The campfire. Anyone can share stories about staying up late, talking, laughing, having another round of s’mores, or playing cards in the orange glow of the fire. When we’re cold, we sit close, warming our hands and finding excuses to avoid going to bed in that freezing tent or heatless camper. In the summer, we sit far from it, using 6-foot poking sticks to avoid unwanted sweat on the forehead. Still, we find reasons to get a fire going, hot or cold. But how many of us use the fire for maybe the best reason of all, cooking?
Some of us already use the fire as our primary cooking tool, but many campers are intimidated by the idea of using an actual fire to cook. With electric ranges, gas grills, and microwaves, we’re far removed from the days of using fire as the heat source for cooking. So here’s a challenge to anyone who’s never cooked a meal over a campfire: one dinner, using nothing but fire. Still reluctant to give it a shot? I’ll share a longtime family favorite recipe to get you started. Plus, I double dog dare you, so now you have to try it.
We call them bombs because when you have everything prepped and wrapped up in foil they look like… bombs. Our tradition is a two bomb meal: potatoes in one, meat and veggies in the other. Best of all, you get to use the 3 Essential B’s that make everything in life better: butter, bacon, and beer. Now that you’re nodding in approval, let’s get started.
- Most campgrounds have fire rings with fold-over grills or grills you can move up and down a few notches. Either will work.
- Consider bringing a Weber round grill top in case you’re stuck with those awful mini-rings. Just place the grill top on top of the ring. Most camp stores also sell folding stainless steel grill tops.
- The goal is a hot bed of coals. Start the fire early. When the coal bed is established, square the bed with a few logs. This is a great way to manage the fire, allowing you to feed the parts that are cooling.
- Remember to have fun, you’re camping, what’s the rush anyway? Parents, pay close attention to this part, because this is your time to be free! This is your show, put the kids in charge of entertaining themselves for a change. If that is not an option, decide who gets to do the prep work. That parent gets a jump on one of the “B’s”.
- Aluminum Foil (get the heavy guage and bring two of them)
- Cutting Board
- Poking Stick
- Paper Plates
- Spices (salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Montreal Steak seasoning)
- Don’t spend a ton of money on meat. If you want chicken, boneless breasts are the way to go. If you want to use beef, there’s no need for porterhouse cuts, T-bones, or filet. Nothing wrong with those, but remember that we’re wrapping this up in foil, not grilling it medium rare. Cheaper sirloin cuts or a big chunk of top round works just fine, and you’re getting a bigger bang for the buck.
- For veggies, our go-to list includes 3 peppers (red, orange, and yellow), mushrooms, onion, and carrots. Use real carrots, not pre-packaged baby carrots. Carrots are your temperature gauge for the meat and veggie bomb, so those big ends on the carrots will come in handy.
- When cutting the potatoes and carrots, slice them thin. They’re both dense and pack a lot of natural water. A thinner slice means a better cook through, and more water released to keep everything nice and tender. For the meat, we cut our selection into bite sized pieces. The only real reason for this is the inevitable laziness from an after-dinner food coma. No knives = less clean up. Use this cutting style for all remaining veggies.
Now that the fire’s going and our equipment, spices, and ingredients are in position, we’re about ready to start. Before anything else, remember the 3 B’s:
Grab a stick of butter out of the cooler and set it next to you. Put some bacon in a frying pan or griddle, roll a log with some coals under the grill, and start cooking. Open up a beer. It’s time to start fire cooking, and you deserve one right now.
If you’re using baking potatoes, use 2 per person. With red potatoes, use 3. It may seem like a lot, but you will go back for seconds. Pile the slices up on a long sheet of aluminum foil. Once the pile’s finished, throw the spices on, and don’t be shy! Get a good heavy coating of your salt, pepper, garlic, and Montreal Steak seasoning on there. When you think you have used enough Montreal Steak, use more.
Grab that bacon off of the fire, and let it cool on a plate for a minute. Take half of that bacon, chop it up, and sprinkle it all over the potatoes. Throw in a splash or two of beer (is there really any benefit to a splash of beer in the bomb? none whatsoever. but you can say you cooked with beer, so yes). The same rules we used for spices, we use for butter. For a small bomb (2-3 people) use at least a quarter stick. For a bigger bigger bomb (4-6 people) use a half stick. Yeah, it’s a lot of butter, so cut it up into 8 to 10 smaller pieces and spread it out over the potatoes. Now it looks like less butter, and you feel less guilty. Before anyone sees how much butter’s in this thing, now is a good time to wrap it up.
Wrap up the potatoes tightly with foil. Once it’s closed, use another sheet of foil and wrap it so that the top of your wrap is on the opposite side of the side you just closed. Repeat this process 4 times. Each time you wrap, pack everything in tighter as you go to keep those juices in.
Go ahead and throw the bomb onto the hottest part of the grill. How do you know where the hottest part is? Wave your hand about 8 to 10 inches over the coals. The part where your hand involuntarily pulls back is where you want your bombs.
Same concept as the potato bomb, but for this one, keep everything separate until you’re ready to start piling up another mound of greatness onto your foil. Mix everything up as best you can, so that everything cooks together as one, not as separate piles of meat and veggies.
Don’t forget about that plate of bacon leftover from the potatoes. Use it! Add another splash or two of beer, except this time use the top of the can or bottle because you might need another one by now. Same rules and amounts for butter and spices apply.
Wrap this the same way, alternating top and bottom, and compress it a bit each time. Time to make your way back to the fire!
Make any adjustments to the fire that might be needed at this time.
As you’re putting the new bomb on, get as close as you can without getting burned, and listen to the potato bomb. Hear that sizzling, crackling sound? If so, you are well on your way to an amazing meal. If not, be patient and work up some more heat. Once you hear that sound, after another 20 – 30 minutes, you’ll start smelling it as well.
The potato bomb will need a good hour of cook time, but roll it over at the 35-40 minute mark. That much time on one side gives the butter time to melt down onto the bottom and get things cooking really well. That’s side you want to go after when you finally open these things up. There, you’ll find the slightly burned slices of potato that are nice and crunchy, and full of flavor.
Meat and veggie bomb should be good after, 30 – 40 minutes, rolling over once or twice along the way. And this is all assuming you have a good hot bed of coals for the duration of cooking. If things cool down, you’ll need a bit more time.
After you pull them off the grill, use a sharp knife and cut an opening a couple of inches into the foil. Don’t cut too much, because you may need to put them back on for a bit, and a bigger opening means more heat will be lost. Use your knife or a fork and grab a potato from the center. If that piece is done, all of it is done. Same thing for the meat and veggie bomb, but grab a carrot from the center. If you can slice right through the carrot easily or cut it with a plastic fork, the bomb is done and you are ready to eat. Slice the bombs open, start piling onto plates, and pass them around.
So there you have it, a walk through of one of our favorite camping fire cooked meals. Remember, you can use this as a guide, not necessarily as a set recipe. As always with cooking, use what you like and more of what you love. If you don’t like mushrooms, substitute a different ingredient. For our vegetarian and vegan friends, use whatever meat substitute you like. Different oils can be used instead of butter. Hopefully, by trying this method out, it sparks a bit of creativity which leads to something you can create on your own and share down the road with fellow campers. And, you may be surprised how rewarding it can be to eat something you just cooked over a real fire!