Basic Outdoor Cooking Methods

You can cook a variety of foods without heat. What you end up with is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips, carrots, donuts from the local grocery store, a pack of cheese crackers... you get the idea. With a little heat, and some imagination, you can cook anything your cooler or backpack can hold.

Cook stoves will be the first cooking method discussed, followed by tin can cooking, charcoal heat and wood fires.

There are many types of cook stoves on the market. The type you use depends on how much space you have in your backpack or supply carrier. If backpacking, an excellent choice is a lightweight butane one burner backpack stove. The butane container is disposable and lightweight. The stove itself usually weighs no more than 2 pounds. Remember, if using a one burner stove, select small cooking pots and pans which allow air to flow around the stove thus avoiding heat buildup.

Caution: Butane is highly flammable. Be sure the fuel container is completely empty before changing cartridges while cooking.

White gas and propane two burner stoves are a popular choice of car campers because the fuel for these stoves tends to be heavy. White gasoline and propane are the most commonly used fuels for outdoor stoves. Gas stoves generally produce a hotter cook surface than the other types of fuel.

Kerosene stoves need to be pumped and primed before using. The kerosene fuel for these stoves is usually inexpensive, but oily and sometimes messy. It is fairly safe and doesn't explode easily. Once ignited, it proves to be one of the most efficient fuel burners.

Caution should be taken when using any type of fuel. Do not operate the stove or store fuel containers around another heat source such as a campfire. Operate the stoves in an open, well ventilated area. Never use the stove in a tent or confined area.

Cooking on a tin can stove (also known as Vagabond Stove) can be fun and challenging. It can be used to boil water, fry hamburgers or bacon, toast bread or bake small items. Start with a one gallon (#10) can. Remove one end from the can. Use a pair of tin snips to cut a door 3 inches high and 4 inches wide on one side of the can at the open end. Leave the top of the door attached to use as a control vent. Pull the door open when cooking. Punch 4 holes with a punch-type can opener in the side of the can near the top, opposite the door. Punch a small hole in each side of the can near the top and attach a wire hanger handle to aid in removing the can from the heat source. Two heat sources can be used with the tin can stove, a buddy burner or wood fire. To make a buddy burner you need a tuna can, rolled corrugated cardboard and paraffin wax. Remove the tuna can lid and attach a wire hanger long enough to be used as a handle. This will be the damper to control the heat of the burner. Cut and roll the cardboard so it fits in the tuna can. Roll it tight. Pour melted wax over the cardboard. Place the one gallon can over the lit buddy burner. Control the heat with the lid damper. This type of heat will last 1 1/2 - 2 hours.

Charcoal is the easiest method of outdoor cooking. Many campers now use charcoal instead of wood because of strict regulations against open fires in many parks and recreation areas. Charcoal is a good fuel for grilling, dutch oven cooking, stick cooking, or foil packs to name a few. To shorten the heating time, pile the briquets in a #10 can that has both ends cut out and holes punched with a can opener every 2 inches around the lower edge. Place a sheet or two of crumbled newspaper in the bottom of the can. Place the briquets on top of the newspaper. Lift the can and light the paper. Tilt the can so a draft is created in the bottom. Remove the can after the coals are hot and spread the briquets out for a larger cooking surface. This method takes 30 - 40 minutes to become hot. Normal time is 40 - 50 minutes. Word of caution: Never use in an enclosed area. Always make sure the coals are no longer glowing. Sprinkle a small amount of water on the briquets, and stir until completely cold. Another extinguishing method is to place the coals in a can and cover with foil so that no oxygen can get in. Heavy duty foil placed under the unlit briquets makes for easy cleanup later.

Wood fires can be a great source of heat and cooking for campers if used properly. Start by gathering wood that is already on the ground. Do not cut a fresh tree for a wood fire. You will need three types of wood: tinder, kindling and fuel. Tinder is small twigs, dry grass, dry leaves, dry pine needles and bark. Kindling is usually a little larger than tinder and no larger than two inches in diameter. Fuel should be larger than kindling to the size of logs. Once you have gathered your wood, start the fire in a fire ring (usually surrounded by small rocks) or protected area. Loosely pile the tinder in the middle of the ring and ignite. Once this catches, add a little more. Slowly add the kindling. When your fire is off to a good start, add the fuel, one log at a time, being careful not to extinguish the fire by cutting off the oxygen to the flames. If you choose to use a wood fire as your cooking method, build in a fire ring or area cleared of debris, tree roots and dry grass. Never leave the fire unattended. Build a fire only as big as you need. When ready to extinguish a fire, break up the ashes and scatter them out to cool. Dampen with water and stir with a stick. Continue this process until the ashes are cold to the touch. Place your cold ashes in a double garbage bag and take with you when you leave the campsite unless the camp is equipped with garbage cans.

