Campfire as Canvas

by Elizabeth Winslow
Photography by Thomas Winslow

I love sleeping under the stars and waking to birdsong, but I’m not willing to give up my creature comforts. Our sleeping pads are soft, our camp chairs low-slung and comfy, our sheets high thread count—and I never head off into the wilderness without great food, good coffee, compelling books and a corkscrew.

With a little planning, roughing it can be achieved in delicious style. Most campsites have both a charcoal grill and a fire ring. I love cooking over a wood fire, but these recipes work with either charcoal or wood. Either way, start the cooking fire with a chimney starter, and if using charcoal, make sure to use the all-natural hardwood type. You’ll need a cooking surface large enough to accommodate a couple of pans—at least two to three feet in diameter. If the fire ring doesn’t have a grill, improvise one with a heavy-gauge metal grate set on top (these can be purchased at most places that sell camping supplies). When the coals are ready, pile them under one side of the grill only, to create areas on the grill that have both direct and indirect heat.

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Tips for Successful Campfire Cooking



  • Build coals or fire to one side of the campfire for differing levels of cooking heat.
  • Prep a few items ahead of time before leaving home: meats can travel in marinade or brine, sauces and dressings can be packed in mason jars with tight lids, and pizza dough can be mixed at home, packed in a ziplock bag and kept cool in an ice chest.
  • Keep recipes simple, and plan around the possibility of pleasant surprises, such as local farmers markets, bakeries, dairies and fishmongers along the way.
  • Aim for strong, bold flavors that don’t require much kitchen wizardry to coax out taste.
  • Simple breakfast and lunch options will conserve energy and enthusiasm for more elaborate dinners around the campfire.
  • Start early; cooking in the dark is a challenge!

 

Campfire Cooking Kit and Must-Have Tools



  • Large lid or Dutch oven (see recipe for Chicken under a Brick) 
  • Metal grate for cooking over a wood fire
  • Microplane zester (for grating cheese, garlic and citrus zest)
  • Citrus squeezer
  • A good knife and two large cutting boards
  • Collapsible colander
  • Collapsible mixing bowl
  • Spices, salt, pepper and olive oil
  • Half-pint mason jars (these double as wine glasses, vinaigrette shakers and measuring cups)
  • Big metal mugs that work for coffee, soup and cereal bowls
  • A plastic tub with a snap-on lid for dirty dishes (close after dinner, secure from critters and worry about dishwashing in the light of day)
  • Cast-iron skillet
  • Tongs and a spatula
  • Heavy-duty, gallon-size ziplock bags
  • Paper towels
  • Foil
  • Unbreakable dishes and real cutlery
  • A chimney starter for charcoal (even when we build a wood  fire, we start with charcoal)
  • A heavy-duty, rubber, fireproof oven mitt for getting close to the fire