If you were a Girl Scout or Boy Scout, the odds of this sparking your tastebuds and bringing back memories are high. Meet the “hobo packet,” “foil dinner,” or if you will, the “silver turtle.” For the uninitiated, this cooking tradition involves stuffing a tin foil packet to the brim with potatoes, carrots, and a big ‘ole onion slice as the base, the meat of your choice (customarily ground beef), and some seasoning (if you’re lucky) and then cooking your little pouch friend on hot coals.
Silver turtles are best done when turned upside down and buried in coals which allows the juices of the meat to cook the vegetables so they get properly soft. Also, rather than just folding the tin foil over, twist the corners to look like little “legs”; be sure there are no gaps or openings with the packet. Once removed from the fire, there’s no need for plates since you can eat straight out of the foil packet! This simply prepared meal is most appreciated after a long day of outdoor activities such as camping, hiking and getting lost in the forest with your friends.
Silver turtles are an economical and easy meal to make. It’s an excellent activity for a large group or the whole family since each turtle can be made to individual portions and tastes. It’s also an easy meal to prepare head of time. For kids, creating their own silver turtle can be a creative exercise: sticking in carrot “legs” and smothering the body in ketchup to their heart’s desire (or until mom says “enough”). You can get creative and make silver turtles with different ingredients including fruit, but the traditional way sits pretty in my heart.
The idea that generations of Texans have grown up eating this around campfires is a nod to a simpler lifestyle that once was and still can be! Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts continue to pass along this tradition, and the little silver turtle is still well-loved by taste buds everywhere. A trick that my Girl Scout leader taught me when I was younger is to use lots of butter and garlic salt and some Worcester sauce. Hearing the sizzle and crackle in the tin foil, you’ll find yourself getting excited to pull these little packets off the coals and dig in to enjoy your old-fashioned dinner that didn’t involve a stove, just like the days gone by.
This culinary delight provides a nutritious meal whether you’re out camping or gathered with friends around the backyard fire pit. My family recently enjoyed a trip down memory lane with me and I recommend you put the silver turtle on your list of outdoor activity. Perhaps you’re an outdoorsy type of person and this is already a staple in your cooking regimen but maybe you weren’t as familiar with all the details and possibilities. Our sparkling turtle friend has quite the past, and I suspect it doesn’t plan on going anywhere soon!
Silver Turtle Recipe
Ingredients and Supplies
- Meat Options – ground beef, beef patties, boneless chicken breasts, boneless pork chops, pre-cooked ham, steak, salmon, tilapia
- Vegetable Options – carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, peppers, summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes, asparagus
- Fruit Options – apple slices, lemon slices, pineapple or orange pieces
- Seasoning Options – Saltand Pepper, Garlic Salt, Ketchup, Butter, Olive Oil, Worcester sauce, barbecue sauce, cream of mushroom soup, or cream of chicken soup
- Tin Foil – heavy duty is best, or layer more than one sheet; pieces should be 18” to 24” long
- Tongs – for placing silver turtles in the coals and grabbing the silver turtles when they’re done!
- Roll the ground beef into small meatballs or create a small patty.
- Boneless chicken breasts, boneless pork chops, ham and steak are best when cut into bite-sized pieces before cooking.
- Vegetables and fruit should also be cut into bite-sized portions.
- Lay tin foil sheet(s) on flat surface.
- Layer your choice of vegetables in the middle of the tin foil sheet
- Top the vegetables with choice of meat
- Add seasoning(s)
- Fold the foil tightly around the ingredients; be sure there are no gaps or openings. Using the four corners, crimp and create “legs”.
- Place the silver turtles upside down and directly into hot coals of a campfire, fire pit or charcoal grill.
- Cooking time can vary; 10-20 minutes is typical – it really depends on the meat and vegetables.
- Start checking the silver turtles when you hear them sizzle and smell them cooking.
- Using the tongs, remove silver turtles from the coals.
- Be careful of hot steam and ingredients when unwrapping the silver turtle.
Katerina Cotroneo is an author and professional photographer who has been published in Austin Fit Magazine, Waterways Magazine, Tribeza etc. Katerina captures idiosyncratic stories through her lens, and portrays diverse perspectives in her writing.