One of life’s great pleasures is eating something delicious that you have cooked outside over a fire. Hiking, hauling gear, paddling a canoe, and the travel it takes to get to a campsite all burn a lot of calories, and being hungry is unavoidable when you are spending lots of time outdoors.
Cooking while camping does not have to be difficult, and you do not have to spend a lot of time doing it if you are well-prepared when you arrive. It is also very important to practice food safety, because unsafe food can lead to not enjoying your camping time for other unpleasant reasons. With a little planning, you can be an expert in no time.
Getting Things Started
If you have never cooked on a fire before, there are some important things you need to keep in mind. Only build campfires in approved locations, such as a fire ring or fire pit. If you are backpacking, construct your fire according to local regulations. If there is a fire ban due to drought, you must only use a camp stove to heat your water and food.
If your fire ring comes with a built-in grate, it will be easy to grill or simmer food. If your campsite does not have a grate, this portable tripod makes campfire cooking much easier.
Fire starters are the fastest way to start a campfire, especially when you do not have time to nurture a new fire – like when you are busy setting up your tent. Just place a fire starter cube in your fire ring, light it, and then carefully stack your dry firewood around the burning cube.
When cooking outdoors, do not consume or cook with water unless you are sure it is safe to drink. Even just a sip of unsafe water could leave you with very unpleasant and dangerous side effects, so do not take the risk!
Always keep away to extinguish your fire nearby, like a pail of water or a shovel. A few scoops of dirt or sand are all that is needed to extinguish most campfires. Stir the ashes well to make sure that all the coals are out. Always make certain that your fire is completely extinguished before you go to bed. You do not want to be responsible for starting a forest fire! You will know that your fire is entirely out when you can hold your hand over the ashes and not feel any heat.
Making Camping Food Simple, Safe, and Delicious
Simplifying your cooking while camping means doing some preparation before you leave. You can think of the work that you do at home to prepare your meals as banking up a time to enjoy being outside later. No matter what you plan on eating when you are camping, you should follow these guidelines:
Anything that can be cut up should be cut up and packed separately.
For example, if you plan to make foil packet meals, you can cut all the vegetables to the size you need and store them in small containers or zippered bags.
Anything that can be frozen should be frozen.
Food safety matters a lot when you are away from home! Make sure to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Even the best cooler will end with melted ice packs after a few days, so the more items are frozen from the start, the longer everything will stay cold.
Foods that freeze well:
- Meat and meat substitutes
- Tortillas and pita bread
- Cookie dough and brownie batter
- Pasta sauce
- Frozen vegetables or hash browns
Anything that can be pre-measured and mixed should be measured, mixed, and stored.
If you are making pancakes, measuring the dry ingredients, and storing them in their container or zippered bag will save you a lot of time at your campsite. A recipe that requires only water means that when it’s time for breakfast, you can fill your water bottle with the required amount, dump in the dry pancake ingredients, shake vigorously, and pour the batter into a hot pan over the fire. Easy!
Campfire Meal Ideas for Stage One Fires
When cooking over a fire, it is important to remember that not all fires are the same. Unlike your stove at home, it is not possible to quickly turn down the heat, so you will need to consider what kind of fire you have before you start cooking.
When a fire is first lit, it will have lots of flames and heat, but no coals. Let’s call this a Stage One Fire – very hot, taller flames, and no coals. The high heat of a Stage One fire means things will boil or cook quickly, so use caution. If you plan on arriving at your campsite late in the day and want to eat a meal as soon as you can start your fire, here are some great options!
Soup is something that people often overlook, but a simmering pot of vegetable soup or stew is a welcome sight to hungry campers. Commercially available dehydrated soup mixes travel well and do not need to stay cold, so they are an excellent choice for backpacking or meals later in the week when your ice packs have melted. It is easy to prepare your own soup mix at home and store it in a zippered bag until the water is boiling. If you make your soup mix, make sure to use a Sharpie to note on the bag the amount of water that is needed for cooking.
Make it even better!
- Add dumplings to your soup by dropping in pinches of canned biscuit dough as it simmers.
- Slices of summer sausage tossed in toward the end of cooking add extra protein and flavor.
- Dehydrated TVP (textured vegetable protein) tastes great when added to soup, and is a wonderful way for vegetarians to add protein.
- Grated parmesan cheese adds lots of flavors and is easy to store.
2. Hot dogs, sausages, and bratwurst
Hot dogs, sausages, and bratwurst are campfire classics! If you freeze them before you leave and pack them with ice packs, they will stay cold for days. They are great for quick meals, and each person can cook and flavor them in a way that brings them joy. Kids especially love cooking their own hot dogs.
