Foil-Pack Potatoes & Other Campfire Cooking Tricks to Ace Dinner in the Wild

July 11, 2018

It wasn’t my first campout. I knew the drill: team building exercises, maybe a hike through the woods, an hour set aside for pitching our tents. Yet it was what came after all of this hullabaloo that had me most excited: our foil-pack dinners.

As the sun started to abscond behind the tree line, our counselor handed each camper a rectangle of aluminum foil and, like a well-oiled machine, we made our way down a buffet assembly line, placing onto our foil: cubes of potatoes, quartered tomatoes, slices of carrots, shards of onions, and hunks of ground beef. We folded the whole affair, twisting the edges so they looked like Tootsie Roll wrappers, and laid them on a grate over hot coals.

Campfire confections

An hour later, we returned and were able to identify, somehow, which packs were ours. After picking our individual foil-packs out of the coals, we opened them. Inside, after an hour of exposure to the slow embers, all of the vegetables and the meat had simmered into the juices of one another. The tomatoes swelled and burst, the beef leaked fat and coated the now soft-fleshed potatoes, the carrots wilted. I loved every bite of it. Camping, I realized, wasn’t about sacrificing pleasure, but about finding new routes to access it.

My forays into the woods as a knobby-kneed pre-teen are but one of many in a universe of stories that flicker by the firelight. Camping, for so many, is a time-honored summer tradition. Just recently, there was talk around our office of another camping trip. My ears perked up, as I thought back to those foil-pack dinners.

Jim Bishop, our VP of engineering, had just returned from a trip to the Catskills with his wife and son, along with a friend and her child. We chatted a bit about his favorite fireside recipes, and he shared one that’s worth mentioning: He calls it "Cowboy Cobbler." The recipe is simple; all it requires is a box of yellow cake mix, a can of pie filling (your choice), and a stick of butter. Here are his directions:

How to Make Cowboy Cobbler

  1. Grease Dutch oven with butter.
  2. Pour in pie filling.
  3. Top with cake mix.
  4. Slice stick of butter into tablespoon slices on top of cake mix.
  5. Cook on open fire until top is brown.

"No mixing. No muss. No fuss," he says.

Bishop also maintained that for all the joy that cooking over an open flame can bring, it’s important to remember that “everything takes WAY longer than you think it's going to.” As for cleaning? “I also always grease the hell out of all of my gear before it goes directly on coals," he shares. "Makes it easier to clean afterwards.”

Our site is no stranger to helping out the camping curious or competent. Here are a few more outdoor tricks up our sleeves:

What do you cook while camping? Share your go-to recipes in the comments below.

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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.

1 Comment

Nancy July 12, 2018
One of my favorite dishes as a child, learned from a few Girl Scout camping trips. We learned (and loved it) as a layered dish...slices of vegetable (onion, potato, carrot) on the outside, framing or sandwiching a ground beef patty. Delicious. Then, if you had buns and wanted to, you could eat it as a burger, with the vegetables on the side....nice memory, absolutely reliable dish. :)
PS I bet you could play with it...using other root veg, like parsnip, or various squashes. But keep the onion.