Expert Campfire Cooking Tips to Keep You (and Your Food) Safe

Steven Raichlen, expert barbecue cookbook author and TV host

Planning to spend some time enjoying outdoor campfire cooking this year? While there isn't much that tastes better than food grilled over an open fire, it's certainly important to follow proper food preparation safety precautions when cooking on the grill. Steven Raichlen, host of PBS cooking shows Primal Grill and Barbecue University and best-selling author of more than 28 cookbooks, including The Barbecue Bible, How to Grill, Miami Spice , and Beer Can Chicken, shares his expert grilling safety tips and suggestions with the readers of LoveToKnow Camping.

Safe Outdoor Campfire Cooking

Safety is certainly among the most important concerns when cooking outdoors. Campers must be diligent in making sure that foods are properly packed, stored, transported, and cooked. It's also essential to take steps to keep food free from germs and bacteria, and to make sure all meats are thoroughly cooked before consuming them.

What are the most important safety tips to keep in mind when preparing food during camping trips?

Raichlen: "There are many important food safety tips to keep in mind when preparing for outdoor campfire cooking. Some of the most important grilling safety tips for campers to follow include:

  • Keep meats and perishables (like mayo) cold until grilling.
  • Carry some hand sanitizing tissue with you.
  • Avoid using the same cutting board for raw meats and vegetables or salads (to avoid the risk of cross contamination).
  • Be sure to cook poultry and burgers to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

What are the most important steps for campers to take in maintaining safe grilling practices?

Raihlen: Keep food cool and safe until grilling. It's a good idea to build a three zone fire, with one hot zone for searing, one medium zone for cooking, and one fire free or safety zone where you can move the food if you get flare-ups.

Making the Most of Outdoor Cooking

Many campers feel that food prepared in the outdoors tastes better than meals cooked in any other setting. Even though outdoor cooking may be naturally delicious and easy to prepare, there are things campers can do improve the quality of their outdoors meals. For example, it's important to have the right tools, appropriate seasonings, and an understanding of the best techniques for cooking over an open fire.

What must-have grilling safety tools do you recommend for campers to take along on their outings?

Outdoor Grill Cooking Recipes

Raichlen: It's important for grilling enthusiasts to have the right tools. I recommend using a portable grill grate or extendable barbecue fork for putting over the fire, long handled spring-loaded tongs (preferably lumatongs) and a shovel for putting out the fire. Also, be sure to take an instant read meat thermometer and good thick leather grill gloves to protect your hands. It's also important to take along the right camping cookware when planning to cook over an open fire. It's also a good idea to avoid being dependent on the built in grill at your campsite to meet all your cooking needs. To make sure that you're able to prepare your favorite recipes by taking your own outdoor cooking grate or iron grill.

What tips would you like to share with campers for making meals in the great outdoors?

Raichlen: Burgers are a popular campfire meal. The same tips that help make indoor burgers taste great also apply outdoors. It's best to use meat that's not too lean. Ideally, choose meat with a 15 percent fat content. Handle it as little as possible and keep it cold until grilling. Don't press the patties with the back of a spatula (you don't want to squeeze out the juices). Use an instant read meat thermometer to check for doneness, again making sure the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Of course, there are many delicious campfire recipes that don't involve grilling meats. You can prepare many creative dishes using over an open campfire with your dutch oven. Some of the best camping recipes are traditional boy or girl scout dishes. No matter what tpes of meals you enjoy, you'll be able to find a number of outdoor recipes to enjoy during your camping adventures.

What seasonings do you recommend for preparing meals during camping trips?

Raichlen: Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper are perfect seasonings for outdoor meals. I like to keep things simple. It's okay to pre-grind your salt and pepper before you leave on your trip.

Are there any special outdoor cooking considerations that campers need to keep in mind?

Raichlen: Campers will enjoy the best results if they try to grill over glowing embers, not flames. The heat is more powerful, reliable, and even.

LoveToKnow Camping would like to thank Steven Raichlen for sharing is outdoor campfire cooking expertise with readers and wishes him great success in his future endeavors. Readers who would like to learn more from this renowned barbecue expert may want to sign up for his newsletter or make plans to attend an upcoming event or appearance.

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Expert Campfire Cooking Tips to Keep You (and Your Food) Safe