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The 7 best camp kitchens

There are few things that provide the same level of satisfaction as cooking a meal in the great outdoors. The best camp kitchens have all the tools you need to whip up nourishing dishes during your trek, whether you're car camping or backpacking.

Whether you're new to camping or are an outdoor pro, it helps to remember that different styles of camping require different cooking equipment, so before you make a purchase, think about your upcoming trips. If you have an RV or love car camping at a campground, a folding camp kitchen that provides counter space and cutting surfaces might be the best choice — though you'll want to make sure you also have a portable grill or a campfire for any actual cooking.

If you're more of a backpacker or backcountry camper, you'll want a compact, lightweight camp stove that can quickly heat hot water — using either a small gas tank or natural material like twigs and wood chips — for rehydrating camp meals and making coffee. A folding grill grate for open-fire cooking can be handy for any kind of camper, and a camping mess kit and set of outdoor cooking utensils are all useful tools to have on hand.

I've compiled a list of the best camp kitchen must-haves, from backcountry cooking sets to fold-out cook stations that have more counter space than the kitchen in my Brooklyn apartment. You can build the ultimate outdoor kitchen by stocking up on several of the below items, or choose one or two essentials.

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1. The folding cook station

If prep space is your primary concern, this folding camp kitchen offers more counter space than you'd find in some small apartments. The collapsible frame is made from durable aluminum, with a heat-resistant aluminum countertop in the center that's perfect for holding a portable grill or camp stove. There are also four fold-out plastic side tables that work for prep or storage, as well as a wire storage rack near the bottom. The aluminum countertop can hold up to 48 pounds, while each folding table can hold a maximum of 30 pounds each, so you should be able to fit most of your camp cooking needs.

"It's super easy to put up [...] sturdy and versatile," wrote one reviewer. When not in use, this camp kitchen folds flat, has two convenient carrying handles, and weighs just under 19 pounds.

2. The backcountry kitchen set

Backcountry cooks will love this five-piece camp kitchen set, which includes a raised bamboo cutting board, a camp stove that can run on either propane or wood, a propane adapter, a moka pot style coffee maker, and a carrying case that keeps all of your gear together. The stove packs flat, and if you prefer not to carry fuel with you while you're camping, you can use twigs to heat the stove — though it also works with gas and solid fuel sources. The cutting board has folding legs to keep your prep surface off the ground, and doubles as a serving board. The coffee maker is the size of a standard water bottle, and includes a nesting cup. On top of that, the whole set weighs under 6 pounds, so it's impressively portable.

3. The portable gas grill

You'll need a portable, lightweight grill if you don't want to cook over a campfire, and this one weighs just 12 pounds and folds flat, so it's perfect for car camping, beach cookouts, and more. This splurge-worthy grill heats in less than a minute, is compatible with 1-pound propane canisters, and can reach nearly 10,000 BTU if both burners are turned on — which means this tiny grill cooks much like a full-sized one.

Unfolded, this grill provides 226 square inches of cooking space, so you're not limited to meals for one or two people. It comes with two drip trays, a carrying strap, and a gas hose to connect to your fuel source, and the grill grates are made from durable nonstick ceramic. The adapter hose also allows you to connect to larger propane tanks, which makes it convenient for tailgating as well as camping. "This is the Apple Mac of grills," wrote one reviewer, "why has someone not invented this before!"

4. The backpacking stove

The Jetboil Flash camping stove is a backpacker's best friend, since it weighs just 13 ounces yet it heats water to a boil in 100 seconds flat. The cooking cup holds up to 1 liter of liquid, and it comes with an insulating sleeve to keep your hot liquids hot. The sleeve also features a thermochromic logo that changes color when your water is boiling, so you can see just how fast this thing works.

The Jetboil Flash system comes with the cooking cup, insulating sleeve, and fuel canister stabilizer, though you will need to purchase compatible fuel canisters separately. The sleeve comes in four color options, so you can choose one that matches the rest of your gear. This lightweight stove was my first introduction to camp cooking, and the instant oatmeal I made with my Jetboil was the best I've ever had. I also take mine on day hikes and climbing trips, because there's nothing like having fresh coffee out at the crag.

5. The campfire grill grate

If you're looking for an easy way to cook over a campfire, this folding grill grate is a simple way to turn any open fire into a proper cooking setup. Simply unfold the legs and place the grate directly over your campfire, and you can put your favorite outdoor cookware directly on the grill top (putting your food directly on the surface of the grate is not recommended). Made from welded steel, it weighs just over 6 pounds and folds flat, but it's still a bit too heavy and bulky for backpacking, according to reviewers. Though, it also comes in a medium size that's even more portable.

"Just used this grill for cold weather camping in Western MA," wrote one reviewer. "I let the campfire burn down to mostly coals, and then placed the grill over the coals. I boiled water in my billy can for soup in about 5-6 minutes. Worked spectacularly."

6. The basic cooking utensil kit

This 11-piece camp cooking utensil set is a worthy addition to any backcountry cook's arsenal. It comes with a camp towel, two knives, a pair of tongs, kitchen shears, a wine key, three serving utensils, two spice shakers, and a plastic cutting board. Weighing just around 2 pounds, the whole set stores neatly in the included rugged cotton carrying case, and each item has its own compartment, so you'll never lose track of your cooking tools. When you get home from your trip, all of the utensils are dishwasher-safe for easy cleanup.

"This is a perfectly put together backpacking cooking utensil set, everything is high quality steel, sturdy, and not too heavy at all," wrote one reviewer.

7. The nonstick mess kit

You don't just need things to cook on when you're camping — you also need things to cook in. This nonstick mess kit comes with 13 pieces that stack and nest together for compact storage. The set comes with two lidded pots, a frying pan, and a kettle. Four bowls, two plates, a dish sponge, a rice ladle, and a soup spoon store neatly inside the stacked cookware, and everything fits inside of the included carrying case. All of the cookware is nonstick, so you won't have to worry about your campfire eggs sticking to the pan, and the heat-resistant handles stay cool to the touch while cooking.

The entire set weights just over 3 pounds, so it's lightweight enough to bring on a backpacking trip, especially if you're sharing the load with other campers. "What a great set for couple/family camping," wrote one reviewer, "I've used the pots on a cook stove and open fire and the handles provide easy lifting with no [mitts] required."