Level Up Your Picnic or Campground Cookout with an Asian Hot Pot Meal

Take the steamy restaurant staple outdoors—all you need is a portable burner and some willing helpers.

By Katrina Yentch

Portable burner with a pot of soup, surrounded by ingredients and camping gear on a picnic table

A campsite picnic table hosts a hot pot feast.

You’ve camped, you’ve yurted, you’ve hiked, you’ve snowshoed. As we get ready to say goodbye to the cold, you’re racking your brain on how to have one last outdoor hurrah to keep the family from tearing apart the house before the relief of Pacific Northwest summer arrives. One glamping twist to your camp kitchen setup that’ll have everyone involved and totally stuffed by the end of it? A hot pot.

While you can talk about a hot pot of chili or a hot pot of tea, the one I mean is an Asian style hot pot, which involves several hungry people gathering around a table with a centerpiece hot plate, a boiling broth, and separate ingredients to add to the broth to be cooked and seasoned, and then put in individual bowls of soup to be devoured. Originating in China, this communal practice has found its way into kitchens all over Asia, with regions adding their own unique flavors and spices.

Although hot pot was born in the kitchen and is an indoor-dining staple at restaurants, it can work outside, too—especially in the cold weather when all you want to do devour a hot meal, bask in the heat of a campfire, and find a way to keep everyone busy (rinsing, slicing, chopping, stirring, tasting, ladling, eating) when your activity options are limited.

To set yourself up for success, all you need are a hot plate, a soup broth, and the toppings of your choice. If you have a camp stove that can hold a heavy pot and is easy to set on a picnic table and gather around, you’re all set. But if all you have is a boxy Coleman with shielded sides or an ultra-lightweight backpacking stove, consider getting a portable burner (which you can use indoors, too, for a kitchen-table hot pot experience with no cord to trip over). Butane-powered hot plates are usually more affordable than induction ones, but either will work. They can be found online or at your local Asian grocery; H-Mart has a shelf of them in the cookware aisle.

If you choose to go all-out and make your own broth, there are tons of recipes to start with, depending on what country’s style of soup you’re trying to make. However, if you want to take the easy route (as I did) and not carry so many ingredients with you, several companies also offer premade packets that include every spice you need for a rich and complex broth. This soup base by Chinese hot pot brand Little Sheep is a crowd favorite—it even comes with vacuum-sealed Sichuan peppers for amplified spice. Some folks like to get two types of broth sizzling, investing in a split pot that can accommodate a spicy and a mild selection. However, we opted for simplicity and stuck with one Dutch oven, already part of many people’s car-camping essentials.

Man next to a campground picnic table with a portable burner and soup ingredients

For an outdoor hot pot, a portable single burner is best, so it can be surrounded by dishes of soup-ready toppings, not to mention hungry eaters.

The final addition to this experience is the most customizable: the toppings. While you can braise basically anything you want in a hot pot broth, some common ingredients to consider are eggs, seafood balls, enoki mushrooms, green onions, thinly sliced meats, tofu, and various vegetables. Choose vegetables that’ll break down easily, like napa cabbage and lotus root. To add a filling starch to your toppings, thin rice noodles are the way to go.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when adding your toppings is the timing to make sure they’re cooked—but not overcooked. For some of these toppings to be digestible, they’ll need to be in a broth that is constantly boiling for 4 to 8 minutes before they’re edible. But take care not to overcook fine noodles or thinly sliced meats, which can cook in a matter of seconds.

This glamping meal takes longer than hot dogs or mac and cheese—you’ve granted your gang a solid two hours of fun and good eats from start to finish. You'll want to toss in your toppings a few at a time and help yourself to seconds, thirds, and more.

Filed under
Show Comments