If you’ve spent any amount of time outdoors, you probably know that a) food tastes better when you’re camping and b) you’re never hungrier than when you’re camping.
That first point is a bit mysterious: research points to several potential reasons why a simple hot dog eaten around a campfire might rank in your top five meals of all time. It might be that we’re more mindful of what we’re eating when we’re outdoors; that eating outdoors triggers happy memories which make food taste better; or that the novelty of eating somewhere different perks up our taste buds. Whatever the reason, I still fondly remember a bowl of instant ramen I ate at Lassen Volcanic National Park while watching a meteor shower. It tasted amazing, and I know it wouldn’t have been the same in my dining room at home.
But the second point, that camping makes you ravenous, is pretty easy to understand. Even if you’re not on a long backpacking trek, you’ve probably spent the day setting up your campsite, venturing out on hikes, or swimming in a nearby pond. Once it’s time to set up the campfire and start preparing dinner, you’re starving.
What can you cook that’s well-suited to a camp kitchen and will satisfy everyone’s growling bellies? We highly recommend barbecue. The primal nature of cooking food over a campfire is super satisfying, and there are plenty of filling and delicious barbecue meals. Need some inspiration? Here are some of our favorite barbecue recipes to consider for your next camping trip, and some advice for making your campfire dinner a success.
Please note: some people adhere to a strict definition of BBQ. At the risk of offending purists, we’re using “barbecue” here to mean any meal you can cook over a wood fire.
Tools, Tips, and Tricks
Cooking a hearty barbecue meal on your campfire is a bit different than throwing a steak on the grill at home. We’ve found that having a few key tools can help you perfect your rustic cooking technique.
- Cast Iron Dutch Oven: A necessity for slow-cooking anything on a campfire. Yes, it’s heavy, but as long as you have room in the car, it’s worth it.
- Long Grilling Tongs: You’re going to need to handle your food while standing next to a roaring fire, and your regular kitchen tongs aren’t going to cut it.
- Thick Gloves: Protect your hands while lifting heavy, hot pots and pans off the fire.
- Meat Thermometer: This one might seem too fancy for a rustic camping meal, but there’s no easier way to make sure your roast is cooked to perfection. Most thermometers are small and lightweight, and even a cheap one should work fine for campfire cooking.
- Grate or Hanger: You’ll need some way of keeping your cooking pot stable on the fire. A metal grate works, or hang your pot from a tripod or other support frame.
Because cooking outdoors is a bit different than in the comfort of your kitchen, here are a few tips that we always try to remember when preparing our camping meals:
- Prepare as much as you can in advance. Chopping vegetables, marinating meat, measuring ingredients, and blending sauces before your trip will help things go more smoothly at the campsite.
- Keep food safety in mind, especially in warm weather. Store uncooked meat in coolers with ice, and bring a separate cutting board for meat.
- Keep side dishes simple. Remember, everything will taste great outdoors.
- Start your campfire early so you have a bed of hot coals to cook on.
Brisket: The Classic
As long as everyone in your group eats meat, nothing ismore satisfying than a tender, smoky brisket roast. There are a number of ways to season your brisket, but the basic technique remains the same. Brown the meat in your dutch oven. Remove it and add aromatics and liquid (broth, wine, or water). Then place the roast back in, cover, and cook for several hours.
Serve your brisket with simple roasted potatoes and carrots. Cook these while your meat cooks in a foil packet laid directly in the coals.
Beer Can Chicken
This meal provides sustenance and entertainment all in one, as seeing your chickens held upright by beer cans is genuinely hilarious. Grab a half-full can of beer from someone in your group, place herbs and spices inside your chicken, and insert the can into the chicken’s, ah, rear opening. Rub the outside of the bird with butter and a good spice mix. Place the assembled chicken on a skillet to catch any drippings and set over the fire, then loosely tent the bird with foil. Start checking the internal temperature after about an hour. Your chicken is done when it reaches 165 degrees.
This dish is also great with roasted vegetables, or you can quickly whip up a side of couscous studded with raisins and nuts.
A piece of high-quality wild salmon grilled to perfection over the fire is pretty close to perfection. Use your preferred flavorings to season the fish. You won’t need too much; the salmon’s natural flavor enhanced by the smoke from the fire is pretty fantastic on its own.
Roasted broccoli makes a great accompaniment to salmon, along with some quick-cooking rice or a simple salad.
Kebabs are possibly the most perfect meal to cook over an open fire. You can customize them to suit everyone’s tastes, and cook your meat and vegetables at the same time. Marinate chunks of beef, pork, lamb, and/or chicken before your trip, along with your favorite vegetables. Onion, zucchini, eggplant, and sweet peppers are all great choices. Have your camping buddies assemble their own skewers and either lay them on a grate or hold them near the coals until done.
You don’t really need a side dish, but quick-cooking rice, couscous, or crusty bread rounds out this dinner.
Like kebabs, this is a great customizable meal that works for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. Marinate strips of chicken or beef, or use hearty vegetables like bell peppers, summer squash, and eggplant. Throw your choices into a skillet over the fire with onions and herbs, and serve with warm tortillas.
Serve your fajitas topped with crumbled feta cheese, chopped cilantro or scallion, salsa, and sour cream. Black beans make a great side dish.
We hope you can use some of these ideas on your next camping trip. What will you whip up to satisfy your hungry pack? No matter what you’re cooking, don’t forget to stay warm, dry, and comfortable with rugged outdoor wear from KÜHL.
Featured Image – Grilling sausages at the fireplace in the Czech countryside. Photo by Jan Baborák.