Before kids, my husband and I were avid campers. But then the babies came and attempts at sleeping outdoors made for the same amount of work in a less convenient setting. Toddlers sleeping in tents — especially if a dog is there, too — is usually a mistake.
But since the kids no longer wear diapers or wake up in the middle of the night for food, we’re back at it. I’ll confess, this once hard-core tenter now happily sleeps in a pop-up camper (so much nicer when it rains), but we’re still pretty low-tech. We stick to state parks, hiking, lake-swimming and meals over the campfire.
With a little planning, campfire fare can be fun and delicious. I have fond memories of eating Dutch oven cobbler at sleepaway summer camp, even though it was simply cake mix and canned pie filling, and never completely baked. I adored the smokiness that permeated through this much-anticipated dessert (it always took at least an hour to cook).
Other basic desserts are s’mores (of course) and banana boats (foil-wrapped bananas with chocolate, marshmallows and anything else you can dream up, cooked in coals for a few minutes).
If you have a pie-iron, you can make all sorts of fun melty sandwiches, pizzas and dessert. A heavy-duty cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven can be used to cook all manner of chilis, hashes or shakshuka (tomato-based egg dish) on a rack above the fire and coals. There are also lots of fun ideas for wrapping dough on sticks for campfire bread or cinnamon rolls (most Internet recipes call for store-bought dough.)
But all you really need is aluminum foil to make a basic dinner that cooks in less than 30 minutes. The original “hobo dinner” I grew up eating was ground beef, potatoes and carrots dusted with salt and pepper. It may be satisfying after a long day of swimming or hiking, but it’s not very exciting for the palate.
Here, a splash of beer adds flavor and makes the potatoes cook faster (it creates steam within the packet). Adding sausage and peppers makes the meal complete, and if you get a precooked sausage there’s no stress over whether the meat is fully cooked (but raw works well too, and is a little juicier — just double-check each packet that the meat is cooked through).
Foil-Wrapped Sausage, Potatoes, Peppers and Beer
This campsite meal in a packet is simple but wholesome fare for a family when enjoying the great outdoors together. No box mixes or convenience foods in sight.
Recipe tested by Anna Thomas Bates
Makes 4 servings
4 cups ½-inch dice Yukon Gold or red-skinned potatoes (or another type that doesn’t break up when cooked)
4 sausages of your choice (raw or precooked), cut into thick slices
2 red bell peppers, cut into strips
½ small onion, sliced into thin half-rings
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup beer
Pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
Start campfire well ahead of time — you want some nice coals to tuck these packets into.
Lay out four sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil (a little larger than a standard sheet of paper). Form into a bowl to hold contents. Divide potatoes, sausages, peppers, onion and garlic among the four foil “bowls.” Add roughly 2 tablespoons beer to each serving. Sprinkle each with salt and pepper. Gather up edges and tightly crimp and twist at the top to prevent leaks.
Set each packet on top of hot coals, carefully nestling them in. Keep them upright so the packages don’t leak. Cook about 30 minutes until potatoes are tender.
Anna Thomas Bates is a mother and writer living in southern Wisconsin.