Posts Tagged With: camp cooking

RECIPE: That Stupid Foil-Packet Cooking Everyone Loves

Can you tell how I really feel about foil packet cooking? 🙂

Okay, let me take that back. Foil packet cooking is great. There, I said it. I mean, I admitted it. But here’s what I hate about foil packet cooking: it’s become the gold standard of camp cooking, as though you’re somehow a gourmet AND a Sherpa-level guide if you cook your food in the coals and then eat it right out of the foil.

For the rest of us, though, it’s a good way to eat raw potatoes while your kids gripe about why you can’t just go to the McDonald’s they saw when you turned off the highway.

Foil packet cooking involves prepping your meal at home and cooking the whole packet in the coals of a campfire, but is a flawed, hatefully system:

  • Problem number 1) You’re going to prep all these great packets and they’re going to leak all over your cooler.
  • Problem number 2) It takes quite a while for a campfire to reach the coal stage for you to cook these.
  • Problem number 3) It takes even longer for raw food to cook down in the coals. This is NOT like putting them in a skillet over the fire.
  • Problem number 4) Much of the food that cooks well in a foil packet isn’t something your kids are going to like anyway. They wanted a hot dog on a stick that they could have eaten two hours ago, but no, you made brisket with carrots, potatoes, and slices of corn on the cob by slow cooking it in the coals.
  • Problem number 5) By the time this stuff is actually ready to eat, you get to fish a molten-hot metal packet out of the coals without ripping the tin foil and dropping all the food on the ground, and you get to eat it while holding a black, soot-covered foil packet.

They make it look so great in the LL Bean catalog, but please remember that the image of the man in the flannel shirt eating his fresh-caught trout out of a foil packet (which inexplicably has lemon slices and rosemary sprigs… because he brought those with him in case he caught a trout) is actually a staged photo shoot with a crew of about fifty people making it happen. I could eat this way, too, if someone else did all the prep work and I just had to sit there and look outdoorsy.

But since we’ve somehow gotten it into our heads that it’s just not camp cooking without at least one foil packet meal, here are some tips and photos:

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First, I never cook the meat in the packet with the veggies. I get the fire going, get the packets in the coals, and cook the meat over those coals with a grill grate above them. That way I don’t serve my kids raw meat with overcooked, dried out carrots. When you’re assembling your packets, it’s good to line a salad bowl with the foil since it keeps your ingredients from rolling all over the place.

Hint number two: you can prevent much of the burning and sticking of your food to the foil by lining it first with a little olive oil, and then with fresh herbs. The basil is going to be black and wilty, but the rosemary in the picture above has a woody stem and will help hold the veggies off the foil a little bit.
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Hint number three: please, for the love of all things holy, precook them taters! You don’t have to cook them all the way, but please do yourself and everyone you care about a favor and zap them in the microwave for a few minutes. Then cut them up. The coals can take over where the microwave left off. I’d personally do the same thing to the carrots. For the purposes of this exact blog post I made up these packets and cooked them on our camping trip, and the potatoes were perfect. This time, it was the carrots that were disappointingly chewy!
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And then you roll. Get the ends first and then make a center fold. This big center fold is how you’ll reach down into your cooking inferno and retrieve your food.
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Finally, take all of your packets and put them in a giant container that you don’t care about. This will keep them from spilling in your cooler and will keep them handily organized in case you were crazy enough to try foil packets for multiple meals. Oh, and don’t forget the salt. If you pre-salt your food in the packets, it will be slimy and gross when it comes time to finally eat it. Salt it after you cook.

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RECIPE: Save Your Life Stew

Okay, I admit the headline of this post is a little misleading. This was originally a recipe for something we call Fireside Brunswick Stew, but after one fateful trip, the name suddenly and permanently got changed!

There’s a trick to packing your food for a camping trip. You see all these great cookbooks and websites with camping recipes, mostly awesome-looking gourmet concoctions that you’re supposed to prepare over a campfire. Like I’ve brought a lemon to the woods with me, just so I can place lemon slices on fresh trout and sprinkle it with fresh cilantro and kosher sea salt? Give me a break!

Those recipes have some major flaws. First of all, how are you going to keep all those ingredients cold for several days in the woods and not give your family salmonella or e. coli while you’re camping? How are you going to cook them when you have to start the fire, get it going, place those foil packets down in the coals, and let them sit for a couple of hours? Oh, your family was going to go hiking alone while you babysat the campfire?

So here’s one of my little cheats about camping trips: I almost never bring anything raw. The only raw food I cook over a fire is fish that we’ve just caught, if we caught anything. If you really must bring raw meats, plan those meals for your first night or two in order to prevent death. Even more important is the timing-to-interest-level ratio: the first night or two it might be pretty exciting to set up camp and cook over a fire. By the third day, you’re gonna be so weary of getting that fire going and cooking dinner that you’re gonna pass your kids the bag of marshmallows and a can of Pringles and tell them dinner is served, and there’s not a parenting expert on the planet who would fault you for it.

By bringing essential foods already cooked, you really just have to warm them up. I also almost never cook directly over the campfire, unless we’re doing the nostalgic hot dogs on sticks meal. I use a Coleman propane stove or a mini backpacking stove, depending on whether I’m actually cooking something or just heating water to dunk our pre-cooked meal pouches that I made at home.

So back to this recipe: it’s really just Brunswick stew, but I’d made it ahead of time. We arrived at our campsite and met up with the different friends who would be joining us, and this stew was my contribution of one night’s dinner for everyone (that’s another hint: if you’re meeting up with friends on this trip, have everyone each take responsibility for one full meal). That weekend turned out to be the coldest weekend on record for that month in the entire history of the state. Yes, since the day they first began writing down the temperatures, that weekend in October was colder than any other year, before or since.

One faction of the friends called it quits and went home, which left me, my two girls, and one other couple, meaning there was plenty of Brunswick stew. And we ate it for every meal. I could pop out of the tent for a minute, heat it in a skillet on the propane stove, then duck back inside the tent with our tin plates . And it was absolutely perfect. It saved the trip, even if claiming that it saved our lives is a bit of a stretch.

So here’s the recipe for it, and you’ll notice it includes pre-cooked foods that won’t kill you. There are no measurements on purpose, just combine enough of the ingredients for your family’s needs. You’re also free to leave out anything they don’t like!

Fireside Brunswick Stew

Beef roast, cooked in the crock pot ahead of time.

Large cans of chunk chicken

Cooked ham, cubed

One bag frozen corn

One bag frozen peas

Bottled barbeque sauce

Tomato sauce (yes, spaghetti sauce is fine since the BBQ sauce will overpower it)

A-1 sauce

Combine the meats and frozen vegetables, then stir in barbeque sauce and tomato sauce to the desired consistency. Add A-1 according to your family’s taste for spiciness. Add water to bring it to the right consistency for how much “soupiness” your family likes. Place in large ziplock bags and freeze. Carrying it frozen in your cooler will help serve as a refrigeration source while you travel.

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