BE A HERO: Master the art of camp cooking

BE A HERO: Master the art of camp cooking

At the end of a long day on the river you’re gonna need to put some food in your belly. Camp cooking can seem like a chore at times but the payoff is well worth it. You can choose cheap and easy or full gourmet. Sometimes the simplest meals can be the best.

Prep work can be a camp cook’s best friend. Working in your home kitchen with the proper tools not only cuts down on cleanup but can move your dinner time hours ahead. Pre-cooking tough vegetables like carrots or potatoes frees up more precious campfire and cocktail time.

Cooking on the open fire will always add to the flavor but you can’t just throw a meal in the coals and expect it to work out. Potatoes wrapped in foil and poked for venting will take hours, while corn (still in the husk) soaked in the water will be ready in 20 minutes. Plan ahead so you’re not eating raw veggies with an overcooked steak.

The dutch oven is a tool all river rats should be familiar with. It could be breakfast, brunch or dinner. The dutch is the perfect outdoor cooking tool. It’s a skillet and a pot, and anything you cook in an oven can be prepared in the dutch. Don’t be afraid to experiment with recipes. It takes a couple meals to learn your dutch and cooking environment, but a basic rule of thumb for heat is to take the size of your dutch and double that number for coals. Then pull four coals and place on top. For example, if you cook in a 12-quart dutch you will need 24 coals. Eight on bottom and 16 on top. When in doubt, wait until you catch your first smell of the food and load the bottom coals on top. If you’re looking, it’s not cooking – so let the heat do its thing! Keep the lid closed!

Washing the dishes is the most important part. No one wants to get sick. It’s super easy to keep your kitchen clean and ready. The three-bin wash system has been used for years on many multi-day trips and is based off the same wash system seen in five-star restaurants. Hot water is your best friend. It’s nice on the hands and cuts grease down easily. Sloppy meals like chili should use a four-bin system with two soapy (hot water), one rinse (cold or tepid water), and the last should be cold with a cap-full of bleach in it. Dishes should be air dried and packed clean in the morning. Dutch ovens should be boiled with clean water with no soap, scrubbed clean and oiled for the next use. No soap ever on your dutch oven! Dish water then needs to be disposed of properly depending on your area.

The most important thing to remember is the camp cook is the hero. Even a PB&J is delicious when you’re miles from home, but a true home-cooked meal will keep you and your crew going all day long!

A Day in the Life of a Lochsa River Guide

A Day in the Life of a Lochsa River Guide

It’s still dark when I open the rain fly. Six thirty. I swear I just walked away from the hot fire and cold drinks to pass out happily by the rushing river.

Quietly, we round up the crew and head downriver. We have two hours to get everything in place before the guests show up. The team breaks off into individual tasks, some fill and rig rafts while others count helmets and life vests. It’s always a guessing game sitting in Lochsa country. No cell service. No way to change the plan.

Coffee is consumed rapidly in between stacking rafts higher than a bus or piling paddles into the trailer. What looks like chaos to the few guests that show up early to watch “guide TV” all flows smoothly together as the rest of the cars start to show up. The essential gear is handed out and the bad jokes start to roll. You can feel the excitement and anxiety pouring off the paddlers. Many have never been whitewater rafting before. I play the role of comedian, teacher and, of course, guide.

The bus ride is filled with questions and stories of river trips past. The boat ramp is a flurry of work as the rafts get shoved in the water and pumped full. The PFDs are snugged tight and the helmet cams are rolling. The work’s not done for the day yet but for the next few hours everyone that worked hard all morning gets to enjoy the thing that brought us all together. The river.

The miles flow by quickly. A hot lunch is much needed on cold water trips. We prep and cook as guests lounge in the sun or crowd around the heater in the rain, reliving the trip this morning. Service with a smile, and usually a bad joke or two. The dishes washed and ready for the next day, we load up for the final 10 miles of river.

The take out is the same flurry in reverse: restack the rafts, collect the helmets and vests, and load back into the bus. While the guests revel in the glory of a day on the mighty Lochsa, the guides get to work. Gotta wash and hang dry all the gear and get it sized and put back in place for the next day.

The rafts deflated and the sun hanging low in the sky, we head back upriver to our fire and cold beverages. Six thirty is gonna come quick tomorrow and I couldn’t be happier about it. 

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