As Steven Rinella said on the topic of hunting: “I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun, and I wouldn’t do it if it didn’t create food.”. It seems ridiculous to argue the logic he has expressed with that singular statement. Sure, there are dozens of components to hunting–the equipment, the adventure, the camaraderie with friends (or companionship with dogs) just to name a few; however, the one thing that ties us all back to our roots as hunter-gatherers, and still brings folks together to this day is a one-word answer. Food.
The sheer volume of wild game recipes floating around the Internet and social media can be mind-numbing. While we’re huge fans of absorbing as much content as possible, there are times where I find it easier to tune out all of the noise, clear my mind a bit and get back to the basics. If you’re cooking at home for your family it only makes sense that you would wield your entire arsenal of herbs and spices like the kitchen samurai you undoubtedly are–but what about when you’re on a hunting trip and you’re limited by either your method of cooking (over a fire perhaps) or the amount of ingredients you’re able to bring with you? That’s where you fall back on the basics, and put together a camp meal that you and your buddies will still be reminiscing over long after the trip has concluded.
“I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun, and I wouldn’t do it if it didn’t create food.”
So what exactly are the basics? Well that’s a bit subjective. Naturally, “the basics” by this writer’s standards may be different than your own, so to that end let’s assume that we are working within the confines of a hunting trip where you have four hunters and only one truck. That should paint a picture of the amount of space each person is allotted in the vehicle. Not unlike a family vacation where you’re cramming all of your Panama Jack gear into the suitcase without breaking TSA weight limits. Right? Close enough.
The most basic things we bring along when there is cooking to be done are frequently things that can be transported fairly easily. A cooler seems obvious. Besides the obvious task of keeping your beer at a desirable temperature, it will also most likely be your main method of refrigeration. Keeping your groceries cold is essential for reasons so bleedingly obvious that I wouldn’t dare try to tell you about them. For all intents and purposes we’ll assume you are going to prep your cooler the day before your trip, and everything goes into it cold so you’re not battling the ever-present laws of physics on your adventure.
So you’ve got your cooler packed with ice, beer, and other various accoutrements to appease the lads for a few days afield. Let’s assume that at least one meal per day will be a family style meal where everyone is going to sit down and dine upon the same thing. What (besides refrigeration) do you need? Here’s a quick and dirty checklist for things that always make it along into the Northlands:
- Fat – This is a key piece of the cooking basics. Oil, spray, butter, however you choose to do it–you’ll be using fat in your cooking schemes. Being that we’re packing simple and aiming to please a small crowd, we stick to olive oil.
- Protein – Another no-brainer. You’re out in the field hunting–and hopefully harvesting–wild game right? Take it from us: it’s far better to have that package of brats you don’t need, than to have four hungry dudes in the wilderness! You’ll find a creative way to eat the extra food. Trust us.
- Seasoning – This is where the subjective side of cooking will rear it’s head. Everyone has different taste; within our crew alone, Tom likes high-brow IPA’s and I’m a run-of-the mill lager guy–you just can’t please ’em all. When it comes to the basics for seasoning we stick to sea salt, black pepper, and the Savage Jerky Herb Blend as our kitchen first aid kit. If you’re going to pack your portable chef’ing kit with only four things, they should be: oil, salt, pepper, and the precious herbs.
Provided in this example we are feeding four folks, we’re looking to maximize what we can carry. For this particular guy, that means freeze-dried. You can carry a massive amount of grub with a small and lightweight footprint if you’re willing to work with freeze dried goods. Don’t get discouraged by some of the weird options out there either. There are plenty of ways to turn seemingly boring MountainHouse chow into elite tier camp cuisine.
Breeze through the menu from a night in the North Maine Woods
– Appetizers –
Braised ruffed grouse legs (braised in butter, beer, and the aforementioned seasonings)
Savage Jerky (original mojo)
– Main –
Grouse fajitas (mountain house fajita rice, sauteed grouse breast, fresh corn tortillas)
Spicy brats and mustard
– Drinks –
Jim Beam Blue Label (double oak)
Rogue Dead Guy Ale
So you can see that it doesn’t really take a ton of effort to pack in seasoned rice with beans and veggies already in there, combine that with some freshly harvested ruffed grouse, then top it off with some chopped cilantro and a dab of hot sauce. Really the only thing you need to watch out for here would be if there are neighbors close enough to smell your camp, because they’ll come over “to say hi”. You can pretty much guarantee it!
Obviously the example we’ve used here was one from our own experience, and it was a short partridge hunting trip at at that, so the demand for quantity and long-term refrigeration wasn’t high. Things went great–but then again it’s pretty hard to complain when you’ve got a group of friends together to put some miles on the boots, [hopefully] get into some birds, and enjoy the Northlands. How does your camp menu stack up? We’d love to know what types of things you’re bringing into the woods for short–or long–trips. Fire an email over to us to tell us what you think. This is the kind of thing that becomes part of endless conversations on the way to (and often times from) camp.