Campfire stove
Photo by Lisa Densmore

Campfire cooking

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.

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.

Corn on the Cob over campfire
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.

GRILLED TROUT

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.

CLASSIC S’MORES

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.

Family around campfire
Photo by Lisa Densmore