Hiking works up an appetite like nothing else. While you might not break a sweat during the day, that doesn’t mean you haven’t earned the right to pig out at the end of the day. Dehydrated meals bring something to the table (in some cases nothing more than convenience), but the more fresh food you can include in your dinners, the more satisfied you’ll be at the end of the day and the more enjoyable campfire moments can be.

Depending on the number of days you’re headed out for, and how big your group is, you can exponentially increase your party’s collective happiness if you add in a mix of real fruits and veggies. If you’re car-camping, the variety of meals jumps up significantly, especially because there’s space for a giant cooler to keep everything fresh. To get the inside scoop on the best meals to make in the backcountry, we chatted with Jack Carlisle, backcountry cooking class instructor for the Pursuit Series, as well as the team at Patagonia Provisions.

The Gear You Need

While you can find a full rundown of all the gear we recommend to cook in the woods here, our experts passed along a few of their favorites, too.

Carlisle asks himself a few questions before getting started: “‘How much can I execute with the tools I have and what additional tools do I need? If cooking, what heat source do I need? What cooking vessel am I going to use? What do I want to cook?’” Carlisle recommends gear from the Camp Chef Lumberjack series — you might want an over fire grill, a skillet or stryker stove depending on your location and group size. As for cooking vessels, you can use anything from tin foil to a lightweight aluminum pot set or your favorite heavy duty cast iron skillet — whatever you have space to carry.

“It’s the workhorse of my home and basecamp kitchen,” Carlisle says of his go-to 12-inch cast iron skillet. Other essentials include an all-purpose chef set with all of the basics — knife, spatula, spoon, tongs and carrying case. “I have one specifically for base camp cooking and I don’t have to pull my knives from my home kitchen,” Carlisle says. Flexible cutting boards that are easily cleaned, lightweight and portable, are also a good idea — as well as 32-ounce cylinder shaped deli containers. Carlisle says they are, “great for storing prepped food, stacking in coolers and easy storage when not in use. Pick them up at a restaurant supply store, Amazon or your local grocery store deli.” Lastly, a quality instant read thermometer is crucial. “Temperature! Temperature! Temperature! If you buy the highest quality meat, it can easily turn sub-par with an improper internal cooking temperature. Alternately, a low-quality meat can turn into a culinary masterpiece with the right technique and correct internal temperature. I personally use a Thermapen by Thermoworks,” Carlisle says.

Camp Cooking Tips

As for advice, Carlisle says, “Planning and simplicity are key. Whether you’re using a commercially produced freeze-dried meal or a prepared product of your awesome creation, plan your menu out. Think through the scenarios and utilize the same ingredients for multiple meals. Pair the food with the experience you are trying to create.”

“Once you cut into a fresh fruit or vegetable, it will require refrigeration so here are some ideas of what to pack: single mini servings of vegetables, that you can eat in one sitting like mini peppers, pearl onions, baby red potatoes, baby carrots, mini cucumbers,” Carlisle says. “Other options include mini Babybel cheese in wax, dried salami and dried fruits which when added to hot water can make great sauces.”

Butternut Squash Tsampa Soup

Serves 4

1/2 small butternut squash, diced, skin removed (about 2 cups)
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups water
1 packet Patagonia Provisions Tsampa Soup Mix

1. Cut off the stem and cut the butternut squash in half.

2. Scoop out the seeds (reserve if you want to toast them for garnish).

3. Trim off any blemishes and cut into 3/4 — 1-inch pieces.

4. Heat olive oil in a large 3 – 4-quart pot over medium-high heat.

5. Add butternut squash and saute about 5 minutes, until squash pieces are well browned and starting to break apart.

6. Add water (it will sizzle and steam.)

7. Bring to a boil and add the packet of soup mix. Simmer for 6 minutes.

8. Serve in bowls and garnish with toasted squash seeds.

Wild Salmon Tacos with Cilantro Slaw and Mango Salsa

Serves 4

1 package Patagonia Provisions Wild Lummi Island Pink Salmon, Black Pepper, drained
6 – 6″ corn tortillas warmed over medium-high heat
2 cups finely shredded fresh cabbage
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
Juice and zest of 1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste
Salsa (make at home or bring your own)
Lime wedges, cilantro and crumbled Mexican cotija for garnish

1. Whisk together mayo, vinegar, sugar, lime juice and zest, then add shredded cabbage and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

2. Spoon cilantro slaw into warm tortillas and top with flaked salmon. Top with a dollop of salsa

Mediterranean Chicken Thighs

Serves 4

12 Pieces chicken drumsticks and thighs, skin on, bone-in
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lime
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup of juice from orange, lime and lemon
Salt and Pepper

1. Pat chicken dry. Salt and pepper chicken. Apply all ingredients to chicken for wet rub and place in gallon baggies to marinate. Marinate for two hours up to overnight.

2. Place on heated cast iron pan, griddle or preheated BBQ box. Cook at 350 degrees until internal temperature hits 165.

Green Beans and Mushrooms

Serves 4

2 large handfuls of fresh green beans, cut off ends
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 pound sliced brown mushrooms

1. Combine all ingredients and saute in pan until tender.

2. Serve with chicken, garden salad, rice, potatoes or pasta.

Steak Tips with Pepper, Onions and Potatoes

Serves 4 to 6

2-pounds Sirloin, cut into 1-inch squares
1 large white onion, diced
1 red or green bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeño, diced (optional)
2-pounds baby red potatoes, unpeeled and halved
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning or 2 tablespoons fresh herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, basil)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt butter in cast iron pan over medium heat.

2. Add potatoes and cook until tender. (A fork should slide right in)

3. Turn heat to medium-high and brown steak to cooking preference. Add onions, peppers, seasoning and salt and pepper to taste.

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