I recently took my family and friends camping at the lake. My 12-year-old kept asking me what time it was. Instead of looking at a watch or a device, I would reply “it’s hungry,” and it was time to prepare the next meal. One of the best things about camping is tending to your basic needs on your own time without being driven by the hour of the workday or when the daycare closes. This means meals can be prepared slowly and everyone takes in the aroma a little longer than we do at home. With just a few simple pieces of cooking gear, some kindling, and matches, you can easily prepare meals outside on a fire. Whether you’re cooking in your backyard or preparing a hearty dinner after a day-long hike, these meals will engage everyone in the joyous process of cooking outside - no loincloth required. Just know that cooking on a fire does typically take longer than in your instapot at home.
#1: Hobo Dinners
If you plan to cook over a fire with only a grill grate and aluminum foil (which comes standard at some campsites), this is the best go-to that is fun for the entire family. Just like its name implies, this meal is literally a kitchen sink full of opportunity. The standard hobo foil wrap will usually include meat of some kind (ground meats work best) and any assortment of vegetables (edamame adds a nice crunch). This is a great throw together at the last minute meal because you can use that last potato or any other tidbits of fresh veggies you have in the fridge. Frozen veggies work well, too. You can save prep time by chopping ahead. Put each potential ingredient in its own ziplock bag or Tupperware bowl, and you suddenly have a build-your-own meal for everyone to assemble, cook, and enjoy. Here are a few tips to make hobo dinners easier and more delicious:
- Boiling vegetables like potatoes and carrots ahead of time will speed up time on the fire. Otherwise, plan to cook your hobo dinners over a fire that is down to hot coals for up to 45 minutes.
- Keep in mind the cooking time of each item and how the item is placed in the foil wrap. For example, unboiled potatoes and carrots should go on the bottom, meat on top, and your more hydrating vegetables (tomatoes and squashes) on top.
- Sprinkle in any seasoning or marinades you wish - we usually need only Dale’s and garlic. If you don’t have any marinades, a splash of beer or water will keep it moist and free of burnt spots.
- The foil wrap typically requires multiple pieces of foil. The best way to wrap is to use an interlocking fold with two sheets and roll it closed like a brown paper bag on top. The interlocked portion should serve as the side that is directly over the fire.
- Tongs work well to shift each meal around as the heat of the fire changes.
#2: Stir Fry Anything
With a well-seasoned cast iron skillet and some olive oil, you can cook up just about anything over a fire. A huge rib-eye and diced vegetables are easy to prepare. If your fire is wide enough, use two or three cast iron skillets. Be sure to use metal tongs and pot holders because the cast iron gets very hot.
#3: Pumpkin Bake
This is favorite in the fall, but it’s tasty year round. As always, have a fire with a hot bed of coals ready.
- Prepare small single serve pumpkins or one large jack-o-lantern pumpkin as if you plan to carve it for Halloween.
- Brown one pound of ground sausage in a skillet over the fire.
- Combine 5-minute rice, diced apples, chicken broth, and a can of cream of mushroom soup with the cooked ground sausage.
- Fill the pumpkin(s) with the mixture, wrap the pumpkins in foil covered in cooking spray, and place the pumpkin on the coals. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes over the fire until the mixture is bubbling and the pumpkin gives with a fork.
Note that one large pumpkin may take longer, and you will need bowls to serve; Using single-serving pumpkins will provide each person with a bowl.
#4: Any Kind Of Stew
With a large cast iron dutch oven, you can prepare any soup or stew you make at home. The key is to have all ingredients chopped and bagged ready to take to the fire pit or throw into the cooler if heading to the campsite. Another important aspect, as applied to hobo dinners, is to cook first those items that will take longer such as potatoes, carrots, onions, and any kind of meat. Make sure your dutch oven has a flat top so that you can place hot coals on top. Once all items are added to the dutch oven, let simmer for one hour over low heat. Someone needs to keep the fire going! For a nice treat, during the last 15 or 20 minutes, lay canned biscuits on top of the stew.
#5: Chinese Chicken
No, we didn’t order take-out. This yummy Chinese style chicken will be sure to please. Again, to make the cooking easier, have all items chopped before going out to the fire. Chunked, boneless skinless chicken breast works best in this meal. Use your judgment in the amount of chopped onion and bell pepper, and cook these first in the dutch oven. Then add chicken breast chunks, garlic, carrots, celery, and cashews.
