Sunday, February 8, 2009

Recipe: Skillet Fried Potatoes

Cast iron skillet fried potatoes over the open fire
Note: While this recipe details the campfire and camp stove method for skillet fried potatoes, you can enjoy your cast iron skillet potatoes at home, too.

In summer, during our teen and college years, my brother and I would usually get a group together to paddle through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota and Quetico Provincial Park in southern Ontario.

The Boundary Waters and Quetico are special. There are no roads, no powerlines, no real buildings to speak of, and very few people. You can still drink the water straight out of the lakes, and (on the Canadian side anyway) there are no motorboats allowed. There are moose, wolf, bald eagle, deer, and fox. Native American pictographs can be found tucked here and there on the vertical faces of lake-side rock. If you know where to look, you can find log cabins slowly disintegrating back in the woods—leftovers from the mining and logging activities of the early 20th century.

The secret is keeping the heat low on a camp stove
My grandma Ruth always got a bit wistful as we took over her living room in St. Paul (and raided her Ziploc stash) while packing for these trips. She had never been to the Boundary Waters despite having grown up in Minnesota. So when I was a Senior in high school, we took Ruth (72 at the time) on an 8-day trip through the lakes, rivers and overgrown portages of this amazing wilderness. Grandma Ruth was pretty hardcore.

On these canoe trips it was nearly always part of the evening ritual to have two or three people hunched over the flat part of a wooden canoe paddle, cutting potatoes with a Swiss Army knife. We'd stay out 8 or 9 days, but would only bring 4 or 5 dinners—assuming we'd catch fish. While our piscatorial luck nearly always held, we were sure to bring a large sack of potatoes just in case. If the fishing was bad, we had skillet potatoes. If the fishing was good, we still had skillet potatoes.


  • 2 Russet Potatoes
  • 1 Small Onion
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic
  • Oil


If you're like me and have a white gas backpacking or camp stove (mine's an old MSR Whisperlite), you can approximate a simmer by leaving the fuel tank somewhat under-pressurized. Before you fire it up, release any tank pressure, and then give it just a few pumps to build enough pressure to light it. Leave the burner flame as low as you can get it, and as it gets close to dying, give the tank a pump or two. Place your medium cast iron skillet on the burner to get hot.

You can also fry potatoes over an open campfire. Again, keep the heat low (you can always add more coals or wood).

Cut potatoes into flat chunks about an inch across. The thickness of each chunk should be no more than 1/4 inch. Cut thinner and they'll cook faster. Dice the onions.

Once it is hot, oil the skillet with about 1/4 inch of canola, and then add the raw potato to the hot oil (hold the onions back, for now). Salt and season well as you cook them. Taste them to make sure you've gotten enough seasoning on there. When potatoes are softening up and beginning to brown (maybe after 15 minutes or so), toss in the onions.

Fry until everything is done, stirring frequently to prevent burning on the bottom of the skillet. Potatoes usually take about about 25 minutes to cook.


  1. This is very tasty. It's how my dad liked to eat his taters when we were at the lake in KY. =)

    1. Well I hope I did your dad proud with this recipe! Thanks for stopping by...



Howdy! Thanks for visiting, and thanks even more for leaving a comment. I'll respond as soon as the kids are asleep.