Sitting around a campfire is one of the greatest joys of summer at the cottage. It is the best place to congregate with friends and family to share stories, sing songs, and enjoy being close to nature. Another great way to feel connected to the land is to do some campfire cooking. Fire-cooked food just seems to taste better, it’s fun to make, and it gets kids interested in cooking and learning where their food comes from. There are lots of different ways to cook by campfire, but using pots and pans is definitely the easiest. Here’s how to do it, along with a few basic recipes to get going.
Items needed for campfire cooking are: a campfire, a small frying pan with lid, a small pot with lid, a spatula and a set of tongs (or a few sticks if being rustic is a priority). Old pots and pans work great; they can be kept in a shed or with camping gear and then used as needed. Borrowed utensils from the kitchen will work well too. A quick tip to preserve utensils and help with cleanup is to take some dish-soap and a rag and coat the exterior of the pot and pan with the soap. It will prevent ash and carbon buildup from sticking to the pot and will easily wipe away during cleanup.
The first step in campfire cooking is to get the fire ready. Remember that coals cook food really well, but flames burn everything, so it’s important to build a fire and let it burn down to a bed of hot coals before cooking. Then, support for the cooking utensils can be put in place.
There are three popular ways to create supports for fireplace cooking: The 3-stone method, the 2 sticks approach, or crafting a “dingle stick”. The first 2 will work for frying pans as well as pots, while the “dingle stick” is for pots only.
The 3-stone method is the most stable and works well for prolonged use. Take 3 stones of similar size and push them in a triangle pattern close to the fire. Don’t worry if the rocks wind up in the actual fire a little bit. Not only do the stones support the pot or pan, they also heat up and help to cook the food.
Alternatively, take 2 large sticks of similar size and place them on either side of the fire, parallel to each other. These large sticks will support the pot or pan, but may need to be replaced as they will burn and eventually not be able to support the utensils.
Finally, a “dingle stick” can be used to hang a pot over the fire. Find a stick that can support the weight of the pot and its contents, then push it into the ground so that it’s well anchored and hanging over the fire. It can be supported with rocks or by creating support arms with forked sticks.
Once the supports are put in place, the campfire is ready to be used for cooking. Remember to keep adding fuel to the fire. As coals burn out, cooking will become increasingly difficult. A great trick is to make the fire a little bigger than required for cooking, so new sticks can be added beside the cooking area, and then, once they burn down to coals, use a stick or poker to rake the new coals into the cooking area.
Now that the fire is ready, it’s time to start cooking. The entire meal can be prepped and cooked by the fire, or prep can be done in the cottage and ingredients can brought out to the fire, ready to for cooking. Either way works, but prepping outside, by the fire, definitely adds more of a sense of being back in nature. If prepping by the fire, remember to have a lantern or headlamp available. As dusk comes, light is lost quickly and cutting and prepping food in the dark is dangerous and time-consuming.
Here are few great recipes that are super simple to prep and cook, are perfect for getting children involved, and taste amazing when fire-cooked.
Each recipe is for one (1) serving and can be made in a single frying pan. When cooking for multiple people, prep every serving first and then cook them one at a time over the fire; it takes a little time, but everyone gets their own piping hot meal made just for them.
Salisbury Steak with Fried Potatoes
A classic dish that’s easy to make. Each serving needs: 1/3lbs of hamburger, ground chuck or chopped steak, a large potato, a tablespoon of fat (oil/butter/shortening), salt and pepper to taste.
Take the chopped meat and use hands to form it into a paddy about ¾” thick. Slice potato into ¼” slices. Many peel the potato first, others like to leave the skin on. Regardless, the cooking will be the same.
Take the frying pan and place it on the fire. Add the fat and let it melt. Place the potato slices in the pan and fry each side until slightly browned. Then, cover the pan and let the potatoes continue frying by steam until they are done (usually 5-10 minutes). Remove lid and push potatoes to one side of the pan. Add the meat paddy to the pan and fry on each side until done (about 4-6 minutes per side). Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!
Chops with Fried Tomatoes
This is a timeless recipe, taught to scouts in the 50’s and 60’s, can be done in a single frying pan and only needs three ingredients. This recipe is great when letting the kids take charge of the meal and creates a great sense of accomplishment while enjoying it.
All that is needed for this meal is 1/2lbs of pork or lamb chops, 2 medium potatoes, cut into ½” slices and salt (add pepper too, if desired).
Get the pan over the fire, but make sure it is over low heat. To achieve this, use rocks that will elevate the pan higher above the fire, or use a stick to rake coals away from, or toward the pot, as needed. Once the pan is hot, add the chops and cook over low heat until fully cooked, about 15 minutes per side. Then, move the chops to the side of the pan and add the sliced tomatoes. Fry them in the grease from the meat until desired doneness. Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!
Quick Campfire Stew
This is a hearty and filling meal option that is easy to make and is done in a single pot.
Each serving will need: 1/4lbs of ground beef, chicken or lamb, a large potato, a medium-sized onion, a medium-sized carrot, a tablespoon of fat (oil/butter/shortening), salt and pepper.
Cut potato into cubes, about ½” in size (peel off the skin or leave it on, either is good), peel and cut carrot into ¼” slices.
Place pot on fire and add fat. Wait until pot gets hot and the fat melts. Next, add the onions and fry until brown; don’t burn them! Then, add the ground meat, making sure to break it apart and mix it well with the onions. Fry until the meat is almost fully cooked. Throw the potatoes and carrot into the pot and add just enough water to cover the mixture and heat to boiling. Once boiled, move the pot away from the centre of the fire (or rake away some coals from underneath the pot) to reduce the heat and allow the pot to simmer for about half an hour or so, until the potatoes are soft. Add salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!
This recipe is a lot of fun and a really great way to introduce young children to campfire cooking, as kids too young to help cook still take part when they get to “assemble” their own taco.
Each serving will need: 1/3lbs of flank steak, cut into ¼” slices (remember to cut it against the grain or it will be stringy), a medium onion, peeled and cut into ¼” slices, 1 medium green or red pepper, cut into ½” strips, 1 tablespoon of fat (oil/butter/shortening), 3 small soft corn or flour tortillas, salt and pepper. Feel free to prep any extra toppings to add after cooking to make taco assembly more fun. Shredded lettuce, grated cheese and sour cream are some good options.
Place fry pan on the fire and add the fat. Let pan get hot and melt the fat. Then, add the onions, moving them around in the pan until brown. Next, add the strips of meat and fry until meat is browned. Finally, throw in the sliced pepper, cover the pan with its lid and steam fry over low fire until meat is tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, take the three tortillas and add an even amount of taco mixture to each. Then, add any preferred cold toppings, wrap them up and enjoy!
There are lots of creative ways to take regular recipes and make them easy for campfire cooking. Paring down the recipe to be able to cook one serving at a time is a great way to get consistent results and to ensure ingredients like meat have enough time and heat to cook properly. As more time is spent campfire cooking, feel free to get more ambitious with the recipes and ingredients; the fun and satisfaction of campfire cooking transcends generations and creates a great connection with nature.