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So What's for Dinner?

| Dehydrator Primer | Breakfast Recipes | Dinner Recipes | Jerky Recipes | Gorp and Snack Recipes |

In accord with the Prime Directive Leave No Trace, it is illegal to collect fuel or build a campfire anywhere in the backcountry within Grand Canyon National Park borders. So if your idea of the quintessential wilderness experience entails hot meals and coffee, you have no choice but to pack a backpacker's stove and fuel. Some fundamentalist backpackers eliminate the weight of a stove and cooking utensils completely and eat only cold food, which is not as unappealing as it sounds during hot weather. However, I am personally from the progressive camp that embraces technology and the general improvement of the human condition resulting from the domestication of fire and cooked food. For me, the preparation of food marks the beginning and end of each day on the trail. It is a time for relaxation, reflection and planning, an integral part of the fundamental rhythm and ritual of my backcountry treks. And I do like my coffee...

Rave reviews in Backpacker Magazine convinced me to try out Snow Peak's ultralight, blended gas (Isobutane/Propane) burning "Gigapower" stove, the stainless steel version of which weighs a scant 115 grams including its compact case. Its operation could not be simpler - you just screw the burner together with a fuel canister, which also serves as the base, unfold four wire pot support arms, open the fuel valve and ignite. No muss, no fuss, instant heat.

Run wide open my Snow Peak Gigapower will boil a cup of water in about 90 seconds, with a total full blast duration of about 45 minutes per GP-110 canister (110 grams of blended Isobutane/Propane gas fuel). I don't usually run my stove full blast, but my average daily consumption of fuel works out to about 22 grams, or about 8-10 full blast minutes. The name of the game for fuel efficient backcountry meals is fast cooking times - boiling a pot of raw beans for an hour or more works fine when campfire cooking near readily available water, but not for extended backcountry hikes in Grand Canyon.

Fuel efficient hot meals can be engineered and prepared from instant or fast cooking cereals, grains, noodles, and pastas combined with dehydrated vegetables, fruits and meats. Besides preparing and packing fast cooking foodstuffs, here are some other fundamental techniques which can be employed to increase your fuel efficiency:

  • Pre-soak dry and dehydrated ingredients to soften and rehydrate them prior to heating and cooking. Depending on what's being prepared, an effective pre-soak may require anywhere from a few minutes to hours. A plastic jar can be employed for hydrating ingredients for dinner while on the trail during the day, or overnight for breakfast the following morning. A pre-soak container can get slimy and harbor nasty bacteria if it is not kept clean, so any container that you repetitively use for this is needs to be one you can reach into and clean throughly. As they accumulate empty ZipLoc bags that formerly contained food can be employed for pre-soaking containers. Recycling baggies in this manner provides the advantage of getting additional duty out of weight and bulk that would otherwise be going straight into your trash sack.

  • Use a lid with your pot and keep it covered as much as possible while you are boiling, simmering and steeping meals or beverages in it. Heated vapor and gas likes to escape upwards of course and a great deal of heat escapes from an open pot that's being cooked in without a lid. Cooking wise there's really nothing magical about the boiling point of water and most foodstuffs will continue to prepare while steeping at lower temperatures. A lid affects heat retention so significantly it can make the difference between having to continuously burn fuel to simmer a meal until done in an open pot, or simply turning off the stove with a covered pot and allowing the meal to stand and steep to finish preparing it.

  • If in doubt about the amount of water needed, add it conservatively and incrementally to keep from over-thinning your meal and having to consume fuel boiling off excess liquid to make it palatable. This practice is particularly germane when dry camping and water is precious in addition to your fuel.

  • Use a wind screen with your stove. Wind reduces the efficiency of backpacker's stoves and it is often quite windy in the Grand Canyon. A fairly close wind screen that channels and directs heat along the sides of your pot can increase the heating and fuel efficiency of your stove considerably even during calm conditions. A wind screen can be as simple as some unfolded tinfoil shaped into a cylinder and held down around its base with rocks. However, be certain that you do not make a wind screen so tight as to causes an excessive amount of heat to be reflected and the fuel canister to become hot. That could of course have catastrophic results if a canister was heated so hot as to explode. Periodically check the temperature of your fuel canister by touching it when using a wind screen with canister base style stoves such as the Snow Peak Gigapower. If the canister becomes too warm to comfortably touch, open up and adjust your wind screen so more heat can escape.

Hot Breakfasts

Phantom Fault Farina
(Banana-Blueberry Cream of Wheat with Almonds)
Approximate Calories: 445

Ingredients for a single serving:
1/4 cup (43 grams) 'Bob's Red Mill' brand creamy wheat hot cereal (wheat farina)
1/4 cup (20 grams) dehydrated banana slices
1/8 cup (16 grams) dehydrated blueberries
1 heaping tablespoon (13 grams) coarsely chopped 'Blue Diamond Smokehouse' brand almonds
1/4 cup (17 grams) powdered milk
2 teaspoons (8 grams) brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 dashes ground nutmeg
1 pinch salt
1 cup water

Bring 1 cup water to a boil, add all ingredients and remove from heat when water begins boiling again. 1 cup water yields a thick mixture, increase the water by about 20% if you like yours on the thin side. Cover and let stand for several minutes while the farina thickens. The dry ingredients listed above for a single serving weigh approximately 120 grams in a lightweight sandwich bag and can be prepared in a single 1 pint (2 cup) capacity pot.


