Kimberly’s Campfire Chili

Kimberly's campfire Chili

Hello again camping friends, today we bring you another camping recipe that we think you will love on your next trip. Now, this is Kimberly’s recipe, Spencer loves it but he sees himself as somewhat of a chili snob so to speak. He frequently calls his chili the big Texan since it is filled with large chunks of everything from green peppers, to cubes of medium rare beef added at the end, to chunks of tomatoes, to a variety of whole mushrooms…. all things that Kimberly despises in any food.

That said, it should be known that Kimberly was a vegetarian for much of her adult life, and Spencer was the furthest thing from. Why bring this up? well, we have put our heads together to bring you two options for this dish. Kimberly’s campfire chili is a non vegetarian dish, however Spencer was able to talk Kimberly into a little adjustment, a ground beef substitution using part of his recipe, for a vegetarian version of the same dish. Two worlds compromising to make something great for everyone, that’s what we are all about here.

Campfire Starter

So, to begin we need a fire and what better way to create a fire than with a basic method. Anyone can use lighter fluid, or fire starter bricks, but when you build a fire using practically nothing then not only do you start to appreciate a lot of the tools that we take for granted, on a daily basis, but you feel a sense of accomplishment, while gaining a set of very important survival skills. Not to mention you can be sure that you aren’t getting any toxins into your food, when you cook over the fire, that you might otherwise get from a fire starter. Our children are taught early on how to make, and build, a fire using very little. Spencer lets them have, and maintain, their own campfire, if they can get it started on their own. He gives them one chance using only a single match or no dice. Once they have the basic idea of nurturing that little flame into a much bigger fire, he shows them other little methods, like flint/steel, that they really seem to have a lot of fun learning.

Moving on, now that we have our fire we have to wait until we have a decent coal bed, with little flame. This is important, cooking on an open fire can be tricky, there is no flame adjustments and moving a hot pan on, and off, the flames is impractical and dangerous. For this reason there is a lot of waiting for the right moment to start cooking. Regardless, this fire will be far hotter than anything you are used to cooking with outside of a professional environment so vigilance is key. Some of our wood was a little on the green side so that’s why we have fresh wood over the coals.

Ground Beef

With that said we start off with our dutch oven, on the grate, to which we add our ground beef…. unless of course you are using the vegetarian option. If you are then you will add the olive oil, let it heat up for a moment, then add your large vegetables, from the vegetarian list below. We will also not be draining the vegetables, like we will be doing with the ground beef, so let those flavors stay.

Spencer’s Tip: Years ago Spencer ran a restaurant and was, at one point, very successful in the culinary world. He loves creating and trying new foods, coming up with modernized theories when it comes to flavor blending and retention. Spencer believes that when cooking with ground beef it is important not to add anything to the meat at the very beginning. If you cook all of your spices, and aromatics, with the beef then a lot of those amazing flavors just get thrown away when you remove the grease. However, he also believes that it is important to add these flavors before the meat is finished cooking so they have a chance to infuse into the meat. Spencer recommends that the meat be cooked 1/2 – 3/4 of the way first, the grease drained off, then prepare the beef as you normally would from that point using salt pepper, garlic, onion, etc…

Now that the meat/vegetables are par cooked it’s time to add our spices. Lets add the salt, pepper, chili powder, and cumin and give it a good mix.


Our next pictures shows a lovely assortment of minced jalapeno’s, yellow onion and garlic which we will now add to the pot. Once again give it a good stir and let the mixture just simmer for several minutes until everything is soft and the meat is fully cooked. Be sure to stir constantly, remember, this is a campfire and your food can burn very quickly if you aren’t paying attention.

Camp Chefs

Now that we have our meat/vegetables ready to go we will add our beans and let them simmer in the pot for a few minutes. Finally we are going to add our crushed tomatoes and cook for about 20 minutes more with the lid off. Why cook with the lid off? We do this so we can get a hint of that delicious campfire smoke in our pot. Wood selection is always important when it comes to cooking but here we are just going to use the pine and oak we came camping with. This is also why you want to have a clean fire, it is very important to not burn plastic, or other contaminants, in your campfire. The contaminants will not only travel to your surrounding environment but they will travel into the food that you cook over that fire as well. So please, trash goes in the trash and recycle whenever humanly possible.

Chili and Garlic Bread
Campfire Chili

After your 20, or so, minutes are up we are going to cover the pot and let the chili cook for a good hour. Remember to check, and stir, frequently so the food does not burn. This is also a good time to make a loaf of garlic bread which Kimberly prepared for us, wrapped in foil, and slowly baked over an open fire. When finished the liquid in the chili should be reduced, it should be darker than when you first started, and it should be slightly thick. If not then cook the chili for another 15 minutes with the lid off. This may be needed in the vegetarian version since the vegetables are going to sweat releasing a lot more water into the dish, especially the mushrooms.

There you have it, Kimberly’s Campfire Chili with Spencer’s Vegetarian alternative. We have listed the ingredients below and grouped them by containers if you are limited on space. Ideally you would want to cook the dish as per our recommendations above but we can also obtain a similar result by grouping the ingredients like we did below.

Remember, it is important to cook the meat first, and separately, for a couple of reasons. Firstly its a good idea to remove some of that grease from your dish. Secondly if you cook raw ground beef in a liquid it comes out mushy, like oatmeal with too much water added, so at the very least you should have two separate containers. You can also do what we do, which is double up. We purchased a few pounds of ground beef, Spencer pressed them into quarter pound burgers, froze them in a one gallon freezer bag separated by parchment paper. We then just took out what we needed for lunch, this dish, dinner the next day, or whatever.

It is also worth mentioning that this recipe feeds roughly 4 – 6 adults and is spicy so some adjustments may be required for your party. Additionally leftovers are really no trouble, just wait until the chili cools, place it back in container 1, and place the container back in your cooler where you had it originally.


Container 1: If you use cans of beans, drain the beans and rinse them well. If you use dried beans you will need to prepare them ahead of time.

  • 16oz Red Kidney Beans.
  • 16oz Cannellini Beans.
  • 16oz Black Beans.
  • 2 – 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes.
  • 4 Tbsp Chili Powder.
  • 2 tsp Cumin.
  • 1 Tbsp Salt.
  • 2 tsp Black Pepper.

Container 2: We have both Meat and Meatless options available for our Vegetarian/Vegan friends.

Meat Option … OR

  • 1lb Ground Beef

Meatless Option (Vegetarian)

  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 8oz Mushroom blend (Oyster, Baby Bella, Shiitake, etc… Cut in half)
  • 1 large Green bell pepper (Coarse Chopped)
  • 2 Roma Tomatoes (Coarse Chopped)
  • 8oz Sweet corn.

Container 3: Pantry Items – If you choose to prepare these ahead of time some browning may occur from a natural reaction called oxidization. The vegetables aren’t bad, they are just discolored. To help prevent this you can coat the minced items in a few tablespoons of white wine vinegar. This will not only help prevent the browning but it will also add a little bite to your chili. Additionally, after coating, you can just add the minced items to Container 1 to help save space.

  • 1 large Jalapeno (Minced).
  • 4 cloves of garlic (Minced).
  • 1 medium yellow onion (Minced).

We hope you have enjoyed our little recipe. We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below and as always Happy Camping!

-Kimberly and Spencer

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