I’ve never met any serious camper who didn’t comment on how much better food tastes when it’s cooked outdoors. From a weekend family outing to a week-long backpacking trip, food cooked over a fire just tastes better.
Just before we headed to Eastern Europe this Fall, we went camping in the new popup for a month. We had a chance to experience both the Zen and the zest of camping … cooking over a wood fire. We’ve lost count of our outdoor meals, but over the years, we’ve refined and simplified our technique. And lots of trial and error has taught us that with a bit of planning and practice, cooking over a wood fire can produce delicious results.
1. Heat is your friend, flames are not. Steaks sizzling over a blazing fire look great on TV commercials, but unless you want your food charred on the outside and raw inside, let the fire die down a bit before putting on your food. And take it from me, if you want any hair left on your knuckles, let that fire get tranquilo.
2. Map out the hot and cool spots in your fire. Some parts of the fire are hotter than others, and different foods require differing amounts of heat. Your open palm passing a foot above the fire is the only mapping tool needed.
3. Let the grate warm up before cooking. There are varying opinions about this technique, but when I cook over a fire, I want my food to taste and look like it was cooked over a fire.
4. Keep the menu simple. Whether it’s food prep, cooking, or cleanup, your life will be easier with a simple menu. Everything to be cooked must fit easily on the grate (at the same time), and cold side dishes are prepared in advance. For us, this means carryout from the deli or a salad.
5. Marinated meat works best. Most wood fires cook hotter than charcoal, and consequently, tend to dry out the meat. Marinading helps keep the meat moist, and in general, it will cook quicker.
6. Olive oil adds a wonderful smoky flavor. If possible, we add olive oil to just about everything we cook over wood. It helps to keep both meats and vegetables moist. Last night’s corn was slathered in olive oil, and it was delish.
7. Have all table gear and drinks ready to rock ‘n’ roll. – Meals prepared over wood fires happen quickly (and cool off quickly), so be ready to eat.
This satisfying meal was easy, fun, delicious, and ended with the quintessential campfire dessert, gourmet S’mores (we used caramel-filled chocolate). Unfortunately, we didn’t get a photo of the final results, because they were gone before they hit the plate. We went to bed happy campers.