Monday, November 22, 2010

Back to Basics: Cooking Outdoors

© 2010 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
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Back to Basics With the Chronicles:
Camp Cooking

Using a camp stove is a great and very convenient way to prepare a good meal while out in the field. But it can be just as easy and in some ways simpler to use methods and techniques that our pioneer parents used. Whether on a skewer, directly on the coals or a stone, in a pot, or using a Dutch oven, you can prepare just as delicious a meal as if you were at home.

Besides the obvious need for food, condiments, and maybe a small set of pots or pans, you really need to have a good idea of how to build and maintain a good fire with a solid, deep, bed of coals. Use good seasoned hardwoods, and have plenty of it available for the whole of the cooking operation. You certainly do not want to be half way throughyour cooking and find yourself short of firewood.

Another option is to stock up on lump charcoal. Pressed charcoal is a possibility, but... I don't know, it seems a little unnatural to me. Having said that, I've used the large size pressed charcoal to good effect when I couldn't get any lump. Anyway, you can also use hickory, mesquite, or fruitwood chips to add a subtle undertone to your food's taste.

You should know know the basics by now, but for some of our new readers, especially our new friends from the urban areas of our great and wonderful United States, I am going to go over the steps of building a good hardwood fire.

Boy Scouts will tell you, you need tinder, kindling, and fuel. Tinder as defined by Wikipedia is "easily combustible material used to ignite fires by rudimentary methods. A small fire consisting of tinder is then used to ignite kindling." Tinder may consist of paper, wood shavings, pine needles, dry weeds, and pretty much anything else that will catch a spark or flame and light up. After that, it is just a matter of carefully feeding it progressively larger pieces of wood until you have a good bed of coals built up. Start with thin twigs or slivers of wood no larger than a match stick, and as they catch add pencil thick pieces. As they catch and become small coals, continue to add wood in larger sizes and proportions until your wrist sized hunks of wood are lit and turning into coals.

Once you've got a good fire going, your whole family can become cooks in their own right by using a stick! The simplest method, short of just throwing your food in the fire, is cooking on a stick. Quite frankly, it's probably my favorite technique.

Children in particular seem to enjoy it as much if not more than the adults, as they are participants in cooking their own food. Be forewarned, if they are anything like I was when I was young, you will have many items in the fire, flaming brands, and the occasional burnt tongue.

It doesn't hurt to come prepared with some pre-cut branches, or home made skewers. You can even purchase some dowels, drill a hole in the end, and stick a long, heavy wire in the hole to act as a skewer. I have also seen extendable skewers in the BBQ section of the big box stores. Squirrel cookers are an excellent addition to your outdoor cutlery and equipment:. You can get hand forged ones for less than $20.00!

Photo Credit: Shea's Mountain
Hand Forged Squirrel Cooker

(I've had several inquiries about the squirrel cooker. I didn't make this particular one, but if you would like one please go to Shea's Mountain and see their Hand Forged Squirrel Cooker $19.99. Rev, the owner of Shea's Mountain is an accomplished Horner, member of the Honorable Company of Horners, and the Moderator of The Horner's Bench.

If you prepare your meat and vegetables ahead of time, you can skewer up shish-kebobs very quickly. I would suggest that you cook the meat seperately from the vegetable, that way you can have hot crisp vegetables and meat done to your liking. Otherwise the veggies will be overcooked while you wait for the meat to be done.

Of course, there is always the classic hotdog. Nothing beats a well cooked hotdog on a skewer. But don't stop there; try cooking Brats, Italian and Polish sausages, or Kielbasa on a stick! You will be amazed at the wonderful aromas as the grease drips into the fire, and the wonderful smokiness of the flame broiled delights.

You can make fresh bread by taking dough and spiraling it down the skewer and back up again. place it over the fire, and turn it frequently.

You can also cook in the fire too. Double wrap husked corn with a pat of butter in aluminum foil, or poke holes in a big baking potato with a fork, and wrap it too. Even fruit, apples and pears in particular, can be cooked in the same fashion; all it takes is about fifteen to twenty minutes and they're done. If you can imagine it, you can probably cook it in the coals!

One of the methods that I like to use, especially with bigger cuts of meat, is to wrap the meat in foil, then a thick layer of wet newspaper. Let em explain more fully.

