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Backpacker Magazine – May 2013

Master Class: Cook Like a Pro

Use these tips to advance your cooking skills and improve your camp grub's taste and nutritional value.

by: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan

Photo by Patitucci Photo
Photo by Patitucci Photo
Make a Five-Star Spice Kit (Photo by Ben Fullerton)
Make a Five-Star Spice Kit (Photo by Ben Fullerton)
Dehydrate your own ingredients. (Photo by Ben Fullerton)
Dehydrate your own ingredients. (Photo by Ben Fullerton)

Cookset Basics
Upgrade your kit for versatility. Stove: Get a canister model with a separated burner, which offers precise flame control and allows for baking. (We like MSR’s Wind Pro II; $100; 11.5 oz.; Cookset: Start with at least a 2-liter pot, a sauté pan, and a lid that fits both. Try pairing MSR’s Alpinist 2 ($60; 10.8 oz.) and the nonstick, aluminum Quick Skillet ($30; 5.9 oz.). See our kitchen checklist at

Master Key Stovetop Techniques
Use these methods to go from freeze-dried meals to gourmet menus.

» Simmering

This slow-cook method (a near-boil) is hard to master on a camp stove. If hot spots cause boiling, hold the pot off to the burner’s side. For even heat, create a windbreak out of rocks. With liquid-fuel stoves, run the stove with low pressure (just pump the fuel bottle a few times). Best for: poached trout, sauces with dehydrated add-ins.

» Flip baking

Warm ½ tablespoon of oil in a skillet on medium low and sprinkle cornmeal in the bottom (it helps prevent burning). Add batter, cover, and bake until the top is bubbling and bottom is set. Drizzle oil atop the dough, sprinkle with cornmeal, and flip. Replace the lid and bake until browned. Best for: fry bread, cornbread, brownies.

» Twiggy fire baking

Place your loaded cookpot on your stove. Using palm-length twigs, build a pyramid-shaped fire on top of your covered pot. Put the stove on low and light the fire; feed the fire to maintain constant heat as your treats bake. Note: A twiggy fire will permanently singe your pot’s lid. Best for: cookies, cinnamon rolls.

Fix Common Mistakes
Salvage a botched meal with four easy tricks.

Burned sauce Pour the unburned portion into a clean pot to finish cooking (don’t scrape blackened bits). Mix in a spoonful of peanut butter, which helps mask lingering burned taste.
Watery soup Boil away the extra liquid (stir constantly to prevent burning) or add a few tablespoons of dehydrated potato flakes or flour (both are thickeners) to achieve your desired consistency.
Salty stew Dilution is the solution: Add water and more carbs, like noodles or potato flakes. Next time, taste before salting; many prepackaged foods are already high in sodium.
Overcooked noodles Stop the cooking by adding cool (treated) water. Then redeem mushy pasta by sautéing drained noodles for three to seven minutes in an oiled pan until the edges are golden-brown and crisped. See page 46 for more noodle-cooking tips.

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