If you’ve never had a meal over a campfire after a long day, let me let you in on a secret: there are very few things better than what woodsmoke and the crack of a fire can do for your spirit and your stomach. The first time I can remember having a true campfire meal was on a horseback trip in a state park in southern Ohio when I was thirteen—after a nine hour day in a humid deciduous forest on the back of an Arabian, I could’ve called just about anything a worthy meal. That said, the recipe below is based on one my uncle, a true man of the woods, threw together in a foil packet and tossed into the embers of our campfire. Over the years, I’ve adapted it and started making it on a cast iron to up the char and flavor factors. It’s easy, delicious, filling, and can be enjoyed right out of the pan.
Uncle Ron’s Burger in a Pan
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
- Cast-iron pan
- A good fire
- 1 lb 80/20 ground beef
- 1 large sweet onion
- 3 small tomatoes
- 3 pieces of your favorite cheese that melts easily (I like cheap slices American for this dish)
- Lowry’s Seasoned Salt (or your favorite spices)
- Sriracha (or your favorite hot sauce)
- 1 can pilsner (or any pale beer)
- Heat a medium pan over your fire with the flame about 2-4 inches from the bottom of the pan at its highest burn
- Add ground beef directly to pan; given its high fat content, you will not need oil. Leave the block of beef in one piece for as long as possible, flipping when it browns.
- While meat is browning, rough chop an onion so sections are about 1-2 inches long.
- Break beef into pieces about the size of a ping pong ball after both sides are browned; brown on all sides but leave inside pink. Remove from pan. Add a splash of beer to deglaze the pan.
- Add onions to the fat in the pan. Onions should sizzle lightly when added; if the oil pops, remove cast iron from flame and reposition; the goal is to get the onions to soften, not char.
- While onions are on heat, rough chop tomatoes into 1 inch chunks. Set aside.
- Once onions are soft and translucent, add beef back into pan and add seasoned salt and hot sauce to taste.
- Once meat is cooked as desired, add tomatoes and cheese, stirring to incorporate. Remove from heat when cheese is fully melted and tomatoes have begun to jam. Take a sip of beer, you deserve it.
While this dish is great on its own, it’s amazing with frybread, an easy-to-make Navajo recipe where dough is fried in oil. Given that frying requires consistent heat, it’s best to make frybread in advance—this recipe is easy and delicious. Use the bread to eat the meat, put the meat mixture in the bread like a Navajo taco, whatever you want.
If you’re not a cast iron kind of person, you can also make this by heating ground beef and onions over a camp stove until cooked, then rolling everything together in a foil packet to get that smoky flavor.