Baby, we can't light that fire.
September 1, 2013 3:02 PM   Subscribe

Yum camping meal for two. Difficulty factor: no camp fire.

A couple years ago, this unhappy camper was me. Update: that guy was a dick about a lot of things besides camping.

New gentleman friend: ultralight hardcore Appalachian and Pacific Trail backpacker type, but generously taking me car camping to climb my first Fourteener. He's in charge of warm and happy, I'm in charge of food. I'd planned grilled steaks with sweet potatoes roasted in the fire ... but now there may be no fires allowed.

What can I make without a camp fire that is fabulous? Steaks are already in the freezer. I have a bunch of cast iron pans. I can cook anything in a kitchen but have never really done the camp stove thing. It's only dinner one night, we'll be leaving that afternoon so I can do most prep/partial cooking ahead of time, and take it down in the cooler. (Site is a few hours from home.) He's a foodie, and will appreciate the effort.

Help, please? Suggestions for easy breakfast/snacks also welcome. Thank you, MeFites!
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't class it as "fabulous", but TastyBite Indian food on couscous makes decent camping food, and it only requires boiling some water.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:15 PM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Chili is a favorite of mine. The kind with ground beef, and some beans, not the snooty kind (which I also like, but not when camping. Truth is, you could just make it ahead of time and heat it on the camp stove, but I never do that.
posted by Good Brain at 3:18 PM on September 1, 2013

Since you are starting with steaks, I would go for a two-pan, one burner meal.

In dutch oven or heavy skillet, make your veggys; fry up potatoes, onions, parsley to your tastes. Set aside. Wrap in heavy towel, put in sleeping bag.

Use second pan to fry up steaks. Pull out first pan. Serve and enjoy.

posted by gnossos at 3:21 PM on September 1, 2013

Does this mean no fires at all, or no wood/charcoal fires? You may be able to use propane or other closed sources. You may also be able to have fires at some elevations, though I assume you're checking the campground itself.
posted by kcm at 3:27 PM on September 1, 2013

Yes I am confused: do you mean you have no heat at all with which to cook, or that you have a camp stove and can use that to cook?

I am going to presume the latter. If so, you can readily think of the camp stove as your cooktop at home! I agree with Gnossos, except you can even do that with one pan if you've got a holding container for the potatoes.

Steaks and sweet potatoes beg for roasted garlic in some form, or chopped chipolte peppers with the adobo sauce which you can use to make excellent mashed sweet potatoes (dice them fine, sautee in pan with butter until soft, then mix with the adobo and one chipolte pepper, season with salt and a good amount of butter.)

So happy you've got a partner willing to ease you into the experience. It's going to be great!
posted by absquatulate at 4:06 PM on September 1, 2013

Sausage egg and cheese burritos are pretty great campstove fare if you can keep the shells from breaking en route.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:07 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think it really would be helpful to know what kind of stove we are talking here (if, as it sounds to me, you will be using a stove). Some of them are practically small home stoves with multiple burners, and pretty much anything goes. But if your new beau is an ultralighter, he may be bringing the teensiest little thing that will, frankly, be good only for making water hot at a roar, and therefore very poor for simmering something that will take a long time.
posted by thebrokedown at 4:16 PM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would definitely precook at home. It might be better to go with a stew-type thing?

If you're talking something like this, it's going to be hard to really *cook* anything, but warming something would be fine.

Oatmeal is a good camp breakfast because you only need hot water and it sticks to the ribs in the cold mountain mornings. You could do some fun toppings like dried cranberries, coconut flakes, etc. Hot cocoa for sure!
posted by charmcityblues at 4:26 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can cook anything in a kitchen but have never really done the camp stove thing.

If it's the classic two-burner coleman camp stove, you have a two-burner stove. You can cook anything that won't be troubled by drafts.
posted by yohko at 6:50 PM on September 1, 2013

If you have no heat source at all, try to score some MREs. You both may be foodies, but MREs are safe, nutritious food when there is no cooking possible. I'll bet your more experienced camper friend has eaten them, more than once, before, and will appreciate your practicality out in the wild, if not your outdoor cooking skills (but then, he's taken you into a situation where there is no cooking allowed, hasn't he?).
posted by paulsc at 8:03 PM on September 1, 2013

Response by poster: We have some sort of camp stove, just not sure what it is. Thanks for the suggestions so far!
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 8:39 PM on September 1, 2013

Imma going to help you here, but I'm annoyed you do not know what type of stove or pot(s) you have. I know you are car camping, that's about it.

Seriously - WTF, fellow MeFite??


If you have a flimsy light weight stand-alone MSR-type burner suitable for wilderness backpacking - you want to go pre-cooked but dehydrated - ramen, packet meals, etc.. with something healthy and non-fridge required like dried mushrooms or sundried tomatoes thrown in for pop.

If you have a single catering style burner with a canister of fuel attached - then we can talk!!

Either way you need to update.

Bonus points if you tell me where you are going so I can supplement your menu with food you collect from nature.

posted by jbenben at 11:09 PM on September 1, 2013

I camped for several months, much of which was in the Australian outback. Tasty is good, but you want to avoid too much faff and washing up because it makes things a pain.

We went with a simple approach because it's a pain having to wash up too much - curry and boil in the bag rice. Marinade your meet in a curry sauce of your choosing. You can use a good shop bought sauce. Cook. Garnish with freshly chopped flat leaf parsley. Serve with boil in the bag rice - if you only have one burner you'll need to keep the curry warm. It doesn't generate a whole heap of washing up and is incredibly tasty.

