5 Tips for Wood Fire Cooking While Camping - Panergy
21st century convenience to the campsite, it's hard to beat the flavor of a meal cooked over an old-fashioned campfire. However, if you're not accustomed to this style of cooking, it's a good idea to get a few pointers before you start lighting things on fire--cooking while camping is not the same as cooking while at home. Here are 5 tips to help you quickly and safely cook up some tasty campfire grub:
WHEN YOU'RE COOKING WHILE CAMPING, THERE'S NO NEED TO RUSH
For the best cooking conditions, you'll need to start your fire at least an hour before you plan to begin cooking. Cooking in an open flame will just burn the exterior of whatever you're cooking, leaving the inside underdone and potentially unsafe. A slow, consistent heat is the goal, and the way to achieve it is to allow the fire to burn until your wood has mostly turned to ashy-looking white coals (much like you'd look for when grilling with charcoal).
CHOOSE YOUR WOOD CAREFULLY
Cooking with a campfire requires a hot, clean-burning fire, which can only be achieved with dry, thoroughly seasoned wood. Using fresh, green wood (the kind you get when you strip it from a live tree) will just get you a smoky, oily fire that will most likely quit burning before you start cooking and make you cough in the process. The most ideal woods for campfire cooking are (dry, seasoned) hardwoods like maple, elm, oak, birch, and hickory. Lots of public campgrounds will supply firewood, so it's a good idea to call ahead. If there's no appropriate wood available, you'll have to pack it.
Most campgrounds in national parks include designated fire pits, which help to contain the heat for cooking purposes and keep the fire from spreading unintentionally. If these are present, use them. If not, select a site that is at least 8 feet from any bushes or combustibles (lighter fluid, spirits, etc.), and create around it a U-shaped perimeter with rocks or green logs. If you choose to use logs, make sure to wet them from time to time so that they don't catch fire, defeating their purpose. This is the difference between cooking while camping and cooking your campsite...
ALUMINUM FOIL IS YOUR BEST FRIEND WHEN COOKING WHILE CAMPING
Dutch ovens and cast-iron skillets are great for campfire cooking, but if you've ever carried one on a hike, you know that they aren't exactly lightweight. A great alternative is to pack what's known in some circles as a 'hobo meal.' Basically, you combine some aromatic vegetables like leeks or garlic with starchy veggies like carrots or potatoes, some herbs and spices, a protein of your choice, and something that will release moisture (e.g., broth, fruit slices, or just a little added water). These can be prepared before you leave so that your prep and clean-up times are minimal. Just make sure you bring a bag to contain your foil waste.
LEAVE FORAGING TO THE PROS
If you are previously familiar with the area and the sustenance the local flora has to offer, by all means take advantage of it. If, however, you're not familiar with foraging for food, or maybe you are, but aren't familiar with the park in which you're camping, don't take the risk. Ingesting unidentified plants - even if they appear to be edible - can be extremely risky (ever read Into the Wild?), and can end up cutting short your excursion with a trip to the hospital.
However you choose to go about preparing your dinner, make sure that safety and courtesy come first. Always keep a bucket of water near the fire for emergencies, and always follow the rules and regulations of the campsite you're visiting. When you're finished with your fire, make sure to thoroughly douse it with water and roll the stones that you used for its boundaries over the coals.
Now it's time to cook some dinner.