slow cooking expert and mom to three
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A Year of Slow Cooking

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Camping with Your Slow Cooker

I didn't always like camping. I much preferred hotels or motels with maid service and a restaurant and clean towels.

And then I had kids. Don't get me wrong, I still love maid service and clean towels, but I hate spending lots of money and I hate having to get kids to sit still and have "restaurant behavior" when we are on a long trip. A few days here and there is absolutely fine, but sometimes you really just want a grilled cheese sandwich or a bowl of naked pasta and don't want to wait around in a booth at Applebees.

And I want my kids to be unplugged as much as possible, and I have got to admit the first thing I do when checking into a hotel or motel is to flip around and see "what kind of cable channels does this place have?"

I also want my kids to not be fearful of the outdoors and I like watching them dig with sticks and climb trees and just BE TOGETHER -- it forces all of us to work together to set up and break down camp and that kind of stuff warms my suburban soccer mom heart.

So I've embraced the dirt (thank you baby wipes!) and the sand (thank you dust buster!) and the laundry (dear help me, the laundry is just insane when we get home) and the chaos camping brings and now I can honestly say that I really really like being outdoors and pretty much all that camping has to offer.

And I bring along a slow cooker (or two).

Since we car camp and usually stick to a pretty family-friendly campground (mostly KOAs), we have electricity when we camp. Although we did recently decide to get a tiny pop-up tent trailer, I did use the slow cooker when we tent camped.

Just like at home, the kids are hungry and tired after a long day, and knowing that dinner is hot and ready after spending the day outside playing in the water or after a day touring around is just wonderful.

If you are tent-camping, I'd recommend having a long extension cord with you, and using one of the lockable-lid slow cookers. Obviously this isn't a way to cook if you are in bear country ---- I'm not going to even pretend to know how to bear proof a crockpot -- so don't do that!

If you've got a travel trailer or motorhome, you are already used to cooking in it, and I know a slow cooker is a mainstay in many RV kitchens already. Just like at home, I'd highly recommend a programmable slow cooker that will turn off when the cooking time has elapsed, so your food stays hot and safe to eat until you return back "home" for the day.

These are the cookers I happen to use and recommend, and you can usually find them at Bed Bath and Beyond or Kohls at a deep discount right now since the holidays are over.
I know that I'm terribly biased, but I do like the Ninja a lot for camping because having the stovetop and oven setting is pretty darn cool when away from home.

This is what I do to make camping and food-prep easier with the slow cooker:

1) do as much prep at home as possible. I like to chop all my veggies at home and separate our meals into Ziplock baggies and write on the outside of the bag what it all is (everything looks the same when it's frozen solid!) and then I freeze the bags at home to stack into the cooler.

2) if you are planning a chili or taco soup, brown the ground beef/turkey at home, and I'd suggest opening all the cans at home and then freezing in a zippered bag.

3) plan on lazy cooking --- which for us is usually a hunk of meat (or boneless chicken thighs) and a bottle of your favorite something sauce (bbq, simmer sauce, pasta sauce, etc.) Instead of bringing the jar or bottle, put the meat in a freezer bag and then put the sauce on it at home and freeze at home, so in the morning all you have to do is dump the contents into the cooker.

4) we usually do a sausage and vegetable medley -- which is super easy and all I do is make sure to have a 5-lb bag of potatoes with us and I do wash and cut those on the campground, then put in the bottom of a slow cooker with sliced chicken and apple sausage, and a bit of chicken broth (or white wine). If I've got a bag of baby carrots (which I usually do) I throw those in and any other random veggies I've got (bell peppers, brocolli).

5) save the leftovers from your sausage and veggie medley to do breakfast-for-dinner the next night (and any leftover hotdogs you might have). Scramble up 6-10 eggs or so with some milk then pour over the leftover potatoes and sausage and cook the next day.

6) baked potatoes or corn on the cob work great in the slow cooker, or you can do a layered dinner with meat and your potatoes and corn. My kids are super happy with a loaded baked potato for dinner, and since we usually have bacon for breakfast, I keep some for dinner time toppings. We always have a variety of cheeses with us, too.

7) planning ahead this way actually works in flexibility! I am not a slow cooker purist by any stretch of the imagination --- I also bring the pancake griddle which works great for quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches (and pancakes ;-) .). The kids still like to cook hotdogs on sticks, and we have a dutch oven that Adam uses over coals. If for some reason we have no power or are in a position where we don't feel safe leaving a crockpot plugged in, any of the prepared plastic bags can be dumped into a dutch oven or large pot to be cooked with propane, over coals, etc.

8) If you are on a roadtrip, see if your van or truck has an outlet in it. This way you can actually cook while you are driving. Lots of mini vans have outlets in the back and this works great to cook a large roast for pulled sandwiches or something not-too-soupy for eating on the road. If you've got an RV, you already know way more about this sort of thing than I do!

UPDATED: [please see the comment selection below for further information on cooking-while-you-drive. You most likely need an adapter to make this option work for you.]

I'm sure you already know this, but it bears repeating that this will drain your car battery if you are not actively driving. I wouldn't leave it plugged in your car if you plan on touring a museum for a long period of time, etc.


