I’m always looking for delicious camping recipes, and we’ve eaten pretty well over the years- food cooked on the grill, on the Coleman or trailer stove, on a stick, or right in the coals! (See more here!) If you Google “camping recipes,” a hundred different foil pack recipes will pop up. I’ve always called them hobo meals, and I think it’s because that’s what we called them when I was a wee little camper in Girl Scouts. We had the best troop leader; Dorothy was patient, super creative, and so much fun! We did practice camp-outs in her backyard, setting up old tents and learning how to cook things if you didn’t have pots or pans. We cooked over a coffee can with a Bunsen burner underneath or made eggs in a paper bag (seriously) and, of course, made hobo meals. I’m sharing a seat with Dorothy’s daughter, Diane, below. And that’s a mini me in the third photo, flipping sausages on a Folgers can closest to Dorothy!
When we camped with my folks in Colorado a few weeks ago, I decided to bring back the hobo meal. The concept is simple- put your ingredients into the foil, wrap it up tightly, and let the heat steam the food until it’s cooked through. The possibilities are endless! We love Mexican food flavors, so that’s the direction I went. They were so yummy and so easy. I made them again when we camped last weekend with the same tasty results. I started by setting up my prep station in Willie the Camper (which included a glass of wine!). I chopped up some veggies- red pepper, red onion, and jalapeno for spice. We like it hot! I also chopped half of a sweet potato in small chunks. You want the veggies to all be similar sized so the cook time is the same.
When the veggies were chopped, I sliced up one big chicken breast. I made sure I had my spices ready (garlic salt, cumin, crushed red pepper) and set up the foil to create the hobo meals. It’s all about layering. I started by rubbing olive oil on the foil so things didn’t stick to it, then split the chicken breast slices evenly on the two pieces of foil.
Before the veggies went on, I sprinkled the chicken with all of the spices. I remembered from the first round of hobo meals with my folks that they needed more flavor, so I was pretty liberal with the spices this time. Then I added the sweet potato, bell pepper and onion, and jalapeño, right on top of the chicken. The last thing I added was a drizzle of olive oil over everything to provide moisture. You need to leave a couple of inches of empty foil on either side of the ingredients, which gets folded up to keep the juices inside. Then you need enough foil on the top and bottom to be able to close the packet and crimp the foil together tightly. And that’s what I did!
As a side note, these hobo meals were different than the ones I made with my folks, mostly because I forgot a few things. With the first batch, I sprayed the foil with olive oil Pam instead of just olive oil (which I will do again next time- it coated it better). I included minced garlic, black beans that I’d drained, and corn kernels I’d cut straight from the cob. I also added chili powder. I loved having those additions, but really, anything goes with these. Whatever sounds good to you should go inside!
When I’d wrapped up the hobo meals, I set them aside until it was time to toss them onto the grill. If you’re not camping, you could use a charcoal grill in your backyard! The hobo dinners are also great to make ahead of time- just keep the packets in the fridge until grilling time. While we waited for the coals to get hot, I prepped the toppings- chopped tomato, fresh cilantro, and grated sharp cheddar cheese. I also wrapped a few flour tortillas in some foil to heat on the grill and serve on the side. John’s in charge of the grill, so he took over while I set the table with our cute camping plates, our toppings, and hot sauces (don’t worry- the Cholula made it onto the table, too!). I love eating outside when we camp, cozied up in a jacket and hat with the pines swaying overhead and the fire crackling nearby.
Cook time for the foil packets depends on a lot of things: how hot the coals are, how thick the chicken is sliced, how many other ingredients there are. This time, they took about 45 minutes, but I’d check them at about 35. One of the best parts about a hobo meal is finally opening the foil to see how things cooked. Ta-da! Truthfully, another minute on the grill might have ended with burnt chicken, but the browned bottom was simply delicious! We added the shredded cheese immediately (so it would get all melty and amazing) along with the cilantro and tomatoes.
The point of the hobo meal is to have a “plate” when you don’t have plates, but we had plates… so I dumped the contents of my foil pack right next to my salad and went to town. I loved scooping the goods into the warmed tortilla with each bite. I guess it turned out to be like a deconstructed burrito, cooked in foil right there on our campfire. Yummy!
Chicken worked well in this hobo meal because of the cooking method. Seasoned shrimp would be tasty, too! You could add any veggies you like- zucchini and squash, carrot, or fresh corn (like I did the first time) would all cook up well inside the little packet. I like adding herbs and other fresh toppings to brighten up the flavors, and you really don’t want to forget the tortilla!
It’s kind of fun to think that I was making hobo meals with my Girl Scout troop in a backyard outside of Los Angeles when I was 8 years old. Here I am, too many years later, in the mountains of Colorado and Utah, doing it again. I’m reminded that so much of what happens in childhood sticks with us… and happy that Oden is soaking up similar things that I did as a child. I hope they stick with him, too.
Campfire Mexican Chicken Hobo Meal
- ½ large chicken breast per person, sliced into strips
- Veggies of your choice, chopped at roughly the same size (like onion, bell pepper, sweet potato, jalapeno, fresh corn, zucchini, or squash)
- Spices: cumin, garlic salt, crushed red pepper, chili powder
- Olive oil
- Non-stick cooking spray
- Heavy duty foil
- Toppings: shredded cheese, cilantro, chopped tomatoes
- Flour tortillas and hot sauce
- A campfire
- A grill (the kind at campgrounds that are connected to the fire pit or your own)
Get a campfire going with hot coals or light charcoal briquettes. A charcoal grill works, too.
For each hobo meal, cut a piece of foil that will be large enough to wrap around all sides of the filling. Spray the foil with cooking spray. Lay chicken slices evenly in the center of the foil. Sprinkle with your spices (and remember to be a tad more liberal than you think you should be!). Add your desired raw veggies right over the seasoned chicken. Drizzle olive oil over everything. Fold the short sides of the foil up, then wrap the longer sides up and crimp tightly. Set aside in the fridge until you’re ready to cook.
With the grill 6-8 inches from the hot coals, place the foil packs onto it and let them cook for 35-45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. If there is extra liquid in the foil pack, you can poke a small hole in the bottom to let it drain out while it finishes cooking. At the table (or on a plate in your lap, sitting around the fire), carefully open the foil pack. Add cheese to melt immediately, slightly closing the foil to help the melting happen faster. Top with cilantro and tomatoes and serve with a hot tortilla and your favorite hot sauce. Best eaten under pine trees in the mountains, but your backyard works, too. YUM.
Hungry for more? Check out my collection of recipes HERE.
Camp food! A peek at how we eat on the road.