This is the first in a four-part series of outdoor cooking with the family. Summer is coming, and on our homestead, that means we do a lot more outdoor cooking together. There are so many reasons to learn to cook outdoors with various off-grid methods: It’s a good preparedness ability to have, it saves energy, and especially if you’re talking about open fire cooking, the food tastes great. Teaching your kids how to cook over an open flame not only instills important lessons about appreciating energy and resources, but it’s also is a great way to teach them a new skill and to respect the rules of fire safety.
Outdoor Cooking 101
Before we get started with the specific foods, here are some tips for cooking outdoors with you children and stay safe in the process:
- Have a well-defined fire area. Dig a pit and line it with rocks, make a cinder block ring or use a fire bowl.
- Never leave a fire unattended, especially when your children are present.
- Take time to write down family rules for being around the fire before you ever light a match, and post those rules where everyone can see them.
- Put older kids in charge of younger kids so that they can feel a sense of responsibility and be involved in the whole process.
- Let the kids be involved in the cooking process from start to finish. Let them get the utensils, set up the fire, prepare the food and be there while it cooks.
- Be sure to have all wood-cutting and fire-starting equipment in one place so that you’re not searching for it every time you need to build a fire. If everyone knows where everything is, then everyone can help build the fire and clean up afterwards.
- Have young children gather kindling from around the farm. Dead leaves, twigs, thicker sticks and dried sunflower stalks are all examples of good materials.
The trick to baking anything over an open flame is to start the fire early enough so that you have a big mess of hot coals to work with. If you can, keep the fire going to one side and move coals over as they cool to keep the food baking evenly. Baking is hardest method of outdoor cooking for me, but my 12-year-old has a good sense of when things are cooked through and my 9-year-old is good at consistently turning things over, so they’re big helps.
The reason we’re starting with calzones is because they taste so good! If you need a good recipe and tutorial on making calzones, try this one. You can cook these on a grill or you can cook them on a flat, cast-iron pan. We’ve tried both ways and prefer the grill for the flavor.
Your prep work starts in the kitchen by making a quality dough. Even the smallest kiddos can have a hand in this. Let them measure, pour, knead and roll out the calzone circles. Filling your dough is probably the most fun, so let the children pick their own ingredients to put inside their calzones. Use anything from the garden that you can: spinach, tomatoes, herbs and even edible weeds. Remind them not to overstuff them because the calzones will break open, and if you’re on a grill, ingredients will fall through the cracks.
Once you’ve put your calzones over the fire, turn them every few minutes until the outside is crispy and the cheese inside is melted.
Kebabs are a bit easier than calzones. You’ll use bamboo skewers for this meal, so warn your kids about how sharp they are—seriously, they’re so sharp! If you’re using meat, marinate it in your family’s favorite marinade. Your children can help cut up meat, veggies and even fruit to go on the kebabs. Remember to raid the garden for this, too—peppers, radishes, potatoes, onions, garlic, apples and berries are all perfect garden additions. Steam thicker veggies, like potatoes or carrots, beforehand because they take a lot longer than the rest of your ingredients to cook over the outdoor fire.
Once your kebabs are on the grill, turn them every few minutes. We always end up burning the sharp tips off of our skewers, so we just leave everything on and eat them like a dinner popsicle. My children love, love, love kebabs; dinner is suddenly so fun!
While you sit around the fire waiting for your food to cook, talk about the country of origin for each recipe. Calzones come from Italy, and kebabs come from Turkey—what great countries to study! Make plans for what you’ll plant in the garden to fill your dinner plate. Read outdoor cooking books together and make plans about learning new techniques. Start in your backyard, and then take your new skills to campgrounds and hikes.
Get more family-friendly recipes on HobbyFarms.com: