Plan the ultimate camping cookout

Camping doesn’t have to be long rainy hikes and crushed Kendal Mint Cake, but if you’re reading this you probably know that already. Ask almost any grown man about his happiest childhood memories and chances are building campfires and sleeping under the stars will be up there. James Warner Smith, author of Cool Camping, agrees that there’s no better way to totally switch off from the outside world. “I remember as a very young child begging my mum to take us camping in the woods nearby and being entranced by the adventure of it all. That excitement of cooking over a fire and being cut off from reality has never left me.”

With campsites having reopened on 4 July, carefree nights drinking a hot toddy around a fire seems pretty appealing this summer. In the Cotswolds, Notgrove Safari Tents make for a perfect glamping experience with loos and comfy beds, as well as an outdoor fire pit and barbecue bundles. Notgrove is a great jumping off point for idyllic country walks and the 1,500-acre farm and village are home to donkeys, goats, alpacas and Mr Bean the pig. Off-grid Cornish campsite The Fir Hill near Newquay benefits from solar thermal panels, borehole and spring-water supply and has a designated bird sanctuary. Closer to London and just five minutes from the end of the Northern and Jubilee Lines, Home Farm Glamping in Elstree have beautifully furnished yurts set within rural woodland, while Merry Harriers in Hambledon will organise a picnic lunch and llama trek through the Surrey Hills, followed by a night in their cosy shepherds huts.

Of course, one of the best parts of camping is the primal joy of cooking over an open fire. From marshmallows on sticks to breakfast chipolatas and hot chocolate over the morning’s embers, the crackle of the campfire and its rich smokiness adds an extra dimension to almost any recipe. Here, three chefs have shared recipes to take outdoor cooking to the next level: from fireside cocktails to freshly caught mackerel, we’ve got you covered.

Fire-roasted leg of mutton with garlic and seaweed butter

“I think you might find that salty, smoky mutton cooked over a glowing open fire is one of the most delicious things you’ll ever eat,” says Gill Meller, author of River Cottage’s Outdoor Cooking Handbook. “I love mutton – it’s got spades of flavour. In most cases, this meat comes from sheep that have been able to follow their natural grazing habits over at least two summers – a much longer and more active life than that of the younger animals sold as lamb meat. Leg of mutton is dark and marbled with ivory-coloured fat.” Sustainable meat boxes by Field & Flower have delicious grass-fed mutton from the south of England available to order.

Ingredients (serves eight to ten)

1 trimmed, boned-out leg of mutton (or hogget or lamb), about 3–4kg
2tbsp olive oil
A handful of wild garlic leaves or 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the flavoured butter:
50g butter, softened
2tbsp dried seaweed flakes
A small bunch of wild garlic leaves or 2–3 more garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

For the salsa verde:
1 small garlic clove, peeled
A generous bunch of flat-leaf parsley, trimmed of coarse stalks
About 15–20 basil leaves
3–4 sprigs of tarragon, leaves picked 
4–5 anchovy fillets in oil
About 1tsp capers
About 1tsp Dijon or English mustard 
A pinch of sugar
A few drops of lemon juice or wine vinegar
2–3tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
Freshly ground black pepper

You will also need:
Heavy cotton string, soaked in cold water, for tying the meat
Several butcher’s hooks


  1. 1

    First make the flavoured butter: put the softened butter, seaweed flakes and garlic into a bowl and season with plenty of salt and pepper. Mix well.

  2. 2

    Open out the mutton and spoon the butter into the bone cavity, making sure it’s evenly distributed. Now roll up the leg and secure it with string in several places. If you’re familiar with the “butcher’s knot”, use it, but any secure knot will work as long as it doesn’t come undone. Pre-soaking the string in water first helps stop it catching alight above the fire.

  3. 3

    Season the meat all over with salt and pepper and rub with the olive oil and chopped garlic.

  4. 4

    Set it aside to come up to ambient temperature while you get your fire going and let it build up. The base of the fire should be circular and large enough that when the mutton is hung above it, it will get heat from all sides.

  5. 5

    To suspend the meat, I make a simple spit from some lengths of hazel or driftwood – a basic contraption, easily replicated. The frame consists of two uprights with Y-shaped tops that form a sort of crutch for the crossbar section that sits over the fire. It’s from this that I will suspend the meat, using a butcher’s hook (or two or three linked together to form a short chain). I then adjust the height of the meat during cooking by simply adding or subtracting hooks. I will also turn the meat so that it cooks evenly, by relocating the hook in the meat at regular time intervals.

  6. 6

    When the flames have burnt down and you have some really hot embers glowing away, suspend the mutton over the fire. It should be no more than 60cm above the embers and the temperature should be such that you can’t hold your hand beneath the meat for any length of time.

