Camping Guide: Bring the Heat

5 Delicious Ways to Boost Your Campfire Cooking Game

From forest fondue to an off-the-grid old-fashioned, these recipes bring culinary swagger to the backcountry.

By Benjamin Tepler May 22, 2018 Published in the June 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Michael Novak

Local cookbook authors and known picnic radicals Marnie Hanel and Jen Stevenson take up the mantle of campfire cooking in their just-published The Campout Cookbook. Hot dogs and oatmeal, you say? Try wood-fired skillet pizza with Calabrian chiles and dutch oven cinnamon rolls with orange almond icing. Also: critical cast-iron commandments, 99 ways to use a Thermos, and directions for how to gut and clean a trout. In short: everything you need to become the next backcountry Iron Chef.

Off-the-Grid Old-Fashioned

Serves 1 to 4

The pre-mixed cocktail is a new camp classic.

Combine 7 oz rye whiskey, ½ oz maple syrup, ½ oz Amarena cherry syrup, and 6 dashes Angostura bitters in a measuring cup. Twist a 3-inch strip of orange peel over the top and discard. Using a funnel, pour into an 8 oz flask.

Skillet-Fried Rainbow Trout

Serves 4

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Salt, lemon, herbs, and olive oil are still all you need for exceptional campfire trout.

  • 4 whole trout, gutted
  • Kosher salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • ½ bunch fresh dill
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fresh herbs, for garnish

1. Prepare a campfire and fit it with a grill grate. Heat two 12-inch cast-iron skillets on the grate until hot but not smoking, about 10 minutes.

2. Liberally sprinkle the inside of each trout with salt and pepper. Line cavities with lemon slices and stuff with a handful of fresh dill. Gently tie each fish shut with three lengths of kitchen twine.

3. Heat butter and olive oil in hot skillets and gently swirl to mix. Add two fish to each skillet and cook 5 minutes per side, or until skin is crisp and flesh is soft and flaky. Serve with more fresh herbs and lemon slices.

Grilled Little Gem Salad with Creamy Dill Dressing

Serves 4

The Green Goddess look-alike takes advantage of summer’s sweet produce haul and campfire smoke, which adds a dusky bite to the garlicky salad.

For the dressing
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh dill or other fresh herbs
  • 3 green onions, stems removed, coarsely chopped
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
For the salad
  • ½ pint cherry tomatoes
  • 2 ears of corn
  • 1 large nectarine
  • 6 heads Little Gem lettuce or romaine hearts
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

1. At home, combine buttermilk, mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, dill, green onions, salt, and pepper in a food processor, and pulse until smooth. Transfer to an 8 oz mason jar and refrigerate.

2. At camp, prepare a fire and fit it with a grill grate. Remove dressing from cooler.

3. Heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet on the grate until hot but not smoking, and roast cherry tomatoes until blistered, about three minutes. Remove skillet from heat and grill corn directly on the grate, then cut the kernels from the cobs. Halve nectarine and lightly grill it cut-side down on the campfire grate, then slice into thin wedges.

4. Cut lettuces in half lengthwise. Brush cut sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill directly on grate until slightly singed, about a minute per side. Plate lettuce halves on a platter and drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle corn, tomatoes, and nectarine slices evenly over the top and serve with extra dressing.

Forest Fondue

Serves 4

Lovers of bloomy rinds will lose their minds over this ooey-gooey, booze-spiked fondue, which fills the campground with potent French cheese funk and herbaceous rosemary.

  • 8 oz wheel Camembert cheese, or other bloomy-rind variety
  • ½ of one pear, sliced thin*
  • 2 tbsp Clear Creek Distillery pear brandy
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped roasted hazelnuts
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, for garnish
  • Crusty bread, for serving

*In season, substitute with a handful of blackberries or pitted, halved cherries

1. Prepare a campfire and fit it with a grill grate.

2. Line a mini (6½-inch) cast-iron skillet with foil, leaving enough overhang to create a foil packet. Alternatively, stack several layers of heavy-duty foil in place of a cast-iron pan. Place Camembert inside and score the top with an X.

3. Fan out pear slices over the cheese, douse with brandy, pull foil up over cheese, and crimp to seal. Place the skillet on the grate or directly on coals over a gentle, steady heat, and melt the cheese for 10 minutes or until it smells stinky in the best way.

4. Remove from heat and open foil, or scrape Camembert out of the foil entirely. Sprinkle with hazelnuts and garnish with rosemary sprig. Dip bread into the oozy cheese.

Molten Chocolate Orange Campfire Cakes

Serves 4

If you never learned the orange cake trick at summer camp, fret not. With bittersweet chocolate, this upgraded version is more like a fire-singed molten chocolate cake, deeply infused with orange oil.

  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 7 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 7 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 medium navel oranges
  • 3 large eggs

1. At home, combine flour and sugar in a quart-size plastic bag.

2. At camp, prepare a fire.

3. In a small saucepan, melt the chocolate and butter over on campfire grill grate or over low heat on a camp stove. Set aside to cool. Cut the tops off the oranges, about 1 inch down, reserving the caps. Use a melon baller or spoon to hollow out the oranges. (Snack on the innards, or save them for juice.) Leave the fruit inside the caps intact.

4. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, then slowly add chocolate-butter mixture in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Add flour mixture and mix well. Divide batter among oranges, replace the caps, double-wrap each orange in foil, and nestle in hot coals. Bake until cakes are firm but the centers are still slightly molten, about 30 minutes, turning the oranges halfway through to avoid hot spots.

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