A campfire is the centerpiece of most camping excursions. It serves as a gathering place where family and friends can share stories and camaraderie. It offers warmth during chilly, star-filled nights. Most importantly, a campfire is where meals are prepared, cooked, and enjoyed.
The Missouri Department of Conservation understands the importance of a good campfire — it enhances the outdoor experience. Here are a few Department employees who have combined their love of the outdoors with their skills in the kitchen to earn the title of campfire cook.
Robin Grumm has been a campground cook since childhood, when she and her family would spend vacations camping. Robin continues her love of outdoor cooking today as assistant manager and volunteer coordinator at the Runge Conservation Nature Center in Jefferson City, where she has a group of volunteers who offer outdoor cooking classes periodically. They strive to connect the participants with the source of their food.
“In at least one of our dishes, we will use wild edibles or wild game,” Robin said. “We try to make the connection with the resource to show the fieldto- table cycle.”
Campfire cooking requires extra focus, but Robin enjoys the challenge.
“When I’m outside, it’s all about being outside. I’m not doing other things,” she said. “I also find it challenging to play around with the heat of the fire. You can turn your oven to 350 degrees or your burner to medium, but you have to manipulate the coals or the wood to change the heat on a campfire.”
Robin’s suggestion to her students: keep it simple. “People feel that they need so much equipment,” she said. “We tell them that they don’t have to find a certain species of wood or have all of the bells and whistles to cook.”
One of Robin’s most popular campfire recipes is muffins baked inside orange rinds.
- “Just add water” muffin mix, any flavor
- Cut the oranges in half so the stem is on the bottom. With a spoon, remove all of the orange, leaving only the intact rind.
- Put the muffin mix in a bowl and follow package directions. Mix completely and pour into each rind until it’s about a centimeter from the top.
- Tear off an 8-inch piece of aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Place the foil on top of the muffin mix and wrap around the orange.
- Repeat for all the orange halves.
- With a fork, poke a few holes in the foil to let steam escape. Place the oranges on a grate above the campfire.
- Wait for muffin mix to come out of the holes. When it looks cooked or when you can stick a toothpick in the foil and it comes out dry, they are done.
Larry Lindeman has been an outdoor skills specialist in the Ozark Region for the past 10 years. Larry’s love of cooking began as a child, when he helped his mother in the kitchen. Larry’s culinary interest carried over into outdoor cooking in 1971 when he was on a fishing trip at Lake Taneycomo with one of his college professors, Bob McLaren.
“After we caught a few trout, we gathered some wood and built a fire to cook them,” he said. “Bob built a woven wire grill out of a handful of coat hangers. When the flames died down and we were left with coals, he put in a few green hickory sticks and put the fish on the grill.”
Whether it was the fresh trout or the smoke from the green hickory sticks, Larry was impressed.
“I have never eaten any trout that tasted better than those that day,” he said.
As an outdoor skills specialist, Larry teaches others what he has learned along the way. His advice is don’t get in a hurry.
“Let the flames die down and cook on the coals,” he said. “A lot of people try to rush and cook over the flames. They have a tendency to char the outside and leave the inside undercooked.”
Hickory Smoked Trout
- Trout — whole, cleaned with head and skin on
- Green peppers
- Lemon juice
- Put onions, peppers, and a pinch of salt inside the trout, and drizzle with lemon juice.
- Place trout on grill over coals and add a few thumb-sized green hickory sticks to the coals.
- After 5–6 minutes, turn the fish over. Cook for another 4–5 minutes and remove.
- Gently tease away the skin on top. If the scales were left on, this is usually an easy task. Insert a fork along the backbone using the lateral line as a guide. Push away from you and lift up a bit to get the meat above the lateral line off the bone. Bring the fork toward you if the meat is below the lateral line. After removing all of the meat from the top, slowly lift up the head. Oftentimes the entire skeleton will remain intact and all of the bones will be removed at once.
T.J. Peacher is the outreach and education district supervisor in the St. Joseph office. Being a campfire chef is another outlet for his love of cooking.
“I do all of the cooking at home,” he said. “Cooking on the campfire is a great change of atmosphere.” T.J. loves sharing the experience with his daughter, Brylee.
“We cook everywhere that we go camping,” he said. “Part of our day is spent cooking, and it’s a family thing that we do together. My daughter really enjoys that, and we have a great time. Hopefully, she is learning something along the way.”
When cooking in a foil pack over a campfire, T.J. offers one trick.
“Put a sacrificial vegetable, like a sliced onion, on the bottom of the pack, so if it burns nobody cares,” he said. “It will steam and put out a lot of juice and flavor.” One of T.J.’s favorite campfire recipes is sweet and sour chicken.
“I didn’t invent it. I just stole it from scout leader John Campbell,” he said. “He played around with it in his kitchen and came up with the recipe. We tried it on the campfire the next time that we went camping, and it was fantastic.”
