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:
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.
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!
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.
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.