Studio 5 Contributor Sue Neal shares creative tips to cooking on a campfire.
Some of our family’s favorite memories are from sitting around a campfire… and some of my favorite food has been cooked on a campfire.
Something about that charred and smoky flavor, being outdoors and the adventure of it all makes cooking on a campfire not only memorable but delicious.
Best Tip: The best campfire cooking tip I can give you is NOT to cook on a campfire, at least not the foot-high flame kind, the kind of campfire you all want to sit around and gaze into. This kind of fire is pretty but will never get hot enough, and will certainly burn your food. Think back to the last time you toasted a marshmallow on a flame…cold marshmallow surrounded by black crust. When you roast them on coals you end up with a beautiful browned and melted treat.
Allow your campfire to burn down into glowing embers and then you’re ready to get cooking. You can use any kind of hardwood, but if it’s hard (or illegal) to forage, buy a bag of hardwood lump charcoal (available at Lowes and other stores).
Keep it simple: The key to enjoying campfire cooking is to keep it simple and tasty. Being outdoors is not the best place to try your hand at complicated recipes. This is the time to find shortcuts.
Be creative and adventurous: Whether you’re in charge of Scout or Girls camp, or just camping with the family, everyone, from young to old can enjoy this type of cooking. Play around, think outside of the box and have fun! Your fire does not have a dial or an on/off switch. You have to be willing to watch your food carefully, giggle about experiments-gone-bad and put up with some char and a few ashes.
Options: There are so many great ways to cook on a campfire that I’m sure you’re all familiar with; sticks, hobo dinners with foil, grills and cast iron pans and Dutch ovens. These are all great and fun to cook with but let’s explore real cooking food IN food.
Here’s where it starts to get really fun and adventurous! There are many fruits and vegetables that are perfect for taking the place of a pan or pot. They have high-water content which keeps them from burning, and which also makes the food it’s cooking more moist and flavorful.
Citrus: Lemons, Oranges and Grapefruits make perfect vessels for so many foods. First you need to scoop out the fruit and leave behind the rind. The easiest and fastest way to do this is to cut your fruit in half and then use a grapefruit knife to cut all the way around the edge. Dig a spoon deep along one edge and you can pop out the fruit in one or two pieces. Juice it or eat it whole!
We experimented with eggs first. I did brush some butter in the orange first, but tried without and I didn’t taste much difference. Place orange with lid in coals for a few minutes to heat up. Crack egg into the bottom and place lid back on. When it starts to overflow and foam, take the lid off. It cooked very quickly. While it was cooking I placed a piece of bread directly on the coals up against the orange. Nothing better than dipping toast into a yokey yoke!
We also successfully tried cooking a whole egg in a lemon and despite cracking a bit it was perfect and tasty with a little salt and pepper. It took about 7 minutes to cook.
Lemons are perfect for muffins. Again, keeping it simple, I bought a Lemon Poppyseed muffin mix (all you need is water!), filled it half way, nestle the lemon into some coals do it doesn’t tip over and place a little bit of non-stick foil on top, tented slightly. The foil will brown the top of the muffin. You can tell in the picture, that the first time we did this we didn’t use non-stick foil. It was still delicious! You won’t believe how lemony it was.
Save the lemons for dinner or that fish you just caught!
Onion Meatloaf: This is a great comforting meal after a big day of camping.
Combine it with baked potatoes cooked directly on the coals, wrapped in foil and corn on the cob cooking in it’s husk (that’s been soaked in water).
Mix your favorite meatloaf mixture ahead of time. Don’t peel the onions, just cut in half.
Remove most of the center of the onion. I found it easiest to cut a cross through most of the onion, carefully avoiding the last layer and peel and then popping out the sections with a spoon. Lots of trial and error here! Save the onions for another meal or for hashed brown potatoes the next morning. I love cooked onions, so I ate some of the onion that was cooked.
Mound meatloaf mixture into onion and tuck into coals. Place a little bit of foil over the meatloaf . It takes about 20 minutes to cook through depending on the size of the onion. I used a large sweet onion and it was enough for 2 people. You could use smaller onions for individual size servings, but I think it would be harder to get the onion center out, so just share.
To brown the top of the meatloaf, about half-way through the cooking time (approx. 10 minutes), place hot coals on top of foil. Don’t overcook, as it will dry out the meat.
Meal in a pineapple…or two: I had this brilliant idea to cook a meal in some pineapples. Six pineapples later, I think I have it figured out. I had so much fun with this and just thought it looked cool.
My friend Shauna saw me walking out of Costco with a bunch of pineapples and told me about a cool-tool she picked up at Macey’s (or Dans). She kindly brought it over and gave us a tutorial. As you can see it cores out the Pineapple leaving a perfect vessel for a tropical drink OR dinner! No waste either. I used a grapefruit knife to slice and take out the core.
All six pineapple, despite sitting in hot coals for a long time never burned through. They have lots of juice in them and as it heats up some of the juice will mix in with your food.
I tried cooking regular rice, but it didn’t work out too well, but quick (5 minute) rice was perfect. Nestle and heat pineapples in hot coals for about 5 minutes. Add water and heat for another 5 minutes. Add rice and in another 5 minutes you have fluffy white rice, slightly flavored with pineapple.
To top the rice, I did a pineapple Asian chicken. To simplify, I cut up a pre-cooked roasted chicken. Mix 2 cups of chopped chicken with 1 cup of the pineapple you just cut out, but chopped as well.
Much experimentation led me to use a variety of bottled sauces I had on hand to make a tasty sauce. Do not use packaged dry mixes, they do not work. Make sure whatever sauces you combine, you end up with a thicker sauce, as it will thin down a bit as it cooks with the pineapple juice in the pineapple.
My Chicken Pineapple Sauce
1 cup Panda Orange Chicken Sauce
¼ cup Oyster sauce (this is nice and thick)
¼ cup teriyaki sauce
Sriracha sauce to taste (this is hot & spicy if you like that, I do.)
You can use your favorite sauce to make this dish, just make sure it’s thick enough.
Tip: The trick here is to cook the meat/pineapple mixture just until it’s hot. If you cook it too long, the texture is strange and you might get a slight burnt taste. It took me about 20 minutes to heat up.
I spooned some rice in a bowl, chicken and pineapple over that and then crisp rice noodles and green onions for some texture. It was good!
A big thank you to my dear husband, Steve…for sticking by me and my fire-pit for several evenings, being my taste tester and even burning his hand.
Check out more of Sue Neal’s fun ideas at www.sueneal.blogspot.com