Diggin' for Spuds in Camp

by Steve Karoly

Guest writer Steve Karoly shares his ideas and recipes for cooking potatoes at camp.

Spuds are everybody's favorite in camp. While they're sometimes considered too pedestrian grace plates in finer restaurants, campers have always thrived on the tuber. Take campfire baked potatoes.

"You will of course say you have eaten baked potatoes, but unless they were baked in hot ashes," says Charles Stedman Hanks in Camp Kits and Camp Life, "and you sat on a log, with a pinch of salt in one hand and a potato in the blackened fingers of the other, you have never had the real thing."

I agree. There's nothing better than spudding for freshly baked potatoes in the campfire. Your fingers won't get soiled like Hank's did in 1906. Instead, wafts of sky-reaching steam awaken your senses as you peel back the foil wrapper. A pat of butter, a dash of salt and a crank or two of black pepper and you have the "real thing."

From Reds to Russets

Spuds are the star ingredient in dozens of camp dishes. Mashed, baked, grilled or fried -- it doesn't matter how you cook them. They're the perfect camp food for morning, noon or night.

Russets are the workhorse of the potato world. They're commonly used for baked and mashed. Russet potatoes are ideal for French-fries because their relatively dry and starchy content produces an even, golden color. They also make perfect mashed potatoes that are light and fluffy.

Russets are inexpensive when purchased in a 10-pound bag. Select bags with evenly sized medium potatoes, about six to 10 ounces each. Carefully inspect each bag to avoid spoiled potatoes.

If you only buy two potato varieties, red potatoes should find a place in your chuckbox next to the russets. Red potatoes are ideal accompaniments to corned beef and pot roast. Just drop (carefully, please) small unpeeled potatoes into the cooking liquid one-hour before the meat is tender. Simmer slowly and you'll enjoy firm, tender spuds with dinner.

Their high moisture and sugar content make them ideal for salads, soups and roasting. When buying red potatoes, I favor potatoes with a diameter of two-inches or less. Dice them for salads and soups. They can be roasted in quarters or left whole.

Don't ignore Yukon gold and white potatoes. Try them in scalloped dishes and potato salads. I've even mashed Yukon gold potatoes. But be gentle. Yukon gold potatoes turn to glue if you overmix.

Potatoes also make ideal camp food because they're easy to store. You don't need a cooler to haul fresh varieties to camp. Just keep them in a cool spot with plenty of airflow.

Potato Recipes

I've included many basic potato recipes. Once you've mastered these, start ad-libbing. If you like fire, add minced jalapeƱo pepper. Or try traditional ham and cheddar cheese. And try different varieties. Reds may make ideal boiled potatoes. Mashed red potatoes may surprise you.

  • Camp Mashed Potatoes

    Yukon gold or russets
    You don't need an electric mixer to whip mashed potatoes in camp. A ricer or potato masher works nicely. A couple of hints, though: Don't over whip the spuds, especially waxy varieties like Yukon gold, white or red potatoes. And heat the milk and butter together before added them to the potatoes.

  • Campfire Baked Potatoes

    Each campfire, I gaze into the glowing red coals and wish that I had baked potatoes and grilled steaks for dinner. Steak and baked potatoes go hand-in-hand with campfires. I can't explain it. It's just one of the undeniable facts of camping. There's two different ways to bake potatoes in camp: buried deep under a bed of coals or in a Dutch oven. The best, in my opinion, is the campfire method.

  • Cottage Fried Potatoes

    Cottage fried potatoes are a family favorite. It doesn't matter if you serve them with sausage or bacon and fried eggs for breakfast or pork chops in the evening. Use medium-sized red potatoes instead of the ubiquitous russets. They make a much better fried potato.

  • Hash Brown Potatoes

    Leftover baked potatoes
    This is a great way to use leftover baked potatoes. When I bake potatoes in the evening for my family, I always throw a few extras into the campfire or Dutch oven. They can be a timely resource for an outdoor breakfast.

So lets go spudding. Whether you're diggin' in the campfire for baked potatoes or spoonin' them out of the Dutch oven, you'll enjoy the "real thing."

Steve Karoly writes about camp and outdoor cooking for Suite101.com, where this article first appeared. He's a life-long camper and professional cook.

This article is copyright Steve Karoly. It is reproduced here with permission from Steve with much appreciation by the www.OutdoorCook.com site editor.