Gold Hill Grits
Approximate calories: 320

Ingredients for a single serving:
1/3 cup (61 grams) Quick Grits
1/8 cup (21 grams) dehydrated corn
1/8 cup (4 grams) dehydrated bell pepper and/or green chili pepper
1/8 cup (4 grams) dehydrated tomato
1/2 teaspoon bacon bits
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon minced onion
1 1/3 cup water

Add dehydrated corn, peppers and tomato to pot with 1 1/3 cup water and allow to soak/rehydrate prior to preparation. Bring to a boil, add remaining ingredients, then reduce heat to a slow simmer for several minutes. Cover and let stand for several minutes while the grits thicken and cool to a palatable temperature. The dry ingredients listed above for a single serving weigh approximately 100 grams in a lightweight sandwich bag and can be prepared in a single 1 pint (2 cup) capacity pot.


Cape Solitude Cereal
Approximate Calories: 480

Ingredients for a single serving:
1/2 cup (53 grams) "Bob's Red Mill" brand 5 grain cereal
(rolled oats, wheat, rye, barley, triticale and flaxseed)
1/3 cup (20 grams) dehydrated peaches
1/4 cup (20 grams) coarsely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup (17 grams) powdered milk
2 teaspoons (8 grams) brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 1/4 cup water

Bring water to boil, add all ingredients. When water returns to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer for 3 minutes. Cover, remove from heat and allow to steep for 3-5 minutes. If the cereal is not done to your taste yet, return to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to a palatable temperature.

For even faster cooking with less fuel consumption, substitute 1-minute "Quick Oats" for the five grain cereal and start rehydrating the peaches in your cooking pot before turning in the night before. With "Quick Oats" bring water/rehydrated peaches to boil and stir in remaining ingredients. When water returns to a boil remove from heat and let stand for at least one minute while the oats expand and cool to a palatable temperature.

The dry ingredients listed above for a single serving weigh approximately 125 grams in a lightweight sandwich bag and can be prepared in a single 1 pint (2 cup) capacity pot.


Hot Dinners

Vulcan's Throne Chili con Pollo
Approximate calories: 500

Ingredients for a single serving:
1/3 cup (28 grams) dehydrated, pre-cooked chicken breast pieces
1/8 cup (3 grams) dehydrated, coarsely chopped yellow onion
1/8 cup (3 grams) dehydrated, coarsely chopped New Mexico medium green chili pepper
1 tablespoon (10 grams) dehydrated corn
1/2 cup (50 grams) dehydrated, pre-cooked pinto beans
1/2 cup (25 grams) dehydrated tomato
2 teaspoons "Knorr" brand tomato bouillon with chicken flavor
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 3/8-1/2 cup water
10 Saltine crackers (120 calories!)

Prepare tomato prior to bagging up for the trail by pulverizing freshly dehydrated or sun dried tomatoes to the consistency of a coarse powder using a mortar or electric blender. This forms a very flavorful, sweet tomato paste and stock when combined with water and simmered.

The morning prior to having the chili for dinner begin soaking and softening the dehydrated chicken, onion, green chili pepper and corn. An hour or so prior add the dehydrated beans and remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, cover and remove from heat. When ready to eat, add a little more water if needed to thin to desired consistency, heat once more to a hard boil, and then simmer for 3-4 minutes to finish cooking.

Prepared using medium green chilies, this recipe makes a chili that won't incinerate your mouth but raises enough of a sweat to be satisfying. If you are into more igneous chili experiences, substitute hotter green chilies, cayennes, jalapenos, habaneras and/or increase the dose of crushed red chili pepper/chili powder. Spoil yourself by packing along some Saltine crackers to have with, and you just might want to consider an alternate meal for dinner when you are dry camped and need to conserve your water... ;)

The dry ingredients listed above for a single serving weigh approximately 165 grams in a lightweight sandwich bag and can be prepared in a single 1 pint (2 cup) capacity pot.


Comanche Creek Chicken and Cheese Couscous
Approximate calories: 600

Ingredients for a single serving:
1/2 cup (110 grams) Fantastic brand quick cooking couscous
1/4 cup (24 grams) dehydrated chicken breast
1/3 cup (23 grams) powdered milk
1/8 cup (6 grams) dehydrated mushrooms
1/8 cup (6 grams) dehydrated celery
2 tablespoons white cheddar cheese sauce mix
1/2 "Knorr" brand chicken bouillon cube (6 grams)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 cup water

Scavenge white cheese sauce packet from a 7.3 ounce package of "Frys" brand White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese Dinner. Each foil packet contains about 4 tablespoons cheese powder, enough for 2 servings.

Rehydrate chicken and vegetables starting the morning prior to eating for dinner. When ready to eat, bring the rehydrated ingredients and 1 cup water to a hard boil, then stir in couscous and remaining ingredients. Remove from heat and leave covered for several minutes. Fluff up couscous with a fork and dig in.

The dry ingredients listed above for a single serving weigh approximately 200 grams stored in two lightweight sandwich bag and can be prepared in a single 1 pint (2 cup) capacity pot.

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