Last time we started talking about the rather delicious camping trip that I had just returned from and my theories of camp food. I asked the question “Why the BBQ on Friday?” And the answer? Raw meat. The weather was not particularly warm, and all of the food was being carefully kept on ice, but the item that needed to be cooked first was raw meat – in this case hamburger. The more a raw meat product has been processed the easier it spoils, so the hamburger needed to be cooked as quickly as possible.
Whenever we carry raw meat to an event, heavily processed items, like ground meat of any sort, are the first items to be cooked. If we need to delay their use at all, we bring them frozen solid, preferably from a zero degree freezer. Items like steak and whole chicken breast can easily be kept for a day or two more by making sure that they arrive on site very cold and are kept on ice until they are used. Since the vast majority of camping events are only a weekend long, that makes it simple to do fresh meat two nights in a row, or fresh meat followed by prepared meat the next night.
Aside from the issue of raw meat and food safety, another reason for the BBQ on Friday night was scheduling. None of us had any responsibilities on Friday night, so we knew that we could all just sit around and relax while the chef de jour did all of the grilling. The “sides” were super simple, buns, condiments, purchased potato salad and a birthday cake. The grill was set-up right on the edge of the shade structure that we were sitting under, so no one was stuck off somewhere cooking.
And talking of scheduling, that was also the reason that we had pre-cooked pulled pork for dinner on Saturday night. We knew that all of us had responsibilities with a very uncertain end-time. So dinner had to be something very stable that could be heated and held without losing its quality. This is where the vacuum seal bag really shines. The meat was prepared at home and sealed in a boilable vacuum bag. Why a vacuum bag? Two really big reasons: water and water. The first water that we needed to worry about was the melted ice in the cooler. I have personally lost several meals over the years because they were stored in resealable bags and the bags allowed the ice water in the cooler to leak in. Resealable bags are NOT waterproof. The second water was the water that was used to reheat the meat. Reheating in boiling water is a very “gentle” way to reheat food. The food will not dry out or scorch and precooked meat will not overcook, even if held for an hour. Once the meat is thoroughly heated, the hot water in the pot is still clean and can be used for washing dishes. If we had used a waterproof plastic container to store the meat, the reheating process would have involved getting a pan dirty AND risking drying out or scorching the meat.
Next time: The ultimate cheat – precooked meals!