When deer season arrives, hunters across the country head to their camps. All across the nation, hunters set up everything from humble tent camps in the midst of nowhere, to portable truck campers, to more formal cabins.
Many folks view life in a hunting camp as a rather Spartan existence, especially in terms of food, but nothing could be further from the truth! One of the things my buddy Bobby Condon and I contemplated on our second trip to the Alaskan tundra was how well we were eating compared to the first one, where the outfitter had to constantly remind us how great the food supply he gave us was. It was hard to look at a cardboard box filled with well-aged packages of rice and pasta and see a bountiful food supply!
A small Esbit stove with fuel tablets the author uses from time to time.
If you have the right supplies, cooking in a camp has gotten a lot better in recent times, largely due to the new equipment we have available. Whether you are staying in a tent or will be living in a cabin or vacation home, there is enough easily prepared food at the grocery store to make with ease with the sophisticated new cooking gear.
On our Alaska trip, we carried gear similar to the stuff used by backpackers because of the weight concern. Our cooking stoves consisted of a brand name backpack stove — that became downright ornery and had to be taken apart and repaired — and a simple Coleman burner that screwed on top of a propane canister.
The cheaper Coleman worked great, and better yet, could be used inside the tent in the morning to heat water for breakfast and dry things out a little. There’s no way the backpacking stove I bought for the trip could be used inside a tent safely. For this reason, I have given up the liquid fuel backpack stoves in favor of the fuel cartridge models. The cartridges are light and the stoves are safe to use.
Pots, pans, and the cleaning thereof can be a pain in remote locations, but we went to a store that caters to backpackers and bought lightweight cookware. We’ve been using two sets of backpack MSR cookware with nonstick coatings that are easy to cook with, and better yet, easy to clean. This gear was a far cry from the old aluminum mess kits that were the best stuff available at the time.
A vintage Svea stove, which uses white gasoline, the author still uses today.
There are also a number of companies that make backpack cooking utensils, including spatulas and cooking spoons, that fold up into a small package. In fact, we used that whole set with the exception of the cheese grater. Apparently, somebody forgot to bring a block of parmesan for spaghetti night!
Cooking deer steaks over an open fire requires some sort of grate to cook upon. The trouble is most fire grates are heavy and bulky. For our outing, we tried out a “Grilliput” made by Industrial Revolution. The whole grill comes apart and stores inside a one-half-inch diameter tube with a screw cap and weighs less than a pound.
When we finally had some tenderloins available, it was a simple matter to slice them up and put them in a plastic zipper bag full of the marinade. We grilled the venison filet mignon over the little grill, although we had a little trouble getting the wood burning in the dampness. Those tenderloins made up a couple of meals and were excellent!
The only trouble with the grill was that it seemed to set off all the bells and whistles when going through the airport security, so I left it with Condon to avoid all that on the way home.
Another great little item was the meal kit, also by Industrial Revolution. This is basically a set of dishes made similar to Tupperware, and including a plate, bowl, two cups, and a combination strainer and cutting board. Not only was it handy to eat out of, and provided an extra coffee cup, it sure made draining a pot of pasta easier.
The availability of all this new gear makes it a lot easier to cook great meals, no matter where you are on the planet! It’s possible to eat very well in remote locations, including even baking a pie if you are so inclined with the gear available in stores that cater to backpackers.
While our deer camp (reindeer count) cookery was on the par with someone who backpacks into the Adirondacks to hunt, with all of the gear available at any camping store or on the Internet, we were eating very well including some three-course meals!
Base Camp Cooking
Our endeavors are primitive compared to what some folks do for meals in the woods. I know several people who hunt in the same camps every year and believe me, they are eating far better than their significant others would ever imagine. Take a trip to any major outdoor outlet store and look at the cooking gear they sell. You can now even get a propane oven for baking!
If you hunt from a base camp where having to carry cooking gear each day isn’t a concern, then the cooking equipment and sophistication of the meals can take on another level. Yet even though you can cook a four-course meal, most of us are pretty beat by the time we get back to camp at the end of the day’s hunt and don’t want to deal with that.
I like to slow cook meals because there is only one pot to clean up, you can’t overcook them, and it is generally pretty easy. My wife bought me a cast-iron Dutch oven that is made to go on the stovetop, and it has excelled in cooking chili, a personal favorite.
Why Use A Dutch Oven?
Well, the answer to why you should use a Dutch oven is that this pot, which has been around for basically hundreds of years, was well designed to evenly heat food. You can fry stuff with it, boil, broil, slow cook, or do just about anything, even baking. It also works well outside with a little charcoal or some coals from the fire for heat.
Bob Condon cooking dinner in camp. Cast iron Dutch ovens have to be “seasoned,” which is basically a way of getting some cooking oil baked onto them. This keeps them from rusting. Cooking a basic chili is easy, just fry the vegetables in butter until they are soft — then brown the meat. Once that’s done, throw in the rest of the stuff including the crushed tomatoes, beans, and spices, turn the heat down to low, and walk away. It’s that simple. You can do all of this ahead of time so it can be put on the stove in the morning.
The oven can sit on the stove on low all day and when you are ready to eat, everything is ready for a great dinner. It helps to stir the chili a couple of times during the day, though to keep the food from sticking on the bottom.
There are a lot of great recipes for the Dutch oven, and some of my favorites are from Smokee Joe Barkoskie on the “North to Alaska” television show. I purchased his book and he has a knack for this type of cooking, and he uses the Dutch oven a lot.
If the Dutch oven isn’t your thing, you can’t go wrong with the crockpot. The basic principle is the same as the cast-iron Dutch oven. The ceramic crock heats evenly around the food and is great for slow-cooked foods like chili or stews. A basic venison stew is easy to make by combining your favorite vegetables, meat, potatoes, and spices.
The crock can sit on low all day and when you are ready to eat when you get out of the woods, everything is cooked. With the crockpot, you usually don’t even have to stir it all day. The other great thing about crockpot cooking is that you really can’t overcook things either. It is a great method for cooking all sorts of game species because the meat won’t dry out.
Deer camp, whether it is a nice cabin back in the woods, or a couple of tents, is a great place to be in the fall. The advances in food and cooking gear have made cooking dinner in camp something that is now a lot easier than it used to be. With a little planning, a trip to camp doesn’t mean you have to eat food that tastes like something out of a high school cafeteria either!
Don’t for a minute think the folks in deer camp are eating lousy meals. In fact, if word gets out how well they are eating, most male hunters are going to have to do much more cooking at home!