One menu item that every camping trip must include is potatoes baked in the hot campfire ashes, but this food can also be made at home if you have an indoor fireplace or an outdoor fire pit. These fix-it-and-forget-it potatoes only require light preparation work and the hot ashes and coals do all the work for you. You simply come back to the potatoes as the fire dies down and dig them out of the ashes. Try them with butter and a dash of salt and pepper, or use them for a variety of dishes, including morning breakfast hash.
Scrub the potatoes well under running water.
Pierce the potatoes in several places with a fork. This allows the steam to circulate and flavors to penetrate the inside the potatoes.
Cut a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil for each potato. Set a potato in the center of the foil piece and season it as desired. The seasoning is up to you, but a basic seasoning method is to brush each potato with softened or melted butter and sprinkle them with a generous coating of coarse sea salt.
Wrap the potato in the foil, ensuring it is completely enclosed so the ashes don't touch the potatoes. Do not pierce the foil.
Allow the fire to mostly die down, leaving only hot coals and ashes. If any logs remain, move them to the side. Spread the ashes in the fire to create a slight well. Do not dig to the ground or bottom of the fire pit and leave a couple inches of the hot ashes on the bottom.
Place the potatoes in the well, leaving a small space in between each one. Scoop the hot ashes over the potatoes and top it off with a scoop of the hot, burning coals.
Leave the potatoes in the fire for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. Pull back the coals and ashes and turn the potatoes once halfway through the cook time. Small potatoes require about 20 minutes, medium potatoes cook in about 30 minutes, while large potatoes can take up to 40 minutes to cook through.
Turn the ashes with a shovel to reveal the potatoes at the end of the cook time. Remove one potato with a pair of tongs and pierce it with a fork to check that it's tender. Continue cooking the potatoes if they're not fork-tender. If the test potato isn't tender, wrap another piece of aluminum foil around the first layer before returning it to the ashes.
Dig the potatoes out of the ashes and coals when done. Turn the ashes gently with a shovel so you don't damage the foil layers and pick each one out with a pair of tongs. The foil should be cool enough to open within just a few minutes, but wear gloves when opening the foil to avoid burning yourself and to prevent blackening your fingers when touching the blackened foil.
- This cooking method doesn't require a large fire, but if you require a large fire to cook the rest of your meal, it helps to make the potatoes ahead of time. You can toss the potatoes in the fire after your morning breakfast fire dies down and simply warm them back up when ready to eat them for lunch or dinner. Set them on the rocks around the fire or along the perimeter of the fire to warm them up. Alternatively, just make the potatoes the base of your dinner by providing an array of toppings, such as bacon, chili, cheese, butter, sour cream and broccoli.
- Choose potatoes that are roughly the same size so they'll finish cooking at the same time. Russet potatoes are a good choice for baked potatoes because they have a rather firm flesh, but you can try other varieties such as white, red or Yukon Gold potatoes.
- Before starting a campfire, check that it is legal and safe to do so.
A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.