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The Complete Bird Camp Cooking Guide

The combination of fire and food is the perfect ending to any bird hunting adventure.

The Complete Bird Camp Cooking Guide

If you’re looking to do some cooking on the road this hunting season, here are a few pointers. (Photo By: Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley)

A multi-day hunting trip often means cooking at camp or out of the back of your vehicle—and if your pursuit was successful, you’d have a bird, or several, to throw over the fire. There really is no better dining experience than cooking freshly killed game beneath the stars, working over the heat of a smoldering campfire on a crisp fall evening, and being enveloped in the aromas of smoke and mouthwatering, sizzling meat. All the while, you know that you hunted hard for the game you’re about to enjoy. It’s a feeling of pride and gratitude that comes from a primal place—a  connection to the hunters who came before you, who, since the beginning of human history, also sat at fires after a fruitful day.


Basic Bird Camp Kitchen Essentials

One major difference between cooking at a bird camp and other camping is that most regular campers don’t have to deal with guts and feathers. It’s important to keep field dressing and cooking separate, which prevents cross contamination and promotes food safety. If you’re using the same knives and cutting boards to clean and cook your birds, wash and sanitize them thoroughly in between uses—the same goes for your hands.  

Below are the kitchen tools I bring to camp. A notable item is Campsuds Soap—not only is this multi-purpose soap biodegradable, it also works in cold water—handy if you’re low on fuel to boil the dishwater. Another item I like is disposable cutting board sheets. I often use them to line my actual cutting board when working with meat. It cuts down on the wash and also helps prevent cross contamination between other ingredients. And although not always necessary, I do keep well-fitting disposable gloves on hand, especially if I’m camping in an area where there’s no running water.

My husband and I store all our camp cooking gear in a plastic, weather-resistant container that can easily be thrown in the back of the truck before a trip. If no tables are available at camp, pack a portable camp table for prep or, do everything on the tailgate of your truck. Place a towel underneath your cutting board to prevent slipping.  

Bird Camp Cooking Essential Equipment

  • Long tongs
  • Cutting board, plus disposable cutting sheets
  • Meat thermometer
  • Kitchen shears
  • Knives
  • Gallon-size zip-top bags
  • Shatterproof mixing bowls/prep dishes
  • Refillable jug to store water for dirty dishes and hands
  • Campsuds Soap
  • Camp sink (plastic tub)
  • Scouring pad and scraper
  • Matches and/or lighter
  • Spatula and large spoon(s)
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Bottle opener/can opener
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • Paper towels
  • Dish towels
  • Trash bags
  • Disposable food prep gloves (optional)              


Open Flame Cooking

Open flame cooking requires a few items to accomplish. First, make sure that wherever you are planning to cook will allow open fires, and that a fire ring is available, or bring your own. Regulations will change depending on conditions, so call ahead. Also, “buy it where you burn it”—use local firewood only to prevent the spread of non-native insects and tree diseases. Pack a hand saw and small axe to cut down larger pieces of wood if needed. I can usually find small pieces of dried twigs and wood debris around camp to use as fire starter, but bring homemade or store-bought fire starter materials just in case.

open flame cooking with cast iron pan
Buy local firewood only to prevent the spread of non-native insects and tree diseases. (Photo By: Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley)

To cook, you’ll need a grill rack. Although an adjustable rack is preferable, it won’t always be practical. If you use a fixed rack, build the fire and set the rack in a way that will allow you to easily and safely move around the embers to control heat; find a long, sturdy stick near camp for this task. Cast-iron cookware is best for cooking over a campfire due to its durability and longer heat retention. Also, don’t forget to bring extreme heat-resistant BBQ gloves, because you’d be sorry without them.

Your fire is ready for cooking when the flames have died down and the wood has turned gray-white, called embers. If needed, add more wood to keep the fire going.

Camp Stove Cooking

If you’d rather not deal with the hassle of starting an open fire or you’re camping in an area that doesn’t allow one, portable camp stoves are low-profile, reliable, and easy to use. Although there are many great camp stoves out there, we’ve used and abused our two-burner Coleman Classic Propane camp stove for years, and the only reason why we haven’t upgraded is because it just won’t die. You could go with a one-burner stove to save space, but I find two burners more versatile when cooking meals.

cooking on a coleman camp stove
Use non-stick cookware over a camp stove for easy cleanup. Canned potatoes and pre-chopped peppers provide an easy start to breakfast burritos. (Photo By: Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley)

For fuel, choose propane for general camp cooking. Propane is cheap, widely available, and works well even in colder temperatures.