Make them even better!
- If you have extendable sticks, you can roast your hot dogs over the fire from a safe distance. They are also great for marshmallows, of course!
- Tortillas and pita bread pack well and are not prone to be crushed like hot dog buns.
- Having a variety of condiments available (canned chili for chili dogs, shredded cheese, salsa, mustard, barbecue sauce, pickled vegetables) makes customizing this meal fun.
- To make pigs in a blanket, wrap a slice of cheese and some canned biscuit dough around a hot dog before cooking. Make sure to rotate it often over the fire for even cooking.
Pasta is a quick-cooking meal that fills you up without adding a lot of weight to your camping gear. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook it according to package directions. Having a clip-on or collapsible colander helps strain the water out when it is done cooking.
Make it even better!
- Sun-dried tomatoes, dehydrated bacon bits, and grated parmesan cheese are all ways to add a lot of flavor to pasta without taking up a lot of space.
- Just-add-water pasta sauce mixes take next to no time to prepare and taste great. You can also freeze pasta sauce in a zippered bag and reheat it in a pan over the fire. It works best if you let the bag of sauce thaw slightly in warm water before adding it to the pan.
- Frozen, precooked meatballs can be skewered and heated over the fire on extendable sticks. Kids love doing this job, and they also love eating spaghetti and meatballs!
Campfire Meal Ideas for Stage Two Fires
Once your fire has been burning for a while, usually around an hour, a bed of coals will form. These fires usually have fewer flames and less smoke, but plenty of heat. Stage Two fires are great for slower, more even cooking.
1. Shish kebabs
Shish kebabs are a perfect meal for camping, because they cook quickly and are easy to eat. Prepare the skewers at home and store them in a zippered bag or food storage container until it is time to grill them. Cubes of steak, chicken, and unpeeled shrimp are all delicious when cooked over a campfire! Skewer slices of vegetables like onions, sweet peppers, mushrooms, and zucchini, too. If you lay the skewers on the grate, use some vegetable oil to keep them from sticking. Sprinkle them with your favorite seasoning, or just a little salt and pepper. Over a Stage Two fire, they should cook in ten to fifteen minutes.
How will I know when they are cooked? The chicken must be completely opaque and no longer pink when you slice through the middle of the largest piece. The shrimp will be opaque and pink when it is cooked. The doneness of beef and vegetables depends on your taste!
2. Foil packet meals
Foil packet meals are super easy and require almost no cleanup, which may be the best part of eating them. Look for heavy-duty aluminum foil for this recipe, since the thinner aluminum foil does not hold up well in the fire. Simply lay two heavy-duty aluminum foil sheets on the table and spray with non-stick cooking spray or vegetable oil. Layer one to two cups of thinly sliced potatoes, onions, and carrots in the middle of the foil, dot them with butter or margarine, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Slices of fully cooked sausage or TVP are a great addition! Or, if you have leftover cooked bacon from breakfast, crumble some slices on top of the vegetables. Fold the packet tightly closed and roll the edges of the foil so that nothing leaks out. Nestle them in the coals and turn them frequently so that they cook evenly. In a Stage Two fire, this should take about twenty minutes.
How will I know when they are cooked? You might see some steam escaping from the packets as they cook, which is a good sign. The best way to check for doneness is to open a packet and test a carrot or potato by pricking them with a fork.
3. Roasted sweet corn
Roasted sweet corn is delicious and easy! If the corn is very fresh, it will cook well in its husk. You do not need to soak the cobs in water or wrap them in foil. Simply remove the tassels at the end of each cob of corn and roast them over the coals in the husk, turning them frequently. Over a Stage Two fire, this should take about fifteen minutes.
How will I know when they are cooked? The corn husks will become slightly charred, and steam will escape from the end where the tassels were removed. If you peel the husk back, you will see that the corn kernels look bright and shiny, and that steam is rising from them.
Savoring It All
There is something about fresh air and sunshine that makes any food taste better, especially if it is cooked over a fire. Keeping the amount of time that you spend preparing food to a minimum adds to the enjoyment of the meal, because you will be able to relax and enjoy it that much sooner. Imagine a sprinkle of stars sparkling above you, the trees rustling in the breeze, and the warmth of the fire by your side as you enjoy your own delicious creation. Just add friends and family, and you have a recipe for a beautiful memory.
How would you top the perfect hot dog? What is the best thing you have ever cooked over an open fire? Let us know!