By Christie Vanover | Published October 7, 2013 | Last Updated December 28, 2022
What Is Hobo Stew
Hobo Stew is my all-time favorite camping recipe. I learned about it while I was a camp counselor at YMCA’s Camp Piomingo in Kentucky. It’s a great dish to prepare with your kids on a camping trip or in your backyard fire pit.
As counselors, we would pack up all of the pre-chopped ingredients along with lots of foil. Then we hiked out to an elevated ridge near the Ohio River for an under-the-stars adventure buffet and campfire tales.
The campers would each grab a piece of foil, and they would travel down the line of counselors who each had an ingredient. Everyone started with ground beef. Then, they could add their veggies of choice.
The mound of ingredients was usually topped with a slice of American cheese and a few squirts of ketchup or mustard.
The kids would fold the foil over their ingredients to make a ball, add their initials on their pouch using a marker, and then, they’d find the perfect spot on the fire to start cooking their campfire entrée.
Campers had such pride in their creations.
I hadn’t made Hobo Stew in almost 20 years. When my husband and I decided to go camping a few weeks ago, I had to introduce him to it.
Packing for 2 was a lot easier than packing for 50. I just packed up a few containers of ground beef and chopped veggies. This time, I added some more adult flavors, including minced garlic, jalapenos and some of my favorite seasonings.
It was a true treat. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to make this again. It will become a regular fire pit meal this fall.
Substitutions: This dish is all about substitutions, because everyone builds their own packet.
How to cook hobo stew
The whole purpose of this dish is to cook it outdoors. You can definitely do that in your backyard, but for even more fun, pre-chop all the ingredients and pack them in to-go containers or plastic bags to cook this around a campfire.
- STEP ONE: Start your campfire in a safe campfire ring or fire pit with charcoal or logs. Let it burn, until the coals start to ash over and the flames subside.
- STEP TWO: On the picnic table, lay out two sheets of foil stacked on top of each other and shape that into a bowl. The easiest way to do this is to place a bowl upside down and then lay the foil right on top. Press it down. Gently remove the foil and flip it over so you have a foil bowl.
- STEP THREE: Start layering in your ingredients. Start with the meat. Then, add the vegetables, condiments and seasonings. You can give it a little stir, but you don’t have to.
- STEP FOUR: Add a slice of cheese right on top and fold it close, trying not to press down too hard toward the cheese, otherwise it can stick. Write your initials on the foil packet so you know whose is whose.
- STEP FIVE: Place the foil pouch onto the hot coals and cook for 30-60 minutes. I like to use long tongs to rotate the packets occasionally.
EXPERT TIP: Hobo stew made with potatoes can take about an hour to cook, depending on how you slice the potatoes. Slices cook faster than cubes. If you leave out the potatoes, dinner is ready in about 30 minutes.
How to serve hobo stew
After about 30 minutes, start checking the hobo stew by carefully opening the pouch and piercing the harder vegetables like potatoes and carrots with a fork. Once they are tender, use heat gloves or long tongs to remove the pouch from the coals.
The pouch will be very hot, so be mindful of what surface you set it on. Putting it on a plastic picnic tablecloth is a bad idea.
Once it’s had a bit of time to cool, open the foil and dig in with a fork. You can add more seasonings if you feel like it needs it.
Because this dish is made to order, you can make it as big or as small as you’d like. So you shouldn’t have any leftover hobo stew. However, you may have leftover raw ingredients.
If you do, be sure to keep them refrigerated or in a cooler that’s lower than 40F degrees. Then, you can make another batch on a later night of your camping trip.
Frequently Asked Questions
The cool thing about hobo stew is that it can be made with any ingredients you have on hand. My recipe includes ground meat, vegetables, cheese and condiments.
The term hobo has evolved over the past century. Today, the dictionary defines a hobo as a homeless person and one who generally doesn’t have a job or any money.
But decades ago, a hobo referred to a person living during the Great Depression who would roam the U.S. in search of a job to provide for themselves or their family. Although they may not have had a permanent place to call home, they were generally hard workers and would scrap together ingredients to create a warm meal like a stew without a kitchen or pots and pans.
Hobo stew can be made with almost any ingredients you have with just a fire and some foil.
It depends on your ingredients. If you use ground meat and softer vegetables like peppers and onions, it will take around 30 minutes. If you use harder vegetables like carrots and potatoes, it can take up to an hour.
Other Campfire Recipes
Campfire Hobo Stew
- Ground beef
- Garlic minced
- Cherry tomatoes
- Onions chopped
- Peppers chopped
- Potatoes sliced
- Carrots sliced
- Jalapenos sliced
- salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, Lawry’s
- Ketchup and mustard
- Sliced cheese
- Build Campfire: Build a campfire and wait for the charcoal or wood to ash over.
- Make Foil Packet: Lay two pieces on top of each other and shape it into a bowl.
- Add Ingredients: Add any ingredients you want, starting with ground beef and ending with cheese. Shape the foil into a ball.
- Cook: Place the foil pouches onto the hot coals. Cook for 30-60 minutes, rotating around the campfire, if needed. (If you added potatoes, it will probably take the full hour).
- Enjoy: Remove from the coals and let cool slightly. Carefully, peel open the pouch and eat with a fork.
This estimate was created using an online nutrition calculator