5 Best Open Fire Cooking Recipes For A Life That Roams

There's nothing quite as satisfying as cooking over an open fire (preferably one you've lit with a flint and natural kindling! Camping meals are traditionally simple, but we found that with some imagination, ambition and a lot of patience, you can create something much more delicious, even in the wildest of campsites. We got into a daily routine of planning our meals a couple days ahead. We’d pick up the ingredients en route and then we’d pitch up in a new location, I would get us unpacked, and Alex would go off gathering wood for the fire. The meals we made that way were always the most memorable because they were a challenge. We’ve put together our 5 best open fire recipes, to replace those standard camping meals of tinned beans. So here goes, easy healthy vanlife meals (and a couple of challenging ones) for a life that roams…

Cumin Beef Stir Fry

This recipe is one I often cook at home because it’s so quick and easy to make and it’s delicious! Along the way on our road trip we sometimes stayed in a site with a fire ring which had a grate on top, and other times it was just a stone fire ring and we propped a pan up on three crossed sticks (not ideal as the sticks burn through and you have to keep replacing them). More recently we used our Barebones All-In-One Cast Iron Grill – OK shameless plug I know, but genuinely it was so great being able to stand a wok over the fire so easily and know that it wasn’t going to fall over!

Serves: 2

You will need: Chopping board, Sharp Knife, 1 Large Pan, Saucepan, Large Spoon, Bowls, Forks

Fresh Bought Ingredients:

250g Stir Fry Beef 2 Red Bell Peppers 6 Scallions (Spring Onions) Ciabatta Bread Cilantro (Coriander)

From your stores:

Ground Cumin Cumin Seeds Flour (any) Oil (olive/veg/sesame) Soy Sauce Rice Wine Vinegar Chili Flakes

Sugar Long Grain Rice

  • Put a saucepan of approx. 1” deep water over the fire to bring to boil

  • Into a bowl measure out the rice using your hand, I do two handfuls per person

  • Pour over water and stir the rice round a bit to start soaking off the starch

  • In another bowl mix 3 tsp ground cumin, 2 tsp flour, 1 tbsp oil, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

  • Add the beef to the mixture and coat

  • Once the water is boiling drain the soaking rice and add it to the pan of boiling water, cover and set the pan on the edge of the fire so it simmers. Try not to remove the lid too often.

  • In your large pan add 2 tbsp cumin seeds and toast for 1 min, then remov them

  • Add a glug of oil and then the beef

  • Fry until brown then add back in the cumin seeds, 1 tsp chili flakes, ½ tsp sugar, 6 roughly sliced scallions, 2 sliced red peppers, handful chopped cilantro

  • Fry everything up until the veg has softened slightly

  • Check that the water has steamed off and the rice is cooked.

  • Serve the stir fry in bowls over the rice. Add more Soy Sauce to taste.

Seafood Paella

Whenever I’m on the coast I love cooking with seafood because you know it’s going to be super fresh and delicious wherever you buy it. We made this in our campsite just outside of L.A. where we had a built-in fire ring with a cooking grate on top. However if you don’t have the proper outdoor gear a couple sticks to balance your pan on works a treat. Just make sure you have fire-proof gloves as the pan will get very hot and you’ll need to move the pan around to avoid burning the food on the bottom. Some people think that risotto and paella are hard to make but you just need to be attentive, patient and preferably drinking a glass of wine while you make it. What could go wrong?

If you don’t like seafood you can use chicken as an alternative or go veggie. For ours I used King Prawns, Mussels & Scallops. I’ve once come across sachets of paella spice mix when I was in France which was amazing because they had saffron in them and, let’s face it, when your living the vanlife who’s going to spend $20 on a pinch of saffron? So if you can find these, ideal! Otherwise I’ve left the saffron out of this recipe and added turmeric instead and it still tastes pretty damn good.

