How to Operate a Camp Kitchen

How to Operate a Camp KitchenOperating a camp kitchen for a large group or as a business at a camping event can be harrowing. A planned flow from pantry to service and back to the busing and dishwashing station can reduce or eliminate bottlenecks. Campers leave your dining hall happy and your servers and cooks are able to maneuver around one another with minimal wasted motion.


Difficulty: Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Easel paper
  • Carpenter's pencil or fine-tip marker
  • Dining hall or cook's tent
  • Tables and chairs
  • 3 basin steel prep sink or camp sink
  • Commercial or household cookstove
  • Pots, pans, cutlery, tableware, serveware
  • Several new, never-used 30-gallon trash cans with liners or several large coolers
  • Stocked pantry
  • Prep tables
Step 1
Draw several sketches of your intended floor plan. Leave plenty of room for cooks and service staff to move between stations, while keeping each station close enough to the previous one for easy transfer of foods and dishes from end to end. Movement from prep to cooking, service and cleanup should be unhindered by traffic from other stations. Kitchen work areas should be segregated from diners receiving food.
Step 2
Have a tight meal plan. Know exactly how much of each item and ingredient you need per serving, how many diners to expect each day and exactly how long each meal takes to prepare.
Step 3
Order slightly more food than expected, but not too much more, unless you have a use for your overstock, such as other events within a few days. It is good to stock about 10 to 20 percent more than you expect to use, to account for daily fluctuations in diner numbers. According to "Building a Modern Camp Kitchen" author Jessica I. Clark, "The first step in building your kitchen is to...include anything that you might possibly ever want in your kitchen. You can always pare the list down or put off buying non-essential items."
Step 4
Allow half an hour extra per mealtime for food prep and cooking, as things will run smoother if you have a little flex in your schedule. Your cooks and service staff will work more efficiently if they are not under the gun.
Step 5
Set up your kitchen as far ahead of time as you are permitted. Make a complicated snack or meal to test the positioning of your stations. Make any last-minute changes to improve convenience and speed while familiarizing yourself and your kitchen staff with everything.
Step 6
Run your first meal with the knowledge that something may go wrong. After the meal is over and your kitchen is clean, hold a short staff meeting to discuss what went well, what didn't go well, and how to improve the work flow. Praise each worker for things he did well before giving any criticism, and avoid personalizing any problems.
Step 7
Clean and pack the kitchen when your event ends. "Clean the area around your dining hall as if it were your front yard. Campgrounds and event promoters take note of the clients who leave a mess. If you leave one, you may not be welcome back," advises Rakli Gadjo, retired owner of the MadCafe, a traveling coffee service camp kitchen.

Tips & Warnings

According to Gadjo, "Even if it is a staff member's child, club member or a customer, non-workers in the work area not only slows the process but can be dangerous, as the visitor to your kitchen is unfamiliar with the location of hot or sharp objects. There is also risk of food-borne illness or contamination by someone touching food with dirty hands, sneezing or coughing in the work area or having unrestrained hair."

Article Written By Jane Smith

Jane Smith has provided educational support, served people with multiple challenges, managed up to nine employees and 86 independent contractors at a time, rescued animals, designed and repaired household items and completed a three-year metalworking apprenticeship. Smith's book, "Giving Him the Blues," was published in 2008. Smith received a Bachelor of Science in education from Kent State University in 1995.

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