For author and photographer Ashley Rodriguez, there’s nothing wrong with roasting hot dogs or potatoes over a fire on a camping trip.
But to elevate the dining experience, Rodriguez started playing around with more options. She broadened her horizons by thinking of camping as cooking at home.
“Really, you can look at your campfire like you would at an oven or stove,” she said.
Rodriguez co-created an online video series titled “useless kitchen“, which explores cooking outdoors. In 2019, the series received a James Beard Award nomination for online videos. It recently joined Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Central Time” for a Food Friday show on the camp kitchen Here are some tips she shared.
Preparatory work needed
Rodriguez likes to cook some of her meals at home, limiting what she needs to bring camping. She recommends planning ahead.
If you are camping with a group, divide the tasks. Someone brings chopped vegetables. Someone else brings the dressing or sauce.
“What I do is just cook over the fire and put together some of the things that we made ahead of time,” she said.
Fire, she says, is wild. It’s out of control. But she likes it.
Rodriguez said the fire forces him to be present, to stay in the process. It’s also what she loves about camping and being outdoors – it takes you away from an email inbox and shuffles your list of priorities.
“It also connects to us in a way that feels really primitive,” she said. “There’s something instinctive about cooking over fire that I love.”
It won’t be perfect
Rodriguez said she likes baking bread over the fire. But more often than not, she will find a large charred spot.
Mistakes can happen. Adjust expectations. Let your creativity run free and modify your plans if necessary.
She said, “There’s still nothing better than homemade bread, especially when you eat it sitting around a fire.
What to bring?
Rodriguez has a knife kit packed up and ready when she goes camping. She also brings a wooden spoon or spatula, and long metal tongs, which help keep your hands free from the fire. She also likes to use a fireproof glove for her safety.
She said she brought basic seasonings and pantry items, such as salt, pepper, olive oil, and sometimes a fresh lemon.
“I keep it really, really simple,” she said.
“It’s all about the coals”
Rather than sticking food directly into the fire, which could involve too much smoke and flames, Rodriguez relies on coals to cook his food. Fire can char food before it cooks. The coals allow her to have a “nice, long heat source for a really long time” and they help control the cooking temperature, she said.
It should be noted that Rodriguez tends to do car camping. She said she wasn’t backpacking and she didn’t bring charcoal and a cast iron skillet with her.
If the fire pit or cooking area is large enough, she likes to have a fire in one place and a bed of embers in a separate cooking section. Or alternatively, two ember zones offer different temperatures.
“It’s all about the coals,” she said.
What about cleaning?
Well, maybe the cleaning is best left to someone else.
“If you’re the campfire cook, you shouldn’t be doing the dishes,” she laughed. “We’ve got it all sorted. So when we go camping, I’ll cook. But I won’t do the dishes. I’ll let the others take care of that.”
READ MORE: Rodriguez at ‘Kitchen Unnecessary’ website lists recipes for grilled cheese with rosemary ash; cast iron pizza with mushrooms, speck and arugula; smoked clam carbonara; and Roasted pumpkin fondue with chanterelles and chorizo.