I am in no way a camper.
Don’t get me wrong, I have camped ... as a Girl Scout and, later, with some friends in an Upstate state park. And while it was fun, I am now of an age and attitude that if there’s no room service, why bother?
That having been said, I really do enjoy a meal cooked over an open flame.
Cooking over an open fire, in the open air, seems to transform the flavor of even the most simple of ingredients. And with a hint of warmer weather on the horizon, I know that a lot of you will be dusting off and cleaning up your grills to celebrate the return of sunlight after 5 p.m. and the coming of summer.
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There are those of you, too, who will be pitching tents and hitching up campers to the SUV to get out and enjoy the fun away from home. Maybe spending time in a South Carolina state park.
Soooo ... parks + camping + cooking ... hmmm ... maybe someone should organize a camper cook-off for folks who like to sleep in tents and campers and cook over an open flame.
Wait a minute, someone has!
The South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism is for the first time hosting a Camper Cook-off Series in four state parks this year, beginning this weekend with the Catfish Cook-off at Santee State Park.
The idea of a cook-off is not new, there’s one that’s been going on at Calhoun Falls State Park for a number of years now. Jeff Atkins, a regional chief director of interpretation for the Upstate, was telling me how fun the event is, with competitors and judges returning year after year for the camaraderie and fun as well as the competition (and bragging rights for winning).
The rules, he says, are simple: highlight the theme ingredient in a dish that is prepared over an open wood fire ... no gas grills allowed ... within the allotted time. Your dish will be judged by fellow campers (one vote per campsite) and then a winner is chosen.
The entry fee – for both judges and cooks – is a two-night minimum stay at the state park hosting the cook-off.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and camp and cook!
PRT personnel were happy to share some recipes from past cook-off contestants so that even if you don’t camp, you can at least try these recipes on your grill at home.
Roasted Catfish in a Bag
1 1/2 pounds fresh catfish
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, partially cooked
1 cup thin zucchini sticks
1 cup mushrooms
1/2 cup diced green peppers
1/2 cup sweet corn
1/2 cup diced onions
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup butter with fresh basil, minced (save for last)
Place catfish in a re-sealable bag and combine olive oil, thyme, oregano, garlic, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper and coat fish. Marinate for 30 minutes.
Place marinated fish in the center of a large sheet of aluminum foil. Place uncooked vegetables (potatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, green pepper, corn and onion) on top of marinated fish. Place butter on top of fish and wrap aluminum foil tightly, forming a pouch, and set pouch next to coals. Cook until fish flakes with a fork. Carefully open wrapper (beware of steam) and sprinkle with fresh basil. Serve in foil or on plates.
Pork Loin with Jacket Pepper Potatoes
1 small-medium pork loin (thawed)
1 cup steakhouse marinade (your favorite)
1 pound bacon
1 large Vidalia onion
3-5 pounds Irish potatoes
3 bell peppers (preferably 1 green, 1 red, 1 yellow or orange)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
8 ounces shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
You will need two Dutch ovens or roasting pans covered in foil.
For pork loin: Preheat a Dutch oven. Place pork loin inside Dutch oven. Cover and cook for approximately 1 1/2 hours with hot coals on the top and bottom, occasionally basting with steakhouse marinade sauce.
For potatoes: Preheat a second Dutch oven. Cook bacon until crispy, then add onions cut in strips. Cook until onions are transparent.
Cut potatoes like French fries, leaving the skin on. Slice peppers in strips, cut mushrooms. Mix vegetables with lemon pepper, salt and pepper. Add this mixture to bacon and onions in Dutch oven. Cook with coals on the top and bottom for 1 1/2 hours or until potatoes are fork tender. Add shredded cheese to the top and cook until melted. Slice pork loin and plate with jacket pepper potatoes.
Grilled Rack of Lamb with Jalapeno Bacon Stone Ground Grits
Rack of lamb
Rosemary (dried or fresh)
Thyme (dried or fresh)
Rub rack of lamb with herbs and spices (measurements to taste preference). Brown both sides of lamb over hot coals.
Place browned lamb on a baking rack inside a deep aluminum pan with about an inch of white wine. Cook indirectly over coals and close grill. Cook at medium temperature until preferred doneness. Let rest for about 10 minutes and then cut into chops and serve.
Jalapeno Bacon Stone Ground Grits
5 slices bacon
2 jalapeno peppers, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 1/2 cups water (or 2 1/4 cups water plus 2 1/4 cups whole milk)
1 cup stone ground grits
Green onion, chopped
Fresh Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Cook bacon in cast iron Dutch oven over hot coals. Remove bacon and set aside. Add several pats of butter to bacon grease and sauté chopped jalapenos, onions and garlic. Add water, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add grits to water and cover. Add a few coals on top of lid and let cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened to desired consistency. Stir in crumbled bacon. Garnish with green onions and finely grated Parmesan cheese and serve.
Turkey Steak with Grilled Vegetable Salad
6 turkey steaks 3/4- to 1-inch thick (ask your butcher to cut steaks cross grain from a turkey breast)
1 1/2 cups Johnny’s Pride BBQ Sauce (or your favorite red sauce)
1 16-ounce bottle Italian salad dressing
2 12-ounce cans 7-Up soda
Mix sauce, dressing and soda in a blender and reserve 1/2 cup for basting. Place the turkey steak in a medium-sized baking dish. Pour the remainder of the marinade over the steaks, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Turn the steaks every 8 hours.
Prepare the grill for cooking. Temperature should be medium hot. After desired temperature has been reached, place the steaks on grill. Turn the steaks every 3-5 minutes, basting each time the steaks are turned. Repeat this process until the steaks’ temperature reaches 165 degrees in the center. Finally, baste both sides of the steaks with sauce and wrap until serving.
6 ears fresh sweet corn left in the husk (Silver Queen preferred)
3 assorted color bell peppers (whole)
2 medium Vidalia onions (not peeled)
2 large tomatoes (not cut or peeled)
1 small bunch cilantro
Soak the corn in cold water until ready for cooking. Cook corn, peppers and onions by direct heat. Cook until the skins on all the vegetables are black. At the end of cooking, remove all vegetables from the heat and place in an extremely large container and cover with Saran Wrap. After 10 minutes, shuck, remove silk and cut the corn off the cob. Place in a large bowl. Scrape the black from the vegetables and remove the seeds. Chop the peppers and the onions to a fine consistency and add to the corn mixture. Stir well and serve. At presentation, place the grilled salad in the middle of the plate. Place a turkey steak atop the salad. Use choice of garnish and drizzle with barbecue sauce.