Campfire Cooking

To begin with, you need a good hot bed of coals. Not charcoal, coals. Do you know how to build a fire? Remember that before you build your fire, you should have the means to put it out nearby. This means a shovel and a bucket of sand or water at the minimum. When you do put it out, you should get it to the point where you can stick your hand in the coals.

If it seems like I’m harping on this, please realize that the usual state of our forests is best described as “tinderbox.” I’ve also fought a very small wildfire that threatened to become a very large one if it weren’t dealt with, and with people who didn’t know how to put out a fire. If you’re going to play with fire, know what you’re doing.

That said, a contained fire is good for cooking in. Many campsites have stone- or metal-lined firepits available, and the simple task of raking duff— the loose soil that is mostly made of decomposed pine needles— and branches away from the pit is more than sufficient for safety. The most efficient type of fire for getting coals is a teepee-style fire. See the link above. It burns hot and fast and gets you a bed of coals within twenty minutes or so.

Then it’s time for your Dutch oven. A Dutch oven is cast iron and is designed to sit on and in hot coals. If you’re going camping with one, try and find a sturdy iron hook to go with it. Some fireplace pokers work well for this job. The appropriate hook should be able to catch the handle of the pot itself, as well as being able to catch and hold the handle of the lid in a steady fashion.

If you’ve put the coals on top, you don’t want to accidentally dump them in your food.

On a practical note, if you really don’t want to clean the inside of your Dutch oven, a lining of aluminum foil works farily well, especially if you press it firmly against the sides to smooth it out. Be careful when serving so you don’t end up with foil slivers in your food.

Okay, now for the recipes. First off comes a wonderful heart-attack, the kind of thing that sounds appalling unless you’ve been hiking all day at altitude, in which case it sounds wonderful.

Corned Beef Hash
You will need:
Two large cans or four small cans or corned beef hash, with one can that has had its label removed and the outside of the can washed well
Fresh eggs (you can have eggs in a cooler without ice for quite some time if they are fresh. Do the float test: if they float in water, they’re bad.)

Put the corned beef hash into the Dutch oven and smooth out the top. Use the bottom of the cleaned can to press regular depressions into the hash. Carefully crack an egg into each depression. Cover the oven and place it in the coals. Put coals on top to cook faster. Check starting ten minutes after placing in the coals; your dinner is done when the eggs are firmly set and the hash is warmed through. It’s overdone if the edges are black. Try not to do that.

Serves about six, fewer if there are teenagers involved.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
You will need:
4 Tbsp. butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 can pineapple rings (you may have extra)
Maraschino cherries (optional)
Yellow cake mix

Melt the butter in the Dutch oven. Run it up the sides; it will help the cake to release. Sprinkle the brown sugar across the bottom. Carefully place pineapple rings across the bottom as evenly as you can. Save the juice. If using cherries, place one each in the centers of the pineapple rings.

Mix the cake according to the box directions except substitute pineapple juice for up to 2/3 of the recommended amount of water. Pour over the pineapple rings; cover the oven and place in the coals. Cover the oven with coals; bake for about 45 minutes or until the top of the cake springs back when touched.

If you’ve brought a cake tester along, more power to you. However, err toward the slightly undercooked side, as iron holds heat and your cake will still cook a bit once removed from the heat.

Remove the oven from the coals, crack the lid, and let it sit for ten minutes. Run a spatula around the outside edge to loosen the cake. Put parchment paper or foil along the inside of the lid, replace the lid, turn the oven upside-down and pull off the bottom. With any luck, the cake will come out in one piece, but remember that fragments are always tasty too!

There are hundreds more Dutch oven recipes at sites such as Byron’s Dutch Oven, and the MacScouter.

However, I don’t want you to think that a Dutch oven is the ONLY way to cook camp food. Cooking on a stick is always a popular method, though please please please do NOT use a stick you just found unless you are entirely certain of what it comes from. There are several plants whose wood can impart poison to cooked food, the most dangerous of which is oleander, a popular decorative shrub which is highly toxic and can be fatal. Use toasting forks for your marshmallows. My family’s favorite trick was to use bamboo branches from our home stand; when the end got inevitably sticky, you could cut it down with a pocketknife and it would still be slim and smooth.

But perhaps a better trick for kids is a hobo pack.

Hobo Pack
You will need:
Thick aluminum foil (or a double or triple thickness of the thinner variety)
Ground beef
Salt, pepper, and other favorite spices

This is the simplest trick of all. You put your beef and your thinly-sliced vegetables all muddled together on the foil, spice it, wrap it in the foil, double the edges and crimp them, and place in the coals. They’ll cook in a short period of time— check after seven minutes, but they should take about fifteen to twenty minutes.

Baked Potato
Prick lots of holes in the potato. Wrap in aluminum foil and cover with coals. The potato will bake in forty minutes to an hour, depending on its size. Serve with salt, butter and pepper.

And for dessert, there’s the Ice-Creamless Banana Split
You will need:
Aluminum foil
Bananas in their peels
Chocolate chips
Mini marshmallows

Take a knife and carefully cut a slit in the banana through the peel. Stuff it with chocolate chips and mini marshmallows. Wrap the business in foil and place in the coals; it should be done in five to ten minutes or until the child’s patience runs out.


