Foil packet cooking for scrumptious suppers around the campfire
Cooking full meals while camping is a very different experience from cooking at home. When you're used to a powerful range and a wide selection of pots, pans and utensils, the limitations of a campfire or a tiny camp stove can pose a challenge. Ultimately, though, meal preparation is only as difficult as you make it. For example, instead of hauling pots and pans in your pack, you can opt to make full meals wrapped in foil to cook over the campfire. Once you've got the hang of it, cooking in foil is very liberating: There are no pots to fuss with, and cleanup is minimal. You might even find yourself cooking this way when you get back home.
1) Meatballs with roasted vegetables
Campfire hamburgers often end up looking like meatballs by the time they're done, so why not cut to the chase and just make meatballs? Prepare them at home in the sanitary environment of your kitchen, then freeze them until you go camping. At the campsite, lay out a sheet of heavy foil and cover it first with thick-sliced potatoes then thinner slices of onion, carrot, bell pepper or any other vegetables you have. Top the veggies with the prepared meatballs and fold the foil edge to edge, then fold the edges over and crimp them tightly to trap the juices. Roast the foil packet over your fire or in the coals for 30 to 40 minutes, turning it every 10 minutes or so to encourage even cooking. The juices and seasonings from the meatballs will flavor the vegetables, but you can add a sauce or gravy if you wish.
2) Sausages with your favorite trimmings
You can grill sausages directly over the fire, but often they fare better if they're cooked in the gentler confines of a foil pouch. Make up a packet with sliced onions and bell peppers – two sturdy, camp-friendly vegetables – or any other trimmings you favor, such as sauerkraut. Add a sausage or two for each diner and a splash of beer or white wine if you're serving only adults. Seal up the packet and roast over the fire or in the coals for about 25 to 30 minutes until the sausages are plump and steaming, and the vegetables are tender.
3) Glazed chicken wings with rice and vegetables
One useful rule with foil-pouch cooking is to use relatively small pieces of meat or poultry because they'll cook more quickly and evenly. You could cook any piece of chicken, but wings are a great option because of their small size and delightful tendency to crisp up at the edges. Toss the wings with your favorite honey-garlic, barbecue or teriyaki sauce to glaze them and lay them on the foil. Cover with cooked rice and thinly sliced or leftover vegetables and seal up the packet. Cook with the wing side of the packet down for 20 to 25 minutes, then flip it over for another 5 to 10 minutes so the juices and glaze can flavor the rice.
4) Stuffed bell peppers
After a few days at the campsite when most of your other fresh food has been used up, you'll really appreciate long-lasting vegetables like bell peppers. Peppers work well as a side dish, but you can also stuff them as an entree in their own right. Seed and stem the peppers, fill them with your choice of a meat- or grain-based filling and top with cheese if you have it. Arrange them neatly on foil and seal up the pouch, adding just a splash of water, broth or other liquid before you close it completely. Set the peppers right-side up on the grate or in the embers at the edge of your fire. Rotate – but don't flip – the packet periodically for approximately 40 minutes until the peppers are tender and the filling is cooked.
5) Campfire pot pie
If you've got the luxury of bringing along a few canned goods for later in your trip when the fresh ingredients have all been used up, keep a can of stew in reserve for this one. You could also make stew ahead of time and freeze it. To make the pot pie, mix up a batch of biscuit dough and pat it out with your fingers on a sheet of lightly oiled heavy foil. Fold up the foil around the edge of the dough to make sides, then spoon the stew over the top. Seal up the pouch and place it biscuit side down over the fire. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the biscuit layer is fully baked and the stew is hot.
A few tips and cautions
- Perishable meats and poultry should be kept in your cooler, either frozen until you need them or held at a temperature of 40 degrees F or lower. An inexpensive fridge thermometer helps make sure you're food is safe to eat.
- Always use heavy duty foil for the cooking pouches, rather than lightweight foil, which is easily punctured while you're handling it and can burst open during cooking. If you doubt your meal-wrapping skills, use disposable aluminum baking pans and cover them tightly with foil for cooking.
- Let your meal rest for at least five minutes after you take it from the fire. Even after this resting time, there will be a burst of hot steam when you open the packet, so there's a risk of burning yourself. It's best to pierce the foil a few times with a skewer to let the steam out before you open it.
- Small pouches are easier to handle than large ones and cook more evenly, so if you're feeding a large group it's helpful to make multiple foil pouches of two to three portions each.