It might not surprise y’all to know that Monica and I pull out all the stops when it comes to camp cooking. Rather than see camping as a need to pare down and go simple, we take it as a chance to eat well in some of the prettiest places you’ll ever visit. If you’re car camping, or talking hunting or fishing camp, you not only can bring what you want, you should. You’ll want some form of flat top of course; a big old cast iron skillet is perfect. And make sure you include your Dutch oven, it’s a must for great camp cooking.
Without a doubt, the most important meal of the day out there is breakfast; that’s where your fuel comes from for the fun to come later in the day. With the Dutch oven, baked eggs, quiche, frittatas, biscuits, cinnamon rolls, Dutch babies, and dang near anything else you like for breakfast is absolutely doable. Just do a bit of pre-prep at home, measuring and combining ingredients so that it’s a quick and easy job at the camp end of things. Here are a few tips to help you have a great outing.
Make some genuine camp coffee. Pull the guts out of a percolator, or just use a pan if you like. Do it up right, on the fire or in the coals if you’ve ’em; a Coleman or camp stove will work just fine if you’re camping in a no fire area. Here’s the scoop.
10 tablespoons coffee
10 cups cold water
5 empty eggshells
Tiny pinch of salt
Use a nice, dark roast, medium ground, (a bit rougher than you’d use for a drip at home.) Crush your eggs shells and throw everything into the perc or pot and cover it. Bring to a full boil, then move the pot to lower flame or coals and simmer, covered, for about 6 minutes. Remove pot from heat and Let stand, covered, until the grounds settle, about 2 minutes. Carefully pour off coffee, leaving the grounds and shells in the pot. Even Fannie Farmer herself used this method; try it, you’ll like it!
Knowing and regulating the cooking temperature for a Dutch oven is the real trick. First things first, decide whether you’re going to use charcoal or wood. Charcoal will give you the most consistent heat and control, so that’s what I prefer.
Use high quality hardwood briquettes and avoid the self lighting crap; it burns much hotter and doesn’t last as long as the good stuff. Good charcoal will provide at least an hour of cooking: For recipes that take longer than that, pull expended briquettes and replace them with fresh ones. Keep in mind that the Dutch oven is already hot, so you only need to replace a few briquettes at a time.
Here’s the general rule of thumb for heat regulation with a Lodge or GSI Dutch oven. Note that briquettes are applied to both the bottom and top. To achieve 325° F, take the size of the oven, then use that number of briquettes less three for the bottom and that number plus three for the top. So, with a 12″ oven, you place 9 briquettes on the bottom (12-3) and 15 briquettes on the top (12+3). Adding one set of briquettes (one on top and one on bottom) will raise the temperature of the Dutch Oven approximately 25 degrees, (Conversely, removing one set of briquettes will lower the temperature by 25 degrees). Here’s a handy little chart that’ll help a bunch.
That said, you do want to vary the ratio of briquette placement on the top and bottom of your oven, depending on what you’re cooking. Here are some guidelines.
* For simmering food, place 1/3 of the total briquettes on the lid and 2/3 under the oven.
* For baking bread, rolls, biscuits, cakes, pies, and rising cobblers, place 2/3 of the total briquettes on the lid and 1/3 underneath the oven.
* For roasting meats, poultry, casseroles, quiche, vegetables, and non-rising cobblers, use an even 50% on the lid and underneath the oven.
Heat placement around the Dutch oven is crucial to yield the best cooking results. Briquettes placed under the oven should be arranged in a circular pattern right under it and come to no less than 1/2″ from the outside edge of the oven. Briquettes placed on the lid should be spread out in an even checkerboard pattern. Avoid bunching briquettes; that’ll cause hot spots.
The Golden Rule of Dutch oven cooking is this; Go Easy With The Heat! You can always do things to get the oven hotter, but if you burn the food, it’s game over.
If you’re cooking over a camp fire, you can still use charcoal. Get the briquettes started in the coals of your fire and then cook with those. Again, it’s just a whole bunch easier to accurately regulate cooking with charcoal than it is with coals, unless you’re a real pro.
Keep in mind that environmental factors, (Air temperature, humidity, altitude, wind), all influence how much heat is generated by burning briquettes. Cool air temperatures, high altitudes, shade, and high humidity will decrease the amount of heat generated by briquettes. Hot air temperatures, low altitude, direct sunlight, and wind will increase the amount of heat generated by briquettes. In real windy conditions, briquettes will burn faster due to increased air flow, and they won’t last as long.
Last but not least for your oven, know how to clean and maintain it, and of you don’t, then trust the folks who make them to steer you right.
Here are a couple of our favorite recipes for you to try on your next outing.
6 large Eggs
2 Cups Milk
1/2 Cup Sour Cream
1 Cup shredded Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 Jalapeño Chile
2 Yukon Gold Potatoes
5-6 sprigs Cilantro
1 clove Garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground Pepper
At home, mix eggs, milk, sour cream, cheese, salt, and pepper, and blend well. Store refrigerated.
At camp, stem, seed, and core tomato and jalapeño, then fine dice.
Mince Cilantro and garlic.
Combine all ingredients. Add to a preheated Dutch oven. Follow the ratio for roasting, (50% – 50%), and cook for 45 minutes, then check dish. When eggs have risen about double height and the frittata is firm in the center, it’s good to go. Serve with salsa, more sour cream and toast.
Here’s a great French Toast Casserole, perfect for the first morning in camp. The initial prep can be done at home, then set up for breakfast the night before in camp.
1 Loaf Sourdough Bread
8 large Eggs
2 Cups 1/2 & 1/2
1 Cup Milk
2 Tablespoons Honey
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
Pinch of Sea Salt
In a mixing bowl at home, combine eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Whisk by hand until thoroughly blended. Store blend in a Tupperware container with an airtight lid.
In camp the night before breakfast, slice the Sourdough about 1″ thick. Arrange the slices, overlapped, in a large Tupperware container or bowl with a snap lid.
Pour the egg mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are evenly covered. Lift the slices and make sure the batter gets all around the bread. Keep in a cooler until morning.
On breakfast morning, carefully transfer the bread to a well buttered Dutch oven. Pour all the remaining batter in as well.
Follow the briquette ratio for baking, (1/3 on bottom, 2/3 on top), and bake for 45 minutes, until the casserole has puffed up and turned light golden brown. Serve with warm maple syrup and butter.