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Hobo stew is a recipe straight from my time as a YMCA camp counselor. It can be cooked on the fire pit in your backyard or at a campsite.

hand reaching in to add ingredients to foil packet.

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.


  • Ground Meat: Ground beef is the most popular meat in hobo stew, but you can also use ground pork or ground chicken.
  • Vegetables: The most popular veggies used include tomatoes, potatoes, onions, peppers and carrots. If you like a little heat, add jalapeños.
  • Cheese: Any melty cheese will work.
  • Condiments: We always use ketchup and mustard and sometimes mayonnaise.
  • Seasonings: Plan to have salt and pepper handy, but you can also use garlic powder, onion powder or pre-made seasonings and rubs.
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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
two sheets of foil pressed onto an upside down bowl.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
cheese slices on top of hobo stew ingredients.
  1. 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.
hobo stew cooking on hot coals that have ashed over.
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.

spoon inside opened pouch of hobo stew.


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.

Expert Tips

  • Pre-chop all of your ingredients before leaving for your camping trip
  • Wait for the campfire to turn to coals; don’t cook the pouches over direct flames
  • To make a foil bowl, use a real bowl as the mold
  • Layer with meat on the bottom and cheese on top

Frequently Asked Questions

What is hobo stew made of?

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.

Why is it called hobo stew?

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.

How long does it take to cook hobo stew?

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.

4.86 from 7 votes

Campfire Hobo Stew

Hobo stew is a recipe straight from my time as a YMCA camp counselor. It can be cooked on the fire pit in your backyard or at a campsite.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 1


  • 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.


Calories: 471kcalCarbohydrates: 25gProtein: 26gFat: 30gSaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 101mgSodium: 473mgPotassium: 975mgFiber: 5gSugar: 8gVitamin A: 8673IUVitamin C: 76mgCalcium: 269mgIron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
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Christie Vanover

About Zestuous

Hi. I’m Christie, the head cook and award-winning competitive pitmaster for Team Girls Can Grill. I have won multiple grand championships and have dozens of top ten category finishes. People know me as the girl who is forever hovering over a grill, smoker or campfire with tongs in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.

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Recipe Rating


  1. This is exactly what we make for our family of 15 when we are camping here in Oregon! Truly a treasure! The only difference is that we use frozen pre-cooked tater tots instead of potatoes (I say “frozen” but they are generally thawed in the cooler by the time we make Hobo Stew) and everyone’s food is generally done within 20 to 30 minutes.

    We also hold off on ketchup and cheese-adding until you are ready to eat because of how easily cheese burns and to avoid extra red/pink in there when checking meat for doneness.