Camp Cooking, Hacked: Bring A Dutch Oven (And Very Little Else)

Before I turned into an artisanal-seltzer-drinking Brooklynite with an array of dietary restrictions, I spent my summers doing proverbially American activities like fishing and camping in the forests of Michigan. Sure, eating freeze-dried ice cream and digging a tent moat is "character building" (thanks, Dad!), but let's be real: Just because you're roughing it doesn't mean you can't be classy, too.

Now, on those rare occasions when I go camping in the actual wilderness and not the Long Meadow in Prospect Park, I pack only one pot: a Dutch oven. This multipurpose, virtually indestructible vessel is good for far more than a Sunday braise. You can make a cake in it in the middle of the woods, with nothing but your outdoorsy prowess!

Below are a couple of other helpful tricks and general savviness that can turn your adventurous weekend of PBJs into a haute glamping sojourn. Just be sure to pack enough brown liquor and Sancerre.

Dutch oven

Use this single pot to prepare three squares a day — plus happy hour — on your trip. For pancakes, bacon and eggs-in-the-hole, take the lid off and place it upside down on top of the pot. Or, if the lid isn't completely flat when inverted, remove the lid and place the entire pot upside down over a mountain of glowing coals, like so:

For gourmet sliders, slice a large pork butt into two-inch cubes, season aggressively with salt and sugar, and slow roast in the Dutch oven for four to six hours. Pull apart, toss with barbecue sauce in the pot and pile onto potato buns.

For a savory cocktail-hour snack, mix together a simple cornmeal batter for campfire hoecakes. Grill on the makeshift Dutch-oven skillet and top with leftover pork butt or balsamic-macerated stone fruit, like nectarines. Or, if all you need is rosé to have a good time, fill the Dutch oven with ice for an instant cooler that stays extra-cold.

En papillote

French for "in paper," this popular cooking technique creates perfectly steamed fish. If you can't find parchment paper, or your first attempt bursts into flames, you can use aluminum foil for a similar, fireproof effect. Pouched meals like these are incredibly low-maintenance — no kitchen tools or cleanup required — and because they seal tightly, they cook whatever is inside to succulent perfection with just a hint of smoky flavor from the fire.

If you're camping in an area with access to fresh large leaves (like banana leaves), you can use those for a similar effect. But if your surroundings are that lush, why are you cooking fish at all? One word: sashimi.

Toss a few lemon slices, a handful of fresh herbs like tarragon and parsley, and whatever you caught in the lake/river earlier that day onto a large piece of parchment or foil. Delicately fold paper into a pouch, leaving an air pocket, and seal by folding over and twisting the edges. Place on grill, or if you're using foil, directly onto glowing embers.

While polishing off a hearty serving of striped bass en papillote for dinner, impress your friends/win her heart with an impressive campfire dessert under the stars. Goodbye, packaged cookies. Hello, blackberry clafoutis.

Blackberry Clafoutis

*Adapted from Alton Brown's Cherry Clafoutis

  • Scant 2 cups fresh blackberries (or other berry of choice)
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Butter (to grease pan)
  • Powdered sugar (optional)
  • Have a large amount of firewood embers or charcoal lit and glowing.
  • Generously butter the bottom and sides of the Dutch oven and place on grill above the fire. Be sure to have additional coals reserved to the side.
  • Place all fruit on bottom of Dutch oven.
  • In a separate mixing bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until well blended and foamy, then add milk, flour, and vanilla to create the batter.
  • Pour batter into Dutch oven, over the fruit. Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil and place lid on top. *The foil protects from charcoal ash seeping inside the oven.
  • Place reserved coals on top of Dutch oven. Let bake for 20-25 minutes with the lid on, then another 5 minutes uncovered. Remove from heat when cake passes toothpick test.
  • Allow to cool, then slice and serve with a dusting of powdered sugar, if using.