grill brush
– Roasting sticks
– Hot pot holders
– Cooking pots & pans
|– Rimmed Plates |
|– Kitchen towels|
– Paper towels
– Wet wipes
– Dish soap
– Dish washing utensil
– Trash bags
– Resealable bags
You might wonder if you really need all that, or if you need more! Below I’ll go into detail about why you’ll need each item.
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A Few Quick Tips
Before I dive into the details, here are a few tips regarding the kitchen tub.
First, I recommend that everything in the kitchen tub STAYS in the kitchen tub. Don’t expect that you’ll remember to grab your everyday hot pot holders when you’re trying to pack up the car for a camping trip. The items in this kitchen tub are designated camping gear. This takes some preparation to put together, but once it’s ready it really saves you time when getting ready for a camping trip.
Second, because these items are designated camping gear they don’t need to be fancy. Depending on how many times a year you camp, you may use these items 2-12 times a year – which really isn’t all that much. Old kitchen items are great candidates. Thrift stores are also good places to find used kitchen items. You do, of course, want them to be useful though, so you might buy something new that you really like, or is very functional.
Lastly, these items apply specifically to car camping situations (where your car is within walking distance of your campsite). Keep in mind that what your needs may differ if you are not going to be near your car.
One trick I’ve learned to make camping easier is to do as much food prep at home as I can. Some food prep has to be done right before cooking, but there are quite a few things you can prepare to save you time, mess, and unnecessary gear. When planning your camp meals always ask yourself, “What of this meal can I prepare in advance?”. I promise, it’ll make your life easier!
Regardless of your preparation, there are still a few items that are good to have on hand for food prep.
Measuring Cups: Collapsible measuring cups are a great space saver. Or an all-in-one measuring cup that has markings on the inside to indicate the different measurements. Or you could just keep one or two of the lower measuring cups on hand (you can always make a cup if you have a 1/4 cup on hand).
Covered Knife: A sharp knife is a necessity. Even if all you have is a pocket knife, you’ll use it! I keep one small sharp knife in my kitchen bin, but depending on what you plan to cook you may need a bigger knife or more knifes. The key is to keep it safe. You don’t want to cut yourself while rummaging around in your kitchen bin. Look for knives that come with a plastic cover. Or create your own diy cover. Either way, keep it safe.
Cutting Board: You’ll need this. Even if you don’t have a lot to cut. It is a great clean surface to place things on during food prep, cooking, and eating.
Can Opener: This is one of those tools that you only need if, duh, you need to open a can. But it’s good to keep one on hand. I don’t trust myself to remember to grab the can opener if I happen to take a can camping, better to have it already in place.
Foil: If you do most of your food prep at home, you might not need any foil. I like to have a little extra just in case. And especially for leftovers. If you happen to make more food than you can eat, it’s great to wrap it up in foil, stick it in the cooler, and eat it the next day.
Cooking Oil: Put your cooking oil of choice into a travel size bottle. I keep a bottle in a plastic bag in case of leaks.
Cooking Spices: What you choose to bring will depend on what spices you use in cooking. You can find camping spice containers that have a bunch of spices in one shaker, or you can just bring a little of each one that you want. I also bought a set of salt and pepper shakers from the Dollar Store that I keep in our kitchen bin since we use those a lot.
Prep Bowl: I don’t actually keep one of these in my kitchen bin, but I can see how useful it would be. This is just an extra bowl or container to use for prep. I usually use one of our eating plates/bowls for prep, or a tupperware that was previously storing food. I don’t like to wash dishes while camping, so the fewer items to wash the better. But you may feel it necessary to keep an extra bowl on hand.
Camp Stove & Fuel: I always bring a camp stove and fuel, even if I’m planning to cook over the campfire. Sometimes you might not be able to build a fire (due to rain, or you forgot the wood, or there is a burn ban, etc.) and you don’t want that to ruin your dinner plans. A camp stove is an excellent back up plan.
Depending on the size of your camp stove and the size of your bin, this may not fit in your kitchen bin. My husband and I usually camp alone, so we have a very compact bunsen burner type stove and a small canister of butane. Both fit in our kitchen bin nicely. If you’re camping with a large group, then you’ll probably need the big two burner stove and a larger canister of propane, and you’ll have to store those separately.
Lighter & Matches: Unless you are real handy with flint and steel, these are a must have to cooking while camping. I keep both on hand just in case.
Spatula & Tongs: I’ve found that I can cook just about anything with a spatula and tongs. I used to camp with just a spatula, but I now consider tongs to be a must-have. You could also bring a stirring spoon. I usually use our sporks for any spoon needs, but I’m pretty minimalist and like to save space.
Grill Brush: You can live without the grill brush, but sometimes the grill at the campsite is pretty grimy. If you often make camp food that uses the campsite’s grill, then I recommend bringing a brush.
Roasting Sticks: These are obviously an essential for all your s’more needs. But they are great for roasting all kinds of things. And a pair of metal roasting sticks is just easier to use than finding a random stick.
Hot Pot Holders: These are important to have when cooking over a fire. Everything gets hot! You could also use towels or fire-proof gloves to grab things out of the fire, it’s just important to have something to protect your hands.
Cooking Pots & Pans: The most basic items you’ll need are a pot and a skillet/frying pan. There’s a lot that you can cook between those two pans. Expect that these pans will take a beating, especially if you are using them to cook over the campfire. I personally like to use cast iron pans where I can. They are very resilient and work great for campfire cooking. Check out our Pots and Pans for Car Camping post for tips about choosing pans.
Eating the delicious food you’ve made is the easiest part in this whole process, and doesn’t require a lot of gear. Some people like to get fancy and bring all kinds of eating utensils. I like to keep it simple – less dishes to clean! I recommend having one per person of the following items.
