A no fuss no muss way to bring home cooking to your camp.
One of the biggest struggles around camp is what to eat for dinner. Breakfast and lunch usually are grab and go items that are meant to fuel your body. It’s quick protein and carb filled snacks that you keep in your pack like hard boiled eggs, protein bars, trail mix, sandwiches and the like. All of these are perfect for when you are on the move, but what about dinner? Dinner is different, it’s that reward at the end of the day that fuels not only your body for the next day’s hunt but your soul if you are lucky.
For years I have played and lost many of rounds of freeze-dried meal roulette. We have all been there, where we grab a bag from the mix and hope it’s going to taste good. One season I tried to resolve this issue by bringing up frozen burger patties and other quick cook items to use on my Camp Chef stove. Meals were much better but the cleanup every evening was a nightmare. The next step in this camp cooking evolution was boil in bag meals. They were easy (and tasty) make ahead meals plus clean-up was a breeze. However, there were two big problems that I didn’t consider. The first was that water takes longer (almost forever) to boil at altitude and the second was if there was a pinhole or even worse a bag busted – you were left to eat waterlogged food. Which is the last thing you want after a long day of hunting. Then I found the tool that would change my world: The steamer pot.
My wife and I had visited her Great Aunt Margie in Grand Junction, Colorado. While there I noticed the large pot on her stove that was filled with homemade tamales. Intrigued, I asked her about it, and she said it was a tamale steamer. The pot was simple at first glance. It was a large thin aluminum pot that had a rack that held the contents about two inches off the bottom and water filled the area below the rack. Once we returned home, I found one and began to experiment.
The pot I found was made by a company named IMUSA at a local big box store for around $25. They come in 12, 20 and 32 quarts. A day or so after I bought it, I had a few vacuum sealed bags of pulled pork in the freezer that we were wanting to defrost for dinner and thought what the heck, I’ll give the steamer a try. Was I surprised, in 20 minutes my pulled pork had gone from hard frozen to piping hot and ready to eat with no more effort than adding a few inches of water and turning on the stove. It makes sense, steam is much hotter than boiling water but not so hot it will melt plastic bags.
With this knowledge in hand, I set out make the best round of camp dinners any of my group had ever eaten. I spent the summer and early fall making everything from short ribs to red beans and rice, vacuum sealing and freezing flat. I was surprised. One 60qt cooler easily held enough meals to feed 10 for six nights and we still had leftovers to bring back.
At camp it was easy, the steamer pot would stay on the Camp Chef. The first person back in camp would check the water and add more if needed and pick a meal for the evening, place it in the steamer and turn the stove on. By the time everyone arrived back in camp dinner was ready to eat. Cleanup was effortless, just throw away the plastic bags and paper plates and wash the serving spoons and forks. This set up gave us more time for camp chores and to prep for the next day. The entire camp became much more efficient because of this addition.
I have used this method for several years with out fail. I have even taken my pot to spike camps and it worked perfectly by simply setting it directly into the fire. I loaded my meals into a shipping foam cooler, and it was the exact size of a pannier for a pack horse. We used the pannier as our bear bag and hung it in a shady spot between two trees. Our food remained frozen for five days.
The steamer pot truly has been a game changer for me. The pot can be found inexpensively at any of the big box stores or online. Meals can be made and frozen months in advance on your schedule. The pots are versatile, the large ones are big enough to store everything you will need to cook in the field. They can be used either on your home stove, camp stove or just set it directly in your campfire on a bed of coals. Most importantly the only work you have to do in camp is start a fire or turn on your camp stove, place what you want to eat inside with a little bit of water to cover the bottom and cover with the lid. The steam does the rest of the heavy lifting for you. I suggest you check it out for yourself and try a steamer pot the next time you head out to the field.
Good Luck, Lance Lewis