Other option: quesadillas. You need about half a pound of mushrooms, cheese, one garlic clove, two shallot onions, flat leaf parsley, lemon zest from one lemon, tortillas, oil.

Cook the sliced mushrooms in a tablespoon of oil. As they are releasing their juices, add in the chopped garlic and onions with some more oil. After 2-3 minutes take add in the chopped parsley and lemon zest. Remove from the heat, and put the contents in a bowl. Wipe your skillet clean and put back on the heat. Take one tortilla, and put half the mushroom mix and lots of grated cheese in one half of the tortilla. Fold the other half over. Brush the tortilla lightly with oil. Put back in the skillet. Cook on both sides, but be careful it doesn't burn. Repeat for the second tortilla. This basically makes a pretty good sandwich. You can increase the ingredients and add a tortilla or two if you're really hungry. You can add meat and switch ingredients about too.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:14 AM on September 2, 2013

"... We have some sort of camp stove, just not sure what it is. ..."

If it's a small, single burner backpacking type propane mini-cylinder "stove," they're mainly intended for boiling a couple cups of water in a lightweight aluminum camp pot, to which you might add some dehydrated soup mix, noodles, ramen, or oatmeal. You wouldn't want to use these with heavyweight cast iron skillets, because that would be pretty top heavy, and because these stoves don't put out enough total heat to get a normal 10 inch cast iron kitchen skillet hot. Also, many of these type stoves aren't easily adjusted for long "simmering" kinds of cooking.

If you've got a liquid fuel (white gas or alcohol) kind of stove, it will generally put out more heat, and be more adjustable, but if it's the lightweight single burner backpack style, it's still pretty much intended for rapid boiling of a few cups of water, not extended cooking adventures. Two or four burner models fold down into a suitcase kind of thing, and when set up, the case makes a kind of wind shield. You can generally do about anything you want with these kinds of stoves, although the pint or so fuel tank size will limit you to about 30 minutes to an hour of cooking time at one firing, depending on how many burners you're operating, and how high you've turned them. White gas has more energy per cubic unit of measure than alcohol, so white gas stoves burn longer and perhaps a little hotter on the same amount of fuel. You can use normal kitchen type pots and pans with some of these kind of units, too.

The article linked above also discusses various "alternative fuel" types of stoves, that burn pellets, or found wooden sticks as fuel. These types of stoves are generally just designed for boiling a couple cups of water, too, so good luck if that's what you're heading out with.

In any case, you need to know ahead of time what your heat source is, and plan to have enough of the right kind of fuel on hand, unless you know you'll be collecting and burning twigs. And your stove may dictate your use of pots, as well as the kinds of foods you can readily prepare. So, you need to investigate this further, and plan accordingly.

Finally, unless your stove has a piezo lighter built in, be sure to have along plenty of matches, split into at least two stores (in case one gets wet or lost), or otherwise waterproof means of lighting the stove safely.
posted by paulsc at 4:04 AM on September 2, 2013

One other thought occurred to me: if you're car camping, you might just forget the camp stove altogether, and cook on the car engine.
posted by paulsc at 4:20 AM on September 2, 2013

If you're working with a smallish backpacking stove, don't count on being able to put a cast-iron pan on top of it without some other way to support the weight (and depending on the stove, it might not put out enough heat to cook on a cast-iron skillet very well).

We have a cooking grate with foldable legs that sort of works for positioning a cast-iron skillet above a backbacking stove.
posted by sriracha at 8:11 AM on September 2, 2013

Response by poster: FINE, FINE, I asked so now he knows that I am probably obsessing about this!

The stove in question is a 2-burner Coleman; we'll have a full cooler and the travel time from my kitchen to the campsite is about 3 hours total.

I'm planning to cook the steaks in a skillet but a little nervous about timing on filets -- usually either grill or sear and then finish in oven.

posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 6:46 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Using the coleman two burner stove it exactly like using a gas range that has two burners (the middle sized ones not the small or dual ring burners). If you can cook it on a gas range, you can cook it on the coleman stove. If You're cooking steaks I would heat up both cast iron pans to very hot on the stove and put them in one for 10-30 seconds and then place into the other on the other side for 10-30 seconds (depending on doneness you like). Done. Saute some onions and peppers in the first pan to pick up the nice meat juices and serve with a side of couscous made previously (it only takes a little bit of boiling water and keeps the heat well) and you're all set. Simple dinner made on a coleman stove in probably 15 minutes.
posted by koolkat at 4:53 AM on September 3, 2013

Breakfast burritos. Cook everything and assemble them at home (eggs, potato, sausage, cheese, green chiles, whatever you like), then wrap in foil and put in a ziplock bag in the cooler. To heat them up, turn one burner of your stove on real low (so low that it's in danger of going out), place the foil-wrapped burrito directly on the cooking grate. Turn several times and keep an eye on them so they don't burn, but they should be ready to go in maybe 5-10 minutes. Delicious start to your day, and zero clean up.
posted by partylarry at 1:00 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm planning to cook the steaks in a skillet but a little nervous about timing on filets

If the pan's nice and hot, and you've got good heat under it, which you should do with a Coleman, six minutes total will give you nice medium rare steaks if they're about an inch thick. Flip them after the first minute, then another minute, then a further two minutes on each side. Let them rest for a minute or two once they're done.

You can test by pressing them with your finger - too squidgy - cook for longer. No squidge - remove at once.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:20 AM on September 12, 2013

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