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Trail Chef Puts on a Cooking Contest

Learn how you can win - or put on your own cookoff

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Are you a fan of reality-TV cooking contests? Ever dreamed of competing on Top Chef or Hell’s Kitchen? In this week’s post, Trail Chef will tell you how you can enter (and win) a backpacking version of Iron Chef that he’s hosting this weekend in Dayton, Ohio, the veritable adventure capital of the Midwest. (Can’t make it? Read on, because you can still learn how to host your own contest with friends, colleagues, or a hiking club.)

Tomorrow morning (Friday), editor-in-chief Jonathan Dorn dons the Trail Chef top hat and flies to Dayton, where he grew up, to take part in a great outdoor festival at Wright State University, where his dad teaches history. Now in its sixth year, The Adventure Summit is run by Brent and Amy Anslinger, former Get Out More traveling tour presenters for BACKPACKER. The Summit is co-presented by Wright State (where it takes place) and Five Rivers Metroparks, the Dayton area’s very active conservation agency. Attracting more than 5,000 outdoor enthusiasts to a variety of clinics, competitions, and presentations, the two-day Summit features an expo (gear makers, clubs, and conservation groups) and talks by well-known endurance athletes Charlie Engle and Andrew Skurka. Events take place from Friday afternoon through Saturday evening; check the website for a schedule and more info.

On Saturday at 8 a.m., Jon will be moderating a breakfast Q&A with Charlie, Andrew, and long-distance cyclist Phillip Nagle, but his main event will be the “Iron Trail Chef” cooking contest at 11:15. If you happen to live in Ohio (or Kentucky or Indiana) and can attend, make the trip—because he might pick you out of the crowd to compete. Jon will unload a huge pile of cooking supplies on a table (see the grocery list below), then select three audience members to step up to three cooking stations. Their challenge: Concoct a recipe from the available ingredients and cook a single backpacking entrée or dessert in 30 minutes. Each cooking station will be equipped with a backpacking stove, pots, and utensils; other audience members will judge the contestants on flavor, creativity, and presentation. The winners and runners up will all receive prizes from BACKPACKER’s gear closet, including the grand prize of a new GPS.

Every time Jon conducts the Iron Trail Chef contest, it’s a mad scramble among contestants that is as much fun to watch as to participate in. Chefs invariably take too little time planning their recipes, which leads to humorous episodes of searching for ingredients that don’t exist—or performing triage on dishes that didn’t come out just right. And just like on TV, there’s always a chef who’s racing the clock to finish an elaborate recipe. As the chefs work and chaos ensues, Jon will share cooking, gear, nutrition, and menu-planning tips that will help beginner backpackers and gourmet hikers alike. Even if you’re not selected to compete, you’ll go home with new recipes and cooking skills.

THE INGREDIENTS (contestants must take turns selecting)

1 box thin spaghetti or angel hair

1 box spirals or macaroni noodles

2 cups instant rice

1 package Vigo yellow rice (or similar)

2 cups bulgur or other bulk grain

4 cups flour

1 cup sugar

¼ cup baking powder

1 package whole wheat tortillas

2 packages dried pesto mix

1 small box Bisquick

1 bar dark chocolate

1 can pinto beans

1 can diced tomatoes

1 8-ounce brick cheddar cheese

1 8-ounce brick of Gouda or Jarlsberg

1 bag regular beef jerky

1 Granny Smith apple

1 pear

1 bunch broccoli

2 red or yellow peppers

1 carton blueberries

1 can black olives

1 can garbanzo beans or chickpeas

1 cup peanuts

Several tablespoons of salt and pepper

1 stick butter

1 cup brown sugar

Six-pack beer

1 pint rum

1 package (or cup) pine nuts

1 package (or cup) sun-dried tomatoes

1 small bottle olive oil

1 small bottle canola oil

3 fresh jalapenos

3 small onions

6 plum tomatoes

6-8 cloves garlic

1 can tuna in water

1 can chunk chicken

1 can smoked oysters or mussels

4 oz. smoked salmon (steak, not lox)

1 log dry salami

1 container grated Parmesan

THE GEAR (one set per contestant)

2 or 3 liter pot w/ lid

1 or 2 liter pot w/lid


Large plate for cutting and presentation

Sharp knife


Pot grabber

Spoon and fork

Measuring cup




Think you have what it takes? Get ready to fire up your stove and best recipes on Saturday at Wright State. Trail Chef hopes to see you there.