How to Grill in the Backcountry

Escape crowded summer picnic grounds and head to the backcountry—without having to settle for freeze-dried fare. Follow these tips and recipes for your best BBQ yet
By Laurie March ,

Chun Kit To

Add some sizzle to your backcountry menu with roasted veggies, flank steak, and roast tenderloin. Laurie March, author of A Fork in the Trail, dishes her favorite backcountry BBQ recipes and tips for pulling off a seamless summer throwdown.

  • Slice and dice. Trim visible fat to reduce flare-ups on the grill. If they do happen, sprinkle potable water on the grill to calm the flames. Marinate meat before freezing for stronger flavor.
  • Freeze meat until the last minute. Take meat out of the freezer right before your trip, wrap it in newspaper, and put it in the middle of your pack to keep it cold longer. Never refreeze meat that has been previously frozen (it can cause illness). Plan to cook fresh or frozen meat on day one. Hot out? Try an insulated zip-top bag.
  • Pack in a lightweight grill grid. March likes the GSI Campfire Grill or the Grilliput, though she says your toaster oven rack will do in a pinch.
  • Practice LNT. Use an existing campfire ring. Always bring a stove as backup, in case the campsite is not suitable for a fire because of conditions or low-hanging tree branches.
  • Prep the coals. It takes 30 minutes to an hour to burn wood down to usable coals—they should be red-hot with glowing centers and low flames. Use wood or rocks to raise your grill it about six inches above the coalbed. (Never use river rocks—they can explode.)
  • Oil the grill before cooking. Oil will keep tender food, like fish, from sticking. If chicken or other meats stick while flipping, wait a few moments and try again. Often the grill will “release” the meat once it has cooked a little more.
  • Clean up. Thoroughly extinguish coals before leaving camp and pack out your ashes. 

RECIPES

Coffee and Maple-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin
The rub can also be used on thick, center-cut pork chops. 2 to 3 servings

1 lb. pork tenderloin
1 Tbsp. maple or dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp. instant espresso powder
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp celery salt
2 Tbsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil

At Home: Remove silver skin from tenderloin, then freeze. Store olive oil in a leakproof container. Combine coffee, sugar, espresso powder, and spices in a small baggie. Right before your trip, wrap frozen meat in newspaper and place in a small cooler bag. Pack a piece of aluminum foil and a lightweight grill grid.

In Camp: Rub pork with the spice mixture and set aside for at least 30 minutes while you get the fire going. When coals are hot and flames are low, lay pork on the grid. Cook for 30 minutes, turning every 4 to 5 minutes until the pork is slightly pink in the middle. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes, covered loosely with foil or a pot lid. Cut crosswise into 1/2 inch slices and serve with flatbread or grilled vegetables.

Marinated Flank Steak

Serve as is or in tortillas with slaw, a dollop of Greek yogurt, and a little lime juice. 3 to 4 servings

1 lb. flank or skirt steak, trimmed
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/3 to 1/2 cup dill pickle, finely chopped
1/2 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Guinness or beef stock

At Home: Mix all ingredients in a large leakproof container, refrigerate, and let marinate for 24 hours. Discard marinade and freeze meat in a large zip-top bag. Right before your trip wrap bag of frozen meat in newspaper and place in a small cooler bag. Pack a piece of aluminum foil and a lightweight grid.

In Camp: When coals are glowing red and flames have died down, place steak on the grid. For medium-rare, cook 4 to 6 minutes on each side. Let rest steak for 10 minutes, covered loosely with foil or a pot lid. Slice thinly across the grain and serve.

Balsamic Brussels Sprouts
Unlike other veggies, Brussels sprouts can take a couple days of abuse in your pack. This foolproof marinade works just as well with sweet peppers, zucchini, summer squash, and portabella mushrooms, but you’ll need to pack these more carefully and dish them up on day one. 4 servings

1 lb. Brussels sprouts
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
3 tsp honey
3 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese (optional)

At Home: Pour olive oil into a leakproof container. Pack salt and pepper, cheese, and veggies in separate zip-top bags. Mix honey and balsamic vinegar together and store in a separate leakproof container. Pack wooden skewers and a lightweight grid.

In Camp: Put skewers in a water bottle and soak for 30 minutes. If they’re longer than the bottle, flip them half-way through. Meanwhile, prepare red-hot coals. Cut ends off Brussels sprouts, remove outer leaves, and cut each in half. Skewer sprouts and coat with 2 tablespoons of oil before placing on the grill. Roast sprouts for 5 to 8 minutes each side until tender. While sprouts cook, mix remaining oil with balsamic and honey. Drizzle mixture on cooked sprouts, sprinkle with Parmesan, and serve.

Tip: Threading the Brussels sprouts on two skewers instead of one prevents them from spinning when being turned. 

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