I’ve rafted the Grand Canyon and camped along its banks. I’ve camped on beaches up and down the East Coast. I’ve set up tents in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and have even done the motor home thing in Yellowstone National Park (even though that’s not really considered roughing it). I’ve also camped in the scruffy Florida Keys, plus umpteen parks here in my own camping-friendly state of Michigan.
I love It, and there’s a lot to be said about reconnecting with the great outdoors and getting back-to-basics. But when it comes to camping food, I prefer the not-so-basics.
Hot Dog! Let’s Cook.
If you’re at a campground, you’re either going to be cooking over an open campfire, with a portable propane or charcoal grill, or one of the charcoal grills the campgrounds provides. If you’re cooking with propane, you probably know what you’re doing. Cooking with charcoal or over a wood fire is a little trickier and, if you haven’t done it, you really need to do your homework. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not giving yourself ample lead time in building a good fire. The second thing is you don’t want to cook over shooting flames — you want to cook over hot coals since that’s your even heat source. So if you’re a novice, get some good tips from someone who’s experienced in building fires for cooking.
Are You Equipped?
Unless your idea of camping is at the local motel, you won’t have a refrigerator, freezer, or oven at your disposal. Still, if you’ve got a few basics, you’re in business. A cooler (or two) is a must. So are the right utensils: aluminum foil, mitts, dishes, knives, spatulas, and plastic storage containers. A cast iron Dutch oven (or kettle) is an indispensable tool for one-pot stews, soups, chilis, and cobblers, and it’ll double as your serving bowl. You can hang the Dutch oven from a tripod over the fire, or set it on a grill or directly in the coals. You might also think about a cast iron skillet for scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, etc. And if you have the room, a grill basket is ideal for vegetables, fruit, and more delicate proteins like fish.
Food for Thought: Plan Ahead
You can have some wonderful breakfasts, lunches and dinners that are a lot more exciting than cold cereal, or pork and beans and hot dogs. In fact, you can really impress your friends with how great you are at outdoor cooking. Ever think about cooking a frittata for breakfast for your fellow campers? How about whipping up spicy turkey burgers stuffed with blue cheese and onions, served on grilled buns? Or, how about making a delicious berry cobbler? All it takes is a little organization.
A week or so before your trip, sit down and design a menu. Being organized is important and if you do your research, planning and shopping ahead of time, the rest is easy. Once you’ve shopped for groceries, measure and separate your ingredients and put them in containers or food storage bags. Want spicy chicken chili some evening? Make it ahead of time and simply reheat it over the campfire or on the grill. Take toppings like shredded cheese, chopped onions, chiles, tomatoes, tortilla strips, and sour cream in containers and let guests help themselves. Served with an ice-cold beer, it’s an impressive meal and your friends will appreciate the fact that you did more than just open a can.
Show Off Your Skewer Cooking Skills with Shish Kebabs
Kebabs are ideal for a camping trip because they can be assembled a day or two ahead of time, marinated, and then pulled out and put on the grill. They’re delicious and the presentation is impressive. You can use just about any cut of meat — even shrimp and scallops — and any creative combination of vegetables, and fruit like pineapple. I prefer using metal skewers. They’re sturdier and won’t burn. The best part? There’s very little cleanup.
Indonesian Chicken Kebabs for Four
8 boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1” cubes
2 red peppers, peeled and quartered
2 green peppers, peeled and quartered
2 red onions, peeled and quartered
1 cup of peanut butter
1/2 cup of chili sauce
1.2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tblsp garlic, minced
8 green onions, finely chopped
Mix all the ingredients together and pour over the kebabs in a plastic container or glass baking dish. Let marinate for 24 hours before grilling.
Holy Smokes: It’s Grilled Fruit
Grilled fruit like pineapple, pears, nectarines, peaches or plums is easy and delicious, and the natural sugars will caramelize the fruit. For a light topping, take plain yogurt, and add a couple of tablespoons of honey and a squeeze of lime juice. Stir it together and top your fruit. It’s fresh, healthy, and much more impressive than s’mores.
1 large pineapple, cored and cut into slices
3/4 cup tequila or rum
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Mix liquor, vanilla and cinnamon together until sugar dissolves. Place pineapple or grill and baste while grilling. Grill about 10 minutes. Serve hot with yogurt topping.
With all the latest equipment and gadgets, the way we camp has changed over the years, but the reasons why we do it haven’t. We still want to get out in the fresh air, reconnect with nature, and leave the comforts of home at home even if just for a weekend. There’s something about sleeping in a sleeping bag, building a fire and sitting under the stars with a cold beer and good coversation. And there’s something about food just taking so much better outdoors — even if it’s a gooey s’more.
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