Evil Rob’s Overly Complicated Sloppy Joes

(My dad’s sloppy joes involved a mustard-based sauce. Evil Rob took it upon himself to tinker with the recipe and this is the result—in his words.)

1 lb Ground Beefs
1 Red Bell Pepper – diced
1/2 Yellow Onion – diced

Red Wine Vinegar
2 TBS Tomato Paste
“The Yellow Stuff”
Wosterosterostershirer Sauce

1/4 cup BBQ Sauce
1/4 cup Chicken Stock

Garlic Salt
Cracked Black Pepper
1/8 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 tsp Ground Mustard

Cooking Oil
Hamburger Buns (Potato if you got ’em)


In a bowl mix the ground mustard with about 1 tsp of the Vinegar and 1 tsp of the Wour…stuff sauce—and let it sit until we get back to it.

So you take your beefs and put them in a medium-high skillet with a tiny droozle of cooking oil.

Break up the beefs and start browning—this should look crumbly.

Stir in the BBQ Sauce for some sweetness—and some Garlic Salt for some “season”

Cook until fully browned—then toss in your diced veggies (and a splash more oil if your beefs is lean) and start em cooking down—turn down the heat to medium if it seems to be frying rather than cooking down gently.

Take the ground mustard sauce and the tomato paste and also mix that in as well.

Once the veggies look like they’re softening, start adding the Yellow Stuff in small doses while stirring it in—once you get a yellowish tinge… time to stop with that.

Throw in the stock, cover and let simmer for about 5 minutes—then turn down to lowish heat.

OK—now to add the finishing flavors—hit it with the ketchup (and a little more of the yellow stuff if you so wish) until it starts just “hanging together” as you stir it. A lot of this will depend on how lean the beefs was.

Give it a splash of the vinegar and the Woooooster Sauce as well as the cinnamon, some black pepper and a bit more garlic salt. Cover and cook for just a few minutes more while you toast the buns.

This can either be served open-face, but should also have enough “hang together” to give a satisfying sandwich experience.

For variations with a little more ooomph, add a diced and seeded Jalepeno along with the other Veg, or swap out about half the Yellow Stuff with Dijon… or just throw in some red pepper flake. Maybe add 1/4 diced mini dill pickles along with the ketchup. Maybe a kitchen sink would work well as a garnish.

Broiled Salmon Steaks

You will need:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp dijon mustard
4 salmon steaks (1 per person; scale this recipe as needed.)

1/2 medium roasted red bell pepper
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp dried tarragon
1/8 tsp salt (or a few turns from a sea salt grinder)

In a small bowl, mix lemon juice and mustard. Brush over salmon steaks; cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes. (Or marinade in a ziploc bag.) Broil salmon in pan lined with foil, turning once, until flaky, about 5 or 6 minutes. Serve immediately and watch for bones.

For the sauce, blend the roasted red pepper until smooth; add the yogurt, sour cream, tarragon, and salt and blend until just combined. Serve over salmon or in the cleaned lemon peel (cut a sliver of peel off the bottom to make it flat.)

Orzo Salad

You will need:

1 & 1/2 boxes orzo
1 & 1/2 bunches green onions, chopped
3/4 lb feta cheese, crumbled
3/4 cup chopped fresh dill
7 tbsp fresh lemon juice
6 tbsp olive oil
3 lbs uncooked medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, or 2 lbs imitation crab

1 & 1/2 English hot house cucumbers, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4 in pieces (regular cucumbers can be substituted)
2 baskets cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 hot house cucumber, sliced into rounds
Fresh dill sprigs

Cook orzo in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Rinse with cold water to cool; drain well. Transfer to large bowl. Add green onions, feta cheese, chopped dill, lemon juice and oil; mix well. Cook shrimp in large pot of boiling salted water until pink and just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water to cool; drain well. Mix into salad. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 8 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Mix cucumber pieces and 3/4 of cherry tomatoes into salad. Transfer to clean large bowl. Arrange cucumber slices and remaining chery tomato halves around edge of bowl. Garnish salad with dill slices and serve.

Sunshine Breakfast Cookies

You will need:
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup room-temperature butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tbsp light molasses (dark if that’s all you have)
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (instant oatmeal doesn’t work)
1 cup (or more) chopped dried fruit— apricots, cranberries (soak in a few tablespoons of water or juice first), raisins, or whatever

Preheat oven to 350º; grease baking pans or line with parchment paper. Combine flour, baking soda, and cinnamon; mix. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, and brown sugar until fluffy; add egg, molasses, and vanilla, mix until fluffiness returns. Add flour mixture until combined. Fold in dried fruit.

Drop dough on sheets; allow room to spread. Bake until lightly golden, about 12 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Makes five dozen tiny cookies or a couple dozen robust-sized ones. The larger sizes tend to fall apart as you eat them, so proceed with caution.

Make it gluten free! All you have to do is substitute oat flour for the all-purpose flour—and you can even make your own oat flour by grinding up oats in a food processor. (If you have instant oatmeal, this is a great way to use it up. You should not be eating instant oatmeal. It’s like paste.)