Photo by Lisa Densmore
I was starving after our 8-mile hike to Lake Mary in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. After pitching our tent, my son Parker scrounged up a pile of dead wood for a fire while I set up our camp kitchen on a nearby flat-topped boulder. Our dinner menu did not require much cooking, merely adding boiling water to two Asian noodle bowls.
I screwed a burner onto the small, partially full canister of fuel, turned on the gas and touched a match to the heating element, igniting a bluish flame.
“Dinner will be ready in about 10 minutes,” I called to Parker, balancing a pot of water on the little stove.
The water never boiled. A few minutes after lighting the stove, the happy flame had dwindled to a sorry flicker and then went out.
Hardly worth the effort to carry the canister here, I thought, trying to screw the burner onto my back-up canister. No luck. Until that moment, it never occurred to me that the connection between fuel canisters and backpacking stoves were not universally the same.
Inside a ring of stones, Parker nursed a modest inferno. When I explained the situation, he beamed with excitement.
“This will be great, Mom!” he exclaimed. “We can cook over the fire like mountain men!”
Half an hour later, we sipped piping hot broth between mouthfuls of noodles.
Over the years, I’ve had many chances to cook over a campfire while hunting, fishing, camping and backpacking. Sometimes, as on the Lake Mary trip, the chance was unintended, and other times it was planned, but regardless, the food has been as memorable and as satisfying as the rest of the adventure.
Create a flawless cooking flame
Preparing a tasty meal that’s not overcooked or underdone, over a campfire, is mainly about heat regulation. Here’s how to build the perfect campfire for cooking.
- Use dry wood. Dry wood burns clean and hot, making quality coals. Green wood is smoky and difficult to keep lit. Use green wood only for cooking sticks.
- Choose a durable surface. If a fire pit or ring is not available, the best place to build a campfire is on a flat slab of bedrock or a boulder; otherwise put it on bare soil below any organic matter. Be sure no tree branches hang over the site.
- Watch the wind. Wind is a campfire cook’s worst enemy. It quickly reduces coals and can put the fire out completely. Wind also can carry sparks aloft, burning holes in clothing and tents, and potentially causing a forest fire. Find a sheltered location to make a fire. If the wind is strong, a cold meal is a safer option.
- Make a ring of rocks. One of the rocks outlining the fire pit should be flat. Place another flat rock of the same height inside the fire ring but close enough to the flat rock on the ring so that your pot or grate reaches across with space underneath for a fire.
- Place kindling in the fire ring. Dried leaves or pine needles make great kindling. Place the kindling under a layer of dry twigs, then light it in several places.
- Add increasingly larger sticks of wood. Gradually add larger and larger pieces of wood evenly over the fire bed. While you can start cooking any time the larger logs ignite, you can better control the temperature by waiting until you have a substantial bed of hot coals. Using a stick, the higher you pile the coals under the pot or grate, the higher the cooking temperature.
And don’t forget to put out your fire. Before crawling into your sleeping bag at night or departing in the morning, soak the fire bed with water to ensure the fire is out. — Lisa Densmore
Easy campfire meal
WILD GAME HOT DOGS
Don’t let the name “hot dog” fool you. This might be the most succulent piece of wild meat you’ve ever tasted!
After field dressing an ungulate (deer, elk, moose), cut a strip of tenderloin about 4 inches long and an inch wide. Skewer the strip, weaving it onto a thin green stick. Cook 2 minutes on each side. Eat immediately off the stick.
Photo by Lisa Densmore
CORN ON THE COB
One of the oldest cultivated crops in America, here’s a wilder way to cook super-succulent kernels.
Soak the corn, husk on, in water for 20 minutes or longer. Bury the corn amidst the coals in your campfire. When the husks turn brown and slightly charred (5-10 minutes), the corn inside is ready to eat. Garnish with butter and/or salt (optional). Note: Burn the husks and cobs in the fire afterward for an easy cleanup and less trash to carry out.
Even those who would rather catch trout than eat them will smile with delight with every bite cooked over a campfire.
This recipe is good with trout or any freshwater fish, cleaned, head removed. Rub the outside of the fish with olive oil. Place slices of fresh lemon inside the body cavity and sprinkle generously with lemon pepper. Wrap the fish in foil, and then place it in the campfire over hot coals. Cook 10 minutes. Flip and cook another 10 minutes or until the meat is done (opaque). Carefully lift the skeleton from the meat and eat.
The Girl Scouts first published the recipe for s’mores in 1927. A contraction derived from the words, “Some More,” it’s hard to eat just one of these traditional campfire treats.
Place a 2-inch chunk of chocolate on top of a square (half) of a graham cracker. Roast a marshmallow on a green stick until it is crispy brown or blackened on the outside and piping hot on the inside. Place the hot marshmallow atop the chocolate. Place the other half of the graham cracker on top of the marshmallow. Holding the graham cracker sandwich securely with one hand, use the other hand to remove the stick, leaving the melting chocolate and marshmallow between the graham crackers.
Photo by Lisa Densmore