Serves: 2

You will need: Chopping board, Sharp Knife, 1 Large Pan, Kettle, Large Spoon, Bowls, Forks

Fresh Bought Ingredients:

6x Large Shrimp (King Prawns) 6x Scallops 300g Mussels 1 Chorizo Sausage 1 Lemon 1 Red Bell Pepper Ciabatta Bread

From your stores:

Olive oil Salt & Pepper 1 onion 2 cloves garlic 250g arborio or paella rice Dried Parsley 2 Chicken Stock Cubes

Paprika Turmeric White Wine

  • Fill your kettle with water and put it over the fire

  • Chop up 1 chorizo sausage, 1 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 1 pepper

  • Stick your pan over the fire and add the chorizo

  • Let this cook gently until all the spicy oil seeps out

  • Then add onion, garlic, pepper – add more olive oil if needed

  • Once soft add 1 tsp paprika and 1 tsp turmeric

  • Add 250g rice and 2 chicken stock cubes crushed

  • Poor over water from the kettle until everything is submerged and put the kettle back over the fire

  • For 20 minutes stir everything up regularly and keep adding water every time it gets absorbed

  • Taste the rice - if it’s still has a crunch keep simmering and adding water until it’s cooked

  • Once you think it’s nearly there add the scallops to the pot and put the lid on

  • Wait 2 minutes then add the king prawns and mussels and cover again for 5 mins

  • Slice up your ciabatta and toast over the fire

  • Check that the mussels have fully opened, and the prawns are pink

  • Serve with lemon wedges, a sprinkle of parsley and olive oil drizzled ciabatta

BBQ Ribs

This was a rare unplanned meal that we put together after driving cross country through New York state farms. We bought the corn from a stand outside a farmhouse with an honesty box, the ribs from a gas station that had an amazing deli of local produce and threw together a potato salad from our emergency produce stash. It took a little longer than expected to cook because we were so new to fire building at this point that we didn’t make a proper fire ring and so the heat was escaping too much to cook the ribs properly. Once we’d figured this out and fixed our mistake it was dark and we were very hungry, but they were definitely worth the wait!

For the marinade we pretty much chucked in anything we had in our stores so you can do the same, a good mix of salty and sweet works a treat and you can’t really go far wrong. A good long time marinating the meat is best so do this early on, maybe before you light your fire to give the meat time to soak up the flavor. We had a handheld wire sandwich grill thing that’s designed for fish but because the ribs need a while to cook we ended up balancing it over the fire…again another plug but our Barebones All-In-One Cast Iron Grill has a grill plate that you can place on the stand giving you the perfect barbecue base!

Serves: 2

You will need: Chopping board, Sharp Knife, Sauce Pan, A Grill, Plates, Spoon, Forks

Fresh Bought Ingredients:

600g Rack of Pork Ribs 2 Corn on the Cob (with husk on)

From your stores:

Ketchup/Brown Sauce/BBQ Sauce Sriracha Balsamic Vinegar Maple Syrup Soy Sauce

(Anything else you want to chuck in the ribs marinade is fine!)

Potatoes Pickles Mayonnaise Butter Salt & Pepper

  • The ribs need about an hour to marinade so maybe do this before lighting your fire

  • Put the ribs in a plastic bag (the one they came in works) and add some Ketchup/Brown Sauce/BBQ Sauce, Sriracha, Balsamic Vinegar, Maple Syrup, Soy Sauce until the ribs look thoroughly coated

  • Get your fire lit and then bring a pan of water with the sliced up potatoes to boil over the fire

  • Drink a beer while the potatoes cook and chop up a handful of pickles

  • Once the potatoes are cooked drain them and leave to cool

  • Now your ribs should be good and flavored so take them out of the marinade and put them on the grill over the fire

  • Keep drinking that beer

  • Once the potatoes are cool add a few spoons of mayo to the pan along with the chopped pickles and salt & pepper

  • Once the ribs look like they’re getting crispy on the underside, flip them over

  • Just before you think the ribs might be getting there put your corn (husks on) into the fire near the edge, turn them occasionally using tongs

  • Cut into a piece of meat to check the ribs are cooked through. Take them off the grill and rest them while the corn cooks

  • Peal back a bit of husk from the corn and check that’s cooked

  • Once the corn is ready peels back all the husk and slather in butter and salt & pepper

  • Divide up the ribs and serve with potato salad and corn on the cob

Chicken Cassoulet

We cooked this one a few times because unlike some of the other recipes it’s a true one pot dish and requires very little effort. You can just throw it all in, sit back and relax. We also did this for a vegan friend simply by removing the chicken from the recipe and serving it with crusty bread and it was still really delicious!

