When I first heard about hobo packs I was on the very first “meeting the boyfriends parents” trip to Washington. We were camping out on our way to visit Mount Saint Helens and Jonathan got super excited when it came time to make his favorite camp food cuisine. I learned that making “hobo packs” over an open fire while camping has been a family tradition in the Freeman family since Jonathan was a kid – and it is now one that we intend to keep up as well.
This past weekend, while camping at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, we introduced our friend Nate to hobo packs and I thought, hmmm, why not make a blog post out of it? I’ve been meaning to make a kind of “Freeman Family Cookbook” soon (which is currently disproportionately packed with Cajun foods and booze), so taking picture of and blogging about our favorite recipes is something I intend to do over the next few years at any rate.
A hobo pack is, essentially, a foil packet containing a piece of meat and some vegetables, seasoned however you want. It’s a simple as that. While I’ve tried to be a good foodie and track down the origin of the hobo pack, the best I can find is that boy scouts have coined the phrase for the dish and make them while being outdoorsy. The title of the food is an obvious reference that hearkens back to the days when hobos used to procure their food by cooking it over dumpster bonfires, and not panhandling on intersections and using conned money to buy cheap vodka and fast food.
The concept of the hobo pack is genius in it’s simplicity. You really can’t mess this recipe up. Apparently there is a whole camp cooking subculture that deals with the myriad recipe possibilities that involve shoving random eats into a packet of foil, some bordering on being downright gourmet. But whenever we make our hobo packs, we keep it simple with good ol’ fashioned meat and potatoes.
Here’s the Freeman Family Hobo Pack staple. You’ll need:
1. Get your fire started.
My husband is a ridiculously outdoorsy mountain man and takes his campfire building very seriously. So I won’t even begin to try and go into the details he insists are involved in starting a “real” fire. (While he prefers to build old fashioned organic fires from found wood that he labors over lovingly with an ax in hand, he has been known to get wild with the lighter fluid from time to time.) So suffice it to say, once your fire is started, let it burn down for about an hour. What you want is glowing embers, not a crackling fire. While your fire is working it’s way down to a smoldering heap of yum yum making embers, get to work on step 2….
2. Prepare the fillings.
First, work your ground beef into hamburger patties and season it with your favorite seasonings. We used Pappy’s for these packs, but we’ll change it up depending on what we have on hand or feel like at the moment. You can make the patties as big or small as you’d like, but flatten them out into a patty so that they cook evenly!
Next, slice the carrots, onions, mushrooms, and red potatoes (we like to keep the skin on ours). And depending on how garlic crazy you are (we are somewhere between ‘bat shit’ and ‘Tom Cruise’) prepare some minced garlic, or whole cloves. We went with the whole cloves.
3. Fill your packs.
Double up the aluminum foil and spread a little olive oil on the surface. Then, pile the veggies and meat into the center of the foil. The size of the pack should match the size of your appetite. Whats awesome about these packs is that everyone can mix and match up their own pack to their own taste. So when it comes to filling time, you can be as uniform or creative as you’d like. Once they’re to your liking, lay another layer of doubled up aluminum foil over the top and wrap them up by turning in and pinching the corners. I fold each edge down two or three times and then dog ear the corners.
4. Cook your packs.
Place the pack on the embers and surround with coals. You should hear these bad boys sizzling in no time. The foil should expand to the heat, but they won’t shouldn’t explode. Let them cook for 30 to 40 minutes. Again, this depends on how big the packs are, and how hot your campfire is. Use your judgement or just err on the side of well done and pick them out by the 40 minute mark. Once you’ve pull them out of the embers, let them cool for 10 minutes.
When you’re ready to serve, cut them open (be careful of the steam!) and serve right out of the packs or shovel onto a plate. You can add BBQ sauce or teriyaki sauce, or anything really. The beauty of these packs are their versatility to suit individual cravings. These are the perfect camping food and super fun to make. Once you try them, you won’t want to go back to hot dogs and hamburgers!