Basic method for “baking” potatoes in a campfire or wood-burning stove. (Also, includes directions for conventional ovens.)
Although campfires are common summertime events, many people still enjoy building up fires on cool fall nights – for a single evening or several nights running on a camping or hunting trip. Regardless of the season, campfires are generally accompanied by food. Hot dogs and marshmallows are common campfire fare, but a whole world of culinary options exist that use the open flame or piping hot coals. After all, before the advent of electric and gas ranges, cooking methods almost always used the heat, directly or indirectly, of burning wood.
At first, the task of cooking anything other than “tube steak” might seem daunting, but there are several foods that are not only easy to prepare, but are quick and require few ingredients. One great thing to try is a baked potato. Although this method works for an open fire, it also translates well to conventional ovens.
This project requires very little, but the key items are as follows: .
- Potatoes – medium or large (I use russets.)
- Aluminum Foil
- Kosher Salt
- Butter (I use real, but margarine would also work.)
Additional suggested items:
- Long tongs, such as those meant for grilling or fire use
- Some sort of heat resistant gloves
Once you’ve gathered your ingredients and tools, it’s time to begin. Each potato will be double wrapped in foil. (You’ll find similar advice elsewhere.) So, to be efficient, you can have stacks of foil, two pieces per stack ready to go. Alternately, you can make one stack of foil with the total number of sheets in the stack. Then, wash the desired number of potatoes and cut any bad spots or eyes off of them. After cleaning the potatoes, I generally cut them in two. This reduces cooking time.
Place them on the foil. Now you’ll need to cut pats of butter. Feel free to use as much or as little as you like. For a medium sized potato, I use about two or three pats of butter. A large potato would warrant more. Lately, when baking, I’ve been placing most of the butter between the potato slices, but it is appropriate to put it on the top or bottom if you wish. It will eventually melt and slide to the bottom anyway.
Finally, sprinkle the potato and butter with the kosher salt, and wrap in the two sheets of foil. Scrunch one sheet at a time around the potato, and try to fold it in a fashion that will reduce butter loss. Once this step is complete, you are ready to put them in the fire.
Fire temperature varies and this, coupled with the inconsistent size of potatoes, will result in varying cooking times. So, the best way to cook these is to give them a few minutes, and check their progress periodically.
The best way to check the potatoes is by removing one from the fire (preferably using tongs or some other long handled tool), carefully unwrapping, and then inserting a fork into the flesh or gently pressing on or squeezing the potato. (Careful, they’ll be HOT!) When it is soft, it is done. The consistency should be like that of a “normal” baked potato.
To start off, place them in a gap between or under logs. Unless they are really small or the fire is ridiculously hot, you should be able to leave them there for at least 10 minutes without a problem. After that point either check them very regularly, or move them to the fire’s periphery. Now and then, turn and move the potatoes.
WARNING: Occasionally, the butter might catch fire. If it lights, don’t panic. Try to put the flame out by removing the foil wrapped potato from the flames with long handled tongs, and smothering it by pressing the flaming end gently in the ashes of the fire.
As mentioned earlier, this recipe will adapt to conventional ovens. I’ve been using a countertop oven set on convection, but a traditional oven will work as well. Set the oven to 400-425 degrees Fahrenheit. For a medium sized russet, cook for 10-15 minutes (in a convection oven) or 20-30 (on standard bake), and then monitor the progress from there. Potatoes prepared in this way aren’t especially touchy. So, cooking in 5 minute increments after the initial period shouldn’t be a problem.
That’s it! They are now ready for you, your family, and your guests to enjoy!