Types of Equipment

Types of Equipment for our discussion will cover the basics needed to cook outdoors. Equipment could possibly include everything from a basic water bucket to an elaborate swiss army knife.

If you need more information than what is provided here, visit a local sporting goods store or outdoor center. They have a wide variety of camping equipment and could help you choose what is best for your type of trip.
The first piece of equipment every campsite needs is a water bucket. If you are outdoors and have any type of fire, this is invaluable. Fill it with water and keep near your fire. If your fire source is wood or charcoal, you will also need a rake or stong stick for stirring the coals down. The rake or stick also helps to smother the fire with dirt if it gets out of control. A small saw or ax helps to cut wood too large for the fire. Fireproof oven mitts are also a necessary part of camp cooking. Don't leave home without them.

Always take soap with you. Of course you can clean up with it, but it is also useful for protecting your pans from smoke and fire damage. Before you place your meal items in your cooking utensils, completely soap the outside with liquid soap or soap lather. The black residue will wash off a lot easier using this pre-cooking method. Of course you know not to soap the inside, right?

Pots and pans can be anything. It is always best to leave your best cooking equipment at home, just in case the soap thing fails to work. Take pots and pans that fit your stove. Too big will cause too much heat to build up around the stove. Make sure the utensil is fireproof. That would more specifically relate to the handles on the pot or pan. Cookie sheets make great griddles, but keep a safe distance from your heat source so that you have a more even heat distribution and remember the air circulation factor.

A dutch oven is a good choice for car campers. The oven set shown at the left was provided courtesy of Kamper's Kettle Dutch Oven Supply. You can cook, bake, fry or stew in the dutch oven. Most people generally use the dutch oven over a wood fire or charcoal. Even if you use a wood fire as a base, most recipes still call for hot charcoal briquets to be placed on top of the oven lid to create even heat distribution. Your meal will cook faster, too. If you line the oven with foil before baking, cleanup will be faster. You may also want to use foil on top of the oven lid before placing the hot charcoal briquets on top.

A nice piece of equipment, although not necessary, is a foldout grill with legs that fits over your wood or charcoal fire. This gets food or pots directly off the fire.

Tin cans may be used for cooking. Layer your meal such as hamburger or chicken, vegetables, and seasoning in the can, meat first. Cover with heavy-duty foil, place on your heat source and forget it until it is done. Usually this method takes about 30 - 45 minutes to cook, but check before eating. The temperature of your heat source will alter the cooking time.

Along the same lines of tin can cooking is foil cooking. Start with a square of heavy duty aluminum foil. Layer your meal the same way as with the tin can; meat, potatoes, corn on the cob, cabbage, seasoning - the list of possibilities is endless. A small amount of any type of cream of something soup poured over the top before cooking makes a nice gravy. Once you have all the ingredients for your meal, securely wrap the package with the ends folded or rolled up. This helps when it is time to flip the package which is placed over hot coals to cook. Turn every 5 minutes for even cooking. Cook 15 minutes per side.

Outdoor Cooking Guide

Chicken and Rice

2 - 5 oz. cans of chunk white chicken
(or one small precooked deboned chicken)
2 cans of chicken broth
2 cups of uncooked rice
2 cups of water
2 Tbs. margarine
Mix together the rice, chicken broth and water in a large pot. Heat to boiling. Cook 5 minutes. Reduce the heat and cook another 15 minutes until water is absorbed. Add the chicken and margarine and heat through.

Scout Stew

1 pound of ground beef
1 small chopped onion
2 cans of ABC vegetable soup
Brown the ground beef and onion. Drain the grease. Add the vegetable soup and enough water to make a stew consistency. Cook until liquid boils.

Hamburger on a Stick

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 egg
1/4 cup bread crumbs
Mix the ground beef, egg and bread crumbs together. Take a small amount of the mixture and wrap it around the end of a long stick that has been cleaned. This works best if the meat is about the size of a regular hot dog. Roast over the fire until the meat is done. Serve on a hot dog bun.

Grilled Turkey Italian Sausage Subs

1 pound turkey Italian sausage links
1 sliced green bell pepper
1 sliced red bell pepper
1 sliced large sweet onion
1 Tbs. olive oil or vegetable oil
8 - 4 inch long Italian rolls
Cook the green peppers, red peppers, onions and sausages in oil in a heavy skillet over a campfire grill rack or propane stove until vegetables are soft and the sausage is brown on all sides. Serve on Italian rolls.

