Do I need a campfire cookset? As host of Campfire Cafe TV show, I get asked this question a lot by viewers and at guest appearances. Many who have been using other methods of open-fire cooking seem to think we're just pushing a product – and that could not be farther from the truth. Having cooked over an open fire since the age of 10 when, after Hurricane Camille, it be became a necessity for nine long weeks – I can tell you that I have tried just about every method, and using a cookset with hanging hooks is (by far) the best.
There simply isn't anything you cannot cook over an open fire, with the right equipment. I am often surprised at those amazed with some of the recipes we cook on the show, such as Black Forest Ribbon Cake or Sweet Potato Pecan Pies, cookies, turnovers, and more. It was not until the late 1920s and early 1930s that gas and electric ovens became widely used in homes. Prior to that time, I assure you, folks enjoyed cakes and pies and cookies! How? They were cooked over an open fire. Perhaps a wood burning stove vs. a campfire – but an open fire nonetheless.
Since launching the TV show in 2003, we've sold a lot of Cowboy Cooksets™ mostly to those looking to use them while camping or for backyard recreation. However, many of those customers have since emailed or written to personally thank us for what became "life-saving equipment" during Hurricane Katrina, winter ice and snow storms, and horrific flooding – all events which knocked out their electrical power for days or even weeks. While many were fortunate to have propane for gas grills, or even charcoal – for some, supplies quickly ran out. Whereas wood remained plentiful under the worst of conditions, and usually will in most circumstances.
On the show, we demonstrate everything from cakes and pies, to casseroles and roasts. All of which requires a cast iron Dutch oven and hooks of various lengths to control the heat. Starting out on a lower hook to bring the temperature of the food up, then raising to a shorter, higher hook to lower the temperature is just like cooking on a stovetop at home – without the control knob.
The Dutch oven is exactly that...an oven. You can place oven-safe baking dishes right inside it to promote that characteristic even more so. Cooking in this manner will result in a lot fewer burnt offerings! You can remove a Dutch oven completely from over the fire halfway through baking times and place hot coals on top of the lid to continue the baking process from the top down. The cast iron will hold the heat for hours on the bottom, while the coals provide heat from the top to continue the baking process and turn out cakes just like at home. But without those hanging hooks, you'll see plenty of burnt up cakes, casseroles and cobblers – and counting charcoal briquettes just isn't my style.
Slow cooking over the open fire is much more convenient using the hanging hooks than, say...placing the Dutch oven directly in the coals. Yes, I've done that. What I end up with is a very messy Dutch oven that has to be cleaned and food that is usually unevenly cooked. Not to mention, it is extremely difficult to open the lid and just check things - and impossible to brown the meat, if desired. All of which I can do using the hanging hooks. (Tip: to brown meats, crack the lid of the Dutch oven half way thru the cooking time, and remove it completely for the last 15 or 20 minutes.)
It is very easy to cook a beef brisket for 8 to 12 hours; a small turkey (whatever fits in the largest Dutch oven you have) for 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours; a pork shoulder or Boston butt for several hours – when you have the hanging hooks. Recipes for these meats are often daunting to outdoor cooks because of the time involved. In reality, nothing is easier than cooking a beef brisket low and slow all day long. Hang it high, and everytime you come into camp, put another log or two on the fire and carry on with your outdoor activities. You don't have to watch it, check it, turn it – and at the end of the day, you'll have one of the most delicious meals you've ever eaten! But not without those hanging hooks and something to support that heavy Dutch oven filled with beef brisket.
I think the best thing about the Campfire Cookset is the fact that I can cook an entire meal at once – just like at home on the stove. With an extra set of hooks, this capability is increased because often times you'll need the same length hook for more than one Dutch oven. I generally have a casserole, some type of meat, and a dessert hanging, while a vegetable is roasting on the swing grill and bread is baking on the warming grill. Of course, this requires the Campfire Cookset and all the accessories! But then again, we invented them because I needed them and wanted them. I'm betting you will, too.
Pamela Alford, Host