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Wes Siler’s Ultimate Car-Camping Kitchen
Keep It Simple, Buy a Camper Shell
Wes Siler’s Ultimate Car-Camping Kitchen
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After years of testing gear and refining his own system, Wes has arrived at the perfect camp kitchen. Here he shows us his setup and how to cook his favorite pasta dish, so you can prepare for when it’s time to head back out there. The Camp Chef Mountaineer stove combines the highest-output burners available in a robust, light, freestanding package. The MSR Ceramic two-pot set is well designed, making both cooking and cleaning up outdoors easy. The Dometic fridge-freezer allows you to bring fresh food along on extended trips. And last but most important, the Front Runner upright water tank provides running water in camp.
Wes Siler: Probably my favorite thing about going car camping is the opportunity to cook really good meals in a beautiful location. Today I’m going to show you my entire camp-kitchen setup and show you how to cook one of my favorite camping meals.
The first thing you’ll see here is my stove. This is a Camp Chef. And there’s a couple of reasons I’ve chosen this. The first is, it’s made from aluminum, not steel, so it’s a lot lighter. And the second are the burners.
And Camp Chef—kind of bad about telling you this, but the whole unique selling point of Camp Chef is they have the best burners in the outdoor industry. So I’ve got two 20,000 BTU burners, and a lot of space here, and a lot of wind protection. And this is almost as powerful as my really nice gas range in my kitchen at home. I power the stove with a ten-gallon propane bottle. That’s probably overkill for you. I’m about to leave on a monthlong honeymoon trip to a Baja, so I wanted to take a lot of propane with me.
So I like having a little separate table. And just this little REI aluminum folding table is great. Doesn’t cost any money. We probably all have one. It’s easy to clean. It's lightweight. It doesn’t break, packs down into a tiny little package on the bed. So it’s just a handy thing to have.
And then I’ve sort of laid out my basic camp kitchen here on top of it. I bring a little plastic cutting board—easy to clean—some little tongs. I used my pocketknife. And then I really like these MSR pots. They’re titanium and nonstick, and they have these wonderful little drain lids.
So when you’re draining your pasta like we’re about to show you, you don’t have to have a separate colander. And I guess one of the big questions that I get is: How do you bring quality food like this on, say, a trip like our monthlong vacation to Baja?
And the answer to that is I have a 75-quart fridge-freezer built into the back of this. And that allows me to have one compartment frozen and one compartment refrigerated. And that means I’m pretty much unlimited in my ability to bring really good meals along with me. And I power that with two solar panels on the roof—gives me 200 watts of solar, runs into a Dometic PLB40 battery.
Nothing’s connected to my car. Nothing’s running down my battery while I’m parked. This can stay on indefinitely. It never needs to turn off.
And the other thing I have back there—you can barely see it, because it takes up no space—is I’ve got a Front Runner water tank that’s vertical and flat. It holds ten gallons. It gives me running water for my kitchen. And this is just awesome.
It means if I need to fill up a pot for pasta, I just fill it up like you do with the tap at home. If I want to do dishes, I can just do dishes right there. Honestly, that’s it. That’s my camping setup. I carry my dishes in an Action Packer.
So let’s dive in. Let me show you how to make a spaghetti carbonara in camp. First up with with any pasta dish is, obviously, you get the water boiling for the pasta.
There we go. So while that’s going on, I’m going to go ahead and slice up my bacon. Just nice little slices, so it’ll stir in with the pasta really well. And the trick to cooking bacon—and this is where most people screw up—is you load the bacon into a cold pan, bring the heat to medium, and let it cook from cold that way. And then it doesn’t burn, and it gets a nice flavor.
So then just load this into this cast-iron skillet. You definitely want a cast-iron skillet for all camping. Again, you can cook on the campfire with it. You can cook on the stove. It just super versatile, nonstick. You don’t really need to clean it. Really makes your life easy.
All right, so while the bacon and the pasta water are going, we’re going to take two whole eggs and two just yolks and put them in a mixing bowl. And again, I just use the MSR bowl for that. There we go.
And I’m going to take one-third of a cup of shredded Parmesan and one-third of a cup of pecorino Romano. I didn’t bring a measuring cup. I just eyeball stuff. It’s what I do at home, too. My lovely assistant, Chris, is about to bring me two egg yolks. Chris?
Beautiful, you’re a pro.
And then we season this mixture with some salt and pepper.
You can go pretty heavy on the pepper for a carbonara. Just adds a little flavor. While we get the pasta water boiling, go ahead and add some salt to it. All right, that’s boiling. So we’re going to go ahead and put the pasta in there.
And now we want to cook this pasta just shy of al dente, so it’s still really firm, because, again, it’s going to go in the skillet for a little while at the end. And I’m just going to keep the temperature on this burner relatively low, just so it’s still bubbling.
The bacon is done. Again, we don’t want it as crispy as breakfast bacon. So I’m just going to turn that heat off. I’m going to go ahead, pluck it out, set it aside.
All right, our pasta is just north of al dente, nice and crispy still. So we’re going to go ahead, use the little MSR drain they give us. There we go. This is just salty water. So we’re not hurting anything by draining this way.
We’re going to put that in the skillet. Set that aside. Put the bacon back in there. I’m just going to stir this bacon into the pasta, cook it for about a minute. Don’t make such a mess like I’m making.
All right, this pasta’s looking pretty good. I’m going to turn that burner off. This pot is still hot. So we’re just going to get the pasta in there, mostly. A lot of it’s on my stove. Kind of making a mess here.
With the remaining heat of the pasta and the hot pot, that’s what’s going to cook the eggs in our sauce stir-up. And so we’re just going to go ahead, dump this in here.
And we’re just going to give this a stir.
And so then we just go ahead, serve it while it’s nice and warm. We’re just going to put a little Parmesan on top.
A little more pepper.
Mm. That’s actually really good. And this is what I like to do when I go camping: it’s just cook an awesome meal, sit somewhere beautiful, watch the sunset, drink a beer. It’s no better life than this.