Camp food: Grilling with flavor

  • Chicken sizzling on a seasoned griddle.

Published: 7/3/2019 9:00:11 AM

Underpinning the sparklers that annually burn into Independence Day’s festive atmosphere will be the tantalizing aroma of burgers sizzling on the grill. 

This weekend, July 4th party-goers will flock around the table seeking familiar food — homemade potato salad; hot dogs; blackened chicken and grilled corn; fresh veggies; chips and salsa; baked beans; mac and cheese; burgers; the list is so long there’s always leftovers. But not every head of broccoli tastes the same and not all meat is grilled to equal perfection. While cooking for a crowd can be challenging, with the right preparation, it’s possible to serve a decadent and memorable meal (in-between hugs and sips and conversations) without too much extra effort.

I found this out firsthand a few weekends ago while cooking for a group of friends under the stars; a dozen or so of us went camping at Ascutney Mountain in Vermont for my brother’s bachelor’s party. There, we hiked the Quechee Gorge and played guitar around a crackling campfire. As we enjoyed the night, turkey burgers and sliced carrots cooked over the flames on my well-seasoned cast-iron griddle. Growing up, my family always opted for turkey burgers over traditional beef patties and my taste buds have maintained that preference. Compared to beef, I find that turkey cooks into a richer and more robust flavor, besides being a little less expensive and a lot healthier. 

I grilled them in olive oil and seasoned them with a small amount of McCormick Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning (a personal grilling staple) and garlic salt. The rest of the flavor came from the seasoned cast iron.

The burgers were absolutely delicious — their taste accented by soft guitar notes, cheerful voices, the snapping fire and a cool night breeze.

On its own, the meat was immensely satisfying,  complemented by an array of vegetables simmered with coconut oil in a Dutch oven (resting in the hot coals) and the roasted carrots, which were equally decadent in their own delicious way.

At first bite, the burgers were savory and salty with a lingering aftertaste of garlic. I served them plain on a toasted sesame seed bun, without cheese or ketchup (I forgot condiments, but they didn’t need any).

It was, in two words, camping heaven. 

Of course, there are many other ways to add flavor to otherwise bland grilling. For example, meats can be marinated before hitting the heat. Or, flavor can be infused through smoking (for charcoal grills, wood chips can be mixed in directly with the charcoal — for gas grills, try a smoker box to hold the wood chips, which cost about $20), or enhanced with spices or traditionally ethnic ingredients like soy sauce. Side dishes can be reinvented in a similar way.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of cooking meats on the griddle, and not just at the camp site. Backyard grilling on seasoned cast iron — placed over the heat as opposed to cooking directly on the grating — is an easy way to quickly prepare delicious food for a lot of people. The surface heats up evenly, and the seasoned iron introduces nuanced flavor. Try it this Independence Day weekend if you haven’t already.

Andy Castillo is features editor at the Greenfield Recorder. He holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University and can be reached at

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