A make shift rotisserie is a fun way to cook chicken over a campfire and itís tasty too. Photo By Ken McBroom
Campfire Cooking Tips
Sometimes it’s fun just to leave all the gadgets behind and enjoy a simple camp out with friends and family and experiment with simple recipes over an open fire. I want to share some of the tips I learned during the years that I backpacked the Alaskan Mountains and wanted to keep my pack as light as possible. I will say I ate fairly well on those trips. The following tips can be used at the campground or on remote backpack trips and are actually fun to do in your backyard if you want.
Cooking over an open fire should actually be called cooking over hot coals. Flames tend to really hinder the cooking process and can really cause things to burn on the outside before the inside even gets close to cooking. The best way to cook over a campfire is to allow the flames to die down leaving a nice hot bed of coals. This allows you to regulate the temperature better and get your food perfectly cooked inside and out.
The best wood for campfire cooking is hardwoods. Softwoods burn cooler and quicker than hardwoods so softwoods are great for kindling and makes it easier to get the hardwood burning. While this is great information to know I can tell you I use whatever is available especially in remote situations; however, there are times when you can select your campfire wood and by far hardwoods like oak or hickory will make the best coals and last longer than softwoods, once you get it going.
Once you have your coals ready to cook there are several ways to cook your food but I like to use a stick to cook meat. Its simple yet effective and doesn't require any special gadget to get the job done. Just prepare your meat and slide it on your stick and your ready to cook. It doesn't get any simpler than that and you just might be surprised how good the meat is when you cook it this way. I can say once I gave it a try I never felt sorry for those cowboys that had to cook their meals on the range over a campfire.I really don’t think they had it all that bad myself.
If you want some vegetables with your meat a great way to cook those is simply wrapping them up in foil and setting them on or near the coals. You can initially set them directly on the coals to get them cooking but you should remove them in short order to keep them from burning. Always put some water or butter in the foil to help regulate the temperature and keep the vegetables from drying out and burning.
Another great way to prepare your meat, especially larger cuts or even a whole chicken is with a make shift rotisserie. All you need is a couple forked sticks and one straight one. Drive the forked sticks into the ground on either side of the fire (or coals) and place the straight stick across adjusting the height of the stick to get the optimum temperature for cooking whatever meat you have. A lot of times it is easier to adjust the amount of hot coals to get the temp you want rather than adjusting the height of the stick itself.
There are thousands of campfire recipes out there that you can try but keep it simple the first few times so you can learn how to get it right. If you plan to cook with a stick be sure you get the meat done inside and out. The best way I have found is to cut the steak or venison in small bitesized portions. I like my meat rare to medium rare and when I have a small piece of meat I know anytime at all near those hot coals will cook it enough for me and for those that don’t like it rare rest assure they will cook it long enough. The small portions help assure your meat gets done and no one eats any under cooked meat.
Making sure your meat is cooked is very important with chicken so I usually build me a rotisserie setup for those and take my time slowly turning the chicken every so often. This is a great way to enjoy the fire and talk about the day while dinner cooks. Rotisserie chicken or hen is awesome over the campfire and if you plan to enjoy the fire while cooking you can just pull some of the hot coals to the side of the fire underneath your chicken. This allows for a nice campfire without scorching your bird.
When cooking with the rotisserie watch for the fat from the chicken or pork to slowly drip from the meat. This tells you it is cooking. If you have been turning your meat for half an hour and there is no fat dripping then increase the heat with coals or lower the meat closer to the coals but not too close. Remember low and slow for the chicken and pork and when the bones come loose at the joints easily then it’s done.
Cooking on a campfire is a great way to add to any camping trip. Sometimes we are forced to when trekking the back country and sometimes we choose to do it just cause it’s fun. Either way I can say for certain I never dreaded the meals on those backpacking/hunting trips in Alaska because I knew those zip locked bite size back-strap morsels were going to be mighty tasty after climbing those dreaded alder choked mountain sides for 8 or 10 hours. I still like to camp simple like those earlier days and cook the same way just because it’s fun and besides that what other reason do you need?