Camping is a favourite summer pastime for many of us. Let us help you go beyond roasting hotdogs and marshmallows over an open fire. Up your fireside game by following our how-to guide on cooking directly in the coals and try some great recipes to get you started – Happy camping!
Although movies and television often show people cooking over a blazing fire, this is not the best way. Cooking over a blazing fire often leads to food becoming sooty or burned on the outside before the inside cooks. Allow the fire to burn down and build up coals on the bottom before you start cooking. This can take 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the weather conditions. Throughout cooking, keep 1 or 2 logs burning at all times to keep your heat consistent. It is a good idea to keep burning logs to one side and move the coals to the other.
Many barbecue recipes can be adapted to work in coals. Follow the recipe as directed, keeping in mind to add delicate flavours just before serving. Recipes may take longer so increase cook time by 10 to 15 minutes before checking for doneness.
- Heat resistant gloves – made from a heavier material than your standard oven mitts, these work well to move coals or to move your pans and foil packets.
- Barbecue tongs – longer than your average kitchen tongs and a go-to tool for rotating food.
- Cast iron pan – a great tool that lets you cook directly in or on coals.
- Bricks – used to lift packets, bags and pans off the coals to help prevent burning. More often used for foods that need a longer cooking time or for dishes that need to be kept level.
- Heavy-duty aluminum foil – a thicker aluminum foil, found in many grocery stores. This can be used to make foil bags and packets to cook food in as well as to make lids or covers.
- Have all your food and tools ready before you start.
- Don’t overcrowd your coals with too many dishes. It is tempting to want to cook your entire meal in the coals but make sure you have enough space to allow air to circulate.
- Cooking in multiple but smaller packs can help cook your food faster and more evenly.
- Don’t peak! Cooking in coals often relies on steam to cook your food. Each time you check to see, you release steam. This means that the package needs more time to build up steam and heat to continue cooking. Too long a cooking time and your food is more likely to be dry when it is done.
- Rotate food at least every 15 to 20 minutes to ensure even cooking.
- Have a heat resistant area ready for you to put your cooked food. This is coming right out of the fire so remember that plastic will melt, and wood could catch fire.
- Without uncovering, allow all food to rest 10 to 15 minutes before you start to eat.
- Keep in mind safety first! Have a bucket of water or your hose close by in the event of an emergency.
- All Vegetables – Cut vegetables to a similar size. Baby potatoes can be left whole or halved, cut carrots into coins or sticks. For even cooking, fill your foil packet with no more than 2 cups of vegetables. Overcrowding the pouch will result in vegetables not cooking evenly. Toss in canola oil, salt and pepper before cooking.
- More delicate flavours like jalapenos, fresh herbs or lemon juice do not like direct heat; these should be added after cooking is done. If added before cooking, these packets should be kept on the far side of the coals, farthest away from the fire.
- Potatoes – Potatoes can also be cooked whole in the coals; prick well with a fork and wrap tightly in foil.
- Corn – Corn on the cob can be cooked one or more at a time. Carefully pull back the husks (leaves) and remove the silk, rub with canola oil and sprinkle on salt and pepper. Wrap with 2 layers of foil.
- Biscuits – Set a well-greased cast iron pan on a brick or directly on some coals and allow to heat for 5 to 10 minutes before adding batter. Cover food loosely with aluminum foil.
- Fruits – Fruit baked in the coals is an easy way to make a dessert with almost no cleanup and the slow caramelization of the fruit makes it extra juicy and sweet. Cook your fruit in small, individual packages and eat right out of the foil.