With this Car Camp Kitchen-in-a-Box, you’ll be ready to cook minutes after you pull up to your camp site. In this post you’ll learn how to build your kitchen in a box, and get a complete list of the gear you’ll need to do it.

Camp kitchen essentials
Camp kitchen essentials

Cooking and eating is a huge part of camping. Build your own kitchen-in-a-box and you’ll be ready to camp at a moment’s notice, without leaving anything behind. It’s inexpensive, simple to do, and keeps packing and re-packing to a minimum, so you can throw the box in your car and head for your favorite campsite.

This camp kitchen in a box is designed around campsites in most state and national parks, which usually include a parking spot, a picnic table and a fire ring.

It’s all about the box

Every kitchen in a box starts with, well, a box.
Your kitchen in a box starts with, well, a box.

The box is the centerpiece of your car camping kitchen. We recommend a 14-18 gallon size. The box not only stores all your gear, but can serve as a platform for the stove if a table isn’t available. Find one with a nice flat lid so you can use it as a cutting board in a pinch. Depending on the size of your stove, you may be able to fit that inside the box too. Apply stickers liberally.

Gather up your kitchen goodies

How to build your camp kitchen in a box

You don’t need to buy a bunch of new fancy gear to build your camp kitchen. Chances are you’ve got a lot of this stuff laying around already. For the stuff you need to buy, you can save serious money at the dollar store or (gasp!) a second-hand store. Garage sales are a great place to score kitchen goodies too. Complete list with links at bottom of post.

We think of our kitchen as having three groups of stuff: Cooking, Eating, and Other Stuff. Here’s the breakdown:

Cooking gear

camp kitchen cooking gear
Two lighters: Because two is one, and one is none.

The car camping work horse is the 2-burner propane stove. There are a ton of great options out there so you really can’t go wrong. Coleman makes a great camping stove that you can find in any Walmart, REI, or on Amazon. Get one that uses easy-to-find propane bottles. You’ll also need a frying pan and a little sauce pan. Bonus points if they have lids. A dishrag makes a great potholder.

No-frills kitchen tools

Cooking tools for car camping
Cooking tools for car camping

For tools, all you need is the basics. Start with a cutting board or two. Make sure they fit in the box, and keep in mind you can use the lid as a cutting board. Grab a flat spatula, a rubber spatula (or wooden spoon) some thongs, a can opener, corkscrew, and a couple simple knives. Find a little sack to store all this stuff –  that keeps it organized and off the bottom of your box.

Build these cool knife sheathes

DIY knife sheath
Your fingers will thank you

Your knives will get loose and find their way to the bottom of your box at some point. That’s risky, especially when you’re rummaging around the box in the dark searching for a lighter. Keep all your fingers attached by building little sheathes for your knives out of cardboard and duct tape. Sure, you could buy sheathes, but that’s no fun.

Eating Gear

Coffee is of utmost concern on most mornings (followed closely by bacon). Forget instant coffee. It tastes like diesel fuel, and if you’re car camping you can go for the good stuff. Grab an insulated french press that works as a thermos too. We like this 34-oz french press from Thermos, and this 30-oz. Java Press from GSI Outdoors.

You want a couple solid insulated cups or mugs, with lids. There are a million of these available, from the high-end Yeti tumbler to these cheaper (and probably almost as good) insulated mugs.

For plates, bowls and cutlery, go with reusable plastic stuff. These are easy to find in sets, sometimes with a sack to carry it all. We are not fans of the baked enamel plates and mugs you see in all the Instagram posts. They are expensive, heavy, make your food cold, and sound like fingers on a chalkboard when someone cuts on them.

Other camp kitchen stuff

Add this stuff to your camp kitchen
Add this stuff to your camp kitchen

When you’re car camping, a few little luxuries will make cooking and cleanup much easier. Whenever possible, avoid disposable products. That said, Ziplocs, foil, garbage bags and paper towels are game-changers at the campsite.

You usually stop at the grocery store on the way out of town, right? Keep a reusable tote bag in your camp box for food. Tote bags are tougher than paper or plastic, and can stand up on their own on a picnic table.

Consider wet wipes (but go easy on disposable stuff). We keep a small battery-operated lantern in our kitchen box. A rechargeable USB speaker is another nice-to-have bonus, and they don’t take up much space.

Kitchen clean up

camp dishwashing setup
Get ready to scrub

It’s been said that there’s clean, and then there’s camp clean. Doing dishes while camping really just means scrubbing off the big chunks of food and calling it good. Use your pot as a sink. Any kitchen sponge with a scrubbie will do. We like Dr. Bronner’s biodegradable soap – it’s easy on the environment, and you can use it to wash your dishes, your self, your dog… Your potholder does double-duty as a dish rag.

Throw it all in the box

Your camp kitchen is ready
Your camp kitchen is ready

Once you’ve got all your kitchen goodies ready to go, just throw it all in the box. Voila! You have a car camping kitchen-in-a-box. And make sure you check out our post on how to plan your first car camping trip.

Now get out there and make your next adventure #roamworthy.


Complete Gear List: Car Camping Kitchen-in-a-Box

Gear List: Camping kitchen in a box

Box: 14-18 Gallon storage bin with lid

Cooking Stuff

Eating Stuff

Other Stuff

Bonus Points