How to Cook Delicious Meals in the Middle of the Woods
We talked to campfire cooking pros Derek Wolf and Devin Vermeulen about what you'll need to take your campsite meals to the next level.
Sure, stoves are great but have you ever tried cooking over an open flame? It might sound intimidating—fire is hot!—but according to campfire cooking expert Derek Wolf, it’s totally doable and actually pretty wonderful. “I love fire because when I get to cook over it, there is a moment where you almost feel like you are in tune with it just a little bit,” says Wolf. And of course, grilled food with its smoke-infused flavor is delicious.
Devin Vermeulen, vice president of experience design of mini cabin company Getaway, also loves to cook on the campfire. When Vermeulen cooks over the fire, he prefers to keep things simple, typically opting for sliders made with King’s Hawaiian rolls.
You technically don’t need anything but good wood or charcoal and an all natural fire starter to cook over fire. There are several products that certainly make it easier, though, and accentuate different flavor profiles, says Wolf. Whether you’re traveling by car, RV, or want to cook while on the trails, it’s good to be thoughtful about which tools you want to share your precious space with.
With camping season on the horizon, you may want to try your hand at cooking up something more interesting than hot dogs and s’mores. To help you feel more comfortable cooking over fire, we asked Wolf and Vermeulen to share a few of their favorite products for doing it well.
Campfire Cooking Essentials
Campfire Cooking Essentials
For campers, the Breeo Outpost grill is hugely helpful. Measuring 24 inches and weighing about 14 pounds, the grill drives into the ground (grass, beach, dirt, you name it) and swivels over the fire. The height is also adjustable and the grill swings side to side making it easy to control how much heat your food gets. If you want to smoke meats and veggies or boil a pot of water, you might also consider adding on the kettle hook which is compatible with the grill. Wolf loves that the Breeo is made of all stainless steel and says it’s a great entry point into campfire grilling.
Forget grill gloves, Wolf is all about high heat resistant welding gloves when it comes to cooking over fire. “I can pick up a smoldering log and hold it for a couple of seconds and not feel anything,” he says. He notes that they aren’t made for food, though, so only use them for the fire and hot objects.
Vermeulen doesn’t keep too many utensils on hand when doing some campfire cooking, but he does like tongs. “I prefer tongs because there is far less chance of an errant movement or food item slipping into the fire to be lost forever,” he says. And these Kudu grilling tongs can take the heat.
Fish can be sticky and messy to clean up, even for veterans. To make cooking seafood easier, Wolf suggests a fish basket. This one by Weber measures 18 by 10.5 inches and can be used to cook whole fish as well as fillets. It also works well for other foods like bacon and veggies.
An internal thermometer is a must-have accessory when grilling. “It just helps to give you peace of mind as to whether your food is safe to eat or not. It also helps prevent over-cooking chicken or over-cooking steak,” says Wolf. Thermapen is beloved by pit masters and chefs for its quick reading time and incredible accuracy.
You might not want to lug a Dutch oven with you if your campsite requires quite a hike, but if you’re staying in a cabin, car camping, or even just playing around with fire cooking in the backyard, Vermeulen suggests that it’s good to have one on hand. If it’s chilly you can warm up with some “camp stew”: “The best thing about camp stew is it's a choose your own adventure option. You can add in your favorite veggies, and the like,” says Vermeulen.
If you’re going on an RV trip, and feel like splurging, Wolf suggests a Dometic cooler. It’s an electric plug-in cooler that essentially serves as a portable fridge and can even get cold enough to keep things frozen. It’s especially great if you’re bringing things like dairy and eggs. It’s also quite sizable (for reference, it can hold roughly 50 12-ounce cans).
If you don’t need all the flair of an electric cooler, then stick with Yeti. Beloved for its rugged durability, Yeti coolers are leakproof and easy to tote around. This cooler also excels at keeping ice frozen for long periods of time.
Cast iron skillets are the Little Black Dress of campfire cooking. They’re simple and classic, and anyone looks good using one. Wolf is partial to the brand Lodge which is manufactured near Nashville where he lives. “The hard thing is that you're going to have to season it yourself, but I always just joke, cook bacon in it for about two weeks straight every day, and you're going to have a straight up perfectly seasoned skillet,” says Wolf. Eight and 10-inch skillets are easy to pack for camping, and it doesn’t hurt to grab a cast iron melting pot to warm up sauces.
One of Vermeulen’s favorite campfire cooking accessories? Aluminum foil. Make an aluminum foil packet for easy cooking and cleanup.
Yeah, you’re camping and want to keep your packing list minimal but don’t forget the seasonings! This might sound like a no duh situation, but food tastes better when it’s properly seasoned and that holds true on the campfire, too. Wolf is a fan of Spiceology (he even has his own line of seasonings with them) and these infused salts are a great way to amp up the flavor.