How to Make Delicious Campfire Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Camping & Hiking expert Hannah K. shares her top tips for bringing this fan-favorite meal to your campsite.

Photo by Karolina Kołodziejczak
Published on

Cheesy, creamy, melty, smooth, delicious, and the ultimate comfort food. What do these adjectives describe? Only the most important meal our parents made for us as children: mac ‘n’ cheese! Macaroni and cheese is a very nostalgic dish that reminds me of happy times at the kitchen table. Mac ‘n’ cheese has since evolved and is now used to make extravagant dishes such as pizza mac ‘n’ cheese and mac ‘n’ cheese burgers. So why keep this dish in the past when you can spice it up and take it on the trail with you? Below are some helpful tips on bringing this fan-favorite meal to your campsite.

Stirring water in a pot over a campfire
Photo by Gary Sandoz

Backpacking

When you go backpacking, food needs to be light in weight, filling, and satisfying. To make delicious mac ‘n’ cheese when you are backpacking, I suggest portioning out the pasta as well as the cheese and milk (in powdered/dehydrated form). You can also use water instead of milk. When you set up your tent and are ready for dinner, all you need to do is boil your pasta, drain it, and add in your powdered cheese/milk. Easy peasy.

Another great option is Annie’s Mac ‘N’ Cheese that you can find at many grocery stores. All the ingredients you need come in a lightweight, small box with easy directions. There is also a wonderful vegan option that is a red lentil sweet potato and pumpkin macaroni and cheese that is out of this world.

There are many other boxed mac ‘n’ cheese options on the market—try them all and let me know which one is your favorite!

Camping

When you go car camping or camping on a road trip, you have more availability to bring some specialty food options, simply because you are not carrying everything you need in your backpack and you may have a cooler for cold food items that can fit in your car. If this is the case, here are some wonderful ideas to spice up your mac ‘n’ cheese.

If you have a cooler, you can bring fresh milk of choice, cheese of choice, and other toppings such as nutritional yeast, bread crumbs, and my personal favorite—a lobster mushroom! Lobster mushroom is a fantastic mushroom that has a lobster-like taste and smell and will add a nice touch to any mac ‘n’ cheese. (Fun fact about the mushroom: the red color on the mushroom is actually a fungi growing on top of another fungi.)

Here is my favorite vegan mac ‘n’ cheese recipe that includes the lobster mushroom:

  1. First, soak cashews overnight. This will become the cheese. (If you don’t like cashew cheese go for tofu instead.) If you are making enough for 2, I would say a cup of cashews is plenty.
  2. Before you head out to your campsite, blend the cashews with some lemon, olive oil, salt, and (a lot of) nutritional yeast—I normally go for 2 or 3 tablespoons. This is your cheese and the only prep work you need to do ahead of time. Keep it refrigerated in a jar and in your cooler until you use it.
  3. When you get to camp, whip out your handy dandy large pot or dutch oven, like the GSI Haulite 3.2 L Pot, and boil some pasta. I like rigatoni, but any shape will do. While your cup or two cups of pasta (depending on how many are enjoying the dish) is cooking, cut up and saute the lobster mushroom I mentioned earlier. Let it saute for 15 or 20 minutes. You can also grill the lobster mushroom for an added crunch. After you drain and rinse the pasta, mix in the cashew cheese and the mushroom. Top it off with paprika, panko, and parsley. Either put a lid on the pot or some foil and let sit for a few minutes to create a nice golden top and a nice crunch for some texture. Crush some crackers for even more crunch! I may also add some green onions or cayenne pepper depending on what flavor profile I am in the mood for.
  4. Then, enjoy!

If you prefer cheese and milk to cashew cheese keep in mind that the process is very similar. You may want to use an additional pot, like the MSR Trail Lite 1.3 L Pot, to boil some milk, cheese (parmesan cheese, mozzarella, sharp cheddar cheese, gouda, shredded cheese) and butter that will create a nice roux. A roux is a mixture of fats (often butter) that are added to sauces.

In this case, roux is a fancy term for the melted cheese but the process of making a roux creates a thicker and creamier sauce. You want to heat your butter (at least two tablespoons) until it bubbles and whisk in flour slowly. You can’t really measure your flour, just eyeball the amount until you get a nice creamy texture. Once it is nice and thick throw in your cheese and dairy of choice. Let it all mix and melt together until you get the desired consistency. Mix in your pasta and whatever toppings you like and enjoy! (Nonstick cooking spray will help with the roux.)

Want some more interesting toppings for your mac ‘n’ cheese? Here are some great additions: jalapeño, bacon, tomatoes, kosher salt, cauliflower, peas and chicken, pepper, chili flakes, italian herbs, garlic and onion, artichoke hearts, and spinach. The list goes on and on of magical ways to take your mac ‘n’ cheese to the next level.

Who says that macaroni and cheese is just for the kitchen table? This is a great and easy dish to make while camping and will be enjoyed by all. Pair it with some great campsite brownies and you will have a night to remember next to the warm flames of your campfire.

Do you have another great camp mac ‘n’ cheese recipe? Hit me up through my profile and let’s chat about all things outside.

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Written By
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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