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Insight from outside: Campfire cooking with the Cottage Coach

There’s nothing like sitting around the campfire with friends and family at the cottage. But if you ever have the chance to stoke a fire alongside the Cottage Coach, Adam Holman, you’re in for a treat. Not just because he crafts a picture-perfect campfire every time, but because he’s guaranteed to cook something special over the flames. To savour his thoughts on cottage campfire cooking, we packed our OFF!® Backyard Mosquito Lamp, pulled up a stump, and enjoyed a slice of his cottage specialty, campfire pizza.

I love cooking over the fire because it’s always a challenge. With a barbecue, you can just turn down the heat and control it, but cooking over the fire is tricky. You can’t control the temperature, so you always have to be working with the coals and the flames.

Anybody can throw something on a grill and monitor the heat. Anyone can throw meat into a smoker and drink beer all day while it does the work. But having to tend to the fire, move coals around, monitor the heat, and pay attention to when to put things on and take them off—that’s what draws me to cooking over the campfire.

One of my earliest memories of cooking over the fire with my dad is putting baked potatoes into the embers. But then I thought, why not try something more difficult? I always want to try to cook the hardest things. No matter what we’re making at the cottage, my first thought is, how can I do this over the fire?

Campfire pizza is the ultimate challenge. You have to figure out how not to burn the bottom while making sure it’s crispy enough and the cheese is melted on top. It’s become one of my cottage specialties.

Once I was camping with a friend, and he was smoking ribs, slow-cooking them for the entire day over the campfire. It was an all-day effort, and around 6 o’clock, he pulled them off and ended up dropping the entire rack of ribs in the sand! That has to be the biggest campfire-cooking fail I’ve ever witnessed.

Banana boats aren’t very common at most cottage campfires, but they should be. You pack a banana full of marshmallows and chocolate and wrap it in tinfoil. Place it in the fire, and you’ll have the perfect cottage dessert.

You have to know what kind of campfire you’re dealing with before you start cooking. Give it 30 to 40 minutes, and then pay attention to how hot your coals are. Look at how fast your wood is burning and how hot it burns. Then think about how quickly your food is going to cook.

Long tongs are a must for the campfire. Your basic cottage-kitchen tongs won’t cut it. You can find extra-long ones at any decent barbecue store.

One of my main tricks is to use tinfoil. If you’re cooking potatoes, it keeps them hot on the inside when you pull them out of the coals. I use it for pizza too. You start with naan bread, then toppings and cheese, and then a tinfoil tent goes over the top to hold the heat in and melt the cheese. And for the final 30 seconds, you take it off and get it nice and crusty on the bottom.

People always ask what kind of wood I use for campfire cooking, and the answer is “whatever’s around.” In the backcountry, you don’t get to choose. That’s part of the fun.

I cooked chicken wings over the campfire once. That might have been the hardest thing I’ve tried. I probably wouldn’t do that one again.

One of the coolest tools for campfire cooking is also the simplest. It’s a metal stake with a grill welded to it, and it lets you change the height of the grill or swivel it away from the heat.

When I was a kid, finding the perfect marshmallow stick was an essential part of the fun. You had to whittle it yourself, and that was your stick for the weekend.

My mom was always obsessed with roasting the perfect golden-brown marshmallow, so my sister and I would compete to get them just right. I always won.

People debate about whether arranging the campfire wood in a “teepee” or “log cabin” structure is best, but I always use both. I start with a teepee, and then once it’s going strong and I have a bunch of coals, I break it down and build the cabin for cooking. 

No matter what I’m eating by the campfire, I won’t enjoy it if I’m also being eaten by mosquitoes. I don’t even bother gathering wood until I’ve applied bug spray. And to keep everyone around the campfire comfortable, I use the OFF!® Backyard Mosquito Lamp. Not only is it portable, but it’s scent-free and spray-free, and it creates a 15.3m2 zone of protection that repels mosquitoes for up to six hours.

Ready to embrace the outdoors this summer? Make the most of your time outside with the OFF!® Backyard Mosquito Lamp. Prevention is the best protection from mosquitoes.