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Campfire Cooking: Be a Great Chef in the Great Outdoors

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It might not be glamping, but eight of Connecticut’s state parks and forests have rustic cabins for rent that will put you right in the middle of some of the state’s most beautiful natural settings. 

Unless you’re a really dedicated cook, you probably won’t bring your 20-piece knife set, double oven, waffle iron and all your other home kitchen toys on your camping trip. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make campfire dishes that taste like home-cooked meals.

Keep it simple

Stick with grilled meats, one-pan casseroles, tacos, anything you can put in a foil packet and stuff in the coals. If you’ve cooked it at home and it required a ton of pans, it’s probably not going to work when you’re in the wild. Camping cookbooks are useful.

Bring the right equipment

You can splurge for a camp stove, most of which use gas or liquid fuel. Or opt for cast iron. A big sauté pan is useful, and Dutch ovens are the stuff of dreams. And if your campsite doesn’t come with a grate over the fire (most do), you’ll need a portable grate or a tripod setup as well. Don’t forget: a knife, a can opener, paper towels, and something nonplastic to stir with. And the latest coolers allow campers to bring more fresh fruits, vegetables and meats without fear they will spoil in a day or two.

Stock camping-specific materials

Keep tiny versions of salt, pepper and olive oil in your pantry. Having a dedicated set makes getting out the door faster, and you can even store them with the rest of your camping gear so you don’t forget. Premix other spices for your recipes and store them in Tic Tac containers.

Prep correctly

Anything you have to chop or measure should be chopped, measured and combined in advance. Put pre-chopped early/mid/late ingredients in separate containers so you can just toss them into the pan at the correct times. Bring premeasured batches of wet and dry ingredients (e.g., for cornbread) and mix them together right before you bake. Ideal containers are Ball jars, which can double as glasses once empty, or small plastic storage containers that can double as bowls (use the lids as cutting boards, in a pinch).

Build a good fire

Start by building a solid tipi-style fire that extends partway (but not all the way!) under your grate, so you have multiple heat zones. Wait until a few big logs catch and you’re not worried about it fizzling out.

Clean the pan

Wipe the pan out as much as possible, fill with water, and boil over the fire. Dump the water (carefully) and rub with oil and salt.

Keep bears away

If you’re camping in an area known to have bears, be extra cautious when preparing and cleaning up food.

DO use bear-resistant food storage boxes. If boxes are not available, store food in a vehicle.

DO cook and eat 100 yards away from your campsite.

DO wash utensils immediately.

DO pack out all garbage and food scraps and keep in airtight bags and containers. Don’t bury garbage.

DON’T bring aromatic foods such as bacon or fish that will attract bears.

DON’T sleep in clothes you were wearing while cooking.

NEVER bring food into your tent.

This article appeared in the May 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale here. Got a question or comment? Email, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.