There’s s’more to cooking over open flames than marshmallows and chocolate!
When there’s a campfire involved, you don’t need a whole kitchen setup to make a gourmet meal. A simple cast iron skillet is enough. With these recipes, you’ll master the art of cooking next-level camping fare, whether that means the day’s freshly caught pike or trout, cinnamon-baked apples, or a giant pan of paella slowly simmered to perfection.
Prep in advance
You can chop vegetables and meat in advance at home and store them in separate lightweight containers or leak-proof bags in the cooler to reduce cleanup and cross-contamination.
Stay food safe
Pack biodegradable soap and make sure that no bowls, cutting boards, or knives are left around after touching meat or seafood.
Use some frozen multitaskers
Frozen peas are the perfect paella addition because they can replace some of the ice in your cooler and will thaw by dinnertime. But make sure there’s still enough ice on top of the shrimp and mussels to keep them safely chilled. While some might be uneasy bringing seafood in a cooler, Guillaume Raymond, a rock climbing coach and master campfire cook, says that with enough ice, you’ll be fine. “As long as everything is in the cooler until you need it, I’m not worried.”
Pack a shovel!
And the most important tip, especially with kids who tend to play around the fire: Always keep a shovel nearby, just in case.
Building the Perfect Cooking Fire
For searing meat, a big open fire is fine, but for any of these recipes, you’ll want a steady medium flame, which helps avoid flare-ups. For the paella recipe, you’ll need a fire that’s at least 2 feet wide—“the size of a standard fire ring,” says Raymond, but you don’t want your flames to be 3 feet high. That’s why he recommends starting a large fire an hour in advance and letting it come down in size while building up heat.
He then creates two sides of the fire—one for cooking and one for burning logs down to coals. Once he has coals, he moves them to one side—the cooking side—and adds fresh logs to the first side, so logs are always burning down to coals and can be added to the cooking side as needed.
He knows the fire is hot enough for cooking when he can’t hold his hand about 8 inches from the flames. The distance you’ll want to set your food above the flames depends on the strength of the fire and the wind, but generally 6 to 8 inches works for cooking on a grate, says Raymond. That way you’ll have space beneath to move coals and logs around and adjust the heat. You might also need a wind guard if your flames are small or if there’s a breeze.
Must-Have Cooking Tools
You probably won’t be hiking all day with a cast iron skillet or paella pan slung over your shoulder, but if you’re car camping, our recipes will make you the gourmet hero of the trip. You’ll need the following:
- bowl to hold chopped vegetables or other ingredients
- large cooler
- large cast iron skillet, or a smaller skillet plus a traditional paella pan
- camping spatula
- cutting board
- corkscrew (alternatively, buy a twist-top bottle of wine)
- portable campfire grill grate
- oven mitts
- camping utensils, plates, bowls, and mugs
- good knife
- Raymond swears by his bush grafting knife, a 3 inch blade made with high- density steel. “It’s sharp but also very thick, so you can chip wood and chop vegetables with only one knife.”
- For a smaller knife, he likes ESEE knives, survival and military knives made for outdoor adventures: “They’re strong and sharp, and they maintain their blade.”