We asked Alton Brown to share a few essential tips for cooking on an open fire. He agreed. Prepare thine ears as Alton Brown bestows his Campfire Cooking Commandments upon ye!
That’s because a hardwood fire that’s about half-burned down puts out more even heat, and since most of the volatile substances have had a chance to burn off, it’s a cleaner heat as well.
That’s because you can make just about anything out of it. And in the campfire environment, that goes triple. Hobo packs, cooking utensils, wind blocks — the uses are limitless, and without it, you’re pretty much, well…screwed.
That’s because it burns hotter and cleaner than other charcoals, and the uneven pieces actually create a more even heat over the life of the fire as smaller pieces burn quickly, and large ones more slowly.
I always keep an old, metal bowl around to “cloche” items I’m grilling (that is, cover them to trap in heat). You don’t need to cover the entire grill area, just the food and a few inches around it. This is especially useful for roasting larger or irregular pieces of meat that need to cook off direct heat. I also use it for eggplant and squash — oh, and sweet potatoes.
Because nothing is better for handling foods in, on, and around the fire.
After cooking on the fire, give meats such as steaks and chops a rest by wrapping them loosely in foil (see above) and placing them on a rock just outside the fire. Even a mere three-minute rest can make a heap of difference.
Sure, you can bring fancy grates and grills, but as long as you blow or fan off most of the ash, most meats (and whole fish) can cook right on the coals.
Let’s face it: Cleaning up at a campsite can be a pain. That’s why, before I leave home, I wet a bunch of paper towels with a 10-percent bleach solution (the rest being water) and place them in a big freezer-style zip-top bag. I use these to wipe up where I can’t necessarily wash up.
Whether you’re flame roasting hot dogs, or marshmallows for s’mores, or the little brook trout you just caught with your fly rig, look for a stick that forks at the end — it will always provide more stability and reliability than one that doesn’t. Oh! And make sure you whittle off the bark first — you don’t know where it’s been.
Fires that look like they’ve died are often smoldering away under the surface of ash. All it takes is a bit of wind or a few falling leaves, and suddenly you’ve got the very kind of forest fire Smokey Bear has always been warning us about. I always camp with a small entrenchment tool or folding camp shovel which I use to cover the burn zone with dirt. I tamp it down, then I add more dirt and tamp it again. If you’re not going to be able to responsibly put out a fire, don’t light one to begin with.