Grubmasters… Top Ten Ways to Make Cooking Easier At Camp

Camp cooking has always had this magical aura around it. Most people imagine a campfire next to a lake with a little fog rolling off the water while you have this magical concoction bubbling in a Dutch oven. No mess. Everything is clean and tidy. It smells crazy good. Just as it’s done is when everyone starts getting hungry—perfect timing. Sounds awesome doesn’t it?

For a scout who is grubmaster for the first time but has had little experience in cooking, the role can be horrific and mind-numbingly hard. By the time a scout becomes First Class they will have had at least two campouts while leading the cooking process under their belt, so it’s an unavoidable task. With some time, patience and practice the skill of outdoor cooking can easily obtained and mastered.

Grubmaster: a patrol member who is in charge of gathering the food for the patrol’s campout; also generally in charge of the cooking for the patrol that weekend.

Here are the top 10 things to keep in mind to help guide the young scouts through their role as grubmaster for their patrol on a campout:

  1. Expose scouts to cooking in camp early: Brand new scouts should be assisting the cook for a lot of meals. They need to start learning how to prep food and how to use a stove or cook over a campfire. The more they are exposed to campout cooking tasks the more they will be ready when the time comes for their turn at being grubmaster.
  2. Grubmaster is responsible for food but doesn’t have to cook every meal: Grubmasters are in charge.  They need to gather the food by doing the shopping. They need to make sure proper food storage is arranged. Yes, they will cook but they don’t need to cook every meal. They can have assistants and they will need them helping. In our troop the cooks don’t clean but the grubmaster can choose to clean up at least one meal if they choose not to cook it.
  3. Patrol boxes makes it easy: Patrol boxes should have all the cooking equipment for the patrol. Patrol boxes should also have “food staples” that don’t require refrigeration—things like oil, salt/pepper, paper towels, oatmeal, etc. You can also store some refrigerated items (like ketchup, mustard and mayo) if your charter organization allow you to use a small refrigerator or freezer.  These make the shopping list, storage and food bills smaller as well as having everything at hand when needed.
  4. Develop a system of portion control: This is something my troop is having issues with currently and is a hard thing to master. The scouts should choose what they want to eat at the campout/event. They should understand that if they want to go with fast and easy it generally will cost more. If they get raw ingredients it generally is cheaper but takes longer to cook. We generally budget $10 per scout for 4 meals (2 breakfasts, 1 lunch and 1 dinner). You can either have the scout bring their money to the campout and pay then or pay the week before so the grubmaster and parent can use it to shop. Both ways have the pros and cons.
  5. Bring backup food:  Backup food is just that… it’s backup. It’s not meant to be another meal. You are always going to have different tastes and needs on a campout. If patrol members have food allergies the scouts need to understand and accommodate those needs and the menu needs to reflect it.  Remember there is a difference between food allergies and food dislikes. For food dislikes there should be “backup food” like peanut butter, jelly and bread for those who don’t like that particular kind of food that is being made for the meal. The scout should be encouraged to try new foods at least once and all meals need to be balanced nutritionally. If they still don’t like it after that attempt, then bring out the backup food. The scout should still pay their share of the food bill regardless. For the really picky-eaters I would suggest that they bring what they do like to supplement what is there at camp. Make sure these scouts eat. If they don’t eat, they usually won’t drink and then you have hydration issues.  You will also have those times in which the whole meal gets dumped on someone’s lap, lands on the floor, and is completely burnt. You have to be ready with some backup food.
  6. Pre-cooking is legal: Grubmasters can pre-cook/prep items before the campout in our troop. This gives them some cooking skills at home. They have to cook/prep it. Parents agree not to do this precooking but can advise or assist. Things like browning hamburger and sausage saves time. Boiling noodles and cutting vegetables saves time, energy and cleanup. These can be stored in zip-lock bags or plastic containers. When it’s time for the meals the scout pulls it out and begins to warm up and/or cook the food immediately. This can be an incredible time-saver especially on campouts where there isn’t a lot of time to get a meal going. We had one scout pre-make chicken and noodles for a very cold Friday night on a campout. It took about 20 minutes to heat and the scouts had a full belly to help keep them warm all night long.
  7. Equipment is important: There is nothing worse than trying to find a slotted spoon or a spatula after you have food in the pan cooking. Or worse… you don’t have a pot when you are planning on making chili. Make sure to include an equipment list next to the menu which would include the appropriate heat source, tools, and cooking utensils. We have a chart taped to the inside wall of our troop trailer which shows how many coal briquettes to use on top and bottom of a Dutch over to get certain temperatures. Cleanup is another cooking skill. The fewer the tools needed the quicker the cleanup.
  8. Timing is key: Don’t forget that a cook needs a watch.  All scouts need a watch but especially the cook. There is a lot of timing that needs to be considered, such as:
    1. How long it will take to get something on the stove or over the fire.
    2. How long it will take to cook each item (and in what order) to have everything ready at the same time.
    3. How long it will it take to cleanup.
  9. Cook to their style: There are two types of people: cooks and bakers. Very rarely will someone excel at both. Cooking is generally an art. Baking is generally a science. One will only know if he/she is a cook or a baker after trying both styles. Then that scout will tend to gravitate to one style or the other. Scouts may get asked to cook or bake something because they become good at it and the meal becomes a patrol or troop favorite. It is also a source of pride for the scout. Knowing this, the scout may want to try and steer the menu to what he or she is better at making. Everyone will be happier.
  10. It doesn’t have to be magic: There are plenty of books, flashcards, and websites on successful menu items. Invest in these to give the scouts ideas. It also can get boring quickly, too. Troops and Patrols can start doing the “same ole-same ole” each campout, which starts to get pretty old. We intentionally have the adults cooking their own meals in order to encourage the patrol to cook for themselves.  Adult leaders model how cooking should be done (i.e. how to use a Dutch oven or cook meat in a specific way) but do not cook for the scouts.  We have some really good cooks and bakers in our adult patrol, and the scouts are always invited to sample what is cooked. In this way, they are motivated to try their hand at cooking that meal in that way next time. We usually show them how quickly our meal prep and cleanup take. We end up eating great!

Having that picture-perfect meal next to that misty lake right at sundown is totally obtainable if done with enough prepping. This process is trial-and-error…some things stick and some things don’t. Taking these tips in considering, as well as giving the proper instructions, will enable you to see that your scouts will enjoy cooking. Then, the grubmaster duties will not be so daunting.

Good luck out there, scouters!

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The author, Tony Zizak, is a long time scouter, Eagle Scout, and the scoutmaster of Troop 119 Ellettsville, IN. He has been to scout camps across the country and was a certified Program Director, Aquatics Director and a Scoutcraft Director. As a youth Tony received his Vigil Honor and served as a Lodge Chief for Tseyedin Lodge #65. Reach out to him for any questions you may have on this article.