Backcountry Cuisine: A Minimalist, Car Camping Homestyle Dinner

It’s hard to beat a delicious meal prepared over a glowing campfire after a full day of adventure in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I’m not talking about hot dogs on a stick or a can of pop-top baked beans; but a wholesome, flavorful, well-spiced meal that helps make all things right in the world when it’s been cooked over a hand-built fire.

All of my best memories somehow involve eating outside, where food simply tastes better when kissed by the sun, under the peaceful glow of a starry sky, or eaten beside a softly crackling camp fire.

During a meal, I’ve many times been lost without thought, my eyes closed, seeming as though I’m alone in that moment but with more taste buds than before. There’s a special appreciation for all those flavors that can now somehow be detected when we slow down long enough to find them. And of course that appreciation only elevates when there’s the obvious hunger pains, a sun quickly setting, and a stubborn camp fire to be maintained. Earning that warm meal after a long day trekking the green tunnels in the Blue Ridge is the only way to call it a good day. 

As a nutritionist, I regularly ‘prescribe’ cooking and eating in the great outdoors.  I love marrying the outdoors with fresh, minimally processed real food. But I also like to keep it simple so I can spend more time playing outside and less time cooking. 

I think of car camping as that fine and fun balance of packing just enough so it’s an enjoyable experience for all, while not pampering ourselves too much or hating all the work that goes into cooking outdoors so much that we only go once a year. Camping only once a year would be a sad, sad story.

For those that don’t want to haul the kitchen sink outdoors, here’s a minimal, trusty hobo pack recipe template. It’s simple. It makes everyone happy, including vegetarians, meat eaters, and gluten-avoiders. It’s a lazy method if you will, and you really can’t screw it up.

Fire-roasted, Spiced Sweet Potato + Black Bean Hobo Packs w/ Lamb

  • Sweet potatoes, pre-chopped into rustic cubes (skin on)
  • Black beans, canned, no need to drain or rinse
  • Fresh spinach
  • Garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • Spice blend of choice such a Mexican, adobo, Caribbean seasoning, plus sea salt
  • High heat, refined oil such as safflower, sunflower, or grapeseed (*Do not use low heat, delicate oils like olive oil for this.)
  • Grass-fed ground lamb, beef, or sausage (optional)

Supplies needed:

  • A camp fire, burned down to smoldering, glowing embers
  • Heavy duty aluminum foil
  • Tongs
  • Can opener
  • A knife
  • Spoons and forks
  • Bowls or plates for serving


  1. Build a fire and let it burn down to smoldering embers, 45-60 minutes
  2. While that’s happening, lay out all ingredients on a picnic table, assembly-line style.
  3. Give each camper 2 12-14” pieces of aluminum foil to create a double-layered pack.
  4. Add potatoes, beans, spinach, garlic, and spices first and to your heart’s content. Drizzle a little oil and use a utensil to mix it together. If you like your spinach gently wilted, you can opt to toss it in right before serving and let the steam wilt it.
  5. If adding meat, scoot the vegetable blend over and add the meat on the bottom that will be closest to the fire, if you like it a little charred. Use a utensil to pile the vegetables on top of the meat.
  6. Fold the pack in half lengthwise and create two folds to seal the packet. Twist the ends so you finish with a boat shape. Do not overstuff it!
  7. Place packets directly on the embers for 20-30 minutes, turning half way in. Cook time depends on the amount of vegetables and how hot your embers are, so pull it out and carefully give it a check at 20 minutes to decide how much more time it needs. 
  8. Allow the packets to rest for 5 minutes before serving and be ready for a puff of steam when opening. Enjoy!

For extra protein and bulk, you can pre-cook brown rice or quinoa at home and have it packed and ready to add to the packets before serving.

Recipe by Shelly Rose of Pure Roots Nutrition.

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