Cooking your meals over an open fire is one of the great experiences that come with camping. Most of us have done hot-dogs or marshmallows over a campfire but what else can be cooked this way?
The main difficulty associated with camp cooking is refrigeration. Most tasty common foods must be kept cold to prevent spoilage, and the ice in a cooler only lasts so long. Not mention how heavy a cooler full of ice can be to carry.
When choosing foods to bring with you on a camping trip, try to pack as few foods as possible that require refrigeration or that can spoil easily. The best way to experience a campfire dinner is with fresh food whenever possible however pre-cooked foods are also a good choice to bring along.
Items such as precooked hot-dogs, hamburgers, or sausages are much less likely to spoil or will take much longer before they do. Dairy products such as milk or cream can spoil very easily if not kept at a constant cool temperature.
When building a fire to cook over there are two main things to remember; the first is to build up a thick layer of red hot coals. Flames that shoot out of your fire pit are nice to look at but they will only burn your food. A hot layer of coals at least two inches thick will heat up your food nicely and keep it from getting black and burnt. If you are building a fire use stones to encircle the cooking fire pit that are about eight inches tall. This will allow you to rest a grill on the stones but still keep the pots and pans a safe distance from the heat. It will also contain the coals and prevent the fire from spreading.
The second thing to remember is the quality of bakeware you will be using. Make certain that all your pots and pans are rated as “oven proof” and don’t have any plastic or glass parts that could melt off or break when put near a fire.
Estimating temperature on a campfire is tricky, but a simple test can be done by holding your hand about six to eight inches over the red hot coals and counting. If at five seconds the heat becomes so hot you have to pull your hand away, then the temperature is roughly equal to medium-high heat on a propane barbecue. Three seconds at the same distance is roughly equal to high heat temperature on the barbecue. Seven seconds is roughly equal to medium heat and is good enough for the slow cooker if maintained. Over seven seconds and you may need to let the fire heat up the coals a bit longer.
A nice campfire breakfast could include oatmeal cooked over a campfire with some fresh berries or canned apple juice for the ever important vitamin C to start your day. Oatmeal is very light weight and does not spoil unless it gets wet. It also gives you lots of energy which is beneficial when in the rugged outdoors. Another good choice for breakfast is pancakes. The powdered mix that only requires water is also very simple to pack and doesn’t require you to bring milk and eggs which can easily spoil. Some freshly picked berries from around your camp site will top them off nicely.
While camping or on a fishing trip, it’s hard to beat a shore lunch. Many fisherman have pulled up on an isolated island to cook up some of the morning’s catch of fresh fish. All that is required are some bread crumbs and seasonings such as garlic and onion powder. Some hash browns or freshly fried potatoes go great with this traditional meal. Simply get a low fire going with a nice bed of red hot coals a few inches deep. Place a cast iron frying pan in, or just over the coals if you have a grill. Dredge your filets of fish in beaten eggs or milk and then the breadcrumbs. Fry this all in some oil or butter in the frying pan and there you have it. Wherever you cook, make sure your fires are out before you leave the campsite or bed down for the night.
If fish isn’t your thing, try making some chili. Chili can be made a head of time at home and reheated over a fire. Chili will warm you up if the weather turns damp or well, chilly, and as long as it is kept fairly cool will last for a few days once cooked. The peppers and onions added to the mix will give you some added vitamins and nutrients as well. Some cornbread biscuits are fairly simple to cook over a bed of coals and will go great with the chili.
Soup although rather boring is a good choice for lunch. It is easy and quick to heat up and usually quite filling. The just add water types of soup are lightweight and easy to carry in a back pack. The canned soups are usually more filling but the heavier weight makes them more difficult to carry in a backpack. Foods such as cold meats may be precooked but can turn funky pretty quick so I generally try to avoid them while camping or backpacking.
A dessert of dried fruits such as dried bananas or apricots are non-perishable, lightweight and last almost indefinitely. If they are in season, try picking some fresh apples or berries to have as a dessert.
Dinner is the best meal to cook over an open fire but it is also the most difficult. If you are on a day trip the ice in your cooler will be melting by now making it hard to keep meats chilled. This is where precooked hamburgers come in handy.
Many campers in the back country will keep a slow cooker going all day. The constant low heat makes meat very tender and if you are hunting you can add many different meats to the slow cooker throughout the day. Fresh rabbit, partridge, quail, or turkey all go great together in the slow cooker. A venison, bear or moose roast tastes amazing when done this way. If you want, add some potatoes and vegetables to the slow roaster to make a fresh wild game stew.
Most cuts of meat will cook up great on a grill over red hot campfire coals. Steak or tenderloin cooked over an open fire are the perfect treat to have on the last day of your camping trip. Freeze the meat before you leave for your trip to help keep it cold. The large chunks of frozen meat will also help keep things in your cooler cold too. Beware that other items in your cooler do not become contaminated by the meats. Whenever possible, keep meat in a separate cooler from the veggies and cold drinks.
With a little practise almost any kind of bread or biscuit can be baked over a fire to go with your dinner. Fresh vegetables such as green beans or peas can be boiled in a pot over coals. Roast corn is a classic side dish that can be easily cooked over a fire in their husks. Just soak the corn in a tub of water or even the lake for a couple hours and then put the cobs just over the coals on a grill turning every few minutes until done.
Dessert is probably the hardest part of a camping meal to cook. Cakes don’t do that well without an oven, but some cookies and brownies will cook in a frying pan with a lid.
S’mores are another traditional campfire classic. Sandwich a roasted marshmallow and a piece of chocolate between two graham crackers and away you go. If you have the ability to keep table cream cool, try making it into whipped cream to serve with fresh berries that you picked while enjoying the day’s activities. If all else fails, pick up some oreo’s or doughnuts before you leave home and keep them hidden until necessary.
Plan It Out
There are many different foods that can be cooked over an open fire. Try practising on a barbecue at home before trying it on the real thing. When putting together your meal plan, bring only the utensils that you will need. Don’t forget items such as can openers, spatulas and wooden spoons along with knives and forks, plates and bowls. Most foods that can be cooked on a stove or in an oven can be cooked over an open fire, and just because you are in the middle of the woods, doesn’t mean you can’t eat like a king!
Copyright 2019 Mike Wilson