Campfire meals are a flavorful replacement for mundane, freeze-dried camp food. With open-flame grilling, each recipe is special and fun to make.
So, where should you start if you’re interested in the art of open-flame grilling? Here’s a simple guide to get your campfire meals moving in the right direction. Just follow these tips, and you’ll master the craft in no time.
Campfire Meals: It Starts with A Grill
Learning to cook meats over an open flame begins with your cooking apparatus. You may have roasted marshmallows over a campfire before, but if you’re planning to create an entire meal, you’re going to need something a little more robust.
Did you know that the term “barbeque” comes from the word “barbacoa,” the ancient cooking technique used by Native Americans and other indigenous peoples? Open flame grilling was the only form of grilling at one point in time.
To erect a grill in the style of traditional barbacoa, gather clean, green branches with the bark still on. Steer clear of wood that is too dry or covered in sap, which will create a smoky, unpleasant fire on which to cook.
Use stones and forked sticks to make a base for your grill. Lay two or more “stringers” across the top between the forked sticks and then run your “grill” parallel to the stringers. Depending on the size of the grill, you may want to add an additional central support. You may need to include this element during cooking if the grill starts to sag.
…And a Fire
Many entry-level cooks not used to crafting campfire meals make the mistake of building too small a fire to cook over. You don’t need to be working over an open flame to commit this mistake. It’s easy to do working with a charcoal grill as well.
A small fire forces you to get all of your cooking done in a rush. That’s not going to help extract the smoky flavor and build the flame-kissed crust you’re trying to achieve by cooking this way. To get that beautiful combination of a crispy outside and tender, juicy meat, you’re going to sear the meat first and then let it cook slowly.
With that in mind, build a big fire. Use at least six sizeable logs and more if you have lots of food to make. Have extra fuel in case you do need to cook longer, and don’t plan to begin cooking over a new fire.
Allow the fire to get hot and burn down some coals so that you can spread the coals out beneath it. As a rule, you should probably start your fire two hours before you plan to eat.
Campfire Meals: Get to Cooking
For open-flame grilling, your grill should be large enough to hold plenty of food, which doesn’t just mean it should be the size of all the food you plan to cook.
Instead, create “zones” that allow you to place meat over high, medium or low heat so that you can control the rate your food cooks. Leave enough “cool” space at the edge of the grill to allow your meat to come up to temperature before you begin cooking.
After the meat is warmed or has just started to cook, move it to the hot part of the grill just long enough to get a sear. It shouldn’t take long for most meats, a couple of minutes per side should do it.
Remove the meat from the hot part of the grill and move it to the middle for the rest of the cooking process. For a steak, another five to eight minutes is probably appropriate. If your campfire meal involves other ingredients like sausage, foil-packed items or even baked goods, cooking times will vary. Many delicious foil packet recipes can be set in hot coals for about 30 minutes for an open-flame dinner you’d have thought came from a restaurant.
Try New Things
As with all culinary disciplines, open-flame grilling takes years to truly master, and that’s the fun of it. You can start with easy dishes like steak and sausage that are delicious and versatile and as your comfort level improves, move on up to more advanced dishes like baked goods and scrambled eggs for breakfast!
The variety of things you can prepare might truly amaze you. And if ever your backpacking companions have thoughts of embarking on a new adventure, you’ll be the first one they call. No one wants to pack all that equipment through the backwoods for a warmed-up can of Spaghettios when they can look forward to a flame-cooked dinner.