Campfire cooking celebrates frontier food prepared without fancy utensils or cookware. A simple stick is usually enough to secure the ingredients, which can range from grilling classics to quirky innovations.
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Roasting marshmallows over the embers is such an integral part of camping that the U.S. celebrates National Roasted Marshmallow Day on Aug. 30. The USDA even weighs in on the correct procedure, recommending a long roasting stick, at least 30 inches long, for the task. Perch it over the embers like a fishing rod and in just a few minutes the outside of the marshmallow will be crispy and the inside gooey.
The idea of sandwiching marshmallow between graham crackers with a sliver of chocolate dates back to the 1927 Girl Guides handbook. So-called s’mores are the ideal sweet finishing touch to a campfire dinner. Similarly toothsome are pineapple chunks sprinkled with powdered sugar, skewered on a stick. Over the heat, the pineapple loses its acidity and caramelizes.
As a general rule, if it can go on the grill, it can be roasted over the campfire. Heavy, cumbersome cuts such as steak, however, need to be cut down into smaller strips, and impenetrable pieces such as ribs need to be secured between a butterfly rack.
Hot dogs, though, are hard to get wrong. The simplest method is to impale the wiener along its length with a skewer, but for an amusing flourish, score an "x" in either end with a knife and cut back a third of the way. As the hot dog cooks, it will curl into the shape of a spider. Open roasting creates a pleasantly charred skin, but watch out for fat and juice dripping onto the coals.
Chicken kabobs can be prepared in advance, providing they are stored in a cooler in a sealed container. Load up a skewer with sliced breast meat, peppers, onions, mushrooms and zucchini, then marinate in soy sauce, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Don’t pack the skewer too tight, though, or you risk concealing spots of raw meat. If brushing with any sauce, hold off until the chicken is ready to come off the grill because the sugars have a tendency to cause flare-ups.
Strips of streaky bacon prove to be just as at home on a stick as in a skillet. Wrap them round the skewer and secure with a cocktail stick, then twirl them slowly over the embers until the meat crisps. For so-called Gypsy bacon, cut thick cubes of slab bacon with the rind still on, about an inch thick. Over the heat, the fat will slowly render. Once crisp, slide them off the skewer and dust with paprika.
The ability to cook bread wrapped around a stick was once the making of a Boy Scout. So-called bannock bread uses a conventional dough mix that can be prepared in advance. Twist the dough round a suitably thick stick and hold it over the fire for roughly 10 minutes until it swells. Cooking over hot embers gives a steadier heat than holding the twists over flames.
Wrap vegetables such as sweet peppers, potatoes and garlic in aluminum foil, dressed with olive oil, seasoning and herbs. While the meat cooks, the vegetable packets will quietly steam among the embers. Corn kernels, on the other hand, can be cooked in the husk, but should be soaked first for an hour or two in water.