I always struggle with dinner the first night of a hunting trip. Usually, we pull into camp after dark. Everyone knows how it goes. You have a long weekend planned full of camping, fishing, hunting, hiking, and recreating, but you can’t leave until after work on Friday. And then when you get home from work, you realize you have to go grocery shopping for three days worth of food. And then you realize you have to load the truck. And the entire drive to camp you are remembering all the things you left at home, like a pillow or the coffee (Oh man! Don’t even start with me on someone forgetting the coffee, talk about a camping nightmare!). When all is said and done, you pull into camp after dark, and you still have to set everything up!
It is always at this point I realize dinner is going to be a midnight affair, if we are lucky. Usually I like to start my hunting trip with a memorable dinner to kick the weekend off right, but that plan always backfires, as it is too late to dutch oven anything in hopes it will be ready in a reasonable amount time for everyone to eat. We usually end up grumpily eating sandwiches, which were supposed to be for lunch the next day but have now replaced dinner. Everyone goes to bed a little disappointed at the start of the trip.
Well, this sad story will not be repeated for us anymore! I have found the PERFECT dutch oven meal for your first night at camp: Dutch Oven Nachos! They are quick, easy, delicious, and give that fun feel to the start of the weekend you are looking for, because hey, you are eating nachos in the outdoors and how fun is that? My favorite dutch oven meals are the ones that bring the unthinkable to the outdoor. Usually, nachos are made in the oven, or at least the microwave, and have a ton of ingredients so they don’t really sound like a very easy camping meal. Don’t be fooled, they are super easy!
The key to not having your nachos ready at midnight is to pull the charcoal chimney out when you first arrive at camp and light your briquettes. The briquettes will be ready to go by the time you are finished setting up the tent. Besides the coals, there is very little prep needed for this meal. Light the coals and allow them to heat until the top ones have just started to turn grey. I used to let them burn until the top ones were completely grey, but this resulted in the coals at the bottom of the chimney amounting to nothing more than dust.
The fun thing about nachos is you can top them with pretty much anything your heart desires. They can be filled with meat or vegetarian, spicy or mild, topped with a pile of veggies, have beans of several varieties, and so on. Anything the old heart desires!
I used a 12 inch Dutch oven for these nachos, but really any size will work. The temperature is not crucial to the success of this meal, like it would be if you were doing biscuits or some type of cake, so you can be flexible in the size of your oven. To start, I poured a very thin layer of nacho cheese sauce in the bottom of the oven. I felt that if I set my chips directly onto the bottom of the pan without a little bit of liquid they might burn. For those of you who might not know what nacho cheese sauce is, like I did not before making this meal, it is canned cheese found in the Hispanic food section of the grocery store. There were several varieties available out my grocery store, and I went with a queso fresco style, but you could get anything that catches your fancy. There were several varieties filled with different chilies or spices.
On top of the thin cheese layer, add a layer of chips. Everyone likes a different style of tortilla chip, and you can’t change their mind once it is set. Trust me, I have experienced this with the loved ones in my life. No fight is ever as vicious as when someone pulls out a brand of tortilla chips that is different than my sister’s or my dad’s favorite brand. So, use whatever brand of tortilla chips you love, but my suggestion, and it is purely a suggestion, is the Mission Tortilla Rounds. I like to use these for nachos because they are a bit thicker than some of the other brands, which means they hold up a little better to the cheese or other ingredients that make nachos soggy.
To the tortillas, add a layer of shredded cheese. I used the Mexican cheese blend, but you could also use any variety of cheddar, Colby, or even Italian style cheese. Pepper jack cheese would add some nice spice and heat to your nachos. Next I poured half a can of black beans on top of the cheese. Again, there are several options of beans that could be added, including red kidney beans, pinto beans, or refried beans. At this point, you could also add meat. For this time around, I was looking to make a very quick meal and I did not add meat, but shredded chicken, pork, or steak would be amazing! You could also do chorizo or hot sausage. And that is something you could prepare at home and it would then be quick and easy to throw onto the nachos.
I added a couple more toppings to this pot of nachos, including pickled jalapenos, sliced black olives, and some diced tomatoes. You can create any flavor combination you want at this point. Other great toppings could include: diced pineapple slices, bell peppers of any color, red or white onion, zucchini (I know sounds, kind of weird but it is actually pretty good), shredded carrots, and whatever else you can dream up.
So, once you have all your toppings added, it is time for the second layer. Add another layer of tortilla chips, top with more cheese, the other half of the can of beans, and all the additional toppings you have decided to add. Top it with a final layer of chips and a sprinkling of whatever cheese is left over. To finish it off, pour the entire can of nacho cheese over the top of the nachos and let it run down through the mountain of chips and toppings you have created.
Place the lid on top of the oven and set over your hot coals. I did about ten coals on the bottom of the oven and added another eight coals to the top. Let the nachos cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
While the nachos are baking away, you can prepare the fresh toppings for your nachos. For this time around, I added shredded lettuce, salsa, diced avocado, and sour cream.
The nachos are ready once the cheese is all melted! Pile on your favorite toppings and enjoy around a crackling campfire!