Something magical happens when you're camping that turns routine activities into fun, novel things that you get to do outside. Especially cooking. Preparing a meal with little more than a fire and a skillet is a rewarding experience, and a great way to rely on your wits to feed yourself.
Camping meals have to be dead simple. They should use ingredients that are easy to pack and store, and they need to be simple to prepare. Moreover, a good camping meal is filling enough to provide fuel for the physical activity required for camping, hiking, canoeing and any other activities you'll be undertaking in the great outdoors. The food doesn't have to be premade or preassembled, and it's even better if it's a fun group activity to cook something.
It's also pretty neat to prepare something you wouldn't or couldn't have indoors at home. Here are 10 tried-and-true campfire recipes to keep you fed during your next outdoor excursion.
Classic Campfire Cooking No. 10: Chili
A big pot of chili is an ideal campsite dinner. Most anything you'd want or need to put in it comes from a can or an envelope and tastes great, and it's so versatile that, beyond the base ingredients, a lot of variations are suitable. One note: Coolers keep food chilled and relatively safe, but not at refrigerator levels. So, if you're going to cook your chili with ground beef, turkey or venison, make it on the first night you're there if you've just got a cooler -- you don't want to get sick eating spoiled meat and ruin a trip.
After browning meat over a fire or camp stove in a Dutch oven, pour off some of the fat and add two cans of stewed tomatoes, two cans of beans (one each of kidney and pinto), a chopped onion, maybe some jalapeños, and a packet of chili powder or chili spice mix. Add about an empty can or two worth of clean water, and let it simmer until everything is soft and warm.
Classic Campfire Cooking No. 9: Hot Dogs
Grilling meat is one of the oldest, simplest and easiest kinds of cookery in the world. There are few things as wonderful as roasting a hot dog on a stick over a roaring campfire, cooking it just enough so that when you bite into it, the skin pops and just a little juice comes out. Hot dogs have endured as a camping staple because they're inexpensive, come at least eight to a pack, and, because they're processed, keep with minimum refrigeration. And while you can grill them on a camp stove, all you really need is a stick and a good fire going.
Classic Campfire Cooking No. 8: Pancakes
Pancakes, hotcakes, flapjacks -- whatever you want to call them, they're an old-fashioned, simple food, something that's easy to make and very filling. They require few ingredients, all of which are easy to pack and store.
Here's a simple recipe that dates back to the 1860s: Take three large spoonfuls of flour (white or wheat), add a pinch of salt, and stir in enough water to make a creamy batter. Coat the bottom of a skillet with fat (maybe fat saved from cooking bacon or sausage) and pour in the batter. Flip when the edges curl. (Another recipe, from the 20th century: 3 cups flour, a tablespoon of salt, a tablespoon of baking powder, two eggs, two cups of milk -- mix the dry and the wet, and then combine.)
Classic Campfire Cooking No. 7: Cornbread
You could bring a premade cornbread mix, but it's just as easy to make it from scratch in front of the fire. All that's required is cornmeal, salt, water, a little grease and a skillet. Pour half a cup of cornmeal into a bowl and work in spoonful of fat (bacon grease or butter). Stir in water, and add salt to taste. Coat a skillet with grease, and heat over the fire until it starts to smoke. Pour in the mixture, but leave room on each side so you can flip the bread over, because you'll have to flip it over when the bottom is browned. When it's done, serve warm, and cut into triangular slices like cake or pizza.
Classic Campfire Cooking No. 6: Chili Pie
It's a pie in name only, although the end result does mimic a pie, with chips for a crust and chili and other ingredients as the filling. Chili pie, also known as chili cheese pie, is a popular item at food stands and sporting events in the South, but it started off as an easy campfire meal made from mostly nonperishable ingredients. Heat up two cans of chili (or make your own, of course) in a Dutch oven. Line a bowl with corn chips or tortilla chips. Top the chips with the warm chili, diced onions and shredded cheddar cheese.
