Campfire cooking seems to be getting a bit of a bad rap from some camping aficionados lately, which is a real shame. Most of the arguments that I have seen against campfire cooking revolve around its difficulty, compared to cooking on a camping stove. The truth is, if you are going to have a campfire anyway, then there’s no reason not to cook something on it – and it’s just a lot of fun.
Thinking back on all of our family camping trips, I can’t think of one where we cooked our entire meal over a campfire. Most of the time, though, we cook part of our meal over the campfire – both out of necessity (two burners only take you so far!) and because foods cooked over an open flame just taste so good.
Part of my attraction to family camping is experiencing a little bit of my heritage and sharing this with my children. Our ancestors didn’t always enjoy many of the things that we take for granted, and yet they persevered and overcame what we would consider to be hardships – things that they just considered to be living.
There are a lot of different foods that can easily be cooked in, or on, a campfire. Soups and stews are a natural choice. A heavy cast iron pot works best for this, because it distributes the heat so well. Other options include dutch ovens placed directly on the coals, or a pot suspended over the fire with a tripod.
I find that it is actually easier to cook soups and stews over a campfire than it is on a propane camping stove, because the stoves are so hot. Trying to simmer chili on a camping stove can be nigh impossible, but over a campfire it’s as easy as moving the pot away from the hottest part of the fire.
When it comes to camp cooking, clean-up can be a major consideration – particularly when you are cooking for a family. Foil meals give you the best of all worlds; a complete serving of meat and vegetables with no pots or pans to wash, afterwards.
Foil meals taste great and there is very little work involved, other than placing each person’s individual foil meal packet onto the coals. We wrap our meals in a double-layer of standard aluminum foil, which helps to protect them against punctures. Cooking time is about 15 minutes on each side – 10 minutes for fish.
The best way to ease yourself into campfire cooking is baked potatoes and corn on the cob. Baked potatoes, in particular, can be prepared just like you probably do at home. Poke a few holes in the potato, wrap it in foil, and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. We have tried coating the potatoes in butter, but it’s messy and, in our opinion, did not improve the taste.
There are a lot of different ways to cook corn over the campfire. The traditional method is with the husk on, tied with twine at the top of the ear. This is how we used to cook our corn and it worked fine, but the corn needs to be soaked in water for at least 30 minutes, to keep the husks from burning. We found that husking the corn and wrapping each ear in foil worked just as well, and did not require so much preparation. We have since changed to grilling the ears directly over the fire, without foil, because it adds a really tasty grilled flavor to the corn. Like roasting marshmallows, this is something that the kids really enjoy, since they can cook their ear of corn just the way they want it – grilled dark, or cooked light.
Campfire cooking is something that the entire family can participate in and have a good time doing it. Kids will learn the difference between a roaring “fun fire” and a low, smoldering cooking fire. In addition, everyone will appreciate the experience of cooking their own food.