Craving the woodsy taste of a smoked piece of meat on your campout? Take heart. You can have the most savory and smokey beef brisket, chicken, steaks or ribs without a smoker. True barbecue comes from long, slow cooking over a low fire. The results are so awesome, and you can add your smoked meats to hot sandwiches, yummy stews, or enjoy the meat on its own. After all, there were no meat smokers on cowboy roundups or around pioneer campfires. These original campers knew the art of smoking meat over an open campfire, and the tips and tricks are easy to master.
How do you smoke meat over an open campfire without a smoker?
You can smoke meat without a smoker while camping by using the suspension method. Make yourself a fire pit and a grate, or suspend your food over the coals by using a pole. You don’t have to bring a smoker with you. You can make your fire pit out of rocks and fashion your grate out of green tree branches. Use branches you find in your camping area to suspend food over the coals. This is just one way to smoke meat without a smoker while camping.
Be sure to check out the whole article for even more great methods.
You don’t have to carry your smoker with you when you go camping to get the rich flavor of smoked meats. All you need is hot, and smoky bed of coals, perhaps a fire pit and grate or a pole suspended over your coals. Recipes are available that are not all that complicated to make. You need a little instruction, a bit of ingenuity, and a lot of patience to get the flavor of the smoky meat in your camp meals. Once you have tasted smoked meat over a campfire, you won’t want to go back to plain campfire cooking or dehydrated foods.
How to Smoke Meat Without a Smoker
You don’t need to pack your smoker with you on your campout. You can have awesome smoked meat done over your campfire by just following these tips.
Create a Fire Pit and a Grate
To smoke meat over the campfire, you will need to design a fire pit and a grate. You can purchase a pre-made fire pit and take it camping with you or make your own out of rocks. You can make your grate out of green tree branches.
To make your fire pit, dig a hole about 2 or 3 feet deep and about the same width. Stack small twigs in the bottom of the hole, use a fire starter like twisted paper and light the fire. Once the twigs have caught fire begin adding wood chips to the fire a little at a time. Fill the hole about two-thirds of the way with wood and let the wood pieces burn down to coals. The coals are ready when you can hold your hand about four inches above them for about 8 seconds.
You can also build a tripod to go over the coals or use a pole across two tripods over the coals.
You don’t want to make a crackling sky-high campfire. You just want a hot, smoky bed of coals. The best wood for making these coals is hardwood like maple or oak. Hardwoods produce a long-lasting bed of coals which are perfect when you are smoking meats. Avoid resinous woods like pine, willow, and juniper when you are cooking. You may have to bring wood for a smoke fire with you from home. Note: You will get coals faster if you use small pieces of wood.
You need to keep your campfire coals at a constant temperature and around 225 degrees. To maintain this study temperature for several hours, you can use more wood to the fire, but keep the wood and fire just off to the side rather than directly under your meat.
Your grate should be made from green branches, or you can soak branches in water for about 30 minutes. Don’t let the branches catch on fire or your meat will fall into the coals! Lay the branches in a grid pattern above the coals. Layer branches vertically and parallel and space them about 4 inches apart. Put down the second layer.
You can smoke your meat in several different ways.
- Lay your cut of meat directly on the branches and above the coals.
- Wrap your meat in a brown paper sack, tightly wrap the meat, and wrap the paper sacks in two or three layers of wet newspaper. The wet newspaper will keep your meat tender and prevent it from bursting into flames.
- Suspend your meat from poles over the coals.
The perfect combination of smoking meat is slow and low. You are not cooking the meat; you are smoking it to give it flavor and to cook the meat. Don’t rush the process. Keep the coal temperature low and give meat plenty of time above the coals. You need about a 1” coal bed with no rising flames and allow the meat to cook anywhere from 2-6 hours depending on the thickness and type of meat.
Have patience. Don’t be upset if you don’t smoke your meat perfectly over the campfire the first time you try. Smoking meat over a hot bed of coals is an art form and takes time to master. Start with thinner cuts of meat before you move on to thicker pieces like pork shoulder or juicy roasts.
When using grate, you might want to lower or raise your gate according to how the meat is smoking. Don’t let the meat get too close to the coals or the food will char. On the other side, beware of sitting your grate, pole, and meats too far above the coals, or they won’t smoke at all.
You are not using a high-priced or fancy smoking apparatus, but that doesn’t mean you can use other tools. You will need a pair of long-handled tongs as well as a pair or cooking or well-insulated welder’s gloves. Gloves might make you feel a little strange, but they will prevent you from getting a painful burn.
Fat will drip off your meat, and it will cause a flareup. This flareup dramatically increases the temperature of your fire, and this isn’t good. Keep a spray bottle of water on hand to douse out any flareups in your firepit. Spray away from the meat, so ash doesn’t splash on it.
Never leave your meat unattended. Fires are unpredictable, and there is nothing worse than starting a forest fire instead of smoking dinner. Keep a watchful eye on your flames and don’t leave your fire unattended. If you don’t watch your fire, you might ruin your meat, but you could also cause an out of control fire.
The color of smoke may do not seem like a big deal, but it is. Black smoke is not a good sign and indicates your fire doesn’t have the proper ventilation. You need a clean steam of white smoke coming from your coals to have a successful rack of smoked meat. Black smoke will cause a terrible taste and ash on your food. White smoke gives food that earthy taste of smoldering timber.
Boneless Prime Rib Over a Campfire
Prime rib roast (or any other cut of roast) is naturally tender and juicy. It could take up to six hours to smoke and be ready to eat, but in the meantime, the smell will drive you crazy.
6 lb. boneless prime rib
Rub: Your favorite beef rub
Rub your roast at least an hour or so before you put it on the fire pit.
Use hardwoods for your coals. Maple or oak logs or chunks work well.
Once your coals are burning brightly and the temperature is about 225 – 240 degrees, place your meat onto your grill and over the heat. If you have a temperature probe, put it in the meat to monitor when the meat is done. You will want to take te meat off the grill when the interior temperature is about 220 degrees.
Set the meat aside for about 20 minutes (it will continue cooking, and the juices will redistribute so you don’t end up with all of the juices on the cutting board.)
Cut your roast in ½ inch to ¾ inch slices to keep the meat juicy.
It is easy to smoke your freshly caught fish. The smokes melts into the fish and makes your catch taste wonderful.
Approximately 2 lbs of freshly caught fish
Salt and Pepper
Salt and pepper or season the fish to your taste
It’s best to smoke your fish over a fire using a grate or hang over the coals by suspending the fish poles.
Watch the coals, so they don’t burn the fish.
Smoke for about 1 hour or until the meat is no longer pink.
Eat and enjoy the best-tasting fish of your life.