Let's say you've taken down a large hog, and you would like to cook a whole leg roast for a party. Yu can use this with chicken, turkey, ham, or wild game by the way.  Prepare the cut in any fashion that pleases you. I prefer to stab it and stuff it with garlic. Now salt it well with coarse salt. Here are a couple of preparation options. Lay out several sheets of aluminum foil that are long enough to comfortably wrap around the roast, and fold and crimp with ease. Slice oranges and lemons, and place a layer of them on top the foil. Place your roast on the slices and continue to cover the roast with moe of the citrus slices. Carefully wrap the roast in the aluminum foil, leaving an opening on top. Use either white wine, or beer, and pour all 12 ounces onto the roast. Finish sealing the foil package.

It is very important to have set aside a good quantity of wood for this project. Dig a pit 12 inches wider than ou roast; set the dirt to one side on a tarp.  Start you fire in the pit, and pile on the wood. While you wait for it to burn down into coals, take your roast and wrap it in about a half an inch of newspaper. If you wet the newspaper, it makes it much easier, and helps to slow down the carbonization of the paper.

When there is a good bed of coals at least a three to four inches deep, carefully scrape out a depression in the coals, and place the roast on the coals. At the very top of the roast scrape at the wet paper until you get to the foil. Take a thumb thick piece of wood, sharpen it into a stake, and poke it through the exposed foil. Leave it standing there while you carefully and quickly, add fist sized chunks of wood to the fire untill your roast is well covered with dry, seasoned wood.

Layer several pieces of foil over the whole affair; two or three in one direction, and a couple of more ninety degrees to the first. Your wooden stake should be sticking straight up. Carefully cover your soon to be deliciously cooked roast with the soil you removed, starting on the edges, and working your way towards the center. Leave the top couple of inches uncovered, the stake standing proud.

Let it cook for about six hours, checking every couple of hours just to be sure nothing has gone awry. A big meat thermometer is pretty handy to make sure everything is cooked properly.

When it is time to uncover your masterpiece, carefully brush away the dirt, and just as carefully lift out the foil wrapped delight. Big thick gloves would be appropriate about now. Don't forget to dispose of the foil, and replace all the dirt. Leave everything as you found it!

Something that I am still learning to use is a Dutch oven.

Dutch oven cooking is a classic skill that is now becomeing more wide spread. A century ago, the majority of people knew how to use one and cook any number of dishes with it. With a Dutch oven and some new cooking skills, you can create delicious dishes: soups and stews come to mind, but you can bake bread, and desserts can also be made in these covered cook pot.

Dutch ovens have a flat bottom and three legs that hold the oven above the coals. The flanged lid is wide and flat, and is designed to hold coals. It also has a bail, makeing it easy to hang from a tripod over a fire.

You can avoid problems while cooking by keeping a eye on your oven, and by folowing a couple of easy rules of thumb. If you have a stream of steam escaping your Dutch oven, then you are probably just a little too hot. Adjust the temperature by removing some coals out from under the oven. Another great hint or technique, is to turn the oven ninety degrees every ten to fifteen minutes. Lift the lid slightly, and turn the oven; this way you avoid any hotspots that may scorch or burn your meal.

There are many assets on the internet that cover Dutch oven cooking. I have perused many of them, and find their advice indispensible. If I have a single complaint about Dutch Ovens, it is that they are too darn heavy to back pack in, unless you are with a large enough party that can divide the load. Otherwise you just can't warrant the use of one no matter how good it is!

With a little imagination and a good fire, there is no limits to the different and delicious ways you can prepare food out in the field.

Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch
Member:Shindand Tent Club
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...

Albert Rasch,HunterThough he spends most of his time writing and keeping the world safe for democracy, Albert was actually a student of biology. Really. But after a stint as a lab tech performing repetitious and mind-numbing processes that a trained capuchin monkey could do better, he never returned to the field. Rather he became a bartender. As he once said, "Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger." He has followed the science of QDM for many years, and fancies himself an aficionado. If you have any questions, or just want to get more information, reach him via TheRaschOutdoorChronicles(at)MSN(dot)com.


John G said...

I'm a dutch oven rookie of almost one year now, and I love it! It's hard to mess up a D.O. meal too badly, and my girlfriend loves that I do all the cooking when we're in the outdoors. Thanks for the camp cooking round-up.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

A handy reminder. Did you make that Squirrel cooker yourself? Nice bit of kit.

Bob S said...

You young fellows need to learn how to use a dutch oven. With the way things are going now,you just might be the only ones that can cook a meal outdoors!

I remember my mother cooking in one well into the fifties.

Best to you!
Big Bob