There is a maxim that everything tastes better when it is cooked outdoors. Nothings proves this law more than simply cooking good meat over an open fire.
One of the favorite meals in our camping rotation is known simply as “Joe Steak”. Late one night around the campfire, Uncle Joe pulled steaks from his cooler and treated us all to this simple delicacy.
One of our 2018 camping goals was to become better camp chefs. As tent campers, our meals were functional; what could we get in our bellies quickly after a long day of adventure? We ate a lot of simple steaks, hot dogs, and one pot meals. We also tried to minimize dishes and the amount of cooking gear we brought along. With the trailer we have been able to acquire a whole new set of tools stored in the trailer and we have really started to slow down and enjoy our meals.
So in 2018 we really invested in our technique and our tools. I spent a lot of time learning about campfire cooking and thoroughly scoured Pinterest for the best recipes. If my scale is any indicator, I would say our efforts were a total success!
Initially, much of our cooking gear in the trailer was transferred straight from our tenting equipment. In the first year we supplemented with a few things from the house. In 2018, we added specialty equipment:
Cast iron cookware – We started with a Dutch oven and grabbed the skillet I never use at home. Frankly, I like to throw everything in the dishwasher at home. In the trailer, I have to hand wash everything anyway so the cast iron isn’t much more effort. So far, we have done ribs, a roast, buttermilk chicken, potatoes and a few desserts in the Dutch oven. Our consensus is that we prefer the baked goods in the Dutch oven. The meats don’t get enough of the smoky flavor we like.
Cooking grate – Some brave souls may rely on the grate attached to the fire ring. Our experience is those are often old, rusty, dirty, and frequently have slats spaced so far apart to make cooking things like vegetables and sausages nearly impossible. This grate can lie on top of most fire rings and allows for better control. Our favorite campfire meal is simple bbq chicken thighs.
Chimney and natural hardwood charcoal – This is a great shortcut that allows us to start cooking soon after we get back to camp. Campfire coals can take hours to get to cooking temps, but charcoal can be ready in about 30 minutes. Be sure to get good, natural hardwood charcoal – not just standard quick-light grocery store charcoal. Our favorite brand so far is
Campfire forks – Critical for hot dogs and Joe Steak.
Our favorite things to cooks tend to be comfort food adjacent – classic favorites with a new twist mixed with the best of various ethnic cuisines. While we often adapt recipes to our tastes, time, and ingredients on hand, there have been three resources that we have come back to again and again for inspiration. This is where we start our meal planning for most of our trips out.
FreshOffTheGrid.com – This website features a couple “documenting their attempts to make healthy, nutritious meals under the constraints of a camping environment.” Sounds about perfect, right? We have particularly enjoyed:
Camp Stove Chilaquiles – Chilaquiles are a favorite brunch item at our local Mexican place. Using canned “duck sauce” and store-bought crispy tortillas make this a fairly easy breakfast. Warning: el Pato sauce has quite a bit of heat!
Sunset The Great Outdoors Cookbook – Sunset Magazine is outdoor living porn from before Instagram. I would subscribe to the magazine, but I am too bitter that all of those lovely places are days of driving away from me. The cookbook brings together some of the best recipes and adds a few new ones, as well as provides excellent tips and techniques for those new to outdoor cooking. (I will one day build that pizza oven!)
Many of the recipes in the book can be found online, but I am old-fashioned in my love of tabbing pages. A few favorites:
Dutch Oven-Baked Buttermilk Chicken with Kale and Apple Slaw
Tin Foil Seafood Boil
Bacon-Wrapped Potatoes with Blue Cheese
Sweet Potato, Apple, and Pancetta Hash
Bonus Recipe – If you are a fan of enchiladas, I highly recommend checking out Kent Rollins. His enchilada sauce would be delicious straight out of a bowl. We make a big batch and freeze the extra to use in many different combinations of meats and tortillas.
The Dog Slaughter Falls trail consistently ranks among the top trails in Kentucky. On our last trip to Cumberland Falls, we tried to reach Dog Slaughter from the Visitors Center – about 5 miles each way. The mid-June 90º weather was not on our side and we gave up about halfway in favor of the watermelon in the cooler and a trip to the pool.
This time, we approached from Forest Service Road 195, a thoroughly rutted and pot-holed dirt road off of KY-90. The first trailhead is .8 miles down the road, but I strongly suggest continuing another 2 miles to the second trailhead. From there, the falls are a little under 1.5 miles. Continue reading “Dog Slaughter Falls”→
Cumberland Falls bills itself as the “Niagara of the South” and the falls are certainly impressive – 65 feet high and 125 feet wide. It is also known as one of only two places in the world to view a moonbow. On a clear night, around the time of the full moon, a faint glow can be seen in the mist at the foot of the falls. Of course the attraction draws quite a crowd in the summer. On our first trip to the region, we were wedged into a tiny tent site in the campground and watched the moonbow with hoards of others. But this fall weekend we got to enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere. Continue reading “Cumberland Falls State Park”→
No need to let a weekend work event cramp our camping style! East Fork is right outside the metro Cincinnati area and has more than 400 sites.
Though the calendar says October, the heat was peak of summer – nearly 90º. So we prioritized a shady site. Unfortunately, one of the few shady sites left, 136, was also very awkward. There wasn’t much sitting space around the parking pad – the fire ring and picnic table were both nearly on the road. Continue reading “East Fork Lake State Park”→
Tar Hollow is a place I remember visiting back in our tenting days. We liked the hiking but were surprised by the lack of flush toilets, given the presence of showers. Sadly, the pit toilets were sufficiently unpleasant to deter us from returning. Now that we travel with our own bathroom facilities, we decided it was time to give Tar Hollow a second chance. Continue reading “Tar Hollow State Park”→
Some of the flowers we encountered at Lake Vesuvius over Labor Day weekend. I normally think of late August/early September as too late for flowers, but this weekend was one of the most spectacular we have ever seen outside spring.