Cooking over a campfire doesn’t limit you to eating hot dogs and marshmallows. Gain inspiration from some of the world’s most famous chefs and have yourself a delicious outdoor feast. Follow ideas for tasty outdoor meals that you can mimic regardless of your cooking experience level. Learn some new grilling techniques and make both slow-roasted and quick meals too.
Campfire Cooking Inspired by Chefs
Former French chef Francis Mallman will inspire you when you find out what he has cooked on an outside firepit. For instance, he’s known for showing the world how to wrap fresh lake trout in salt to retain its moisture. All this dish calls for is a little olive oil after cooking and some of the leftover salt.
In a different cooking episode, Mallman presented his ribs coated with a generous amount of chimichurri sauce. He hung this meat along with pineapples, peaches, and plums over an open fire. At the same time, he also slow-cooked salmon with cabbage and aioli and lamb with sweet potatoes, squash, onions, and gremolata.
For dessert, he offered up peaches and plums served along with the pineapple also cooked over the open fire. He complemented this with some mascarpone and amaretto and some wine. This process took about eight hours – kind of like cooking in a crock-pot but with that “grill” flavor.
If Mallman’s ideas are not enough to feed both your body and imagination, meet Mac and Mike Faverman. Mac once said that “when you’re on vacation, you want to eat well.” Eat well they did, and they showed others how to follow suit.
Aspiring campfire cooks learned from Mac and Mike over the years how to marinate steak in Jack Daniels, ginger, soy sauce, and other spices. What’s more, they gave people secrets to cooking their famous Rosemary Red potatoes basked in spices such as thyme, olive oil, and rosemary.
Essential Cooking Tools for Camping
The cooking tools you’ll need will depend on what you plan to cook. Francis Mallman used wire hanging from a large metal contraption for his mass outdoor cooking session. That would work if you wanted to prepare a few days’ worths of meals. However, you could instead use a tripod with a grill grate large enough to fit as much food as you want to cook on it.
For other foods, you can cook in cast iron sandwich makers, or you can store marinated meats in plastic zipper bags for use later.
Mac and Mike recommend these tools:
- At least one cast-iron skillet and/or aluminum foil
- Matches and lighter
- Fuel source (ex: firewood, coal, or pellets)
Additional cooking equipment you might want to include lighter fluid, a grill, oven mitts, and perforated sheet pans (the ones with the holes). Tin or aluminum cans, and wires (for hanging meat) could also benefit you while on your outdoor excursion.
You’ll also want to at least bring some salt and perhaps some olive oil, butter, or other fat. Greasing your cooking surfaces will prevent your food from sticking to grill grates or foil. Additional tools recommended include knives, spatulas and serving or eating utensils, and storage containers.
Important Open Fire Cooking Tips
The number one rule in outdoor cooking is to take it slow. However, you can flame-broil your meat for a few minutes to give it a crispy texture right before you remove it from the firepit or grill. In any case, beware of the wind. If possible, find a way to shield your fire pit or grill from breezes. Additionally, rain covers in case of inclement weather will keep your dinner plans on track.
For best results when roasting meat, add salt beforehand for taste and to retain “juiciness.” When thinking about how to flavor your outdoor dishes, keep it simple. Sometimes, all you need is one or two spices when cooking over a flame or coals. Besides, the smoking process during the open-fire cooking already adds to its flavor.
Additional grilling tips for campfire cooking beginners:
- Don’t place food directly on flames. Raise the grate or other cooking surface high enough above the flames. Otherwise, wait until the fire reduces and all you see is glowing, hot coals.
- Use mature coals (or burnt wood) for slow cooking. This will allow for advanced techniques such as caramelizing vegetables or tenderizing roasts.
- Watch foods carefully – especially fish or veggies. They sometimes burn easily on the outside. Make sure you grease the surface well before cooking these items too, or they could stick to foil or pans. Furthermore, don’t place them too close to or too far away from the heat source if you want to make sure they cook on the inside.
- Arrange coals according to required heat levels. Spread coals evenly when slow cooking. This will reduce the temperature. Doing the opposite – piling the coals high – raises the temperature. You can do something similar using charred wood that has some glow to it but is starting to turn white.
Additional Easy Meal Ideas for Campfires
Not all your outdoor meals have to be gourmet ones that take hours to prepare. Sometimes, you just need a quick bite. Some examples include the Hot Hawaiian Sandwich, which consists of ham, cheese, Dijon mustard, and honey – and of course, the bun. You could add sliced pineapple to it too. The best way to cook it would be in a pie iron or open-fire sandwich maker. Be careful though. It only takes about 5-10 minutes to melt the cheese and crisp the bun.
Another quick idea is foil-wrapped chicken quesadillas. For best results, cook the chicken before you leave for your camping trip. When you’re ready to make them, add the desired ingredients between two tortillas. For instance, add cilantro, onions, black beans (canned is fastest), cheese, and tomatoes.
If you want to spice it up, you can add your favorite hot sauce. Wrap the prepared quesadillas in aluminum foil and place them about 4-6 inches above the charred wood or coals. It will only take 5-10 minutes, so watch and make sure they don’t burn.
Another easy foil-packed chicken meal you can cook over an open fire is grilled pineapple chicken. It’s best to use the meat you already cooked for this. Then, wrap the chicken chunks and pineapples into the foil and cook for at least a few minutes. Be careful not to overcook this dish, so the meat will still taste juicy.
Feel free to get creative when cooking over an outdoor campfire – it’s part of the adventure. While hot dogs and smores are great basics for camping, there are plenty of other options for tasty open-fire dinners.