How to make kitchen patrol, or KP, a little less onerous

It’s practically every Scout’s least favorite task on the duty roster, but cleaning dishes does not have to turn into a necessary evil.

It can turn that way if kitchen police/patrol, aka “KP duty,” is used as a punishment or as the spoils of a competition (e.g. “The winning patrol gets to choose which patrol does KP for them.”) Negativity can also set in if one Scout is left alone to clean a mountain of dirty dishes.

Mealtime should be an opportunity to build responsibility, hone cooking skills and promote teamwork. A gentle reminder to the senior patrol leader can help Scouts remember to keep these goals in mind.

A Scout is clean

Duty rosters serve as great tools for patrol leaders to divvy up meal tasks and assign responsibility — cooking, building the campfire, gathering water, cleanup — but these roles do not have to remain rigid. Meals that turn messy call for everyone to lend a hand, especially when Scouts are looking forward to another activity soon after eating.

As the Cooking merit badge pamphlet recommends, “If everyone cleans one pot, pan, or utensil, the work will be done in no time.”

Many patrols designate a couple of Scouts to assist in cleanup, a role that can rotate to other Scouts from meal to meal.

Cleaning can be a chore done during cooking. Putting up packages and unused utensils as well as throwing away waste as the food is being cooked cuts down on time tidying up after the meal. Placing a pot of water on the stove ensures hot water is ready for rinsing dishes by the time people are done eating.

When implementing the three-pot method for cleaning, assigning a Scout at each station can not only make the work go by faster, but it also builds camaraderie.

Dealing with a ‘kitchen nightmare’

Not every Scout is the next Alton Brown (who, by the way, was a Boy Scout), so those on KP duty could be left with a heap of greasy pans and pots blackened with what was supposed to be food. Here are a couple of tips for cleaning up the mess:

For burned pots and pans that prove next to impossible to scrape the “black” encrusted on the bottom, place the cookware back on the burner. Pour in a cup of water and a cup of vinegar, and bring it to a boil. Remove the pan and toss in two tablespoons of baking soda. Empty the liquid and scour the pan. This should help bring the pan’s interior back to its former shiny glory.

To clean a greasy cast iron skillet, you can use soap and water (just don’t soak the pan, and make sure it’s dry afterward to avoid rusting) or sprinkle kosher salt and use a paper towel to wipe it clean. The salt acts as an abrasive, helping remove food and grease from sticking to the pan.

Always remember “Leave No Trace” principles when cleaning dishes: dispose of soapy dishwater at least 200 feet from any water source, camps or trails. Use biodegradable camp soap. Strain food bits out of dishwater and trash them. Grease and oily water should be packed out.

About Michael Freeman 15 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is associate editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.


  1. I actually like KP. There’s something about warm soapy water that is inviting on a rainy cold morning. (My troop’s campouts were always rainy and cold.)

  2. Oh no! Please, please, please never use soap on a cast iron pan! When cast iron is used and maintained properly, it gets an incredible non-stick surface, which makes clean up a breeze. When you use soap, you strip that surface – requiring more scrubbing next time. It’s a vicious cycle. Rinse first, then kosher salt and a paper towel should do the trick. You can also boil water (no vinegar) to loosen stuck on bits. When finished cleaning, spread the tiniest bit of oil all around the pan, and then wipe it out again with a clean paper towel. This will build that non-stick layer.

    If I had to offer one tip for KP, I’d say make rubber gloves part of your chef kit. It makes life much easier if you are not sticking your hands into water that’s too hot when it’s nice out, or, to RStone’s point above, makes sticking your hands in cold water when it’s cold outside much easier to take.

    • According to the Lodge website under use & care, “a little mild detergent is fine.” No scouring pads, though! Also, a light coat of oil after washing.

  3. The chemical reaction of mixing vinegar and baking soda produces water and carbon dioxide. Other than making for a good foaming show, I’m not sure it adds anything to the cleaning power of simmering water on burnt on food.

  4. RE: Seasoning your Skillets. Yes, seasoning the skillets is a good Idea. It makes both cooking an d cleanup a lot smoother. However, we have to remember here that we are working with our young men here, and a fair number of them at that. As much as it pains me to say this about Cast Iron, when it comes to scouting and KP, I’d have to say that using soap is the better plan.
    HOWEVER ! ! ! !
    Just because you use soap does NOT mean you have to completely forgo the seasoning process. Teach your younger boys, Cubs and 1st/2nd Year boys to clean with soap, then Dry the skillets on the burners. Once they are up to heat, drip on some oil and use a paper towel to spread it across the skillet. I usually do 3 burners for most campouts, so I’ll use 1 Full Skillet and 4 smaller skillets. Season each skillet, leave it on the heat, move to the next. Go down the line, then start over for a second pass. Next meal, food is just sliding off the skillet.
    At ages 13 and up, their attention to detail is good enough that using SEA SALT and a paper towel can be used. Once the skillets are fully seasoned, they only need to be re-seasoned about Once every 2-3 camps, though we usually season them at 1st Breakfast, just one pass, out of habbit.

  5. Another item that can be used for cleaning is Lemon Juice. It will clean just as well as soap and water. And if you really do not want to pack out the grease and oily water. Here is a novel idea. If you have a campfire pour the grease on it and let it burn. And use the oily water to put it out.

Join the conversation