Nothing beats being out in the woods for building up a mighty appetite. But, many times people find it challenging to cook ‘in the rough’. Hungry campers may find themselves carting around unnecessary gear just to cook with. It’s unnecessary to do so. A cooking fire can be set up with little more than tinfoil, tinder, and wood. It can provide a place to create fine meals worthy of a four star restaurant.
The Set Up
What kind of fire and which tools you bring will depend on what sort of camping you are doing. If you are camping in an established spot night after night, then chances are you will have access to a fire pit. Always use a fire pit, if you can. It shows respect for nature and is safer. If you are on the move you will need to build a small pit each night.
On the Move Cooking
An on the move fire will be small. It will still be more than enough to cook dinner, boil water, and warm your toes! Most backpackers, cycling tourers, and long distance hikers will want to carry as little gear as possible. For most meals, all you will require is some tinfoil and greenwood.
Select a spot away from any over hanging trees and some distance from your tent. Clear the soil down to stone, if possible. If not, scoop away the top organic layers. Surround your area with medium sized stones. If there is a wind, try to place a larger stone as a blocker. It will also serve to reflect heat back at the cooking.
Build a ‘teepee’ in a circular fashion. Use only small dry twigs and sticks. Do not use green wood. Place paper, dry pine needles and other easy combustibles in the center of the teepee loosely. Set your fire and feed it small tinder until your teepee catches.
As your wood burns to create good charcoal, prepare your veggies and protein. Start by slicing the food into uniform sized pieces. Slice easily cooked food thicker and slow cooking food thinner. Lay the food onto a good sized bit of tinfoil. Season and drip a little water into the food. Fold into a sealed packet. Lay on top of hot coals, just outside of the active flame. To cook faster, layer hot coals over the packet. Your food will steam quickly; most meat and veggies will be ready to eat in under twenty minutes.
Stationary Fire-pit Cooking
If you are cooking night after night at the same fire, you will be able to build a much more complicated cooking fire. Most stationary campers bring fire safe pots too, as weight is far less of an issue. You can also bring a small wire grill for grilled goodies over coals.
If your camp site does not have a fire pit, select a location away from overhanging branches and brush. Scrape out a roughly rectangular space; removing all organic matter. Place stones around the short sides of your pit. On the front long side, place a long large green split log. You will be placing your cook pots on the green log as the fire burns. The indirect heat will cook and flavor your meat and veggies.
If you wish to grill, you will need to place stable stones or green wood at one end of the fire to support the grill before you build up the fire. Rake coals under the grill to make wonderful grilled food like that in your own backyard. The wood coals will provide wonderful flavoring and flare-up is minimized by cooking over coals.
You can also get crafty and craft a picturesque hanging frame out of three sturdy branches. Use two branch of roughly the same length and a Y fork at one end as supports. Balance a sturdy green branch across them, high enough to be out of the flames. Hang pots, large cuts of well marbled meat or small cleaned animals like rabbits or trout from it. The direct flame will sear in the juices as it cooks up but try to keep the fire six inches below your food. Tend your meal often; it can burn easily.
Cooking ‘al fresco’ is an impressive art. It’s one that few can do well and even fewer master. After practice you too will be able to set up a cooking fire in a matter of minutes, like a seasoned mountain man.