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I shuddered as the thunder cracked loudly, the wind increased in force, and rain began to fall heavily. As lightning flashed a crooked path across the darkened sky my stomach growled. Wally and I were sheltered from the storm, only by our small tent. We had been fishing earlier in the day, but bad weather had forced us to hunt a hole. I knew I could go for a long time without food and a fire right now was out of the question. Oh, I could have a bag of chips, bread and peanut butter, but I really wanted a real meal. A meal cooked on the open fire. For me camping and cooking go together like ham and beans. Can't have one without the other.
When I cook I consider many different aspects. I consider the type of wood, the size of the fire, the type of food to be cooked, the cooking method (boiled, roasted, baked, etc.) as well as my eating utensils. At times the weather has to be considered, or maybe the even the time of day. It is more difficult to cook in the dark and cooking in a blazing snowstorm or heavy rain is a little more challenging for me. But, all things considered, I do love to cook out of doors.
Depending on the length of my stay I carry different foods for different trips. If the trip is only an over nighter, or for a couple of nights I use fresh products. A trip longer than a few days has me considering other vittles. I dislike canned foods because they are so heavy. Now, if you don't have to carry them very far they are fine. But, anyone who has done much backpacking knows you sweat for every pound you carry. Unneeded weight is a real killer. If you travel light, you will travel well.
In my opinion most people attempt to cook with a fire that is too big, or they cook directly on the open flame. I usually only cook on hot coals and keep my fire small. The reason for this is with a small fire it is easier to control the temperature and it uses less firewood. An open flame may be, at times, good for boiling, but most foods cooked on it will just burn. It is just too difficult to control the temperature of a flame. Coals, on the other hand, can be added or removed to control the heat. I also, at times, use a small grill that has folding legs. I merely place the grill on its legs over a bed of hot coals. My food is usually done in short order. Save the open flame cooking for marsh mellows or a nice burned black hot dog.
A normal menu for me when I can carry fresh food is just like at home. I usually have steak, chicken, chops and lots of veggies. I always use the fresh stuff up first and save the dried or package stuff for later in the trip. I take a small ice chest to keep the food cool and safe. Pancake mixes, dried soups, or other items not requiring temperature control can be premixed in most cases and stored with your other dry goods. By premixed, I mean all the ingredients in it with the exception of water or milk. Milk, by the way, is best on long trips if it is powdered or the type sold that does not require refrigeration. Due to weight problems of the un-refrigerated milk and the bulkiness of the containers, I carry powdered milk in zip lock bags. Keep in mind, most of the foods you eat at home, you can eat while camping. At least you can for the first few days.
As I said earlier, there are many different ways to cook foods. Of course the type of food often determines the method used to prepare it. One meal my kids used to love to take camping was what they called a “country TV dinner.” Let me explain in some detail.
The night before a camping trip, I let each camper (especially a child) select what they want for dinner the next night. Lets use chicken in this example. I place a chicken leg with thigh attached, some cut-up potato wedges, sliced carrots, and maybe an onion half on a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Seasonings are added as individually desired. I then fold the aluminum up and over the sides of the meal, and lastly the top. I place the whole works on another piece of aluminum. This time I fold the metal carefully over the first one. I make sure the aluminum is sealed well and not torn. All the meals then go into the freezer.
The next night, at the campsite, all the kids have to do is place the dinners on a bed of hot coals, turning every few minute’s. The aluminum traps the steam and the food cooks very quickly. If the meal is not cooked enough for your taste, just re-wrap it and place in back on the coals. Believe it or not, it makes a very easy and tasty meal. Best of all, the kids love it! Oh, before I forget, dessert can be cooked the same way. Wrap an apple, banana, or even pineapple in aluminum and add it to the coals. As far as I am concerned, heavy-duty aluminum foil is as necessary as water when I camp.
Now, lets discuss how to get the most out of a little meat. Lets say you are camping and your friends show up unexpectedly. Do you still grill that piece of round steak and just give each person a smaller share than you had planned? I suggest you modify your menu. You will get more from the meat if you add it to the stew pot. Add potatoes, carrots, and perhaps some onion and you will have a nice soup. Also, if food is scarce, as in a survival situation, you will retain more vitamins and nutrients if the meat is boiled. When meat is roasted the juices (vitamins and nutrients) just drip onto the coals and burn.
I have seen old timers bake cakes, pies, and even biscuits in a cast iron Dutch oven. I have seen cast iron skillets carried all over the state by backpackers who swear it is the only way to cook. I say go for it, if that is your choice. I prefer to carry an aluminum frying pan, a large aluminum pot, a coffee pot, and a roll of aluminum foil. Yep, aluminum cookware is my metal of choice. I like it because it is lightweight and heats up quickly. Just be very careful with the heat of your coals and the food cooked with aluminum won’t burn. Additionally, I have each person carry their own mess kit.
If you are forced to do so, you can cook with much less equipment. A sharpened stick, chunk of food and a fire is all that is really needed. Nonetheless, most of us prefer a nice meal when we camp. It seems to bring out the best as far as I am concerned. Plus, I find it fun and relaxing to cook when I camp. I suggest you go to a local bookstore and discover the many different types of books out there on camping and cooking. They are filled with original ideas that can add to your camping enjoyment. After all, enjoyment is the main reason we camp. Y’all have a great camping season this year.