For those hundreds of thousands of nomadic chefs who use the trailer as their base of operations, one rule governs the cooking device that has to fit in with all the luggage and camping gear: the simpler the better. Nothing but a forked twig and a string could be simpler than the three new camper's stoves shown here. The Safari bucket, at the left in the picture opposite, cooks a first-rate steak, for example, with the heat supplied by only four pages of a newspaper. There is nothing new about the idea of a bucket slashed at the bottom—the principle has been used in the Australian outback, in native quarters of African cities, in American Army bases all over Europe and Asia and by boy scouts everywhere. But none of the homemade variety are as handy as this one, which collapses like a camper's old-fashioned water cup. To get the best result, the fat should be left on the steak. It feeds the flame from the newspaper as it drops, and increases the heat, producing a steak with a real charcoal-broiled taste. Do not use the color pages; if you do, your steak will taste like Peanuts.
The Sundiner, in the top right-hand corner of the picture, is a fair-weather friend that takes in plain sunshine and turns out hamburgers, biscuits or chicken without a match being struck. It folds into a handy case weighing slightly less than 13 pounds, and the fuel is free—when the sun is shining.
A surer source of heat—particularly for the evening meal—is the Bleuet S200, the pressure-gas stove you see at the bottom of the opposite page. It was developed by the French, those inveterate roadside eaters and campers. The stove weighs only 1¾ pounds, yet it turns out just as much heat as the burner of a kitchen range. The fuel is contained in a cartridge, which is replaceable. One cartridge lasts four to five hours.
But most of the country's open-air chefs are still getting solid results from instruments using charcoal—grills, hibachis and pits dug in beach or field. They are also still having the same old arguments about length of cooking time, proper distance from the flame, whether to use tenderizers or not, intensity of heat and so on.
Actually, a good cut of steak (next to hamburger, the most popular cookout meat in the land) put directly on the coals and quick-broiled has its juices sealed in and comes off the fire with a real hot-coal char, rather than with the smudge that results from slow cooking and constant fat drippings. The meat should be at least an inch thick. Old-fashioned charcoal is generally better for steaks than briquets, because it produces intense heat quickly and, because it is made from aromatic wood, imparts a better flavor to the meat. Hickory, of course, is the classic addition to the charcoal on which steaks are cooked. An even better one is grapevine twigs. In fact, those who are lucky enough to live in grape country would do well to cook their steaks above the coals of vine twigs and forget about charcoal.
If herbs are used they should be dropped on the coals rather than on the meat. The smoke from burning herbs adds a delicious flavor. Rosemary, which dries better than most, is especially good for steaks; sage goes well with spareribs, tarragon with chicken, and the dried leaves of anise with fish.
Motorized campers journeying into strange territory should try the specialties of the region, as relief from all that hamburger and steak. Around Portland, Ore., where salmon and steelhead abound, the cooks on beach parties nail fillets of fish to two-foot sections of driftwood boards, soaked beforehand to avoid scorching, and then drop them on bonfires of fragrant alder. In Minneapolis one of the favorite delicacies is a diminutive turkey, the Minnesota Small White, which has been bred down to a finished weight of about 5½ pounds. The local specialists cook the bird slowly over briquet coals, which retain a low heat much longer than charcoal. The turkey is split, rubbed with oil and lemon juice, then basted carefully with butter to counteract dryness. It is kept far enough away from the coals to insure gradual cooking.
A New England specialty that is a favorite of Ross McKenney, a river and trail guide for 45 years and formerly adviser to the Dartmouth Outing Club, is "beanhole beans." A pot containing salt pork, beans, molasses, tomato sauce and onions is buried in the ground on hot coals and left to cook for 24 hours.
Hunters along the Rio Grande in Texas roll ducks, feathers still on, in river clay and drop them on an open fire. When the ducks are done the feathers come off with the hardened clay, and the meat is tender and juicy. In backyard city parties, Texas hosts use flowerpots as hibachis, each one containing a few hot coals and a grill of chicken wire on top. Turkey slices (cut from whole frozen turkeys) or small beefsteaks are cooked by the guests to their own taste.
Oyster cookouts are popular along the Atlantic coast down to Charleston, Savannah and Jacksonville. The oysters are bought by the bushel and dumped onto a hot grill or onto chicken wire over hot coals. Beer or bourbon—or both—go well with oysters. Almost anything—from table wine to malt Scotch—encourages a steak.
The Safari bucket (left) costs $10.95, and the French Bleuet S200 (lower right) $7.95, with refill, at Abercrombie & Fitch. The Sundiner (top right), a solar oven, is available across the country for $29.95.