A rite of passage for many youthful campers is learning to cook meals in the outdoors. Cooking your meal was an adventure. Even years later, the smoky flavor stirs nostalgic memories when sitting around the campfire was the highlight of any camping experience. Many adults try to re-create the fun memory on complex patio barbecue grills (some charcoal and some propane), but nothing beats the mouthwatering succulence of cooking over the open wood fire in the great outdoors.
If you are venturing into the deep woods with plans of dining truly alfresco, there are a few tools you'll need and some tips to keep your dining safe. Basic cooking supplies include a lightweight pot, a lightweight pan, matches, a grate to place over the flame, heavy-duty aluminum foil, long-handled tongs, a long-handled spatula and leather work gloves, as well as a lightweight, nonbreakable cup, a wide-mouth bowl and flatware for each diner. Other useful items include a short-handled camping ax for splitting wood and a bucket for water next to the fire pit. You'll also need a lightweight cooler to carry your food and several sealable plastic storage bags.
Many localities prohibit open fires unless they are in a container used specifically for cooking. If you are not using a metal fire pit, be sure that the area you build your fire in is clear of brush and contained by rocks. The most common rock formations are a simple fire circle or a keyhole shape; the narrow end of the keyhole makes it easier to use a cooking grate.
Going into the woods also means leaving the convenience of supermarkets, refrigeration, electricity, food storage and covered disposal. Keep your food safe with simple preparation at home. Remember that you will have to carry your gear and food into the woods, but you will also need to ensure that you have enough sustenance and hydration. Wherever you can, make your supplies do double duty. Freeze at least one 2-liter soda bottle filled with potable water to place in the cooler; it will help to keep your food cold and provide you with drinking water as it melts. If you will have multiple campers or will be gone multiple nights, consider using multiple coolers for each camper to carry and include more frozen water bottles. Frozen juice boxes also work well to keep food cold. Place meats and vegetables in portion-sized sealable plastic bags, and freeze whatever you can. If it's an extended trip, consider purchasing chlorine or water purification tabs from a camp supply store so you can drink water from streams; bring some drink mix along to hide the taste.
Campfire food can be as simple as hot dogs on skewers or intricate three-course meals. Foil packet cooking can provide a complete meal including meat, green vegetables and potatoes. You can vary the ingredients and seasoning to taste. For each person, take a square foot of heavy-duty foil and set a mound of chopped meat or a small portion of chicken in the center. Top it with chopped vegetables -- such as onions, green peppers and shredded carrots -- mushrooms, kidney beans, a few thin slices of potato and a pat of margarine. Fold the foil so the edges meet, and then fold the edges and roll to finish sealing. Wait until the flames die down and the wood is hot and glowing. Leave the packets in the fire for about 20 to 40 minutes. Serve with ketchup, salt and pepper.
To make another easy dish, start with a clean potato -- with skin. Slice the potato about two-thirds of the way through. Stuff thinly sliced onion, margarine, cheese and sliced ham. Wrap the potato in foil and, like the pockets above, put into the hot embers for 40 minutes. Make scrambled eggs on your last morning camping, and toss in leftover vegetables and meats so you don't have to carry anything back. Melt margarine in the frying pan, and set the pan on the grate over the rocks at the narrower section of the keyhole for a hearty breakfast. Always boil a pot of water while cooking to use for hot beverages or washing dishes after the meal.