All-In-One

'Hobo packs' are a backpacker’s best friend at dinner

By Michael Roberts 

At the end of a day of hiking, making a hobo meal is as easy as building a fire and combining ingredients. Photo by Dustin Jones

At the end of a day of hiking, making a hobo meal is as easy as building a fire and combining ingredients. Photo by Dustin Jones

 

It’s been a long day out on the trail, and nothing sounds better than building a fire, resting weary feet and getting a much-needed hot meal into depleted bodies. But no backpacker wants to haul a kitchen’s worth of pots and pans, meaning too many times hungry hikers settle for freeze-dried or canned food before turning in for the night. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can all eat well on the trail with a hobo meal, a meal cooked inside a foil package. Meat, vegetables and seasonings all come together to make a hearty, filling meal that’s only limited by your imagination.

For our hobo meal experience, we caught up with Jeff Owen, chef at Little Rock’s Ciao Baci, a popular restaurant known for its down-home flavors and quality ingredients. Owen has been running the Hillcrest eatery’s kitchen for four years now, and in that time the restaurant has seen its reputation for delicious food skyrocket in central Arkansas. “I started cooking outside in the Boy Scouts. It was a great way to avoid digging latrines,” he says with a laugh. He’s continued getting outside in Arkansas through a variety of activities that range from skateboarding to fishing for trout and bream. 

As Jeff prepares the charcoal for our meal with a practiced ease, he talks about taking his 2-year-old daughter on her first camping trip, a recent trip to Petit Jean to stay in one of the park's yurts. Then, as the coals fill the air with a rich, smoky aroma, he fills a double-layered foil packet with a thick hamburger steak piled high with golden potatoes, fresh mushrooms, onions, diced tomatoes and fresh sage and thyme from Ciao Baciís on-site garden. A quick bit of folding and each meal is sealed in its own packet and tossed directly on the coals. In less than 20 minutes, we'll be eating.

"The great thing about these meals is how versatile they are," Jeff says. "Fresh fish, chicken and any sort of vegetables can make a delicious meal."

 
Preparing a hobo meal is quite simple: Place ingredients on aluminum foil then fold into a sealed packet and cook over hot coals. Photos by Matthew Martin

Preparing a hobo meal is quite simple: Place ingredients on aluminum foil then fold into a sealed packet and cook over hot coals. Photos by Matthew Martin

Basic Hobo Meal

(serves 4)

Ingredients:
Aluminum foil

4 hamburger patties. (Substitute chicken, fresh fish or another protein of your choiceóor just double up on the mushrooms and vegetables for a vegetarian treat.)

4 medium-large golden potatoes, diced

3 tomatoes, diced

20 white mushrooms, quartered

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Fresh herbs such as thyme and sage (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste. Other dried seasonings or seasoned salt may be used.

 

Directions:
Build each packet by taking 1-foot sections of aluminum foil and doubling them up to create two layers. Place one hamburger patty (or protein) on each foil section. Divide the remaining ingredients evenly among the packets. 

Fold the long sides together, then fold over the ends to seal the food inside. Cook over hot coals for about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through. 

Fun alternatives:
The hobo meal is only limited by your imagination. Use chicken or fresh-caught fish instead of hamburger, or utilize the packet system to make decadent campfire s'mores, sausage and onions for breakfast or even gooey monkey bread.

Keep It Cool:
To keep meat from spoiling during an overnight trip, it's best to start off with meat that's already frozen, then pack in a small, soft cooler with dry ice. For longer trips, or when carrying extra weight isn't feasible, canned meat can be used in place of fresh.