Rimmed Plates: I think a better name for these would be a plowl or a blate, or maybe a bowlate. They are a plate that has high sides. So, essentially, this plate could hold soup or cereal. Which, to me, means it could hold anything. A very versatile and useful utensil to have while camping.
Cups: Make sure you have cups that can be used for both hot liquids and cool liquids. There are all kinds of camping cups out there. I currently use a silicon, collapsible cup. Use whatever gets the job done!
Sporks: An all-in-one utensil like this one is great for camping. But I won’t judge you if you’d rather bring the traditional spoon-fork- knife set for each person. I like the Light My Fire sporks. They are a combination spoon, fork, and knife. To be honest, the knife portion isn’t really sturdy enough to cut anything serious (it does fine on pancakes), so if I find I need to cut up my cooked meat or something tough, I just use our sharp knife.
Kitchen towels: A fabric towel can be used for a number of things, from drying dishes to lifting a hot pan from the fire. It’s useful to have even one in your kitchen bin.
Paper towels: When are paper towels NOT useful? They are really great to have while camping for all your wiping needs.
Wet wipes: The only thing more useful than a paper towel is a wet wipe! While I say paper towels are great to have while camping, wet wipes are essential to have while camping. Oh, the things you can do with wet wipes. Here are a few possible uses: wipe out dirty dishes, clean off roasting sticks, clean your hands, clean your face, give yourself a sponge bath, or use them as toilet paper.
We use the Cottonelle Flushable Wipes because they are biodegradable and safe for hands and face (which we translate to mean they’d be okay to wipe a dish with). Some people may balk at that. To each his own. These wipes have been a lifesaver for quick dinner clean up.
Dish soap: You will need to wash your dishes at some point, and so dish soap will be needed. I recommend finding a biodegradable dish soap because you’ll likely have to dispose of your dish water into nature.
Dish washing utensil: I left this one vague because this could be a sponge, a brush, or a cloth. Choose what works best for you and keep it in your kitchen bin.
Trash bags: It’s always useful to have some empty grocery bags on hand, or some regular trash bags. Obviously you will create some trash while you are camping, but these bags can also be used for other things, so I try to keep a few in the bin.
Resealable bags: I like to keep some Ziploc bags in my kitchen bin just in case. They are great for storing leftovers.
The Tub Itself
Choosing a tub to store all your kitchen items in will depend mostly on how much kitchen stuff you have. Some people use large 18 gallon tubs. We use a 15 quart bin currently – which is pretty full and doesn’t fit our roasting sticks. We will likely have to graduate to a bigger bin once we have kids. More people = more gear.
If you have a smaller bin, it can double as a tub for washing dishes. If you have a larger tub, you may want to bring a smaller tub for washing dishes.
What Other Kitchen Items Will You Need?
There are a few items you’ll need that may not fit in your kitchen bin, but are still essential for camp cooking.
Cooler: A cooler, obviously, to store food in. Again, the size of your cooler will depend on how much food you are bringing. I recommend one with wheels. They’ll get beat up from rolling in the dirt, but, you are car camping, so wheel that cooler from the car to your campsite with ease!
Fire Starter Stuff: If you are planning to cook over a fire, make sure you have everything you need to get a good fire going. I’ve already mentioned keeping a lighter and matches in the kitchen bin. You’ll also need wood (don’t rely on finding wood at your campsite), and fire starters (aka tinder). We bring a hatchet as well, in case we need to break up bigger pieces of wood.
Water: Never forget water. Many campsites will have potable water available, but we still always bring a few jugs of water with us. You don’t ever want to be caught without enough water while camping, even car camping. Plus, it’s nice to have jugs to hold the water. That makes it easy to use them for cooking, cleaning, putting out the fire, etc.
How Much Should You Plan to Spend?
If you are starting from scratch to get your kitchen bin ready, you can plan to spend between $0 to $300. I say $0 because it’s possible you have all (or most) of these items already, you just need to compile them into a bin! If you don’t have ANYTHING, it could cost close to $300.
Hopefully as you get your kitchen bin put together you’ll find a happy medium between using what you have and buying needed items.
What kind of camp stove should I use? There are compact bunsen burner type stoves that only hold one pan, or there are deluxe stoves that come in a case and have two burners. It just depends on how much food you need to make, if you need one or two burners, and how much room you have to store the stove and fuel. Bigger stoves will require a larger container of propane or butane. Compact stoves will only require a small can.
Is it really worth it to use cast iron pans? Once you use cast iron pans, it’ll be hard to go back to normal pans. They definitely aren’t essential, but you sure feel cool using them! There are a few pros to using cast iron. You don’t need to wash the pan after cooking in it. You just scrape or wipe it out and it’s ready for another use. Also cast iron pans heat evenly – which is very useful when you are cooking over a fire. Lastly, they are very sturdy. So sturdy that you could put them right on hot coals if you needed to. The one obvious con to using cast iron is weight. These pans are heavy! But, hey, when you’re car camping you can bring heavy gear. You only have to carry it from the car to the campfire.
How do I wash my dishes while camping? Occasionally a campsite will have a designated sink for washing dishes and such, but I’d say that’s the exception to the rule. The bathroom sink and the water spigot don’t count – those are generally not acceptable places to wash your dishes. So, you’ll need to wash your dishes in a tub of water. The big thing to be aware of is where you are leaving food scraps. It’s best to get as much food off the dishes and into the garbage BEFORE washing the dishes. I personally wipe the dishes with a wet wipe first, it saves me the hassle of straining chunks of food out of my dirty dish water. Once you remove any food particles out of the water it is essentially “grey water”. Any campsite that accepts RVs will have some rules about where you can dispose of grey water. So just follow the signs.