Camp Fire Cooking
Now that we've experimented with the best way to build a campfire, we thought we'd try and figure out how to cook on the thing without relying on army freeze-dried meals, hooking out charred tins of beans with a stick, or eating only the (albeit very yummy) s'more. Whether skewering hotdogs or frying pancakes, there are plenty of ways to cook proper food on your campfire and impress your camping mates.
Once you've mastered the basics of campfire cooking and found a campsite allowing campfires, you can then aim towards the heady heights of VW fan Martin Dorey, who guest blogged for Pitchup.com in 2010. Martin is the author of The Camper Van Cookbook and has just finished presenting One Man and His Camper Van on BBC2, where he and his VW Dave (yes really) go the length and breadth of the country in search of fresh food to cook in a cramped campervan. Freshly caught lobster and nettle and bacon soup? It’s enough to make you weep with envy.
But let's step, very gently and quietly, back to basics. What you cook on your campfire is obviously going to depend on what type of camping you're doing and what amenities are near to you. Tramping to the village shop for bacon and eggs and frying them up over a fire in a designated campsite is going to be easier than cooking when wild camping, where you’ll be taking all your food and water for the trip with you so will need to think about weight and durability. (Eggs, while so delicious and perfect for an early breakfast, are probably not recommended here.)
Like kitchen cooking, with campfire cooking you can boil, roast, fry, bake or grill your food, as well as use coals or rocks to conduct heat and cook food at a more leisurely pace and feel like you’re in a Western. Assuming you're using just a fire and not adding a portable stove or barbeque grill, baking is probably the easiest method to cook outdoors – wrapping a potato in foil and putting it in the fire to bake is probably the simplest camping recipe ever. For ultimate convenience wrap your chicken or other meat in the same parcel as some chopped up spuds, veggies and plenty of seasoning, and place into the fire for an hour or so while you get the guitar out.
Boiling food over a fire is equally easy, mainly depending on what type of pot you're using. If weight isn't a consideration, i.e. you have a campervan or are driving to your camping spot, bring a heavyish pot which will hold plenty of water and which you can place over the fire for some time. Wait until the fire has died down to coals and raise the pot up slightly by using two or three logs, as putting it straight onto the fire will make it go out. You can also use a three-legged cast iron pot if you can get someone to carry it – children are useful here.
Even if you're not using pots or pans, you can still boil food over your fire by using an aluminium mess tin filled with a casserole of food and hooked over your fire with a tripod of sticks, although the water level will probably need topped up frequently for an average-sized tin.
Frying can be tricky over a campfire until you're used to it, as the temperature can be difficult to judge, and most camping pans are very lightweight and can burn food easily if plenty of butter or margarine isn't used. Not all campers want to pack a frying pan if travelling light either, especially if the handle doesn’t fold inside the pan for easy packing.
If you're new to frying food over a campfire, bring a lot of extra margarine or oil with you the first couple of times, as frying over a fire can take a bit of getting used to. But it's one of the most versatile campfire cooking methods, and can be used for everything from making breakfast pancakes to frying freshly caught fish. If you have plenty of water with you and your pan is deep enough, it can of course be used to boil food as well.
Grilling can also be a bit tricky as it needs a proper grill pan, which again many campfire enthusiasts and wild campers don't want to carry. If you’re determined to grill your sausages and bacon rather than fry them over the fire and you don't mind carrying it, a portable barbeque is probably your best bet – this way you can grill food separately while the campfire itself is used for boiling up the morning coffee.
See? Simples. Anyone got any recipe ideas?