Summertime is a great time for bonfires, whether you are camping in the wilderness or hanging out with friends and family around a fire pit in your back yard. It’s even more fun when you can cook your dinner over the open fire!
Tin Foil Dinner (“Hobo Dinner”)
An old favorite method for cooking over an open fire is cooking a single meal in a foil packet over the hot coals. This method is commonly known as “hobo dinner,” or “hobo stew.” If you want to try hobo cooking at home and you aren’t able to have a fire pit in your back yard, it can also be done over hot coals (charcoal) in your grill.
Cooking a hobo dinner over a fire or on the grill can be a relatively easy meal for the chef and lots of fun for families or groups, because the chef can prepare a range of ingredients and each participant can then assemble one’s own meal according to personal taste. Clean up is also super easy. Just toss the foil into the trash or recycle bin. With a little adult supervision to help them put their packets together and for dealing with the fire, kids will have a ball with this!
The classic hobo dinner is made up of some combination of a ground beef patty, thickly sliced onions, sliced potatoes, sliced carrots and green beans, seasoned to taste with salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and/or anything else your heart (or your palette) desires. This works great with chicken, steak or any other meat, and marinating meat before cooking also works well with hobo dinners.
If you are out camping and doing some fishing, fillet that fish up and toss it in the packet with some carrots, onions, fresh garlic, dill, lemon juice and/or any other spices you like with your fish. Some Asian dressing (rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce and honey or some other sugar, and perhaps some chopped or grated fresh ginger) works great with some fresh caught perch (or some chicken), with some carrots, garlic and onions. Greek dressing works really well with chicken, beef or lamb and veggies. If you want a casserole type of meal, add some cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup to your packet. You can also make a hobo-style breakfast with eggs, premade hashbrowns, sausage, etc.
Want dessert? How about a hobo dinner pineapple upside down cake over the fire? Place a plain donut on the sheet of foil. Melt a tablespoon of brown sugar into a tablespoon of butter, and spread the melted mixture over the donut. Place a ring of pineapple on top of the donut. Wrap the donut tightly in the foil pack and cook over hot coals for five to seven minutes.
The Foil Pack
There are a few different ways to construct the tin foil (actually aluminum foil) packets. For starters, in order to avoid the packets falling apart in the fire, it is important to use heavy duty aluminum foil. It’s also a good idea to spray the foil with cooking spray, or smear a bit of olive oil or other cooking oil on the foil, to prevent your food from sticking to it. It is best to cook your hobo dinner over hot coals rather than in open flames, to avoid burning up the foil.
If you are cooking meat and some added veggies, a flat foil packet tends to work best. Place a sheet of heavy foil on the table. You will want to make sure it is large enough to hold your food and then fold the excess foil over the top of the food. Fold the top edges of the foil over tightly into a “cuff” that will hold the food and the juices in, and then do the same at the ends of the packet. Typically, you will want to place the meat on the bottom, as it takes longer to cook. Put whatever veggies you use into the packet on top of the meat. Once you’ve placed the desired ingredients into the packet, fold it up tightly and seal the edges.
If the contents of your packet will be mainly veggies and/or fruits, it is better to leave some air space for the fruits and/or veggies to steam. Make your packet the same way as with a flat pack, but use extra foil and wrap it more loosely to create a “tent” with an air space of a few inches above the food.
Corn on the Cob (in the Husk)
Some of the tastiest corn on the cob you’ll ever have is when you cook it on an open fire (or over a grill) in the husk. Of course, getting the best quality ears of corn you can find is the biggest factor, but when you cook the ears of corn in the husk, with the silk intact, you really bring the sweetness out in the corn. The corn will also retain more moisture so, provided you don’t overcook the corn, you are likely to get some really snappy corn to bite into!
So here’s how you do it. Fill a bucket or other large container with water (some people also add sugar to the water to make the corn even more sweet), and soak the ears of corn (completely submerged) in the water for one to two hours. After a nice long soak, remove the ears of corn from the water and place them on the campfire coals or on the grill. Turn the ears of corn frequently to avoid too much burning of the husk. Cook the corn for approximately 20 to 30 minutes or until the corn is tender, then remove from the fire or grill. Peel back the husk and the silk (some work gloves or oven mitts are recommended, as the husk and silk will be very hot when you pull the corn off the fire). Season with butter, salt, pepper (or whatever other seasonings you like on corn on the cob) to taste.
We would love to hear what combinations of meats, vegetables, fruits, etc. you like to use in your hobo dinner over a campfire!