12 Ways to Cook Outdoors Without a Kitchen
Grilling isn't the only way to cook alfresco. Whether you're an avid camper or simply want to learn some just-in-case meal-prep methods, it's a good idea to know your way rocket stoves, outdoor ovens, and other ways to heat and serve.
Whether your goal is to keep the house cool and free of cooking aromas or to have fun with friends while manning the spatula and tongs, taking your meal prep outdoors is a terrific solution. While cooking over an open fire (or grill) is a favorite pastime for many, there are a number of other ways to cook meals outside. Indeed, some of these alternative methods may also come in handy if you find yourself without power for a few days.
For those thinking about taking their cooking skills from the kitchen to the great outdoors, it’s helpful to weigh the pros and cons of each method before deciding on one that best suits your needs. From today’s backyard grilling machines to methods as old as time, these outdoor food prep methods are smoking hot.
1. BBQ Grill
Whether your fuel of choice is propane, natural gas, or charcoal, flipping burgers on the backyard grill is the preferred way to cook outside for many folks. Steaks, chicken, veggies, hot dogs, and a slew of other foods’ flavors can really come alive when seasoned and cooked over a carefully dialed-in grill setup. Don’t forget the side burner for pots and pans, as well.
Smoked meats are a favorite of many backyard chefs. Whether it’s whole chickens, fish, ribs, sausages, or vegetables, cooking these foods at low temperatures for long periods in a smoker gives them a bold, smoky flavor that’s tough to replicate in a kitchen.
With gas, charcoal, and pellet smokers available, outdoor cooks have plenty of options. Just check out this model from Cuisinart—the top choice from our best propane smokers guide.
3. Pizza Oven
There are plenty of reasons to own an outdoor pizza oven, the most persuasive of which is that cooking a pizza in an indoor oven takes about 15 to 16 minutes, but in an outdoor pizza oven it takes just 3 or 4 minutes. The wonderful flavor of wood-fired pizza and the fact that pizza oven cooking involves very little clean-up can’t be discounted, either. A pizza oven can also bake breads, calzones, strombolis, and a host of other delicious foods—and, let’s face it, who wants to crank their indoor oven up to 500 degrees in the middle of the summer?
The reasons to own a pizza oven go on and on, but this method of outside cooking is often a backyard hit. At a loss as to which pizza oven might suit you? BakerStone‘s portable gas pizza oven was found to offer the most bang for your buck in our guide to the best outdoor pizza ovens.
4. Campfire Grates
Cooking outdoors doesn’t always mean standing on the deck or patio and watching the kids in the pool. For off-grid adventures or campsite hangouts, consider placing a grill grate over the campfire or fire pit. Grilling meats this way is a “grate” way to cook outdoors while minimizing cleanup.
Pro tip: To prevent your food from burning, let the fire burn down to hot coals before cooking.
5. Solar Oven
Believe it or not, there are devices that harness and concentrate solar power so that users can cook without any fuel or flames. Solar ovens like this GOSUN model feature reflective surfaces that channel the sun’s rays into a portable oven, allowing them to slow-bake foods like chicken, stews, fish, and squash. These ovens often reach temperatures of 250 degrees Fahrenheit—hot enough for most applications, though cooking may take a longer than traditional methods.
6. Rocket Stove
A rocket stove is another outdoor cooking solution that produces a lot of cooking heat without using a lot of fuel. Rocket stoves such as this one from StarBlue are generally J- or L-shaped, with openings on both ends. The user builds the fire in the lower end, while the upper end creates a significant draft. Voilà! The perfect conditions for cooking over a grate.
Rocket stoves are often home-built, and DIYers can make them out of bricks, concrete blocks, metal cans, and a host of other upcycled materials.
7. Pot Tripod
Outdoor cooking isn’t just for grilling meats over an open fire. Stews, soups, and pastas are also possibilities if you first assemble a pot tripod. These tripods stand over a fire, with each of the three feet positioned outside of the flames. There’s a hook in the center on which pot can be hung, allowing the fire underneath to heat delicious sauces, soups, stews, and sides. This Stansport pot tripod has an adjustable chain, and it weighs 13 pounds.
Skewers are some of the oldest tools for cooking food over open fires. This method isn’t just for roasting marshmallows, either—hot dogs, sausages, potatoes, and plenty of other delicious outdoor delicacies are eligible for skewered cooking. By placing vegetables or meats on a stick or long-handled fork, outside cooks can bring their food close to the fire until it’s sufficiently heated.
Rotisserie and spit-cooked meals are both delicious and time-honored traditions. Suspending meat over a fire and carefully turning and timing it for even cooking is an art. While setting up a rotisserie spit large enough for a pig roast requires some heavy-duty hardware, spits large enough for roast chicken, like this one from Grizzly, are affordable and easy to use.
10. Dutch Oven
Whipping up a fireside stew or a side for the main course can be a breeze with a Dutch oven. These cast-iron pots are built for high-temperature situations, making them ideal for placing on a bed of hot coals for some outdoor cooking. Just be careful when using a dutch oven because they can be heavy and get extremely hot.
11. Outdoor Oven
The outdoor oven is probably the oldest method on this list, and there are multiple ways to build an ovens hot enough for outdoor cooking using natural materials: Some preferred methods include earth ovens that are built above ground with straw, dry grass, and mud, and pit ovens that require digging a hole in the ground to contain heat from fire or coals. Both of these methods are effective and time-tested, but aren’t for the casual camper. It requires a fair amount of work and patience to build an outdoor oven.
12. Camp Stove
Don’t discount the humble camp stove for outdoor cooking. These compact, gas-powered stoves are easy to set up and can produce enough power to replace the one in the kitchen (at least temporarily). This makes them a great choice for cooking breakfast over a griddle or stew in a pot.
Camp stoves do tend to be fuel-hungry compared to kitchen stoves, but they can be worth the cost when they’re needed. This Coleman camp stove is a great choice for outdoor cooking, sporting two burners and weighing only 5 pounds.
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