Cooking In Camp: Campfire Cooking Like A Pro
If you’re thinking about taking your family camping for the first time, you may wonder how you’re going to feed them nutritious and tasty dinners without the convenience of a kitchen. Can you really feed your kids hotdogs cooked on a stick for 3-4 days? But, it won’t come to that. With just a few basic kitchen supplies, you can become quite the campfire chef!
Kitchen tools that are camping essentials
With the help of a few tools that are probably already in your kitchen, you can cook like a pro once you get to your campground. There’s no need to buy fancy camping equipment to make your experience more enjoyable, however, if camping becomes a frequent activity, you may want to invest in a separate set of these tools to keep packed away with your tent so don’t have to take your good cookware from the kitchen to the campsite.
- Chef’s knife and cutting board. A good knife and a decent-sized cutting board are essential if want to eat more than those hotdogs. Having your chef’s knife handy allows you to make sure everyone—including yourself—enjoys nutritious meals. (Read more on this knife.)
- Cast-iron Dutch oven and skillet. One of these heavy pots is a must-have if you want to be able to employ a wide variety of recipes. The Dutch oven heats up entirely, not just on the bottom, so even though it’s sitting on a fire, your food will cook like it’s in an oven. Use this handy pot to make pulled pork or chili! A cast-iron skillet is also useful for making eggs in the morning or precooking any ingredients before adding them to the Dutch oven. Make sure your cookware is cast-iron, because the high temperature of the fire will damage your nonstick pans.
- Wooden spoon, ladle, mixing bowls. In addition to your chef’s knife, a few other basic cooking utensils will help you with any prep work or stirring you need to do. Mixing bowls are good for clearing space on your cutting board by holding chopped veggies or cut meats until it is time to add them to the Dutch oven. You can’t go wrong with a sturdy wooden spoon for stirring the pot or even pushing food around the frying pan. The ladle will come in handy when it’s time to dole out everyone’s share of dinner.
- Aluminum foil. At the campsite you’ll find many uses for aluminum foil. Consider marinating your meat and veggies at home, wrapping them in foil, and freezing them. Then, once you are in camp and ready to cook, you can simply toss the foil-wrapped packages on some coals to cook.
Be sure you know what type of refrigeration—if any—will be available to you. Will you stay in a cabin with a refrigerator? Are you driving to the campsite and have space for a large cooler or two, or are you backpacking a long distance and can only carry a small cooler?
If you have a refrigerator, simply bring in a cooler whatever you would normally use at home. If your trip is short—a few days—and you drove to the campsite, ice and a cooler will be sufficient for keeping your ingredients fresh. If you are backpacking on a 1 or 2 day trip, opt for mostly foods that don’t need refrigeration and a smaller cooler you can strap to your backpack. Of course, just as you would at home, if you are working with raw meat, make sure you thoroughly wash your cutting board and any utensils that may have come into contact with the meat.
One fun recipe the kids will enjoy is to prepare fajitas (chicken or beef or veggie) around the campfire. Prepare the fajita filling at home, wrap it in foil, and bring a pack of store-bought tortillas. Put the foil-wrapped filling right on top of coals. Forthe tortillas, find a flat rock, clean it, and put it in the fire to heat it. Then, when the rock is warm, place the tortillas on top of it for a nifty way to warm them naturally .
Outdoor kitchen checklist
In addition to the items above—and depending upon the scope of your camping trip—here is a great list of items to outfit your outdoor kitchen. Add or remove items depending on what you’ll be doing/cooking. Knowing you have the right tools will help you feel more comfortable and confident as you camp.
- Water jug/bucket
- Coolers/ice/thermal containers
- Camping grill and fuel
- Matches/lighter and newspaper (to start fire)
- Dutch oven
- Tablecloth/thumb tacks/clips
- Plates & bowls/paper plates & bowls, silverware/plastic silverware, mugs/paper cups
- Measuring cups
- Heavy-duty aluminum foil
- Tarp for shade
- Paper towels
- Trash bags (don’t leave any evidence that you were camping)
- Cleansers/Dish soap
- Rope/clothes line, clothes pins
- Cooking oil/Pam spray
- Containers for food storage
- Bug repellent/candles
- Camp chairs
- Potholders/oven mitts
- Cast-iron pots and frying pans with lids
- Cooking utensils (spatula, knife, spoon, tongs, etc.)
- Grilling tools
- Can opener/bottle opener
- Folding table
- Pie irons
- Mixing bowl
- Cutting board
- Ziplock bags
- Dish pan, dish rags/towels, scrub pad/brillo
- Potato peeler
- Water filters/purification/treatment
- First aid kit
- Plastic grocery bags
- Work gloves
Show off your Dutch oven
Since you brought your Dutch oven, it’s time to make the other campers jealous by preparing some homemade chili. This meal will take about two hours to cook, so plan it for a day when you won’t be staying out late on the trails.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 pounds lean ground beef or turkey (brown this in advance at home, if possible, for ease of preparation)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 46 ounces spicy tomato juice
- 2 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
- 15 ounces (1 can) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1/4 cup chili powder
Using your cast iron skillet, cook the onion in olive oil for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the red peppers and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes before transferring the veggies to a bowl or to the unheated Dutch oven.
In the same frying pan, cook the ground meat until it has browned.
Using oven mitts to hold the Dutch oven, carefully nestle it among the coals of the fire. Use a fire poker to clear out a space, if needed, to avoid burning yourself. Once placed, use the poker to build coals up around the sides of the pot.
Add the precooked meat and veggies to the Dutch oven and combine with the rest of the ingredients. Stir everything together and taste the broth. Adjust any seasonings as needed.
Cover the pot and allow your chili to cook for 10 to 20 minutes. Lift the lid using the poker to check the temperature. If the pot is bubbling gently, but not boiling, it is at the right temperature. If not, adjust the amount of coals to either encourage a bubble or reduce a boil before replacing the lid.
Check the pot every 30 to 45 minutes to stir and make sure it isn’t boiling. Once the chili is ready, ladle it into bowls and enjoy!
Fresh trout on the fire is a scrumptious breakfast or dinner.
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 trout
- Oil for frying
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal, salt, and cayenne pepper. Transfer to a shallow dish.
Dredge the trout in the flour mixture. Set aside.
Heat oil in a cast iron skillet. Fry the fish for about 4-6 minutes on each side, or until the meat flakes with a fork.
Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Summer is the prime time to go camping! But what about meals? What special tools or methods of cooking to you need to use your campfire for more than just a gathering place? Check out these blogs on Cooking in Camp from CHEFS Mix:
- Cooking In Camp: Campfire Cooking Like A Pro
- Cooking in Camp: Food on the Trail
- Cooking in Camp: Campfire Methods
- Cast Iron Cookware: Not Just for the Campfire
Your turn: Are you an experienced camper or new to the hobby? What’s the best part about camping?