Outdoor Eats: Cooking on Coals
Joshua Wussow 11.14.17
You’re leaving on a day hike, but you don’t have time to stop at the store. A glance through the pantry shows nothing but canned food and jerky, and everything in the fridge requires a pan or pot. Or does it?
So long as you’re near a campfire, you’ve got all you need to cook up some hearty staples like potatoes and eggs. Given a half-hour and a few careful turns, these basic ingredients will provide plenty of energy for the trail.
Packing your Provisions
Potatoes are easy. Toss one in your bag, and you’re good to go. Eggs are a little more tricky, but a small container packed with paper towel or other soft material will generally keep them safe. There are also larger hardshell containers available for sale in case you’ll be cooking for a group.
Small packets of salt and pepper offer a nice touch, as well. While they’re certainly not necessary (I didn’t use them on my last trip), they help to dress up an otherwise very basic meal.
Fire Prep and Cooking
For culinary purposes, I’ve found a log-cabin style fire to be superior to the traditional teepee layout. Either method will work, but there are some advantages to trapping the heat between two larger logs.
While you’re waiting for the coals to form, grab a long, clean stick and carve a tip onto one end. This will be used to skewer the potato as it roasts. A Y-shaped stick is also nice to have, serving as a stand for the sharpened one.
Once the coals have formed, plunge the stake part-way through the potato and prop it several inches above the fire. Distance is important here – too close and the outside will burn before the interior cooks. I employ the same temperature-taking tactic around the fire as I do at the grill: If you can’t hold your hand over the heat source for more than three seconds without pain, that’s the equivalent of the “High” setting on your stove. Set the potato to cook just above that height.
Then there’s the egg. First,use the butt of your knife or some other blunt object to make a small crack in the top. This will allow pressure to escape throughout cooking. Without this sort of relief, the egg will explode and ruin your meal. Then gently prop the shell against a stable surface, within range of some fairly active coals. As with the potato, you’re looking for a generally medium-high level of heat.
From here, the cooking process should take between twenty minutes and a half hour. Be sure to rotate the egg and the potato every few minutes, lest one side begin to burn. Make sure you’re wearing gloves when turning the egg, as the shell will be very hot.
Once the top of the egg begins to cloud over, you should be getting near the end. You can test the progress by poking another sharpened stick into either course. If it passes easily through the potato and comes out of the egg without too much yolk, your meal should be complete.
Enjoy with Care
Since we’re working with a minimum of tools here, I’m assuming you didn’t pack plates and forks. That’s fine! The potato can be enjoyed on the stick, and the egg is easy to peel. Just be sure to wait a moment or two before breaking into either, as they’ll still be rather hot.
Really, there are all sorts of things you can cook with bare coals. This apparently includes scrambled eggs, poured into a hole beneath your fire. I haven’t tried that one yet, but perhaps a test is in order.