When cooking with a camp stove, I take old non-stick pots and pans that used to be in the kitchen before being relegated to the “camp kitchen” container in the garage. Non-stick cookware is easy to cook with and clean. We have a few dinged-up pieces from T-fal that have done their job beautifully. Old kitchen knives have also made their way into the lineup.

Bird Camp Herbs and Spices

Coghlan's makes a camping herb and spice dispenser that seemed like a great idea at first, but what really happens is that you use a little bit of it at camp, and the rest of it stays packed away for months or even years. Unfortunately, dried herbs and spices don’t retain their flavor for long. If you know what you’re going to cook, raid your pantry and bring a few shakers of what you think you’ll need. Aside from salt and pepper, below are a few dry seasonings that generally go well with game birds.

  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Curry powder
  • Garlic salt
  • Onion salt
  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Juniper berries
  • Chili flakes
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Dried tarragon
  • Ground cumin
  • Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
  • McCormick Montreal Chicken

Bird Camp Cooking Shortcuts and Quick Tips

The following are a few tricks I’ve learned over the years to make my life easier when cooking outdoors:

  • Sharpen knives and test the stove before packing. 
  • Choose easy side dishes, especially those that can be eaten fresh or cooked quickly: Asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms, canned potatoes corn, beans, sweet peppers, fresh peas, and baby bok choy are a few favorites.
  • Zip-top bags have many uses. I prepare instant mashed potatoes and instant boxed couscous inside double bags; just add boiling water, seal, and use oven mitts to knead– no dirty pot! Or drop a sealed bag of Ready Rice or Ready Pasta in a pot of boiling water to warm through; use that same water to wash the dishes.
  • Choose pre-trimmed and pre-washed produce when available and affordable, such as bagged lettuce, cauliflower rice, spinach and kale. If you do it yourself, dry thoroughly before storage, because moisture can cause fresh produce to spoil quickly.
  • If a vegetable needs to be blanched, do it at home and strain. It’ll keep well cooked.
  • Make sauces and purees at home and keep cold in leakproof containers until ready to use, including salsas, homemade marinades, salad dressing, and pesto.
  • Pre-chop and pre-measure ingredients at home whenever possible. Pre-blend more complicated concoctions of herbs and spices.
  • Heat up dishwater while you eat.  

Camp-Friendly Game Bird Recipes

Here are a few recipes that you can easily pull together at camp. Each of these recipes can be prepared over a grill or camp stove, and I’ve included a pointer or two—a little prep work at home will make cooking at camp no sweat. Remember to keep everything cold in a cooler. I’ve also started the habit of packing a meat thermometer. Cooking over a campfire can be tricky, and a thermometer will help you achieve the perfect cook every time.

Sharp-Tailed Grouse Tacos with Mango-Pepper Salsa Recipe

Sharp-Tailed Grouse Tacos with Mango-Pepper Salsa Recipe
Sharp-Tailed Grouse Tacos with Mango-Pepper Salsa Recipe (Photo By: Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley)

Tips for Bird Camp:

  • Prep the mango salsa and store in Tupperware.
  • Wash and dry cilantro at home. Store in zip-top bags.

Get this recipe now!

Grouse Poppers with Dates Recipe

Grouse Poppers with Dates Recipe
Grouse Poppers with Dates Recipe (Photo By: Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley)

Tips for Bird Camp:

  • Cut bacon into halves and keep cold in zip-top bags.
  • Pre-fill dates with cheese and nuts.

Get this recipe now!

Pan-Seared Dove Breast with Sunflower Seed Hummus Recipe

Pan-Seared Dove Breast with Sunflower Seed Hummus Recipe
Pan-Seared Dove Breast with Sunflower Seed Hummus Recipe (Photo By: Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley)

Tips for Bird Camp:

  • Prepare hummus and remix za’atar seasoning at home.

Get this recipe now!

Grilled Rosemary Orange Quail Recipe

Grilled Rosemary Orange Quail Recipe
Grilled Rosemary Orange Quail Recipe (Photo By: Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley)

Tips for Bird Camp:

  • Combine marinade ingredients in advance and store in a mason jar. Give the marinade a good shake to emulsify before marinating quail in a gallon-size bag.

Get this recipe now!

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