Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rustling up campfire grub

When you head out to cook, don’t forget the fresh vegetables, such as corn, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, dill and cilantro.

LARA CERRI | Times (2011)

When you head out to cook, don’t forget the fresh vegetables, such as corn, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, dill and cilantro.

FORT DE SOTO — True "cowboy" cooking starts long before the first match is lit.

The process begins with the quest for fuel.

"Nothing beats Florida oak," said Tom Pritchard, the head chef behind the Salt Rock Grill in Indian Shores and the Island Way Grill in Clearwater Beach. "You want it dry and aged like a good wine."

Start the fire hours before you plan on cooking. I like to begin with a nice, clean work surface. So I always shovel out the old ash and burnt logs from the fire pit before I build my fire. Use small twigs and strands of Spanish moss to get the flames going, not fire starter, which will leave a bad aftertaste, even hours after you use it.

Get a good bed of ashes going, then get ready to start cooking. A free-standing grill that you can place over the fire costs about $20 at any local sporting goods store. Make sure it is sturdy enough to hold heavy, cast-iron cookware.

Cast-iron skillets are great for frying everything from chicken to catfish. A Dutch oven is the popular choice for making stews and soups.

My favorite pots and skillets are made by a company called Lodge, which has been in the Appalachian mountain town of South Pittsburg, Tenn. (population 3,300) since 1896.

If properly cared for, a good skillet can last for generations. Harriet Jackson, matriarch of the family that owns the Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure, the Tampa Bay area's longest running outdoor retailer, has been cooking with the same cast-iron skillet for more than 60 years. Her favorite frying pan was given to her by her mother, who got it from her mother, who got it from her mother, who got it from her mother.

When it comes to Dutch ovens, camp versions are usually footed, so they can sit above the coals (though they can also hang from a tripod) and have a flanged lid where coals nestle. This allows heat to cook the food from above and below.

The reason why so many camp cooks, including this veteran, swear by cast iron is that these pots and pans distribute the heat evenly. You can cook slow and steady, which really brings out the flavor in everything from grouper cheeks to venison loins.

Cooking with coal, or charcoal briquettes, is an easy way to get started. Just place one-third of the coals under the pot and two-thirds on the flanged lid. Then just walk away, come back an hour or two later, and enjoy a tasty one-pot meal.

But skillet cooking requires a bit more expertise. That's where Pritchard comes in.

He started this particular meal with fresh vegetables donated by Eckerd College's Kip Curtis, the founder and executive director of the Edible Peace Patch Project.

"I like to cook with ingredients that are either grown or caught locally," Pritchard said. "It makes a big difference, both environmentally and in terms of taste, where you get your food."

After putting the veggies off to the side, Pritchard fried up some gator that had been recently captured by Tampa hunting and fishing icon Mike Mahoney. When the gator was fried to perfection, Pritchard used the same pan to cook mullet that had been netted that morning by Grand Master Angler Dean Pickel of St. Petersburg.

And to top it all off, Pritchard sautéed fresh venison and Osceola turkey contributed by twins Eric and Frank Bachnik.

It took about 45 minutes to cook everything but less than 10 minutes to eat it. So we threw a few more logs on the fire and started rummaging through the coolers.

"I've got some fresh grouper," Pritchard said. "It was just brought in today."

"I think I still have some mullet roe," Pickel said. "We've also got a bit of wild pig, too."

Like good cowpokes we settled into our camp chairs and got ready for Round 2.

"Hope everybody's hungry," Pritchard said. "I'm just getting started."

.Fast facts

Son of a gun stew

Looking for something to cook over your campfire? Here's Terry Tomalin's favorite camp recipe:Type goes here


1 pound bacon, cut into small pieces

3 pounds beef, cubed into 1/2-inch squares

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

3 large yellow onions, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

2 28-ounce cans peeled tomatoes

11/2 cups soy sauce

1 teaspoon Accent seasoning

2 teaspoon garlic powder, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper, or to taste

3 green bell peppers, cut into 1/3-inch pieces

10 carrots, cut into thin pieces

10 celery sticks, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

11 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Directions: Cook bacon, beef, salt, black pepper and onions until done. Mix tomatoes, soy sauce, Accent, garlic powder, Kitchen Bouquet, Worcestershire sauce and red pepper in a bowl. Add bowl mixture, green pepper, carrots, celery and potatoes to meat and onions in Dutch oven and stir. Cook for 50 minutes (12 briquettes on the bottom, 14 on top). Stir about every 15 minutes. Rotate on coals at least once. Serve when potatoes are easily broken.

Makes 20 to 24 8-ounce servings.

Source: Camp Cooking: 100 Years by the National Museum of Forest Service History (Gibbs Smith, 2004; $9.95)

Rustling up campfire grub 12/13/12 [Last modified: Thursday, December 13, 2012 8:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Alex Faedo, Florida advance to face LSU in College World Series finals


    OMAHA, Neb. — Alex Faedo pitched three-hit ball for 71/3 innings in a second straight strong performance against TCU, and Florida moved to the College World Series finals with a 3-0 win Saturday night.

    Florida’s Austin Langworthy scores on a single by Mike Rivera in the second inning during a 3-0 victory over TCU.
  2. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect


    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  3. Rays journal: Jumbo Diaz falters after getting within a strike of ending rally

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday's game got away starting with a leadoff walk in the seventh inning by Rays LHP Jose Alvarado, who was brought in exclusively to face Baltimore's lefty-swinging Seth Smith.

    Rays reliever Jumbo Diaz wipes his face as he walks off the mound after the Orioles score four during the seventh inning to give them a 7-3 lead. Diaz was one strike away from working out of the jam before he allowed a two-run double and a two-run homer on back-to-back pitches.
  4. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  5. Roger Mooney's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    It was refreshing to see RHP Jacob Faria take the blame after the loss even though he gave the Rays a chance to win. Too often young pitchers are encouraged by what they did and not necessarily the outcome, but Faria, making just his fourth big-league start, came to the Trop to win, didn't, and pointed the finger …