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Trail Chef: Send Us Your Backcountry Cooking Secrets

Plus: 10 time-saving tips from the pros

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

Do you have a quick-and-easy, handy-dandy trick for making camp meals taste better, cook faster, clean up more easily, or weigh less? Tell us! We’ll pick the best ones and run them in our January Readers’ Choice issue. Here are 10 secrets from our own chefs to get you started.

1. Add the right amount of spices—but without packing teaspoons—using these “rules of thumb”:

  • 1/8 teaspoon = one-finger-and-thumb pinch
  • 1 teaspoon = three-fingers-and-thumb pinch
  • 1 tablespoon = four-fingers-and-thumb pinch
  • ½ cup = 1 palmful

2. Brew cowboy coffee. Stir grounds into hot water; let it stand a few minutes. Grasp the kettle by the handle and swing your arm—fast—in a windmill motion for five or six full circles (like a softball pitcher winding up). To settle the grounds, tap the sides of the kettle and add a few drops of cold water. 

3. Choose the right cheese. Hard cheeses (like cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone, and Gouda) stay fresh about one week in temps of 40°F to 70°F. Semisoft (Monterey Jack, mozzarella, Havarti, Muenster) last about four days. Meanwhile, blue-veined cheeses (Roquefort) and soft cheeses (cream cheese, Brie) can keep less than a day in your pack. Of course, in cold temps, the pack life for a cheese increases by a week or two.

4. Want to melt chocolate for fondue but without having the chocolate burn to the bottom of the pot? For no-mess fondue, pour hot (near boiling) water over it, and wait five to 10 minutes (don’t stir!). Then drain the water, stir the chocolate, add any cream or flavorings, and enjoy. Watch the step-by-step video at Trail Chef: Chocolate Fondue.

5. Melt snow efficiently. While melting snow in a pot (you do this by placing snow and a little bit of water in a pot and heating it over a stove), get twice the bang for your butane by filling a second pot with snow, covering it, and setting it atop the first, to take advantage of the rising heat.

6. Eat steak halfway through your backpacking trip. Freeze the meat before your trip, then insulate it with paper towels and or newspaper. When the T-bone thaws a couple of days later (depending on the temperatures), you can grill it up.

7. Clean a funky-smelling hydration bladder. Irrigate it with a diluted bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach per quart of water). Rinse well, and hang dry.

8. Deal with burned with food. If your noodles or rice starts to burn on the bottom of your pot, don’t stir it. That will only spread the nasty char taste. Transfer the unburned food into a bowl, clean the pot, then move the rest of the noodles back into the pot, and finish cooking them.

9. Perfectly melt the cheese on a pizza. Before removing your pie from a Dutch oven, sprinkle a teaspoon of water onto the very edge of the pan (not on the crust). The water will vaporize, and will melt cheese in less than a minute.

10. Make cleanup super easy. Bring Tupperware containers for your bowls. When you’re done, add a little bit of water, put the lid on, and shake vigorously. Then wipe away the mess with ease.

How to Pack for Backcountry Skiing

Get to know the winter safety gear you need in your pack.