Cooking with fire
Campers often abandon the comforts of home to embrace nature.
But, that doesn’t mean they have to give up good meals in lieu of something on a bun. Easy, tasty meals can be cooked in the campfire using Dutch ovens, foil packets or a variety of other methods.
Nikki Freeman, an outdoor education director at Heit’s Point Lutheran Camp, teaches campfire cooking and practices the technique on her own camp outs.
“The nice thing about campfire cooking, especially foil packs, is that it’s something kids can easily help with,” Freeman said.
Dutch ovens are “the Cadillac cooking of campsites,” Freeman said. “That’s the way I think of it,” she said.
Cast iron Dutch ovens come in various sizes and typically cost about $50. They can be used from the backyard to car camping.
“Anything you can do in the kitchen, you can do in the Dutch oven. ... I know Dutch ovens can get (pricey), but they last forever,” Freeman said.
Some may shy away from Dutch ovens because of their maintenance, Freeman said, although one doesn’t require any more work than a cast iron skillet. Dutch ovens require seasoning and cleaning with hot water and elbow grease.
“Cleaning the Dutch oven is the worse part of it, but it’s so worth it,” Freeman said.
Most Dutch oven recipes are cooked at 350 degrees, Freeman said. Campers can follow this formula to achieve the temperature. Take the size of the oven and double it to get the number of coals needed. Then put twice the amount of coals on top as the bottom.
“You’re kind of combating the heat rising,” Freeman said.
So, 24 coals are needed for a 12-inch oven — 16 on top and eight on bottom. Coals are ready for the oven when they are gray, the same as using a grill. Some Dutch ovens come with legs, so the coals can easily be placed underneath. Freeman recommends placing the coals on top in a checkerboard pattern.
“Basically, you don’t want to clump it all together so it cooks evenly,” she said.
The lid and oven should also be turned every 15 to 20 minutes for more even cooking, Freeman said.
Foil packets are another way to cook in campfires. Freeman recently made Hungry Hiker Parcels and Hobo Veggies. She took squares of foil and sprayed them with cooking spray, added the ingredients to the center, then folded the foil around the food.
“These are great because you can add whatever you want,” she said.
Potatoes should be chopped finely when used in packets for faster cooking, Freeman said. The packets should be turned during cooking.
A very small fire is all that’s needed for foil pack cooking.
“You don’t want a giant, roaring fire,” she said. “You want more of a nice, coal based fire.”
Campfire cooking requires more planning than traditional hot dogs and s’mores, although there are ways to make it easier at the campsite.
Vegetables can be cleaned and cut before leaving home, and some foil pack recipes can be prepared ahead of time and frozen. Freeman said she mixes her favorite spices at home and stores them in an empty film canister to take on camping trips.
Campfire recipes often result in a flavor that can’t be duplicated in a traditional oven.
“I think it tastes great,” Freeman said. “And, I don’t know if it’s because your really hungry when your cooking in the outdoors, but there’s just something about campfire cooking that makes it almost taste so much better than anything you would make at your house.”
Hungry Hiker Parcels
This recipe is easily adapted to your taste. Mix your favorite seasonings into the ground beef before forming it into patties and freezing. Garlic powder, Italian seasonings or a bit of paprika would be nice.
Start to finish: 40 minutes (10 minutes active)
1/8 cup ketchup or tomato paste
1 pound ground beef
1 potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 carrot, peeled and cut into small chunks
1 onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Two days before you leave home, cut four large squares of heavy-duty foil.
In a small glass, mix the ketchup with 2 tablespoons water. Spread a quarter of the ketchup mixture in a small circle at the center of each of the squares of foil.
Divide the beef into four patties (or crumble) and place one over the ketchup on each foil square. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the vegetables, then divide equally among the four patties, mounding them on top of the meat. Tightly wrap the foil over the meat and vegetables, then freeze.
Just before leaving for your trip, loosely wrap the frozen packet in a second layer of foil.
When you're ready to cook, start a campfire and let it burn down to hot embers. Place the packets directly in the hot embers and cook for about 30 minutes.
You will need foil squares, about 6 inches across
Sliced green bell pepper
Salt and pepper
Dabs of butter
Put one serving onto each square of foil. Seal the foil into a packet. Put on the coals and turn a couple times to keep from burning. Takes about a half hour or less depending upon the heat of the coals.
6 slices rye bread, toasted and cubed
1 (16-oz) jar sauerkraut, well drained
4 cups (1 pound) corned beef; shredded
1/2 cup thousand island dressing
2 cups Swiss cheese, shredded
Spread toasted bread cubes in the bottom of 12-inch Dutch oven. Spread sauerkraut evenly over the bread cubes. Layer shredded corned beef over the sauerkraut. Spread dressing over beef. Bake at 400 degrees (19 coals on top; 10 coals on bottom) for 20 to 25 minutes until heated through. Top with cheese. Bake for another 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted.
Almost Pumpkin Pie
1 (29 oz.) can pumpkin
1 tbl. pumpkin pie spice
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup evaporated milk
1 package yellow cake mix
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup butter
Mix together all filling ingredients. Pour into greased 12-inch Dutch oven. Cut butter into cake mix with pastry blender then mix in nuts. Sprinkle over top. Bake for 1 hour with 8 coals on the bottom and 16 coals on the top. When done, may be served with whipped cream or ice cream. May also be served cold. Serves 12-16.
Source: “Camp Dutch Oven Cooking 101 from Backyard to Backwoods,” Lodge Press
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