Classic Campfire Cooking No. 5: Franks and Beans
If camping had an official food, it would be beans. These can be prepared and served any number of ways, but this is a simple method with just a couple of extra ingredients that turns beans -- which are filling since they're loaded with both fiber and protein -- from a side dish into a meal. Cut up a package of hot dogs into slices and fry them with some onions in a skillet until the onions brown. Pour off the excess fat. Add a can or two of baked beans, and stir constantly to prevent sticking. Serve it hot -- and, if you've got some, with ketchup.
Classic Campfire Cooking No. 4: Baked Potatoes
We've covered skillet and pot cooking, open fire cooking, and stick cooking—have you ever cooked anything outdoors in just tin foil? Similar to how potatoes get baked and steamed to fluffy perfection when they're at the bottom of a clambake is the campfire method. First, poke some holes through the potatoes skin with a fork. Wrap the potato in tin foil, making sure to pack it tightly. Place the potato on a hot bed of coals or on a rock next to a low fire. It'll be ready in about half an hour, but check to see if the potato is cooked by poking it once more with a fork.
Classic Campfire Cooking No. 3: Broiled Fish
If you're camping near a waterway, you might be lucky or skilled enough to catch yourself a main dinner course. Broiled fish, particularly trout, is a camping must. It's also another way to "rough it" and practice some camping ingenuity by making what the "Boy Scout Handbook" calls a rustic broiler (which works for steak as well as fish). Find a forked branch, hold the fish inside it, and then run two or three sticks in across the width and length of the fish, with the ends resting alternately on the top and bottom of the sides of the branch so as to hold the fish in place. Place the handle of the broiler in the ground so that the "netting" of the broiler and the fish rests over the coals or fire. Broil for about five minutes on each side.
Classic Campfire Cooking No. 2: Hobo Pies and Sandwiches
What's for lunch when camping? Sandwiches, and hot sandwiches at that. But you probably won't find a place to plug in your panini press, so for pocket sandwiches filled with hot, juicy fillings, invest $20 in a cooking iron, also known as a hobo pie maker or camping press. It consists of two small, hinged metal plates that fit together at the end of two long handles (for safe handling over a fire). A hobo pie is a specific foodstuff, and usually a dessert: two slices of bread, butter and pie filling mashed and heated in the cooking iron until it's an encapsulated, compact treat. You can make all kinds of hot, simple panini sandwiches with a cooking iron, particularly grilled cheese or even Reubens.
Classic Campfire Cooking No. 1: S'mores
So s'mores aren't technically a meal. But a s'more is a great snack, and after all, camping is a vacation, so why not have a graham cracker-marshmallow-chocolate sandwich for dessert?
S'mores originated among campers in the early 20th century. Who exactly invented them is lost to history, but the snack's popularity spread after it was mentioned in the 1927 edition of "The Girl Scout Handbook." (And yes, "s'more" is a contraction of "some more," because you can't eat just one.) They're a great camping food because none of the ingredients require refrigeration and anyone who can hold a stick can make one. Here's how you put one together: Take two marshmallows, poke them on a stick, and toast them on an open flame, turning until the marshmallows are brown. Place them on half a graham cracker and make a sandwich with a square of chocolate on the other cracker half. If you're camping in August, make sure to make some s'mores on Aug. 10 -- National S'mores Day.
For lots more information on camping and cooking, see the links on the next page.
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- Bouwman, Fred. "Camp Cooking: A Practical Handbook." Skyhorse Publishing. 2009.
- Boy Scouts of America. "The Boy Scout Handbook." Boy Scouts of America. 1965
- Farmer, Charles and Kathy (eds.). "Campground Cooking." Follett Publishing Company. 1974.
- Fisher, Garry. "Rebel Cornbread and Yankee Coffee." Crane Hill Publishers. 2001.
- Hammett, Catherine T. "Your Own Book of Campcraft." Pocket Books. 1950.
- Rome Industries. "Easy to Make Pie Iron Recipes." PieIron.com. 2011. (February 16, 2012) http://www.pieiron.com/recipes.htm
- Spiridakis, Nicole. "Forget the Granola: Camp Cooking Goes Gourmet." NPR.org. July 16, 2008. (February 15, 2012) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92419216
- Weston, Nicole. "The History of S'mores." SlashFood.com. Aug. 18, 2006. (February 15, 2012) http://www.slashfood.com/2006/08/18/the-history-of-smores/