Campfire Cooking in Kentucky: 5 Iconic Dishes

From the Hot Brown to Burgoo, Kentucky is known for mouth-watering dishes. While the state’s culinary delights are typically served at home or in restaurants, they are also great choices for campsite cooking.

The next time you go camping, forego the hot dogs and other typical fare and cook up one of Kentucky’s iconic creations. We’ve highlighted a few of our favorites, which you can cook using a campfire or camping stove. Keep in mind that most of these recipes include perishable items, so they’re primarily for car camping, where you have access to a cooler, rather than backpacking.

1. The Hot Brown

CampingNothing says Kentucky (especially Louisville) like the Hot Brown, an open-faced sandwich of turkey, bacon and tomato on Texas toast with Mornay sauce. It’s a yummy option that you can replicate in camp.

The challenge with this recipe is making the Mornay sauce, which you’ll need to make in a pan with milk, cheese, butter, flour and spices. If you like, you can make it in advance and pack it with you, then warm it up in a pan of water.

To make the Mornay sauce, melt 1½ tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, and then slowly whisk in 1½ tablespoons of flour until you form a roux (a thick paste.) Then, cook the roux for 2 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring it frequently.

Next, whisk in 1½ cups of heavy cream and cook the roux over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer (this should take 2 to 3 minutes). When the sauce begins to simmer, remove it from the heat and slowly whisk in a quarter cup of Pecorino-Romano cheese until the sauce is smooth. Then, add a pinch of nutmeg, plus salt and pepper to taste.

Using a skillet, brown the Texas toast, and then, place slices of turkey and tomato on the toast. Pour Mornay sauce over the sandwich and sprinkle on additional cheese. Next, put slices of bacon on the sandwich and sprinkle with paprika and parsley.

Recipe source: Brown Hotel

2. Burgoo

BurgooThe best thing about burgoo is that it can be whatever you want it to be. It’s a stew that's meant to be cooked outdoors with whatever meat and ingredients you have available. If you’re a hunter, you can add whatever you’ve recently bagged, such as venison and turkey.

Typically, burgoo includes at least three different meats, plus beans, corn, potatoes and some kind of tomato. Whatever your meat, the stew will be a delight for the senses.

To get specific on what to include, check out the burgoo made by Tim Farmer of "Kentucky Afield." He uses venison and other meats that he has pre-cooked. Using a campfire, he begins by boiling about 2 quarts of water in a large cast-iron pot. He then adds black beans, onions, peppers, potatoes, meat, canned tomatoes, corn, carrots, banana peppers, green beans and red currant jelly for sweetness. He suggests adding okra and mushrooms, if you have them. To add an authentic taste of Western Kentucky, you can add mutton. Farmer also adds Creole seasoning, cinnamon, cumin and white pepper. 

3. Fried Fish 

CampingKentucky’s numerous lakes and rivers are chock full of fish. Whether you haul in catfish, trout, bass, or even bluegill, you can always clean and eat them fresh from the water. (Here are good instructions on cleaning fish.)

You can pack the fish in a foil pouch or wrap it in leaves with spices and lemon, and then cook it over a campfire (about five minutes per side). Another option is to put a grill over a campfire, or use a camp stove, and cook the fish in a frying pan. After cleaning the fish, pour vegetable oil into the pan, heat well, and then place the fish into the pan. Be sure to turn the fish frequently to prevent it from burning, and then serve when it turns brown.

Another great option is to fry the fish. After cleaning the fish, use a campfire or stove to heat vegetable oil in a deep skillet. In a bowl, mix flour with spices to your taste.  Then coat the fish with flour, dredge it through a mixture of milk and eggs and coat with flour again.  When the oil is hot, place the fish in the skillet. You’ll see the fish bubble significantly when you first put it in. When the bubbling starts to decrease and the fish floats to the top of the oil, it’s ready to serve. Use caution when using hot oil near fire and always make sure your pan is level and secure.

If you’re frying the fish, consider making french fries too, or cook a baked potato right in the coals. Poke holes in the potato, smear it with butter, double-wrap it with foil, place directly in the hot coals and it will be ready in about an hour!

4. Louisville Chili

Louisville chili is spicy, savory and served with spaghetti. But you can decide how to serve it - over spaghetti or just dump the spaghetti in the chili.

We like our chili a little thinner than our Texas friends, more like a thick soup, but you can adapt it to your own tastes. You can even serve it over those fire-cooked hot dogs with shredded cheese for amazing chili dogs. (Yes, you can include the spaghetti. It’s how we do it in Kentucky.)

For this you’ll need a big pot. For simplicity, you can cook the spaghetti at home and pack it with you or you can boil it in a pot alongside the chili. Another method is to pack the spices together and avoid bringing lots of little bottles with you.

Here’s a chili recipe from the daughter of a Louisville native. You’ll need tomato puree, a pound of ground beef, red kidney beans, minced garlic, diced onion, McCormick Cuban seasoning, cumin, chili powder, sugar, salt and pepper.

Brown the beef with the onions and garlic, and then add kidney beans and tomato puree, then spices. If your chili is too thick, you can add water or tomato juice to loosen it up. Add the spaghetti at the end, and serve it with shredded cheddar, guacamole and sour cream.

5. Cornbread 

Cornbread can be cooked beautifully over a campfire in a cast iron skillet. Begin by melting Crisco or bacon drippings in the cast iron skillet. Then, in a large bowl, mix 1 cup of cornmeal, 1 cup of flour, ¼ cup of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of baking powder. In a different bowl, beat together one egg, 1 cup of milk and 4 tablespoons of melted butter. Then, mix the dry and wet ingredients, and spread this mixture into the cast iron skillet.

You should cook the cornbread over a low campfire until bubbles appear on the top of the batter. Then, use a metal spatula to flip the cornbread and continue cooking. Finally, check to see if the corn bread has finished cooking by inserting and remove a toothpick. If it comes out clean, the cornbread is ready.

Another wonderful thing about cornbread is that you can add so many different ingredients to change the taste, such as corn, cheese or jalapeno, but don’t underestimate the joy of plain cornbread smeared with butter. 

Recipe source: 50campfires.com