Ever since being a boy, I have loved camping. Real camping – the rustic kind, sleeping in tents, fishing and foraging for food, and cooking meals over an open campfire. I was taught, early on, how to do gourmet open fire cooking.
As far as “side dishes” typically go, they are munching on potato chips or Doritos, and perhaps some store-bought deli items.
Not me. Nothing against hot dogs and hamburgers, I love ’em and will sometimes cook and eat them.
Gourmet Open Fire Cooking!
Savory stews, with rabbit meat, and/or fish, bratwurst, tomatoes, potatoes, parsnips, chicken broth, lots of herbs and maybe a hot pepper or two. Steaks grilled to medium rare perfection, served with morel mushrooms, sautéed in garlic, butter, and good quality, savory red wine.
Tacos, quesadillas, fajitas, burritos, refried beans and rice. Soufflés and quiches. Full, satisfying breakfasts consisting of hashed browned potatoes, eggs sunnyside up, bacon and whole wheat toast.
Gourmet open fire cooking produces the best tasting meals on the planet. Bar none. You simply cannot reproduce in the home kitchen or in the commercial kitchens of the finest gourmet restaurants, the special and unique flavor. What the open fire and the wood smoke imparts into the food is something that is unparalleled on the scale of delicious eats.
The trick is in knowing how to build a good fire. Stacking the wood with tinder on the bottom, small softwood sticks on the next layer, larger, thicker softwoods go on next, followed by medium-sized hardwood pieces, and lastly some real log-sized hardwood. All arranged in a manner which allows equal distribution and upward flow of air, which will ensure the coals your are making will produce an even amount of heat over the cooking area.
This can be done using several different styles, but the three most often used and popular are the “Teepee”, the “Lean-to” and the “Log Cabin” method of building a good fire. For a good article on how to build great campfires, click here.
A well constructed campfire for cooking will have some way of supporting a grille. I usually take with me an old oven grille (or two). I search around the campsite and find good sized rocks, and place them strategically around the fire pit, so that they support my grille, holding it perfectly level, directly over the fire area.
By the time the hardwood has burned down to red-hot, smoldering coals, the flames have subsided, and the smoke has quelled, you are ready for some serious gourmet open fire cooking. And a good open fire cook always knows how to tend the fire – just when to add more wood, where to put it, how to stoke the fire, etc.
You can, with experience, adjust your fire/coals just as well as your cooktop burners at home: low, medium, medium-high, and high heat. You have to be more creative and resourceful, of course. Like having another set of evenly sized rocks or bricks to place on top of the first grill, so you can set another grille on top, keeping the cooking food further away from the hot coals.
I’ve even been known to fashion a makeshift rotisserie with old spare backyard grille parts, dug into the ground and suspended over the fire, to slow roast whole ducks, rabbits, and pork or venison loin. A contraption that looks much like the photo above.
Gourmet outdoors cooking can be done on a fire (heat source) that is not “open”, too. This next illustration shows how to create an underground steamer oven.
You dig a large pit, and also a huge fire on top of the ground. In and around the fire you place large and small rocks, so they will get heated. While the stones are getting fired up, gather some branches, and also some leaves and/or moss – any moist organic material will do. (If the branches are dry, wet them real good)
When the stones are red-hot, you use a shovel to place the large stones in the bottom of the pit, then a layer of smaller stones. Now layer the moist branches over the pit. On top of the branches, wrapped in tin foil, place your meat directly over the center of the hot coal pit, and your vegetables (also wrapped up) more toward the edges of the pit. The meat will require more heat to be cooked well at the same time as the veggies, so that’s why it needs to be in the center, hottest, area of the pit.
Cover the foils with a thick layer of green leaves (no dry leaves – you want moisture in this layer) and/or moss.
Now mound some soil over the entire makeshift oven, sit back, enjoy a fine beer or two (heck, have three – you’re camping, right? You just put forth a lot of effort, so chill, man!), while you relax for about an hour while your hobo dinner cooks.
While you are chilling and enjoying a few cold ones, having a relaxed conversation with your family and/or friends, (maybe playing a guitar with bongo and tambourine accompaniment and singing?) your hobo dinner is busy cooking.
The moisture in the branches and leaves is being boiled out, dripping down onto the hot stones, and steaming back up and through your food. The soil is adding an unmistakable and delicious “earthy” flavor to your meal that you will never forget and never be able to duplicate anywhere but in the good old outdoors.
Okay. Now for the recipe I promised. Technically, this is not gourmet open fire cooking, but it sure as heck is gourmet outdoors fire cooking. You’ve already seen how to build your oven. Here’s how to prepare your Hobo Dinners.
You will need some wrapping material – most commonly used is heavy duty tin or aluminum foil – to enclose the food ingredients.
Or, if you want to really get organic and rustic, you can bring to the campsite some large cabbage or, better still if you can get them, banana leaves. I had the pleasure of using banana leaves to wrap up my hobo dinners once, and it was unbelievably tasty. Another great option is to use corn husks – which will impart a nice, mildy “corny” flavor to the meal. If you can’t find them for sale locally, you can purchase them at our online store. Click here for banana leaves, and click here for corn husks.
The utilitarian purpose of the wrap is to keep soil out of the food, and to encase it so it steams better and evenly. So foil does that just fine. Using organic leaves just adds some extra flavor.
As far as what you put into the wraps, hey – anything goes, totally up to you. You can cook fish, shrimp, scallops, beef, pork, poultry, wild game, whatever, for the meat. If you are using a large slab kind of meat, you will want to chop it up some, so it cooks through well. Also, of course, season the meat to your tastes.
Any kind of veggies will taste awesome: potatoes, yams, parsnips, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, tomatoes, eggplant, etc. Just a little salt and pepper, maybe a favorite herb or two, and wrap ’em up good and tight. If using leaves, pin the assembly shut with some toothpicks or by tying them up with twine. Now place them over the branch-covered pit oven, cover them with a thick layer of moist organic material, and mound on the soil.
After about an hour, your hobo dinners will be cooked. Scoop away the soil, shake off the loose bits of soil (the wraps will be hot – so wear gloves!), and enjoy one of the best meals you will ever have.
Well, that wraps up this Gourmet Open Fire Cooking post. I do hope you enjoyed it, and I hope I have inspired you to give gourmet open fire cooking a try – if you haven’t yet.
And hey – please leave a comment. I always love to hear from all you wonderful readers. Surely among the many ethnic food lovers who frequent this site – from all over the world – there are some fans of outdoor cooking, right? But either way, suggestions are welcome, questions, anything goes, okay?
My Best Always, Your Friend,
Marvin D Wilson (The Old Silly)
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