The secret is in the sauce; not really, but use these proportions. In a separate bowl, combine:
- 1 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup vinegar
- 3 tablespoons ketchup
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- 20 ounce can of pineapple chunks
Add the sauce to the dutch oven, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. You can serve over 5-minute rice.
Is pasta while camping even an option? It is when you can purchase frozen premade pasta like ravioli. Anyone who makes ravioli by hand on a regular basis may not be well-suited for the great outdoors. The frozen ravioli works best when it’s thawed, so, if you are camping, toss it in the cooler to keep other items cold while it thaws. As with campfire nachos described below, it’s all about the layers. Have a hot coal fire ready. In a dutch oven, add a thin layer of jarred spaghetti sauce then a single layer of ravioli. Then add half of the remaining sauce on top of the first layer of ravioli. Sprinkle on Parmesan cheese, then add another layer of ravioli. Top it off with the rest of the sauce, add all of the mozzarella and a little more Parmesan. Then pour a half cup of water around the edges of the pot. Cook for 45 minutes or until sauce is bubbling and cheese has browned.
#7: Mountain Man Breakfast
This one is a great high carb and high protein breakfast to enjoy before leaving the campsite for a long hike or paddle. As with any dutch oven meal over a fire, cook your meat (sausage or crumbled bacon) first along with pre-chopped onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Then sprinkle frozen hashed potatoes over top. Take the beaten eggs and pour over the potato, meat, and veggie mixture. Cover and place more coals on the top than on the bottom. It will take about 40 minutes for the eggs to become firm. Then sprinkle cheese on top and cover for an additional five minutes.
#8: Campfire Nachos
Grab the tortilla chips and get ready to layer it up. This one is perfect for romantic tent camping for two, but may be more appropriate as an appetizer for larger groups. Pre-chop the typical Mexican veggies like onion, tomato, and green pepper. Have a hot coal fire ready, and, as usual, cook the meat separately. Using a dutch oven, add a layer of chips to the bottom, then build from the bottom up layering the veggies, a can of black beans, salsa or green chilies (optional), and cheese. To create more of a casserole texture, add some water. Cover and let it cook until the cheese is melted. Top it off with fresh avocado.
#9: Omelet In A Bag
This is another made-to-order assembled meal for campfire cooking. The kids will really enjoy this one. Have a fire going with hot coals. Place a large flat rock in the fire pit when you first start the fire. Once you have coals, you will have a nice surface to put a pot of water on for boiling. Have your vegetables pre-chopped to speed things up. Crumbled pre-cooked bacon is a nice addition. Use Ziploc quart-sized bags (or purchase reusable boiling bags). Add a few eggs, all of the bacon and veggies you want, shake it all up, then drop the bag in the water. Boil for 12 to 13 minutes. Sprinkle cheese on the omelet while still hot.
#10: The Perfect S’more
You may be thinking you already know how to make a s’more, but think again. This trick will knock your socks off. The key is to prepare the s’more in stages and customize! Instead of your standard milk chocolate bar, try something different. How about fun-sized candy bars? My personal favorite is dark chocolate and coconut mounds, but my family members also love peanut butter cups, snickers, butterfingers, and peppermint patties. First, lay out all of the parts of the perfect s’more: two square graham crackers, marshmallow, open your fun-sized candy bar, and lay flat a large piece of foil. Place your first graham cracker on the foil, then your candy bar. Lay to the side your other graham cracker. Roast your marshmallow as you normally would, but I recommend using the hot coals to evenly melt the marshmallow instead of letting it get too crispy. You can do this by slowly rotating it. Once it is warm and gooey, put the marshmallow on top of the graham cracker and candy bar on the foil. Place the other graham cracker on top, then wrap it all up in the foil and place it on the hot coals, flipping it a few times. This technique not only melts the candy bar but also makes your graham crackers warm and toasted.
This list is not exhaustive, but it will get you started in using some of the basic tools of cooking over a fire: cast iron skillet, dutch oven, foil, Ziploc bags, and patience. After all, when the family gets together for some nature therapy and resetting circadian rhythm, who needs to know the time?
About The Author:
Zaneta is a Research Specialist and Writer for exercise.com and autoinsurance.org. Writing and research has been an integral component of her studies in anthropology, instructional technology, technical and professional communication, and adult education. A mountain biker-turned-paddler, she lives in Greenville, SC with her spouse, 12-year-old daughter, three lizards, and two Dachshunds. Her family enjoys tent camping throughout the year.
Disclaimer: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.