9) UPDATED: I've gotten a few emails about thermo slow cooking. I haven't personally tried this out yet, abut plan on it this summer. There are two well-reviewed companies that make these, and I think they'd be absolutely fantastic for camping.
Wonderbag and  Thermal Cook both ship world wide, and both companies have reached out and are run by wonderful people. When I have the opportunity to recipe test using these products, I will certainly write a thorough review. If you have had experience cooking in a thermal device, please share your feedback! 


I hope this helps a bit! Happy Camping!!

If you've got other suggestions or menu ideas, please let me know, I know I've got an awful lot to learn. Especially since one of my dreams is to travel cross-country and see EVERYTHING! :-)




14 comments:

Peter Schott said...

Not sure if this makes a difference, but many state parks also have water/electric and there are some really great ones out there. I'll admit I never thought of trying to bring a slow cooker along, but the idea is intriguing.I could see that being useful for those times you really don't want to start a fire or the camp stove. (We car/tent camp more than anything else so no camper for us.) We may try this at some point instead of hauling the dutch oven, especially for warmer weather.

Linda Flood said...

Only you would find a way to use a slow cooker in a vehicle. hahaha!

rkjb85 said...

Foil meals are fun to do too. You can buy a tripod to cook them over the fire. We usually do hamburgers, potato, carrots and onions sprinkled with steak seasoning. Cook 20-30 mins per side. Or chicken and vegetables are good too. The kids like to make their own meals.

Kelly said...

YAY! I love camping - my family also graduated from tent to tent trailer, and now my husband and I have a travel trailer! We did Thanksgiving in our RV this year and it involved 4 slow cookers! You look just adorable in your tent trailer.

Diane Schultz said...

I'm going to share this on my camping blog if you don't mind. It's very good information that my readers would enjoy.

kate said...

Great post! Just a note: I have the Set n' Forget cooker with the clamps, and the manual (on the parts and features page) says "Do not cook or store with lid clamped down". It's just for travel. So it won't work to cook with the lid clamped down in order to keep animals out.

Manual: http://useandcares.hamiltonbeach.com/files/840205300.pdf

Katharine Devinney said...

This sounds like a great idea. I love your new tent camper. I want one of those. In the meantime I want and extra comfy mattress pad (the kind that are double the height). Thanks for sharing the idea.

Shari Cole said...

Great tip about the Nija. Thanks!

Harley Winfrey said...

I was wondering how to get the cooker to cook while you are driving. I have a class C rv and tried plugging it into a converter in the dc outlet but the cooker wouldn't stay on long enough to get hot. I also had a tacoma with an ac outlet in the bed of the truck and I could use it while parked with the engine running, but as soon as I shifted to drive it would shut down. I would love the option to cook while we drive.

Stephanie O'Dea said...

HI Harley,

I just went out and checked my voltages and plugged in a variety of slow cookers. You are absolutely correct. The pot I have used in the back of the mini van is old and the newer ones are all 120V, and the outlet stops working at 110V, unless you have a converter.

I did some research on RV forums and found an adapter that we use to plug in the air mattress pump -- (it's not this exact one, but similar, and we got it at Big 5 for probably $15) Car Lighter Adapter for Outlets in Cars.

It looks like this will work for your Tacoma (it does in our Sienna), but I'm not sure about the Class C. Some of the forums say it's a rather easy electrical fix by flipping some sort of breaker. This was the site I found that looked the most promising: http://www.forestriverforums.com/forums/f16/outlets-not-working-while-driving-49304.html

I also just found this Car CrockPot that Plugs into Lighter
and that might be useful for a long haul -- I've got to admit that since we only have a pop up, I don't know firsthand how the outlets work in RVs, but have heard from readers that they do "make lunch on the road"---

hopefully someone with more info than I have/know will chime in!

I appreciate you writing and I am going to update the above post to direct folks down here to the comments for further information. This is so valuable; thank you.
I hope this helps a bit, and I hope you're having a great weekend!

Barbara James said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stephanie O'Dea said...

YIKES. I'm having technical difficulty.

Barbara, I accidentally deleted your comment about bringing slow cookers along and using them in hotel rooms. That's a great tip for travel, thank you!

aimeed said...

Love the idea of cooking as you go--long days on the road are the toughest for us. We all get in hungry for real food, and grumpy and it's usually late. I'm going to check out the links for the adapter.

We use our crockpot a ton when camping. I usually put it on a small table by the outside plug in on the camper. I wouldn't use it in bear country, but I've never had a problem where there are plenty of coons and squirrels. I think they can tell that it's hot.

Our standard are crocky beans. I just put them on the night before, when I go to bed, on low. They are ready for lunch. (But less popular in the summer. They then get replaced with smoothies. A personal blender is also awesome family camping.)

dani said...

This is how we camp with a few exceptions.
1. Use Reynolds crock pot bags and no need to wash dishes. At the end of each meal, remove the bag and add the next bagged meal.
2. I bring 2 or 3 crock pots and a rice cooker so we have our main dish, a side, and a dump cake cooking for each meal.
3. I have found crock recipes for every meal and use those with shorter cook times for lunch.

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