Since your summer vacation most likely got postponed this year, you’ve probably spent more weekends camping than originally expected. Camping is a great way to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of our own backyard here in Colorado but it can be hard to look forward to eating dry food for an entire weekend. Thanks to some professional tips from several Denver chefs, you can learn how to turn your next camping dinner into a gourmet meal fit for a restaurant.
“It’s better to enjoy your cooking than to just eat to survive while you are camping,” said Kamiya Willoughby, co-founder of SoulNia. The key to a delicious meal in the mountains is preparing your ingredients — or even the bulk of the meal — in advance. Bridget Bagel of Postcard Foods prepares batches of soups, curries and chilis and freezes them ahead of time so the only thing you have to do once you get to camp is heat it up on a camping stove — or over the fire — and serve. “It’s the easiest way to a filling meal with the least on-site effort, plus they’ll help keep your beer cool,” said Bagel. She also recommends bringing some fresh herbs to add to the meal to take it up a notch, “Showing up with prepared foods plus a handful of parsley or cilantro gives you that homemade freshness without the stress or cleanup.” If you don’t have the time, energy, or desire to prepare your meal in advance Postcard Foods offers fully prepared frozen meals and soups you can have delivered.
Terence Rogers of Sullivan Scrap Kitchen shares his recipe for green chili that he prepares before embarking on his mountain adventures.
- Prepare for this one by marinating the bone-in pork butt with salt, green chili powder, Mexican oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin and ground chicos.
- Sear or smoke it then transfers it to a dutch oven with some diced onion and whole tomatillos for 30 minutes.
- Remove it from the oven and transfer half of the tomatillo and onion mixture to a blender along with a few hatch green chilis.
- Add everything back to the pot along with some chicos, hominy and stock.
- Bring it to a boil and leave it covered to braise in the oven for four hours.
- Remove it from the oven, shred the pork and let it cool before storing it in an airtight container in the cooler for your drive up.
- When you are ready to eat all you have to do is heat it up and add some cilantro and green onion for garnish.
Cooking Over an Open Fire
There’s something about cooking your meal over an open fire when in the backcountry. The smokiness adds to the dish and the warmth of the flames brings a different element to the meal that evokes the senses of comfort and satisfaction. Tommy Kummer — chef at Golden’s Abejas — recommends cooking in foil packets to steam your meal and lock in the natural flavors of the dish. His go-to dishes are skin-on salmon with butter and herbs and “hobo potatoes” with olive oil, a few fresh vegetables and garlic.
“My standard mix would be potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic. However, this is the perfect time of year to grab any root vegetable straight from the garden: baby tricolor carrots, turnips, rutabaga,” said Kummer. All you have to do is dice your herbs and vegetables, add some olive oil or butter and roll it up into two layers of foil to make sure there are no leaks. Set it on the hot coals next to the fire and turn it over after 15 minutes. Cook for a total of 30 minutes. Use the same technique with your salmon filet, setting it on a grate over the fire rather than on the coals. Cook for 15 minutes or until it is done and finish it with a squeeze of lemon.
Olivia Dungey and Nicholas Allmond of Arvada’s Urban Beets spent several months on the road prior to opening the restaurant last summer. The couple spent most nights camping and came up with several great recipes that utilize minimal dishes including a breakfast hash with onion, potatoes, carrots, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and Montreal steak seasoning. If you have any leftovers from the night before they can be added to the hash to give it an extra burst of flavor.
Another option — recommended by chef Chris Schmidt of Bird Craft and Craftsman — combines the two techniques of meal preparation and cooking over an open flame. “Our go-to is a nice barbacoa or spicy braised goat taco,” he said. He prepares the meat ahead of time and uses a Cryovac to store it in the cooler until he’s ready to heat it up. “When it’s time to eat you can reheat the meat by boiling in the bag or by tossing it in a cast iron or pot on the fire, warm up the tortillas right on a hot rock, line up your garnish, and build ‘em up!”
Eddie Coloumbe — chef at Caveman Chefs — recommends utilizing the grill grate to grill pork chops. He adds grilled peaches filled with goat cheese and grilled asparagus to round out the meal. All you have to do prior to leaving on your trip is rinse and trim the asparagus and reduce some balsamic vinegar for drizzling over your meal. Once at the campsite, season your pork chop with salt and pepper and let it sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before placing on the grill. Grill the pork along with the asparagus and peaches — pits removed, cut side down — and finish it by stuffing the peaches with the goat cheese and drizzling the entire meal with the balsamic reduction.
Always remember to check local regulations for the area you are traveling to before building a fire in any campsite.