By PAUL SIDORIAK
The thought of grilling over a campfire sparks the inner caveman in many of us.
I went on a camping trip last weekend and although spending quality time fishing and boating with friends was high on my agenda, I could not resist embracing my inner Neanderthal by charring some meat over an open fire.
One of my friends had done some prior recon and we knew that there would be an established fire ring and grill grate at our campsite. It seemed fitting for me to volunteer to make dinner if they could cover breakfast.
People are often intimidated about cooking while camping. There are a few things to keep in mind to prevent disaster, but for the most part with a little pre-planning, you can make wonderful dishes that are as fun as a day at the lake. When I planned a campfire dinner, I kept reminding myself of one common theme: Keeping it simple.
I did not want to have to do a lot of prep work at the campsite, and I did not want to spend a ton of time standing over the fire. I figured I could make fajitas with little or no fuss and went to the store for ingredients.
My shopping list was pretty simple – red pepper, sweet onion, shredded cheese, tortilla shells, meat, beverages, ice, sunscreen, bug spray, paper plates, paper towels, hand sanitizer, and bottled water. Lots of bottled water.
For the meat, I prefer chicken, but decided beef could be served a little on the rare side and still be safely edible. If you look close enough at some of the chain supermarkets, you can find meat that is well marinated and pre-cut into thin slices that are yummy and easy to prepare.
I went with a beef that had carne asada flavors already marinated in it. It came sealed from the processor and was easy to keep cold in the cooler with little or no threat of it leaking. I cut the peppers and onions into cubes ahead of time and zipped them sealed in a bag.
I only brought a few cooking implements with me. A sauté pan, a long-handled spatula, and BBQ fork. The wood was harvested from random drift piles along the shore and hauled it back in the boat.
After the campfire got going, we lowered the grill grate to flame level and let it heat for a while. I would use the skillet on the grill grate like I was cooking at home on my stovetop.
By now it was ready to cook the veggies. I had snuck a few slices of bacon that were for breakfast and rendered them down in the pan, slowly catching heat from the corner of the campfire. When the bacon was done, I fed it to the other campers in my group and used a couple of tablespoons of the grease to sauté the vegetables. They cooked slowly for about 25 minutes until they had the rich, red color of a hot summer sunset.
I put the cooked veggies aside and stoked the fire. It was crazy hot, which was fine by me because the meat was so thin it only needed a quick, hot sear on the fire grate and a couple of minutes a side to be done perfectly. When it was, I carefully pulled it off the fire and set it atop the skillet of veggies.
The meat shredded easily into small pieces and I partitioned off the skillet like boys and girls at the fourth-grade Sunday school dance. Veggies on one side, meat on the other. The tortillas got a quick blast of heat from the grill grate to soften them up and add a little color. They were served directly from the fire onto the hungry campers’ paper plates so they could fashion the rest of the ingredients to their own liking.
The evening’s most popular fajita was built with equal parts shredded cheese, meat, veggies, crushed tortilla chips, and a healthy dollop of homemade guacamole. Probably not the way they serve it at your favorite fajita restaurant, but then again, they probably are not cooking your dinner over a campfire.
Check out Paul’s other tasty summer grilling recipes, Chinook Salmon with Grilled Rice, The Best Burger Grill-Off Competition, and Carne Asada Fajitas with Grilled Veggies, and stay tuned for more delicious grilling recipes all summer long!
Paul moved to Montana in 1996 with about a dozen friends from Lyndon State College in Vermont. He is still reluctantly paying his student loans and has carved out a career working as a supplier representative for various food and beverage products.
Paul enjoys grilling after a day on the water or an afternoon in the garden, where he has been known to grow heirloom tomatoes and peppers out of spite. Often cooking for extended family and friends, he takes a whimsical approach to cooking simple, seasonal dishes, while not taking it too seriously.
Paul does all of his grilling on the Big Green Egg Grill, available in Missoula at the Axmen.
You can read more of Paul’s grilling recipes at his blog site, Montana Mise en Place.