Home > Food Adventures > Camping – Food in the Great Outdoors

Camping – Food in the Great Outdoors

Picture this: you spend 20 minutes splitting sturdy hardwood logs and then meticulously construct a “tipi” in your fire-pit. Starting with some shredded newspaper and kindling in the centre you carefully arrange small pieces of the hardwood in a precisely balanced structure. You organize the rest of your logs in progression from small to medium to large so they are readily accessible…and then you light the fire. As the newspaper and kindling start to catch you gently start to fan the flames, delicately so that they don’t blow out but strong enough to build up some heat. After a few precarious moments you are rewarded with the site of flames creeping up the first of your hardwood logs and you let out that deep breath you have been holding for the past minute or two; the fire has caught! But your work is far from done. You continue to strategically fan the flames while adding ever bigger and bigger logs to the fire and pretty soon you have a merrily crackling fire, well on its way to becoming the perfect vehicle for adding unparalleled flavour to your food.

Frisbees make the best campfire fans!

Being the patient chef/camper/outdoor cook that you are, you know that while you have a  beautiful looking fire crackling away, it is nowhere near ready for cooking! This fire is not hot enough to give those beautiful steaks the nice sear you are looking for while cooking them to the perfect level. To reach that point will take at least another hour of burning, adding more logs while the old ones crumble and transform into a blistering hot bed of coals. This is what you are after, those glowing hot bits of hardwood at the centre of your fire-pit, radiating out intense heat without shooting up large tongues of flame that will scorch and char the outside of your meat before it is cooked.

How good does this look?

Finally, you judge that the time is right, you rearrange your fire to reveal the glowing coals below, place your (well-oiled) grill on top and ensure it has a strong and sturdy foundation. It is finally time for the food to enter the scene. You take those two huge steaks you carefully oiled and seasoned and place them on the grill right over those glowing embers and immediately are greeted with the sizzling sound and unmistakable smell of searing steak. You know you must be quick, this fire is HOT and you must watch out for that perfect moment to flip the steaks to ensure you develop that delicious medium-rare interior. You take the steaks off the grill, cover them with foil, and let them rest for a few minutes to help seal in the amazing flavour present in all those juices. You walk over to the cooler and grab a delicious rich dark stout, sit down at your picnic table, and take the cover off your beautiful steaks. You carefully slide one on to your plate, cut into it, and lift the piece to your mouth; the smell is already hitting you with that perfect blend of smoke, and char that only a real hardwood fire can provide. You, slowly chew, swallow, take a sip of that dark refreshing beer, and realize that this was totally worth the work and time you just put into it. You are sitting out in the woods, enjoying the perfect steak, hopefully with the perfect company, and this to me is what camping is all about…


….And we know return to our regular scheduled programming! So if you haven’t guessed by now I recently went camping (the second time this summer actually). Typically I head out for a weekend of camping with my family almost every year (when school doesn’t get in the way) and it is definitely some of my fondest memories with my family. Sure we don’t really “camp”, by some people’s definition; the car is right next to us full of food, entertainment, and supplies. But to me that doesn’t really matter, it is still always a great experience full of fond memories with family and friends.

This past weekend my girlfriend and I went camping together for the first time. She had never been camping before and I had certainly never been camping with only two people, so it was a new experience for the both of us. We had a great time, and despite some lousy weather still managed to relax, go on a hike, kick a soccer ball around, throw a frisbee, and, most importantly, enjoy some incredible meals together in the great outdoors. Food and fire are my favorite parts of camping, so it was a real treat to be able to “hog” these activities pretty much to myself, at least for the first night (my GF started the fire on the second night and did a great job!).

Yes...the shirt does say nerd...I'm camping!

The great thing about cooking when you are camping is that you can keep it incredibly simple and everything will still taste ten times more flavourful than at home! I think that this effect is really a combination of real added flavour from the cooking methods you use while camping, and the atmosphere you are in. With so few distractions around, you can truly appreciate the flavour of your food and devote a focus to it that can often be hard to find in our day-to-day lives. The work that you have to put into preparing the food also heightens your appreciation for it. Sure you could fire up a propane stove or grill (and I do for things like eggs and some vegetables) but real camping food needs to be cooked over a hot hardwood fire, and that takes some work to prepare. To cook food properly over a fire, you need to build it up and let it burn down to get those blistering hot coals that do much of the cooking. Simply putting your food over dancing flames is a good way to char the outside while leaving the inside completely raw….don’t do it! Take your time and do it right; seriously you are camping, what else do you have to do?!

Our menu for the weekend was as follows:

First Night

  • Fresh burgers on the fire
  • Grilled Portobello mushrooms
  • Heinz baked beans
  • S’mores and roasted marshmallows for dessert
  • Fried eggs with thick toast and peanut butter
  • Assorted nosh like nuts and fruits, we weren’t too hungry after breakfast!
Second Night
  • Steaks on the fire
  • Baked sweet potatoes in the fire
  • Sautéed mushrooms, onions, and zucchini

Very simple things to be sure, really just some basic meats and veggies with simple olive oil, salt, and pepper for seasoning. Most of these things are camping “classics”, even the Heinz baked beans (heck it doesn’t always have to be fresh, some things are just too classic to replace!).

For the first night, the burgers and mushrooms were great over the fire. We wanted to keep it pretty quick and simple this night, since we had to set up the site and tent before dinner, and were weren’t sure exactly how much time we would have (turned out to be plenty). The mushrooms were amazingly tender. I recommend you get the largest ones you can find as they hold up to the high heat of the fire much better. Of course we had to do s’mores for dessert…or else its just not camping!

Burgers and Portobello mushrooms on the fire

The second night was the big meal: steak. First we prepared the potatoes. The best way I find to make these potatoes is to just wash them, wrap them in foil, and throw them right in the fire. Sure its hard to judge the exact cooking time (for us it was about 40 min, but depends on potato size and how hot the fire is) but that’s part of the fun. Sometimes the skin gets a little charred, but the inside of the potato is just incredibly tender and moist. We used to do this with white potatoes as well, but lately I have switched to sweet potatoes. The flavour and texture is just amazing and you even get a slight caramelization going on, which adds loads of flavour. The steaks were really simple, and basically were prepared as described in the story above.

Amazing steak!

Overall it was a great camping experience. I always love getting away to the outdoors, relaxing, unwinding, and enjoying great food with great people. I highly recommend everyone tries it at least once; sure its a little more work than the typical vacation, but in the end it’s well worth it!

Oh and one more tip. Please, please, please don’t assume that camping = cheap flavorless beer/wine. Buck-a-beer’s and $5 wines have no place next to good food in the great outdoors. Do yourself a favour and bring with some real beer. Ales, stouts, lagers, pilsners, craft brews, local brews, imports….pick your favorite. Don’t like beer? Then grab your favorite whisky, wine, or gin, or some fresh iced tea prepared at home if you don’t want the alcohol. Just make sure its something with some real flavour!

Happy Camping!
Categories: Food Adventures
  1. August 11, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Mmm…looks delicious! I want some! Can’t we do a backyard campfire BBQ?

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