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How To: Tips To Backcountry Culinary Perfection

Blame it on the Boy Scouts or the sad and unfortunate affection for quick Cup o’ Soup-like things that pass for meals, but most people think that dining in the backcountry means eating some bland just-add-water package. The kind of food that not even a heart dose of hot sauce can hide.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Follow a few of these trail-tested tips and you can have a bona fide culinary experience while camping.

Meat Is Your Friend

If you’re going on an overnighter and starting out in the morning, just freeze your choice cut of meat (steak, pork chop, shrimp) and then pack it inside your bag near the bottom, running parallel to your spine. Not only will you have a nice (if modest) source of cool temps against your back as you hike, but the meat should be mostly defrosted—and ready to safely cook and consume—by the time you set up camp.  Or go with pre-cooked flavored sausage like spicy chipotle chiken.  Just freeze ‘em and then warm ‘em over the fire or on the stove. They can be eaten solo, or chopped up to add some tasty heft to pasta or soup.

Dried Meat? Even Better

Think of it as backcountry charcuterie.  Dried meats—salami, chorizo—don’t require refrigeration, so they make for a great trail snack.  Just pair it with some stone-ground crackers, maybe some fresh apple slices or grapes, and that water break just got a little haute culinary kick.

Go Simple, But Not That Simple

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When looking for a backcountry-friendly recipe, one-pot meals are ideal—less to juggle while cooking, and less to clean up afterwards. But don’t rule out recipes with several steps.  The joy of cooking in the wilderness is that, often, you don’t have much distraction—no ringing phones or the sount of the TV in the background. Instead, you can just chill and cook.  Stirring risotto can be a wonderfully hypnotic experience

Logical Pre-Prep Saves Time and Sanity

Most backcountry recipes includes several steps, but you can make things easier by doing most of the cut and prep work at home.  Read through the recipe and prepare the ingredients in groups that match the various cooking stages (say, place the chopped onion, garlic, and jalapenos in the same bag if they’re added to the dish at the same time).  This will help you cook efficiently, and save you the hassle of cutting veggies by headlamp.

 Just-Add-Water Dishes Aren’t That Bad—But You Can Make ‘Em Better

Keeping meat cold on multi-day hikes just won’t happen, which makes instant meals a viable option. Unlike the bland meals of yesterday, companies like Mountain House no do pretty well right out of the bag, with delicious dishes like chicken teriyaki with rice.  But you can amp those flavors even more by adding a few of your spices—salt, cumin, pepper, and red pepper flakes are a good combo—as the food cooks.

Do It Yourself

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If you want to truly exercise your gourmet muscle, you could also start dehydrating your own grub.  Go big by acquiring a dehydrator, which has mesh racks and runs for several hours to dry…anything (fruit, meat, granola). Or just make some beef jerky in your own oven. Thinly slice some steak (freezing it before you cut it makes it easy to get really narrow pieces), then marinate it (we like using beer, soy sauce, and lots of chili pepper) overnight, and lay the cuts on the wire rack of your oven and cook for about four to five hours at 200 degrees—just be sure to line the bottom of the oven with foil to catch all the drippings.

A Few Recipe Ideas

Miso Soup: This is super-simple to make. Get some miso paste, a few teaspoons of dashi, a few green onions, and some tofu, then add to hot water. It’s a great way to warm up as the sun sets, and the ample presence of sodium is just what your sapped body needs after a long day.

Spicy Peanut Noodles: Boil up some ramen or spaghetti. Either use dried or fry up some fresh garlic, ginger, and chili pepper in a bit of sesame oil. Add peanut butter (we like chunky) to the mix and soy sauce to taste. Toss with the noodles and a bit of cooking liquid when done.

After Dinner Mocha: Warm some milk, then add a heaping spoon of instant coffee, sugar, and a couple of spoons of cocoa powder. If you packed in a small flask of your favorite tipple, add a few splashes of that as well.

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