Camp Cookin’ in The Outdoors
Like many veteran sportsmen, I’m an avid camp cook. I love to transform the fruits of my hunting and fishing trips into tasty meals, at camp and back at home. Scheduling time for camp cookin’ into a busy hunting or fishing trip can be tough. After all, hunting or fishing is the primary reason for the outing, right? Yes, but you and your buddies and family still have to eat! Why settle for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when a tasty meal that everyone will remember can be easily prepared and, with a little forethought, allow you plenty of time to enjoy the primary reason you are outdoors: hunting and fishing!
Some of my favorite camp meals require a couple of hours to prepare. I learned a long time ago not to wait until after the evening hunt to begin these more time consuming meals. There’s always the option of preparing the meals at home, packing them in the ice cooler and heating them up at camp, but that’s just not “camp cookin’.” I enjoy camp cookin’, over hardwood coals, a camp stove, or if there is electricity handy, slow smoking meats overnight on my Smokin’ Tex electric smoker. I am about to divulge some of my favorite camp meals but first, I want to tell you about a meal and an outing that I will never forget. It was the early nineties and I was managing a 600-acre hunting lease in northern Marion County. I had a little 15-foot “deer camp” camper nestled in the pines and hunting was good, there were lots of deer and good numbers of wild hogs. I had a couple of days during the week away from work and decided to go down for a little solo hunt. It was November and the air was crisp and leaves aglow in their fall colors, the whitetail rut was in full swing.
Before leaving home, I loaded a good size piece of venison back strap from a doe I had previously harvested and a couple of thick striper fillets in the cooler. At camp that afternoon, I built a little “cook fire,” heated a little butter in my old cast iron skillet and added the thickly cut pieces of back strap and the striper fillets. The resulting meal was one that is still vivid in my mind. While the main course was “resting” I diced a couple of potatoes and browned them with onion. What a meal! A good “camp cookin’ ” meal is easy to prepare on a hunting trip, but it does require a bit of planning.
Camp Fajitas – Through the years, I’ve made fajitas at camp from everything from elk steak to wild turkey breast. Fajita meat is best if allowed to season a few hours or overnight. I usually cut the fajita meat into strips at home and season liberally with Fiesta Fajita seasoning. Place the strips into a zip lock bag and place in the refrigerator. I usually slice bell pepper, onion, a jalapeno or two, and four or five garlic cloves at home and place in separate bag. At camp, heat a cast iron skillet or wok, cut up 5 strips of bacon and fry until crisp, add the meat and cook until done, about 10 minutes. Add the veggies during the last couple minutes of cooking. Squeeze the juice from a couple of lemons just before serving on warm tortillas.
CAMP CABBAGE ROLLS – This easy-to-prepare dish takes about an hour from start to finish. Begin by making small meatballs by mixing spicy pork sausage with raw Jasmine rice. Next, in a large pot or Dutch Kettle, pour in a large can of V8 spicy juice. Slice a large head of cabbage into small pieces and layer the cabbage with the meatballs. Add a little more Jasmine rice, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook about 45 minutes until the meatballs are done. Bring along an omelet cooker and make some cornbread over low heat on your cook stove or, use a Dutch Kettle with coals to make the cornbread. This dish is best served on a cool fall or winter outing.
WILD PORK TENDERLOIN – I harvest several wild hogs during the course of a year and usually have plenty of pork in the freezer. Domestic pork may be substituted. Begin by trimming the tenderloins well, then make a vertical slice right down the center of each loin, about half-way through. Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Place a couple of slices of quality, thickly sliced, smoked bacon in the slit of each tenderloin. Grill or smoke until well done, then pour a liberal amount of Roasted Raspberry Chipolet Sauce, made by Fischer & Weiser (www.jelly.com) over the loins. This sauce gives the meat an excellent sweet/spicy flavor and should be poured onto the loins during the last minute or so of cooking. If you prefer, instead of cooking the loins whole, slice them into three-quarters inch loin chops and baste with the Roasted Raspberry sauce. I’ve served this dish many times and it’s always well received at camp and home.
SMOKED PORK OR VENISON HAM OR SHOULDER – I use my Smokin’ Tex (www.smokintex.com) often and pack it along on camping trips where electricity is available. I’ve found that whole hams from wild hogs or venison make a wonderful camp meal, but require overnight cooking. Begin by rubbing the large cuts of meat liberally with Country Bobs (www.countrybobs.com) dry seasoning. I then inject Country Bobs BBQ sauce into the hams, place them on a couple layers of heavy duty aluminum foil and place in the Smokin’ Tex with about four ounces of pecan or hickory wood. Allow the heavy smoke to permeate the meat for a couple of hours, then add more BBQ sauce, and cover with bay leaves, wrap tightly in the aluminum foil, set the thermometer at 200 degrees and allow to slow cook overnight. No need to check the hams until morning and cooking time can be anywhere from 12 to 18 hours. The even temperature will make the BBQ “fall-off-the-bone” tender.
MAKE SOME HAM – Chances are pretty good that many of you have some wild pork in the freezer from recent hunts. If not, watch the grocery store sales and buy some pork shoulder. Turning just about any cut of pork into tasty ham is easy to do. For about five dollars, you can buy enough sugar cure from Butcher Packer Supply to cure way more ham than you will be making. Make sure and use sugar cure, some of the other cures are way too salty for my taste. Simply rub the cure all over the ham, let it “cure” in the fridge for 6 or 7 days and slow smoke the pieces with your favorite hardwood or fruitwood. I cut the pieces into about two-pound chunks, no more than 1.5 inches thick, which allows the meat to cure in a week or so. I usually add a good amount of dark brown sugar during the process. Once the pieces are smoked a couple of hours at 140-150 degrees, I put them in a freezer bag and allow them to “mellow” in the fridge another week or so. Whether this is necessary or not, I have yet to decide. I often fry some right out of the smoker and have found the flavor to be excellent.
Listen to “Outdoors with Luke Clayton and Friends” on radio stations from Nebraska to Texas on weekends on anytime online at www.catfishradio.com. Read more of his Outdoor columns here on The Northeast Texan!