Gourmet campfire dining, wrapped in foil

Chef BrettOur Town Eats

Camping has long been a passion of mine, beginning with trips to the mountains with my parents as a little kid. We even did some beach camping on the east coast.

In high school and college, friends would grab the coolers filled with (cough, cough) sodas, gas up the four-wheelers with mud tires tested and head for a weekend under the trees.

We didn’t spend much time worrying about food or planning our meals. A quick stop at Weigel’s on our way out of town would always suffice. Our camping diets mainly consisted of ramen noodles, chips, saltines and hot dogs. My buddy Mitch always made sure to have some Weigel’s orange iced tea for the mornings to go with his bologna sandwiches and Jim Beam.

Perhaps that passion for the outdoors led my wife and me to the Pacific Northwest. It continues today with our two kids.

One thing that has drastically changed is our camping meals. My wife, Olivia, is a planner, and I’m a wiz at Excel, so our camping meal-planning spreadsheets have become pretty epic. Breakfast, lunch and dinner? Check. Snacks for the hikes? Check.

We want to eat as well in the wilderness as we do at home, especially with the luxury of car camping, which we always do now. A little bit of planning ahead and prepping at home can make your camping meals delicious, and you can feel good about what you’re eating. It doesn’t have to be hot dogs and s’mores all the time.

During our trip to the Northern Cascades this past weekend, Olivia, the kids, Zsa Zsa (grandmother) and I ate well. We planned for salmon lox, cream cheese, arugula and an English muffin for breakfast and chicken salad, apples and crackers for lunch. Dinners were campfire gourmet, thanks to the foil packets I made in advance.

Foil (or hobo) packets are a perfect way to eat gourmet around a fire. They don’t take a long time to make and all you need to cook them is some hot coals. The foil does the rest.

I don’t have a formal recipe to share with you, but I know you will find these foil packets easy to prepare and cook. All it takes is about 30 minutes or so at home to prep these meals-in-foil, and you’re sure to impress the whole family.

Here are some tips:

  • Wrap in regular foil, but use heavy-duty foil to make an additional packet around the first one to prevent your food from burning.
  • Place all the food in the center of a 12-inch square piece of foil and seal long ways and then on the sides.
  • When you’re camping, get a fire started early to ensure you have hot coals. Move the coals to the side, and place the foil packets directly on them.
  • Turn the packets every 10 minutes or so.
  • Cooking time: If the meat is already cooked and dense vegetables like potatoes cubed or sliced, cook for 20 to 25 minutes. For a flaky fish like salmon, cook for 25 to 30 minutes.

Foil Chicken Marinara

  • Pulled roasted chicken (I suggest rotisserie from your grocery deli)
  • Asparagus spears
  • Mushrooms, sliced
  • Yellow squash, diced
  • One sprig of thyme
  • Marinara sauce to cover

Foil Salmon Bake

  • Two slices of lemon
  • 2-inch cubed salmon (can also use trout)
  • Sprig of rosemary
  • Small red potatoes, diced
  • Zucchini, diced
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Brett Gardner Howell grew up in Knoxville and now lives in Seattle with his wife and two children. He has been an Executive Chef for the better part of his career and continues to work in culinary arts across the country.

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