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Want to have a successful camping trip? Make good food.

But cooking in camp can involve challenges: weather, darkness, unfamiliar equipment, and sanitation can build a barricade between you and a full stomach. And that’s before you figure in fussy eaters or food allergies. But on a recent 1,000-mile camping trip through Mexico, I think I may have experienced a revelation. Any and all of those problems can be addressed deliciously by a single food: the humble quesadilla.

A camp meal should be easy to make. And to make a quesadilla, all you do is put some cheese on a tortilla, stick that on a hot pan, and flip it once one side is crispy. There’s not even any need for cooking oil, the tortillas should already have enough fat in them to crisp up nicely.

Nor is there need for tools beyond a hot surface to cook on. Counting ounces? Fold up some foil and lay that on a bed of coals. Sure, a spatula, knife, cutting board, bowls, plates, and all that might be nice, but they aren’t necessities. Fingers can flip and press tortillas just fine, so long as you’re careful.

You also need that meal to be nutritious. And while a pile of melted cheese delivered to your mouth via tortilla isn’t the type of recipe you’re going to find in most weight-loss diets, it does offer a lot of satisfying calories if those are all you’re looking for after a long day on the trail.

Add fiber and vitamins in the form of veggies. Just slice up some bell peppers, jalapeños, and onions ahead of time, season them with some salt, pepper, cumin and garlic powder, then sauté them in your pan before you make the quesadillas. No need to clean the pan in between, you’re just adding more flavor. Add even more protein (and more fiber) cheaply and easily by squeezing a pack of frijoles on top of the melting cheese. Have more time and budget, plus the ability to bring along fresh meat? Grab a lid for your pan, and follow my guaranteed method for cooking tender, safe chicken breasts. Use a packet of pre-made taco seasoning to make things even simpler.

Notice that none of the above ingredients will spill, break, or bruise.

Celiac? Grab corn tortillas. Those tend to be small, so I like to make quesadillas with them by simply laying the tortillas flat in a hot pan, and piling cheese and other ingredients on top, before adding another corn tortilla, pressing down on it to create adhesion, then flipping the whole thing over. Larger flour tortillas can simply be folded in half around the fillings, and two then form a perfect circle inside your pan, doubling your cooking speed.

Cooking for family or friends with mixed tastes? Prep the veggies and protein ahead of time, put them in bowls, and let everyone build their own quesadillas as you go. Vegetarians can squeeze on beans instead of chicken. Vegans can use alternative cheeses. And kids can get a cooking lesson using safe, already cooked-through ingredients.

Avocados, jalapenos, cilantro, and a pack of Kirkland shredded cheese blend. Grate your own cheese if you want a creamier result. (Photo: Wes Siler)

Build-your-own quesadillas also address the biggest challenge in preparing group meals: timing. Even if the toppings get cold, they’ll warm right back up while the cheese melts and the tortillas crisp. A good camp meal is a warm camp meal. And every quesadilla comes off the pan ready to eat, with everything inside piping hot. Eat as you go.

Add even more flavor by dipping your quesadilla in salsa or sour cream. Experiment with different types of cheese, especially local ones you’ve never tried before. Mix different types of cheese together. Cut up some cilantro. Squeeze a lime on top. Add an avocado.

And quesadillas don’t just need to be for dinner. Fry bacon, scramble eggs, pile those in with your cheese, and you’ve got a quick, easy, hot breakfast ready to go, even if people wake up at different times.

In the mood for Italian? Use mozzarella cheese instead, and add toppings like sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus or artichoke hearts. With a quesadilla, there’s no limit to what’s possible.

But when you’re camping, the nicest thing about a quesadilla isn’t just that it’s delicious. It’s that once all that melted cheese has you feeling fat and happy, there’s not really any clean up to worry about. Scrape any loose cheese that burned off the pan into your campfire or trash bag, put that pan some place where it won’t attract critters, then crawl into bed. With all those calories to burn off, you’ll sleep warmer. There’s no campout that can’t be improved by the quesadilla.

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