When was the last time you had someone younger than 16 in camp? For those of you that have youngsters moving around in camp, let’s take that blessing and make their outdoor experience full circle from field to table. These youngins have attended hunter safety courses, learned how to prepare for the hunt, sighted in their gun and/or bow, got all the scent block camo gear, you get the picture. So let’s complete the cycle by teaching them to cook and eat the fruits of our hunt. What better way to teach a kid to cook than to complete some authentic cooking projects around a fire?
Begin with the Basics
When teaching field dressing, and if you have the opportunity to fabricate your game in the field, start discussing ways of preparation and finished dishes. As an example, this cut of meat will make an excellent roast or stew. Bring your youngster with you to the game processor so they know what cuts you are selecting and why. This keeps them grounded and connected to the entire process from field to table.
My dad taught my two brothers and me how to cook when we were scouts. We had to achieve cooking requirements for first and second class as well as cooking merit badges. That is when I started my interest as a culinarian. I already loved starting fires, not a pyro, but loved to learn different techniques of fire starting. When I learned about campfire cooking, menu planning, organizing the equipment, supplies, etc. I was hooked. What kid doesn’t like to sit around a fire and try to cook eggs and bacon in the morning or beef stew in the evening? I didn’t like KP-the cleanup of dirty pots and pans, don’t remember any kid that did. I liked planning the menu using as little equipment as possible for less clean-up. I enjoyed purchasing and packing supplies and the anticipation of our campout. When I got older I wound up doing the same preparations and anticipation at my dad’s and uncle’s hunting camp. Of course, I also did this when working in backcountry outfitters hunting camps. I’m still planning, organizing, and anticipating when I cook and teach at Outdoor Solutions ‘From Field to Table’ culinary events.
Plan Your Cooking Projects
Menu planning is the key to success for every event and camp. The menu determines everything from food cost, workload, equipment, the time required to cook, etc. The key to teaching a child to cook and actually enjoy it, is to plan a fun easy cooking project. All kids like to sit around the fire so planning a menu around the fire is probably the best start. Think about it, what kid doesn’t like to stick a hot dog on a stick and place it in the flames? What kid doesn’t like to skewer a marshmallow and place it into the flame? It’s easy, you don’t have to pack in heavy cast iron pans, it’s quick, and hardly any clean-up. Last January at our Texas Waterfowl “FFTT” event there were a bunch of grown men and women hunters sticking legs of seasoned marinated Sandhill cranes into the fire acting just like a bunch of kids. The excitement, atmosphere, and exuberance of these adults had them acting like a bunch of kids. There’s nothing better than the comradery and friendships built from cooking the game that you harvested in the field at the fire.
Start with something very easy such as hot dogs on a stick, it’s fast, easy, with no mess, and can be enhanced and embellished by adding chili, cheese, kraut, etc. The next level would be using Pie Irons, those camp toasters with two metal plates at the end. You place two pieces of buttered bread, apple pie filling, or pepperoni and four cheeses in the center, close, toast over the fire and make your own turnovers or hot pockets. Using some of your own imagination and encouragement, some pretty unique flavorful campfire delights can be experienced with very little cleanup.
Fire Safety First
Teach these youngins that the menu will determine shopping and equipment lists, a level of difficulty, clean up, the weight of equipment needed, etc. Try foods wrapped in foil and cooked in a hot bed of coals. That is if you are allowed to have fires, this time of year in the Western states, forest fire danger is extremely high and campfires are prohibited. The use of camp stoves and small one-pot meals are required. And I’ve got to add always make sure your fire is completely out!
If there are no fire restrictions start experimenting with Dutch Ovens. These heavy pots can be stacked for multiple courses and they add extra anticipation by waiting to see what is going to come out from under that lid! Another way to introduce cooking to your children is to get them familiar with the backyard grill, get ‘em around the backyard fire pit. Get them involved with utilizing that game meat that you harvested together. Let’s make some venison chili, elk stew, or pheasant lettuce wraps! Talking about what and how we will utilize the meat while in camp before we knock anything down ensures that there is more to hunting than just “grab and grin” antlers.
Many times young hunters will be able to harvest a doe or cow elk when other hunters are not allowed to. This opportunity makes for an excellent teaching experience. Keeping the focus on the finished product on the table and not on the antlers is the best way to raise ethical conservation-minded hunters.
These recipes work over a fire, grill, or under a broiler. They are designed to have very little cleanup. Just be careful with long sharp pointed skewers when youngins are involved they tend to like to have sword fights etc. I’m sure you get my point.