  7. 7

    Turn the meat periodically, as well as raising or lowering it, so it cooks consistently. Keep feeding the fire and watching it – be on hand to make small adjustments. Cook the meat until it is piping hot throughout – this will take several hours. I’m being intentionally vague here, there are too many variables involved to suggest exact cooking times.

  8. 8

    To get an idea of how it’s getting on, press a skewer or small knife into the thickest part of the meat, leave it there for 30 seconds then take it out and touch it to your wrist for an instant. If it feels burning hot, the meat will be ready.

  9. 9

    When the meat is cooked to medium it will register an internal temperature of 60C or thereabouts on a digital probe thermometer. If you prefer it well done then continue to cook it until it registers 72C. Either way, take it off the fire and transfer it to a warm dish to rest for 20 minutes.

  10. 10

    To make the salsa verde, finely chop the garlic on a board. Add the herbs, anchovies and capers and chop the ingredients together until well mixed and fairly fine in texture. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the mustard, sugar, lemon juice or wine vinegar and pepper, plus enough olive oil to give a glossy, spoon-able consistency, tasting and tweaking the mixture as you go. (This sauce is best made immediately before serving, but it will keep for a few days in a sealed jar in the fridge.)

  11. 11

    Slice the mutton thickly and serve with the salsa verde and fire-baked jacket potatoes if you like.

Mackerel buns with beetroot and horseradish mayo

If you’re near the sea, cooking your own freshly caught mackerel over an open fire is about as magical as it gets. This recipe comes from the beautifully unspoilt island of Tresco in the Isles Of Scilly, where campfires on the beach are a way of life. The recipe is a favourite at The New Inn, the island’s longest established pub, where gig racers and families enjoy it washed down with Cornish ale.

© Copyright Kevin Gibson Photography Ltd


4 mackerel fillets, gutted and filleted
2 brioche burger buns
A large handful of rocket
2tbsp mayonnaise
1tbsp horseradish sauce
1 large cooked red beetroot, diced
1tbsp crème fraiche
Small bunch chives, finely chopped
1/2 lemon
Drizzle of rapeseed oil
Salt and pepper to season


  1. 1

    Prepare your beetroot relish and horseradish mayo before setting off from home if possible, to save time and washing up. To do so, combine beetroot, chives, juice from the half lemon and crème fraiche in a small bowl and set aside.

  2. 2

    In a separate bowl, combine horseradish and mayonnaise, also setting aside for later.

  3. 3

    When you’re on the beach, lightly oil and season the mackerel fillets. Grill skin side up for approximately 3-4 minutes (depending on the size of your fish) until lightly golden – you can do this with a stick, but it’s easiest over a metal barbecue grill if possible.

  4. 4

    Toast the brioche buns gently over the fire with a stick.

  5. 5

    Spread the bottom bun with beetroot relish and the top bun with the horseradish mayonnaise.

  6. 6

    Stack the mackerel fillets, rocket and sandwich buns together to create your burger. Serve and enjoy.

Campfire hot toddy

Hot cocktails are one of the simplest ways of getting around the problem of ice when out camping. The theatre of heating up your cocktail over the dying embers more than makes up for this and who’s going to miss a chilled Martini when they’re sipping on a steaming, boozy hot toddy? We’ve used Glen Grant whisky for its light malty notes, as well as a splash of Laphroaig from Islay in the Hebrides.

For Emily Vikre, author of Camp Cocktails, this cocktail is one of life’s great joys. “The grain, spice and smoke notes from the whisky settle in comfortably alongside the honey and lemon, like a cat curling snugly into the edge of a well-loved couch.”

Ingredients (serves four):

One finger of ginger, roughly chopped
90ml honey
90ml lemon juice
450ml boiling hot water
240ml single malt whisky (we like Glen Grant for this recipe)
A splash of Laphroaig triple wood


  1. 1

    Boil the water over the campfire or prepare it in advance and store in a thermos flask.

  2. 2

    In a large mug or jug, combine the ginger slices, honey, lemon juice and boiling water and muddle gently to press out some of the ginger juice.

  3. 3

    Leave to steep for 5 minutes so it cools slightly, then stir in the blended whisky and Scotch.

  4. 4

    Pour into four mugs, fishing out the pieces of ginger and enjoy around the fire.


And finally, so simple they hardly warrant a recipe, it’s time for s’mores – the American summer camp staple are said to be a favourite of Barack Obama. Traditionally made with Hershey’s chocolate and melted marshmallows sandwiched between Graham Crackers, we like them sandwiched between dark-chocolate-coated digestives for simplicity. Simply melt your marshmallow over the fire, sandwich between the biscuits and enjoy.

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