Here are the basics of outdoor cooking using a variety of different tools and techniques.
Welcome to the wonderful world of outdoor cooking, where some of the greatest meals possible can be created in the backyard, campsite, tailgate parking lot, or backcountry wilderness. It takes some practice and experience, but if you're brand new to the game, we can help set you up for success with some basic knowledge about the kinds of grills and stoves available, and what's cooked best on each of them.
Remember, this is a big, seemingly endless universe of new and old techniques, alternative sources of fuel and heat, and a wide range of uses for a ton of different scenarios. We'll give you the short and sweet rundown, but then it's up to you how far you'll take it, and ultimately what sort of things you'll enjoy cooking.
It would certainly be tough to cover any and all types, so we'll focus on three big areas: camping stoves, smokers, and charcoal grills. Even within these categories lies a lot of variety, but after reading through the explanations, you'll have a better idea of what might fit you and your tastes for when you're ready to start some serious outdoor cooking.
The idea is to find something that works with the cookware or cast iron you'll use and has enough cooking space to cover your requirements. Camping is almost always fun, but if you're well-prepared with breakfast foods and delicious dinner ideas, it can make it a lot better. Depending on your eventual choice, you can take care of dehydrated meals all the way up to multi-course gourmet masterpieces.
For the most part, camping stoves run on propane and are the most transportable type of the three we'll mention in this guide. Size can vary from the tiny, lightweight backpacking versions to the larger, multiple-burner style stoves that can cook more food and be a lot more flexible.
If you're ready to set up for a while and have the room to transport it, the Camp Chef Yukon is the ultimate in camp stoves. Two big 30,000 BTU burners can take care of nearly any meal, and with the proper attachments it can serve as a gas grill, flat top griddle, or even an artisan oven. Did you ever think you'd be able to easily make a homemade pizza on a propane camp stove? It does require a large propane tank and costs more than camp stoves.
More portable grills, like the Coleman 2-in-1 Tabletop Grill and Stove, can really hit the sweet spot for car campers and small families. Understand the sacrifices you'll make compared to the Camp Chef Yukon, but also realize the benefits: you can still cook with a multi-burner gas stove, and it's much easier to pack this stove and travel with it.
Take things to the other end of the spectrum, and you've got a good choice in the Ozark Trail Single Burner Propane Stove. This is for folks who are heading into a longer outdoor trip and aren't exactly needing a luxurious cooking or grilling experience. When you've got to carry all your supplies and food, on your back, a small single burner stove like this is what you'll need. Boil water, heat soup, and take care of dehydrated meals with a basic, no-frills camp stove.
If you've ever been around a smoker, you know the mantra "Low and slow." With that technique you should know going in that it will usually take a lot longer to get to a finished product when cooking with smokers, but the pay off can be awesome. It's one of those types of grills that gives you the great smoky flavor that BBQ fans really clamor for.
Smoker styles can vary: there are offset wood-burning smokers, electric smokers, ceramic smokers, and charcoal smokers. Using another type, pellet smokers, is among the most popular ways to do it, and within their ranks is a great selection of smart companies making really good outdoor cooking tools. They use compressed wood pellets and are one of the favored ways of creating incredible BBQ.
With smokers you're usually looking at a bigger cooking surface, and possibly even racks for hanging meat or fish to smoke. Things that involve ribs, large roasts, fish fillets, and whole birds are some of the top things to make on a smoker. They're awesome for big get togethers, tailgating, and backyard cookouts.
But that doesn't mean you can't use a pellet grill while you're out and about. If you want something portable to bring to the campsite, a Camp Chef Pursuit Pellet Grill would be an excellent choice. It runs on electricity so you'll need a source, but it has folding legs and a unique "slide grill technology" that lets you actually flame grill on the same device.
Alternatively, you can get heavy duty and opt for a Traeger Pro 34 Pellet Smoker, one of the kings of wood pellet grills. The amount of things you can successfully make on a Traeger grill will make you rethink what an outdoor kitchen can really be. It offers exceptional temperature control and a top grill grate for more overall cooking space.
If you're more comfortable with charcoal briquettes but still want a smoker-style grill, the Oklahoma Joe's Barrel Drum Smoker might be for you. Its system is a little different, and uses strategically-placed racks, cooking grates, and air vents to customize your cooking template each time you use it.
The best grill for one person will be different for another, and the kind of grill grates and grill covers you can choose from come in a plethora of types and sizes. They're usually best for quicker, simpler meals like burgers, hot dogs, or steaks, but that doesn't mean you can't get more creative if you want. You can experiment with kinds of fuel, too, from instant-light to lump charcoal. We'd suggest a charcoal chimney to help speed up the starting process.
If you want the standard in charcoal grills, an option like the Weber Smokey Joe is ideal. There's a little less cooking area than some other similar types, but it can get the job done. If you feel like you need to pick it up a notch, seek out the Weber Jumbo Joe with its larger size and increased capability.
Time to Start Mastering Grills & Outdoor Cooking
Any and all of these suggestions can set you on a path of awesome outdoor cooking. Add the necessary cooking and grilling tools and you'll be well on your way to becoming a true outdoor chef and grill master.