Serves: 2

You will need: Chopping board, Sharp Knife, Large Pan, Large Spoon, Plates, Knives & Forks

Fresh Bought Ingredients:

2 Chicken Legs Bunch of Basil 4 On-the-vine Tomatoes Pack of Cherry Tomatoes Spinach Crusty Bread (optional)

From your stores:

Bulb of Garlic Potatoes Chili Flakes Olive Oil Tinned Cannellini Beans Salt & Pepper

  • Throw into your pan; chopped potatoes, ½ tbsp chili flakes, peeled cloves of a whole bulb of garlic, torn up basil leaves, halved large tomatoes, whole cherry tomatoes, big slug of olive oil, salt & pepper

  • Please the chicken legs onto and drizzle with olive oil, add salt & pepper

  • Place the lid on your pan and put on top of the fire

  • Wait around 30-45 minutes checking that the mixture is still nice and liquidy

  • Lift the chicken off so you can add the cannellini beans, stir them in and place the chicken back on top

  • Put the lid back on and leave for another 30-45 mins

  • Check that the chicken is cooked through

  • Serve as is or with crusty bread

Beef Kebabs and Flatbread

I love having sides with this dish but that means that this meal definitely takes the most prep. You don’t necessarily need the tzatziki and salsa, or you could get store bought dips along with pre-made flat breads, but if your up for the challenge (and I hope you are) it's a deliciously fresh meal for warmer weather.

Serves: 2

You will need: Chopping board, Sharp Knife, Two bowls, a Grill, a Frying Sheet or Frying Pan, Metal Skewers, Plates, Spoon, Knives & Forks

Fresh Bought Ingredients:

450g Beef Asparagus Coriander Natural Yogurt (For the Tzatziki & Flatbreads) Cucumber (For the Tzatziki) Lemon (For the Tzatziki) Tomatoes (For the Salsa)

From your stores:

Garlic Olive Oil Salt & Pepper Sriracha Chili Flakes Paprika Ground Cumin Dill (For the Tzatziki) Plain Flour (For the Flatbreads) Baking Soda (For the Flatbreads)

  • In a bowl add 2 tbsp Ground Cumin, 1 tbsp paprika, salt & pepper, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 chopped garlic cloves, handful chopped coriander, 1 tbsp sriracha

  • Mix together with diced beef and leave to marinate

For the Salsa and Tzatziki

  • Dice 2 tomatoes, chop a handful of coriander, and add to a bowl with salt & pepper

  • Dice half a cucumber and add to a bowl with a grated garlic clove, zest and juice of half a lemon, 2 tbsp dill, salt & pepper

  • Mix with quarter tub of natural yogurt and a slug of olive oil

For the flatbreads

  • Tip about a cup of plain flour onto a flat surface or chopping board and make a well in the middle

  • Add 1 tbsp baking soda and half a cup of natural yogurt

  • Begin combining the ingredients adding more yogurt if needed to make a soft but not sticky dough

  • Divide in two and on two floured plates gently press the dough flat

  • Slide the marinated beef pieces onto skewers and drizzle with the remaining marinade

  • Cook the kebabs over the fire on the grill, along with the asparagus spears drizzled with some olive oil, this should only take about 10 minutes

  • Remove the kebabs and asparagus from the grill and place the frying sheet or pan over the fire

  • Drizzle the flatbreads with olive oil and add salt & pepper, then place them on the frying plate oil side down

  • While they’re cooking drizzle the top side with olive oil and add salt & pepper again

  • Once the underside has browned flip them over. The flatbreads should puff up nicely

  • Serve the kebabs on top of the flatbreads with a dollop of tzatziki and salsa with the asparagus on the side

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