Personal Pizzas

1 package of 10 refrigerated biscuits (or English muffins)
1 8-ounce can pizza sauce
1 4-ounce package shredded mozzarella cheese
Additional toppings of choice
Plain flour and foil or small pan
Roll out or press each biscuit into a 4 inch circle. Use a little flour if dough is sticky. Put in pan or on individual pieces of foil. Spread 1 1/2 tablespoons of pizza sauce evenly over each biscuit. Sprinkle each with 1 1/2 tablespoons of cheese and topping of choice. Bake in a reflector oven until bottom is brown and cheese melts. If cooking on a grill, cook biscuit rounds 8 minutes on one side, turn over. Add sauce, cheese, and toppings. Cook 12 - 15 minutes longer until edges are brown.

Sloppy Joe Biscuit Bake

1 large onion
2 pounds ground beef
2 pkgs. Sloppy Joe seasoning mix
2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
2 cups water
1 16-ounce package refrigerator biscuits
Brown the onion and ground beef in a Dutch oven. Drain grease. Add seasoning mix, tomato paste and water. Bring to a boil. Place biscuits on top of mixture. Bake 15-20 minutes.

Foil Dinner Meatballs

1 package of frozen meatballs (thawed)
2 cans of sliced potatoes
2 cans Cream of Chicken or Celery soup
Place several meatballs on a square of heavy duty foil. Add several potato slices and enough soup to cover. Fold and seal foil packet well and place on hot campfire coals. Cook 10 minutes, then turn and cook on the other side for an additional 10 minutes.

Hobo Dinner-in-a-Can

1 lb. ground beef
4 tomatoes (sliced)
1 - 17 oz. can whole kernel corn or green beans(drained)
Salt, Pepper and Margarine to taste
1 cup Bisquick baking mix
1/3 cup milk
Divide meat into 4 patties. Place meat patty in each of 4 lightly greased 1-pound coffee cans. Top each patty with 3 tomato slices, 1/4 of the corn, salt, pepper and dot of margarine. Cover each tightly with heavy-duty foil. Place cans 3 - 4 inches from hot coals. Cook 20-30 minutes. Stir baking mix and milk to a soft dough. Drop dough by spoonfuls into each can. Cook uncovered 10 minutes, cover, cook 10 minutes longer.

Potato Casserole

1 pkg. Hash browns or Potatoes O'Brien
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of potato soup
1 small carton sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients and place in a foil lined dutch oven. Place 10-12 hot charcoal briquets on top of lid. Cook over coals for 1 hour.

Grilled Potato Chips

2 large Idaho baking potatoes (about 1 pound)
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 2 tsps. Malt Vinegar
Oil the foil with nonstick vegetable spray away from the fire. Place foil on a grill rack over medium hot coals. Cut the unpeeled potatoes into lengthwise slices slightly less than 1/4 inch thick. Rub with oil. Grill the potato slices, turning occasionally, until rich golden brown and tender on the inside (10-13 minutes). Sprinkle with salt, pepper and vinegar. Serve warm.

Grilled Corn in the Husk

4 ears of fresh corn on the cob
2 teaspoons fresh herbs of choice
Salt and pepper to taste
Pull the husks back from the corn but do not detach. Discard the silk. Return the husks to original position. Soak corn in water 30 minutes. Wrap in foil and place in hot coals, turning occasionally, 20 minutes until tender. Discard the husks, spread with margarine, sprinkle with herbs, salt and pepper.

Quesadillas on the Grill

1 package of flour tortillas
1 - 8 ounce package grated Mexican cheese
Lettuce, tomatoes, salsa
Grill one tortilla on foil covered rack until lightly brown around the edges. Remove from heat and save for top of quesadilla. Place an uncooked tortilla on foil square. Add cheese to cover. Top with precooked tortilla. Return to grill and cook until cheese starts to melt. Serve with lettuce, tomatoes and salsa.

Breakfast Burritos

1 pound sausage browned over open fire
8 - 10 eggs beaten
1 pkg. Grated cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Flour tortillas
Brown tortillas in margarine in skillet. Remove. Add seasonings to eggs. Pour into skillet, cook one side, turn over, sprinkle with grated cheese. When cheese melts, place on tortillas and roll up into burrito.

