In summertime, the living is easy — and the food should be, too. That should also extend to times when you're outdoors grilling — maybe even camping — and don't have all the accouterments of a gourmet (let alone ordinary) kitchen at your disposal. But cooking over an open fire doesn't mean you need to eat hot dogs for every meal.
One of the simplest and most delicious ways to prepare outdoor eats is utilizing the super versatile foil packet. It allows you to cook right over the fire, and there's virtually no cleanup, since you can eat your meal directly out of the foil “dish." Simply prepare the packets ahead of time and toss them in your cooler before you hit the road. Because these meals are so simple, you barely need recipes, but here are some ideas to get you started.
Bake up some seafood. For an all-in-one meal reminiscent of a New England seashore, start with a piece of white fish (like cod) and a few raw shrimp. Add sliced red potatoes and a piece of corn on the cob, halved. Include a dollop of butter with salt, pepper and fresh parsley or dill. Wrap tightly in foil; then cook for about half an hour.
Pro Tip: Use heavy-duty foil for outdoor cooking. If you run out of heavy-duty foil, just double up the regular kind. Size the pieces of foil generously; you want plenty of extra to fold over the edges and seal in heat.
Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Cut a couple of boneless, skinless chicken breasts into small pieces and season generously with garlic, lemon, and olive oil. Add thin potato slices and your choice of veggies for a savory campfire meal.
Pro Tip: When cooking a combination of foods, put the meat on the bottom of the foil packet so it gets more heat. Wait until the charcoal turns white hot before you start cooking; then, place the packet directly on the coals.
Potato know-how. Red, russet, or fingerling—potatoes in foil are a super easy side for any meal. Add a little olive oil and an assortment of fresh herbs, and season with salt and pepper. Pro tip: The smaller the pieces of potato, the more quickly they will cook. Boiling potatoes for a few minutes before your camping trip will also speed up cooking. Also, be careful when you open up any foil packet – the rush of steam that's released can burn you.
Veggie time. For a quick, healthy side or meal, mix zucchini, squash, carrots, green beans—just about any vegetable will work, cooked in a packet with seasonings and a little butter or oil. Pro tip: Fold your foil packet into a “tent" instead of a flat pack when cooking veggies. The extra space will allow them to steam gently. And make sure you fold your foil packet over a couple times to ensure it's tightly sealed.
Corn on the cob. Corn on the cob may be the ultimate treat in summertime outdoor cooking. Pro Tip: It's terrific roasted in foil with no seasoning at all, but if you'd like to feel downright indulgent, add a generous dollop of butter, salt and pepper, and a bit of fresh rosemary to shucked corn. About 20 minutes in foil over hot coals should cook it nicely.
Fuel up with breakfast. You can even cook your morning meal in a foil packet, right alongside your camp coffee. Fill each pouch with pre-scrambled eggs and crumbled, pre-cooked bacon; toss in some chopped red or green peppers and a handful of cheddar cheese for a quick, hearty breakfast to get you through a day of hiking. Pro Tip: If you have potatoes left over from the night before, reheat in a separate foil tent and serve with the egg/bacon mix.
Don't forget dessert! S'mores are the classic campfire treat, and they are terrific cooked in packets. (If you've forgotten the classic recipe, here it is: A fat marshmallow and a chocolate square sandwiched between two graham crackers, heated until the middle starts melting into deliciousness.) Pro Tip: Be creative. For variations on the s'mores theme, try putting Nutella, a peanut butter cup, or a few banana slices into the mini-sandwich. Or, make the banana the star of your dessert with a banana boat. Here's how: Slice an unpeeled banana lengthwise, taking care not to cut all the way through. Fill with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips. Wrap banana in foil and cook for about 5 minutes over heat. Unwrap it and top with your choice of crunchy sweet cereal, like Golden Grahams or Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Your little campers will be begging for another outdoor adventure before you get home.