For the end of the day, the end of the trail, or simply the end of an evening outdoors, campfire cooking has never been more simple or satisfying than that achieved by cooking directly on the glowing coals of a hardwood fire.
A little forethought and heavy-duty foil can be combined to make some of the easiest, most care-free meals found anywhere, no matter whether your adventure takes place on the backside of nowhere or in your own backyard.
Often called “hobo packs,” the common elements of these meals are fire and aluminum foil, and you don’t want to skimp on either. A good, hardwood fire should be built well in advance of your anticipated cooking time because you’ll want to operate in a bed of coals rather than deep in the heart of the blaze itself.
You can always add another log or two as you go if the wood burns faster than you anticipated.
The chief beauty of the foils packs is the fact they can be prepared at home well in advance and kept in ice chests for a few days if necessary until it’s time to cook. This lets you do all of the cutting, chopping and mixing at your convenience, so the only cleanup required amounts to wadding up used foil once the meal is done.
Play it safe
If you will be doing your preparation on the scene, be aware of food safety and the potential for cross contamination, situations where food ready to serve might come into contact with utensils or surfaces that have touched raw food. If you’ll be cooking in a setting with little water handy, handle and move food through the cooking process strategically, and use antibacterial wipes generously in between.
Heavy duty foil is a must, and of all the places to cut corners, this isn’t one. If in doubt, double the foil. If not in doubt, double it anyway. After it’s doubled, coat what will be the inside with cooking spray, and you’re ready to assemble your pack.
Pretty much anything that can be cooked on a grill can be cooked well in a foil pack, but possibly the most tried-and-true foil pack recipe calls for a ground beef patty and vegetables, usually onions, carrots, tomatoes and potatoes. When assembling this one, put the beef patty on the bottom of the pack since it’s the part with the most definite requirement for being cooked.
Between the cooking spray and the food’s natural juices, there’ll be enough moisture inside the sealed pack to offer a pretty wide margin of error on doneness. If the foil’s been folded and sealed correctly, very little steam will be able to get out so that nothing inside is likely to dry out.
Ideally, with the hardwood fire well along, you should be able to use a camp shovel to rake out a bed of coals a couple inches thick. Place the packs directly on the coals. How long cooking actually requires involves variables including the temperature of the fire and the thickness and volume of what’s in the pack, so it requires a little experimentation, but since this isn’t something that’s overly delicate, you can err on the long side.
Once you’ve gotten the feel of it, try experimenting with different foods. Meat and potatoes cook best in a tightly-wrapped flat pack, one that can be flipped from time to time, but fruits and desserts can be wrapped in a looser pack that allows steam to accumulate and cook the food more gently.
Like the outdoors itself, campfire cooking adds another layer to the adventure.