Sausage Biscuits

1 pound sausage
10 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups Bisquick
1/2 cup water
Crumble sausage and cook until brown. Drain. Cool. Mix sausage, cheese and Bisquick. Add 1/2 cup water. Form into biscuit shape. Grease dutch oven. Place biscuits in dutch oven and cover with a lid. Place over medium hot coals and place additional hot coals on lid of oven. Bake 20 minutes.

Wild Blueberry Pancakes

2 cups Bisquick baking mix
2 Tbs. Sugar
1 egg
1 1/3 cups milk
1 cup blueberries (fresh, frozen or canned)
Beat baking mix, sugar, egg, and milk until smooth. Fold in blueberries. Pour batter by spoonfuls onto lightly greased hot skillet (or on top of greased Vagabond stove). Bake until bubbles appear. Flip and bake the other side until golden brown.

Biscuit Twists

Canned Biscuits or bread dough
Mold the canned biscuit or bread dough into a ribbon about two inches wide and a thick as your little finger. Use a stick about three inches thick. Peel the bark off one end. Wrap the dough around the stick and pinch together at each end to prevent it from unwinding. Toast it over hot coals. When done, bread will slip off stick easily. Butter the inside, put jam in the middle or eat plain.

Camp Trail Corn Bread

1 1/4 cups Bisquick baking mix
3/4 cup cornmeal
2 Tbs. Sugar
1 egg
2/3 cup cold water
Mix all ingredients vigorously 1/2 minute. Pour batter into hot greased 8x8x2 inch square pan. Bake in a hot reflector oven 15 minutes, turn pan and bake 10 - 15 minutes longer or until golden brown. 6-8 servings.

Monkey Bread

4 - 10 count cans biscuits
1 cup sugar
1 Tbs. Cinnamon
1 stick margarine
Cut each biscuit into four pieces. Roll in cinnamon-sugar. Place in greased dutch oven. Melt margarine and stir in remaining cinnamon-sugar. Pour over biscuits. Place lid on dutch oven. Place 10-12 hot charcoal briquets on lid. Cook on hot coals for 20 minutes.

Walking Salad

One apple
Peanut Butter
Chocolate Bits
Remove the core from the apple. Stuff with peanut butter and any of the ingredients listed above. Wrap in plastic wrap or ziploc bag. Makes a great hiking snack.

Baked Apples

Filling 1 - 1 package of cinnamon red hots
Filling 2 - Brown sugar, marshmallows
Filling 3 - Brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, nuts or raisins
Core the center of the apples. Peel each apple about 1/3 down. Place one of the fillings of your choice in the center. Place each apple on a square of foil. Bring the foil up around the sides of the apple and twist the top. Cook slowly for 45 - 60 minutes (until tender).

Peach Mallows

Canned peach halves
Large marshmallows
Drain the peach halves. Place peach half cut side up on a piece of foil large enough to wrap around the peach. Put one large marshmallow in the peach and sprinkle with cinnamon. Wrap the foil around the peach. Warm over coals until marshmallow is melted approximately 5 - 10 minutes.


2 Graham Crackers
1 Chocolate Bar
4 Large Marshmallows
Optional - Peanut Butter
Toast the marshmallow over the campfire until lightly toasted. Place half of the chocolate bar on one half of the graham cracker. Top with melted marshmallow and other graham cracker half. For variation, spread peanut butter on the cracker before adding other ingredients. If less chocolate is desired, stuff marshmallow before cooking with milk chocolate bits in place of the chocolate bar. Makes 2.

Banana Boats

4 Bananas
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup miniature marshmallows
Optional - 1 teaspoon Peanut Butter
Cut a slit in the top of the banana from one end to the other being careful not to cut through the bottom skin. Spread the banana sections apart slightly and fill with chocolate chips, marshmallows and peanut butter. Wrap tightly in heavy duty foil. Heat 5 minutes over hot coals until the chocolate and marshmallows are melted.

Ice Cream in a Can

2 - 1 pound coffee cans
2 - 3 pound coffee cans
Crushed Ice
Rock Salt
Duct Tape
1 package Junket ice cream mix
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/4 c. Whole milk (or chocolate milk)
Mix Junket, whipping cream and milk. Place 2 cups of mixture in each 1 pound can. Secure with duct tape around the lid to seal, and over top to hold in place. This prevents salt from getting into the ice cream. Place the 1 pound can into the 3 pound can. Surround the 1 pound can with crushed ice. Pour 3/4 cup of rock salt over the ice. Seal the 3 pound can in the same manner as the 1 pound can. Roll the can back and forth continually for about 10 - 15 minutes. Remove the 1 pound can. Dry the outside of the can. Remove the lid and scrape the ice cream off the sides of the can with a butter knife. Yields 1 quart.