John Campbell’s Famous Asian Camping Foil Packet
- 1 cup hard rice that has been soaking in water for 30–60 minutes
- 4 tablespoons water
- 1 packet dry sweet and sour sauce mix
- 4 cups fresh stir fry vegetables coarsely chopped and rinsed (peppers, carrots, onions, celery, watercress, etc.)
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- Place an 18-by-8-inch sheet of aluminum foil on a paper plate. Put onehalf of the rice (still wet) in the center of the foil. Lay one chicken breast on top of the rice and put one-half of the vegetables on top of the chicken. Sprinkle one-half of the dry sweet and sour sauce mix on the vegetables.
- Fold the east/west ends up and roll them down to the top of the food. Then roll down the north end.
- Pour 2 tablespoons of water into the foil packet, then roll up the south end. It should be fairly tight.
- Repeat the steps with the other sheet of foil and the other half of the ingredients.
- Place the foil packets on coals that are hot but not flaming. The heat needs to be able to boil the water to cook the rice and the chicken. It will also steam the vegetables and make the sauce. Cooking time should take 20–30 minutes, depending on the temperature of the coals.
Chris Capps is an outdoor skills specialist in the Kansas City regional office. He served as a scout master for 12 years, where he learned a lot about campfire cooking, but that isn’t where he first started cooking over an open flame.
“Even as a kid, I liked to camp out,” Chris said. “My buddies and I would go down to the creek for the weekend and cook our own fish.”
Growing up in southern Missouri, he also spent a great deal of time camping with his family on the Current River.
“Mom would cook over the campfire and use a one-gallon can to make cakes and bread,” he recalls. “I probably learned a lot about cooking outside from my mom and have fond memories from those days.”
His love for outdoor cooking continues today. As an outdoor skills specialist, Chris teaches people about campfire cooking, and is quick to offer shortcuts to make it easier.
“If I know that I am going to cook potatoes, I will partially cook them before I go,” he said. “Also, you can brown your hamburger or venison at home, put it in a plastic storage bag, and it will be ready to use at camp.”
Chocolate Cake in a Can
- 1 cup warm water
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 bag miniature marshmallows
- 1 box chocolate cake mix
- 12-ounce bag chocolate chips
- Take a one-gallon can (#10) and remove the metal lid almost all the way, but leave it attached. Spray the inside of the can with cooking spray, rub with shortening, or line with foil.
- Mix 1 cup warm water with 1/2 cup cocoa powder and 1/3 cup brown sugar. Pour this mixture into the can.
- Put 1 bag of miniature marshmallows on top of the mixture.
- Mix 1 box of your favorite chocolate cake mix according to the package directions and pour batter over the marshmallows.
- Put 12 ounces of chocolate chips on top of the cake batter.
- Bend the lid of the can back in place. Wrap the can tightly with three layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Make sure to keep can upright.
- Using charcoal briquettes that have reached a nice gray heat, place 8 large briquettes under the can and 10 briquettes on top of the can.
- Let cook for 20–25 minutes, then remove the briquettes and allow the can to sit for another 15–20 minutes before removing the foil.
Martha Daniels has worked for the Department for more than 26 years. She is the exhibits coordinator at the central office in Jefferson City, but is probably best known for hosting the cooking segment on the Department’s Missouri Outdoors television show for 10 years. Although the cooking segment usually took place in the kitchen, Martha is no stranger to outdoor cooking.
“When we are floating or camping, we are usually cooking on a campfire,” she said. “There is nothing like the camaraderie of being around a campfire, enjoying a meal, visiting about the day’s activities, and listening to stories. I love being outdoors and it’s wonderful to share some great food while enjoying beautiful scenery.”
Martha encourages everyone to get out and try cooking outdoors. “Just experiment,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Use what you have available, try a few different things, and find what you like. Talk to other people and visit with other campers that like to cook over open fires.”
In her cooking experience, Martha has learned a few tricks.
“I use a lot of plastic storage bags because they take up less space,” she said. “I also make soups or sauces in advance and freeze them in plastic bags. They can be used as a substitute for ice in the cooler to keep other food cold. I also use a lot of bamboo skewers. They are lightweight and can be used to grill asparagus or for any kind of kabob.”
River Raft Asparagus
- 1 large bundle of fresh asparagus spears, washed and trimmed
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 2–3 tablespoons olive oil
- Fresh ground pepper
- Salt to taste
1. Mix all ingredients except asparagus in a small bowl.
2. Group 5–6 spears of asparagus on two small bamboo skewers. Continue for remaining spears.
3. Place asparagus in a plastic, resealable bag. Pour marinade into bag, seal, and turn to coat.
4. When ready to cook, place skewers of asparagus over campfire and roast until desired tenderness. Serve with fresh lemon.
Note: For a shorter cooking time on the campfire, asparagus can be lightly steamed or blanched for 1 minute at home, then cooled in ice water. Fit on skewers and marinate as above.
For more information on campfire cooking, including more recipes, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/7337.