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The Manual: Win a Camp Cookoff

Ideal appetizers, perfect wine pairings, desserts, and advanced techniques.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.


Set a winning tone with these herbed pesto rolls. “The fact that they’re hot and fresh goes a long way,” says Dylan Cardiff, a San Francisco gourmet food blogger and avid backpacker.

  • In the morning: Mix 1/2 cup sourdough starter ($6,, 1/2 cup warm water, 2 cups flour, ” cup cornmeal, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Sprinkle flour on the inside of a pot or frying pan and knead dough on it for three minutes, adding 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme and 1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary as you knead. Place in a lightly oiled pot and stash in your pack until dough doubles in size (about four hours in warm weather, but it can take up to eight when it’s cold). Note: This is a great recipe for layover days or evenings when you reach camp early.
  • Meal time: Punch dough down and shape into rolls. Spread with pesto and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese; bake 10 to 15 minutes in a backpacker’s oven. Makes 8 to12 rolls, depending on desired size.  Next Page–Wow the Judges and Pair the Perfect WineWOW THE JUDGES

Derek Sullivan, a double winner at BACKPACKER’s last camp cookoff (September 2004), shares his secrets.

Don’t get carried away
with untested ingredients or cooking methods.

Adapt home-cooked meals
by substituting pack-friendly ingredients and adjusting techniques—such as shepherd’s pie with instant mashed potatoes, dried veggies, and dehydrated ground beef.

Practice preparing the meal at home a few times, using only your camp stove and cookware, to fine-tune details.


Grilled trout Riesling, gewurztraminer

Hearty chili Malbec, Shiraz

Grilled steak Cabernet sauvignon, Shiraz

Pasta with red sauce Pinot noir, Sangiovese, Beaujolais

S’mores Muscat, reserve port

Try: PlatyPreserve wine carrier ($13,

Next Page: Desserts and Advanced Techniques

DESSERTS: Finish strong (and sweet)

Don’t let the final course be an afterthought: Reach gold-medal territory with a rich grand finale. Try one of these proven winners:

Bananas Flambé



Poach fish on a camp stove

Add your favorite poaching liquids to a large pan or skillet (try water + white wine + dried onions and carrots, or water + thyme + fennel seeds + lemon zest); liquid should be about one inch deep. Bring to a slow simmer, then add fish fillets. Cover and cook 10 to 12 minutes, keeping liquid at a simmer (don’t let it reach a full boil!), until fish is opaque and flakes easily. Remove from pan and boil remaining liquid until thickened; serve over fish. Tip: Use a stove with precise temperature control, such as the Optimus Crux Lite ($40,


Grill gourmet steak on a campfire

At home, marinate half-inch-thick flank steaks (try minced garlic, dry mustard, and whisky) in a zip-top bag, freezing overnight. At camp, before starting a fire, create a stable platform for your grill using four large rocks. Build a fire and let it burn down to hot coals. Place a lightweight grill (such as Open Country’s Backpacker’s Grid; $15, on rocks—it should be six to eight inches above the heat. Put thawed steak on the grill and cook to taste, flipping once.


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