Metro-East Living

Easy campfire cooking, in the backyard or the woods

Who says you can’t make pizza while camping? This Loaded Campfire Pizza starts with a prebaked crust.
Who says you can’t make pizza while camping? This Loaded Campfire Pizza starts with a prebaked crust. TNS

It’s funny how the days slip away from you.

One minute an entire summer lies ahead, just ripe for the picking. Then you blink, and it’s time to send the kids back to school.

So, start the summer off right with a family campfire cookout, even if you just pitch a tent and build a campfire in your own backyard.

Not only is it nice to get out of the air-conditioning and into warm, fresh air, there’s nothing more satisfying than dinner cooked over a bed of hot coals or propane camp stove to a chorus of crickets.

So how do you go about it if your dad wasn’t a Boy Scout leader? It’s all in the planning.

Camp cookouts work best when you stay true to the Scout motto, “Be prepared!” This requires not only thinking seriously beforehand about what you want to eat for each meal, but also how to portion and pack the ingredients into containers that travel well and require the least amount of work on arrival.

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Campfire Scramble Gretchen McKay TNS

That means prepping as much food as you can beforehand (chopping vegetables, washing fruit, mixing marinades and stirring together sauces), and putting the exact amounts you need for a certain dishes in small containers or sealed plastic bags. In addition, freeze what’s freezable the day beforehand — it will act as its own ice pack.

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Campfire Potatoes Gretchen McKay TNS

Simplicity also is key. Good cookout recipes aren’t complicated, which is not to say they can’t be flavorful or hearty. When planning your menu, choose sturdy foods that will stand up to being packed tight in a cooler, or tucked into the trunk with a tent and sleeping bags. For example, go with bananas for dessert instead of berries, and peppers and onions instead of lettuce.

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Pan-Seared Steak and Mushrooms Gretchen McKay TNS

At a glance

Here’s what you need to know about the cooking fire:

  • Let the campfire burn down to a bed of glowing embers before cooking on it. The easiest way to ruin food is to catch it on fire. Plus, too much smoke tastes nasty.
  • For even cooking, be sure to spread the coals evenly under the grate.
  • Wood burns quickly, so if your dish requires extended time on the grate, have reinforcements handy. You might want to start two fires side by side and shovel coals from one to the other.
  • Campfires are hot, so be sure to flip or your food often to avoid burning it. And don’t forget to use oil to prevent meats and veggies from sticking.
  • Don’t forget the matches and kindling.

Loaded Campfire Pizza

Yes, you can make pizza in the woods, so long as you bring along a prebaked crust, My 12-inch Boboli crust was a little too big for my pan, but I simply pressed the excess up the sides. Feel free to experiment with your favorite toppings, but remember you'll have to cook vegetables in the pan before placing them on the crust.

1 baked 12-inch baked pizza crust, such as Boboli

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 large sweet onion, sliced thin

1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage

1 large green bell pepper, sliced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup homemade or jarred pizza sauce

1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

1 / 4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

4 ounces sliced pepperoni

Fresh basil leaves, chopped or cut into a chiffonade

Heat a charcoal or wood-fired grill to medium, or build a campfire and allow flames die down leaving mostly white coals. If using a campfire, set grill grates on rocks or wet green logs.

Warm a large heavy frying pan (I used an 11-inch cast-iron pan) on grates until hot, then pour 2 tablespoons oil into pan. Toast pizza crust in pan, pressing down on the edges, until it is crunchy and golden brown on the bottom, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, and cover with foil to keep warm.

Pour remaining 1 tablespoon oil into pan. Add onions, sausage and green peppers, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until onion and peppers are soft, and sausage is no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Remove mixture from pan into a bowl, and set aside.

Place pizza crust in pan with toasted side up. (I had to smoosh the edges up the side of the pan.) Spoon the pizza sauce on top of crust, and top with 1/2 of the mozzarella. Spoon on half of the onion/pepper/sausage mixture and sprinkle half of the Parmesan on top. Top with remaining mozzarella and onion mixture, then add pepperoni and basil on top. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Return pan to grill, and cook, covered with foil, until the cheese melts and pepperoni gets crispy, about 5 minutes.

Transfer pizza to a cutting board, and slice. Serve hot. Serves 4.

Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tested

Cheesy Campfire Scramble

This easy egg scramble goes from pan to plate in about the same time it takes to brew a pot of coffee. For a hand-held breakfast, spoon the eggs into a warm tortilla or sandwich between toast.

4 ounces sweet or hot Italian sausage

1/2 green bell pepper, diced

1/2 sweet onion, diced

5 eggs

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 ounces hot pepper jack cheese, crumbled

6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, or 4 campari tomatoes, cut into quarters

Handful fresh chives, chopped

Heat charcoal or wood-fired grill to medium, or build a campfire and allow flames to die down leaving mostly white coals. If using a campfire, set grill grates on rocks or wet green logs.

Place medium-sized, heavy frying pan (I used an 8-inch cast-iron pan) on grates until hot. Add sausage, peppers and onions into skillet and cook over medium-high heat until browned, breaking meat into small chunks, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove, and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk eggs with a little water in bowl, and season with salt and pepper.

Pour eggs in hot pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re halfway set, about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in sausage/pepper/onion mixture, crumbled cheese, Parmesan and tomatoes. Cook, stirring gently a couple more times, until cheese melts and eggs are almost set, about 2 minutes. Stir in chives and cook an additional minute.

Serve immediately. Serves 2.

Adapted from “Camp Sunset: A Modern Camper’s Guide to the Great Outdoors”

Campfire Potatoes

Kids love anything made in a campfire foil packet because it’s fun; campfire cooks will love this recipe because it’s easy, and a great addition to any meal.

1 1/2 pounds new red potatoes, diced

1 large sweet onion, diced

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, or 1 clove garlic, minced

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Red pepper flakes

Chopped fresh chives

Place diced potatoes and onion on a large sheet of heavy-duty foil (not the cheap stuff). Top with garlic powder or fresh garlic, butter and olive oil, and season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.

Fold foil over so potatoes are in an enclosed packet.

Place on hot grill grates, or on top of hot coals. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Garnish with chives. Serves 4.

Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tested

Pan-Seared Delmonico Steak and Mushrooms

S’mores aside, is there anything more wonderful than a steak cooked over a campfire? This simple recipe requires just a handful of ingredients, but is quite elegant. Be sure to season the meat well, and start with a screaming-hot pan — you want the steaks to get a nice, solid char.

1 pound white mushrooms

1 1/2 teaspoons each kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 boneless Delmonico steaks, each 12 to 16 ounces

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, plus a handful of thyme sprigs

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 cup dry red wine

1/4 cup salted butter

Wipe mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel, and trim to remove any tough stem ends. Cut into halves, or quarters if large. Combine salt and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle steaks with fresh thyme leaves and half of the salt/pepper mixture, pressing seasonings into meat.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat on a camp stove or over hot coals. Add mushrooms, thyme sprigs and remaining salt mixture. Cook, stirring often, until mushrooms are tender and browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, and tent with foil to keep warm.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in pan over medium-high heat. Cook steaks on both sides, turning once, until browned and done the way you like, 8 to 14 minutes, depending on thickness (110 degrees for rare on an instant-read thermometer or 130 degrees for medium). Transfer steaks to cutting board and tent with foil to keep warm.

Discard fat from pan. Pour wine into the same pan and cook until reduced to 2 to 3 tablespoons, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in butter until melted and blended. Cut steaks in half and set on plates. Drizzle with sauce and serve with mushrooms. Serves 4.

Adapted from “Camp Sunset: A Modern Camper’s Guide to the Great Outdoors”

Cookout Bananas Foster

No cookout meal is complete without some gooey goodness, and what’s better than caramelized bananas? The fruit travels well, and this recipe cooks up in minutes. You can leave out the alcohol if you like; I added some milk-chocolate chips to feed my chocolate addiction.

1/4 cup ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla

Couple dashes of cinnamon

2 bananas, slice in half crosswise, then lengthwise

2 tablespoons rum

Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream

Chocolate chips (optional)

Over a hot camp fire, melt butter in a small cast-iron skillet. Add brown sugar and vanilla and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is bubbly. Stir in cinnamon, reduce heat to low and add sliced bananas in a single layer.

Cook bananas, turning once, until softened and beginning to brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in rum, then cook bananas, stirring gently, another minute or so, until the sauce bubbles and is slightly thickened,

Spoon cooked bananas into a bowl, and top with sauce. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, and serve with chocolate chips. Serves 2 to 3.

Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tested

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