Food columnist Vic Sirkin enjoys preparing a meal while camping in Northern California. Photo by Kate Sirkin
Food columnist Vic Sirkin enjoys preparing a meal while camping in Northern California.
Photo by Kate Sirkin

JP sends me food articles weekly, yet he always says I should write about whatever I choose. His choices of articles are often about somebody’s grandmother’s potato salad or pies. I think he likes pie. I know he likes beer. He’s a carbo loader.

So I just returned from a weeklong camping trip to Mammoth and I sent him a few pictures of myself cooking pasta sauce over a propane burner, and another of a pizza I made in an RV.

So he suggested I write about cooking over an open fire. Neither of the photos I sent him had anything whatsoever to do with an open fire.

On top of that, I have no idea how to make a pie or potato salad over an open fire. I fear I am getting mixed signals. I imagine I may soon be fired from writing this column as criticizing the news editor has historically not been a good move on my part.

So, in an effort to get along smoothly with my colleague, I will offer some time-proven suggestions on how to get the most out of cooking on a campfire.

First of all, don’t start a fire in your yard to try these things. Idyllwild has fire and barbecuing requirements. If you are not sure about how to proceed, by all means call the fire department for the regulations on outdoor cooking.

When I first moved to Pine Cove in 1993, I dug a hole outside my cabin to cook in. The next morning Capt. Martinez of Riverside County Fire Department and his large truck paid us a visit. He told me I was required to have a permit, a shovel and a hose at specific distances. Makes even more sense now that things are so dry. Just call ’em. You’re better safe than sorry.

Here are some favorite foods Kate and I agree are super easy to prepare when camping.

Corn on the cob is amazing when cooked on a fire. The preferred method is to peel off the husk and wrap the corn in a wet paper towel, then wrap in foil. Place alongside the embers and rotate every so often. The intense heat caramelizes the sugar in the corn and elevates the flavor to amazing heights. If you go too long and burn it, it won’t be good.

A good ear of corn tastes great even when undercooked. Once again, trial and error is the way to go with corn. Pull one out after 10 to 15 minutes and have a peek. Sweet potatoes, yams and big ole regular potatoes also are fantastic cooked in an open fire. No paper towels are necessary with these babies.

Stab them here and there with a fork so they don’t split too badly and wrap them in a couple of layers of foil. They will take longer than corn. At least a half hour or more. Put on a leather glove and give ’em the squeeze test. If they yield nicely, they are done.

Another favorite requires some preparation. Pick up some bamboo skewers and load them up with veggies — zucchini, onion, yellow squash, mushrooms or anything you like.

Brush them with oil and seasonings. Cook on foil on a grill top or grate until they start to soften. Then, if you like that smoky grill taste, roll them onto the grill for a few minutes and turn often. Don’t let them get black.

Cooking food on a grill until it is darkly charred is not healthful.

Another tip about the use of barbecue sauce needs emphasis. Whether it is meat, fish or vegetables, don’t load the sauce on your food at the beginning. It will drip all over and make a mess of the grill. It will burn on the food and look awful.

Better to oil the food, cook until almost done, then brush on the sauce a couple of times and turn the food to get all sides. Again, avoid burning the food black; charcoal is not good for you.

If you are camping and have a long stick, spread the embers into two piles with an open space between them. Cook the food over the open space. This is called indirect cooking. It will prevent flare-ups. Keep a spray bottle of water nearby. This will prevent too much fire on the food.

We all remember eating burnt hot dogs on the Fourth of July. Although festive in concept, a nice juicy burger or hot dog beats the heck out of charcoal shards cutting into your tongue!

Cooking, like life, is all about finesse … and lot of practice.

Happy holiday to all, and I hope your travels are safe and your meals are delicious.

Vic Sirkin can be reached at [email protected].