Monday, June 30, 2008

Hobo Dinners

This weekend my friends and I went camping in the mountains. Interested in reliving my days from camp canoe and caving field trips, I wanted to make a camp favorite Hobo dinners. A hobo dinner is nothing more than a packet of foil filled with meat and vegetables and cooked in the coals of a roaring campfire. As easy as this sounds, it is a little more advanced campfire cooking than any of us had ever done.

And it showed.

We made an executive decision before we left that we would use chunks of beef instead of ground beef. I bought some steaks and cut them up myself assuming that the stew meat would be too tough for the cooking method. I cut the meat up and stowed it in some Tupperware and it went into the cooler. The other ingredients were onions, potatoes, and carrots.

At the campsite, we assembled the foil packets out of heavy duty foil. We knew going into it we had a little bit of a problem. All the recipes I had looked for online for cooking times said that this should cook for between 30-50 minutes at 350 degrees. Our fire, unfortunately, was way hotter than 350, some thought perhaps 600! The second problem was that we didn't have coals--we had ashes and wood and a lot of fire.

We ripped off huge pieces of foil and piled together thin slices of potato, chunks of beef, baby carrots (I was ecstatic that I thought of bringing these so I wouldn't have to cut them there), and slices of onions. While the packets looked big before being cooked, they ended up a lot smaller, so make them bigger than you think.

We decided to make the packets on the grill rack above the foil because our chief camping expert was a little worried that the fire would destroy the foil. We set them out and then we forgot when we put them on. This was probably our second disadvantage. Most of the packets cooked a little too long on the hot hot heat and were charred when removed from the heat. Luckily, mine wasn't charred in the least because it was too far to the side of the fire and didn't cook on the direct heat. Lesson learned.

The resulting hobo dinner I had was delicious but a little bland. At camp, the hobo dinners were made with ketchup and mustard inside the foil. We probably also had salt and pepper. Unfortunately, on this camping trip our only condiment available was mustard. Everyone agreed that the foil dinners would have been delicious if only....

The fire hadn't been so hot
We hadn't cooked them so long
We had salt and pepper or other seasonings
We had ketchup
The potatoes were cut a little thicker

So make note, when you go camping and make the foil dinners, don't forget the seasonings! In the below recipe, I am increasing the amounts to make four adult sized hobo dinners--something I should have thought of prior to camping.

Hobo Dinners

Ground beef or 4 steaks cut into chunks
1-2 large potatoes (I used yellow long potatoes so I wouldn't have to peel them, but you could use baking)
1 brown or yellow onion
1 bag baby carrots
Seasonings (opt.) (maybe Italian seasonings, or Lawrys season salt, or whatever your favorite combination is)
Ketchup (opt.)
Mustard (opt.)
Heavy duty Aluminum Foil

1. Cut the meat into chunks and set aside.
2. Cut the potatoes into 1/4 inch thick rounds, you could do chunks but it might take longer to cook
3. Remove the papery skin of the onion. Cut in half and into moon shaped slices.
4. Make 4 large pieces of aluminum foil, double layered.
5. Assemble dinners by layering meat, potatoes, carrots, and onion in the foil packets
6. Season liberally with salt and pepper and other seasonings if applicable. Add ketchup and mustard for a twist.
7. Cook on the grill over a piping hot fire for 10 minutes. Check a packet for tender potatoes and cooked-through meat. Add more time if necessary.

Packets can also be cooked in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes (but check it before, we learned that timing can be off).

Serve packets right out of the foil with extra ketchup and mustard.


Liz said...

What a bummer! Well, next time you make them I am sure you will get it right. I wonder if marinading the meat would be tasty?

Carrie said...

When we were eating them marinading came to mind...but naturally, I hadn't even thought of that in advance when I had more than just mustard on hand.

Nadine said...

I talked to someone who is a "foil cooking" expert -- plenty of years teaching Boy Scouts how to do outdoor cooking -- and she claimed that the trick is to make sure that the packets are sealed really well -- double overlapping on top and on sides of packet plus really good crimping. Her experience has been that as long as the liquid can't escape from the packet, nothing burns and everything stays very moist.

Of course, seasonings are never a bad thing!

Carrie said...

hmmm liquid...we didn't use any of that...

Nadine said...

I meant the liquid that comes out of the meat and veggies but the whole marinade thing would also keep them moist.

Elizabeth said...

Ground beef is the way to go, as you want the extra bit of grease it provides. Butter is helpful as well. I like to use those bottle marinades, cheaters way but so so easy. BBQ sauce anything really does the trick. I think we used one of the KC brand marinades (the ones in the bottles) and it was super good. Roll your meat into little meatballs and toss it all in. Nadine has a good point about heavy duty foil and double foiling. Leave space for the steam to move around, instead of packing it tight around. Granted we get rreaallyy good beef in Iowa so it's usually awfully tasty. I'm salivating right now! coals, you can dig some out from under the fire and well.. i guess if you don't have a shovel that might not work, but usually the fire pits will have some room off to the side you can use.