Campfire cooking is often limited to simple dishes like beans, chili or stews, but culinary cowboy Johnny Nix of Albertville proves that a small fire and a little cast iron can yield five-star cuisine. Interested in sampling Johnny’s food? Just wait to hear his signature invitation: “Y’all eat yet?”
Johnny, an Alabama native, has been cooking over an open flame for more than 25 years. A few years ago, television brought his food with flair to living rooms around the country. Though he loves demonstrating the ease of cooking anything from biscuits and peach cobbler to gumbo and pecan-crusted chicken, his claim to television fame was far from intentional. In fact, the idea for his show spun from an unusual place — a trail ride in Missouri.
“Our tickets for the trail ride included meals, but [my wife] Wanda and I got to noticing that after the first night, the food just wasn’t that good,” recalls Johnny. “The second night, we had stuff in the trailer, so we just started cooking our own food. In no time, more and more people started coming to our campsite and eating with us instead.”
During that trail ride, more than 200 people — including a producer from RFD-TV — found Johnny’s food delicious and his enthusiasm for campfire cooking contagious. The chance meeting led to the start of Campfire Café, a popular half-hour program that aired on RFD-TV from 2002-2006. During that time, Johnny cooked with several country music stars — Joe Diffie, John Conlee, Mark Chesnutt, The Kentucky HeadHunters and Jett Williams — and two well-respected chefs, the “Galloping Gourmet” Graham Kerr and Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef, Art Smith. While Johnny says he enjoyed cooking with some big names over the years, one encounter really stands out.
“I’ve had the privilege to cook with some great chefs around the campfire,” said Johnny, “but cooking with legendary country singer Ray Price… boy, that sure was somethin’!”
Johnny and Wanda, who works primarily behind the scenes, parted ways with RFD in 2006. Though they took a break from television, this dynamic duo continued sharing their love for food through cooking demonstrations at various events around the country. From trail rides to trade shows, “Y’all eat yet?” became a signature phrase audiences looked forward to hearing.
Countless requests were made for Johnny to return to TV, and Johnny and Wanda listened. Last April, Cookin’ Outdoors with Johnny Nix aired on the Blue Highways cable network and is Johnny’s current outlet for sharing his knowledge of cowboy-style cooking. Wanda films and edits each segment, manages their personal website and helps market the program. She notes that one of her favorite things to do is read fan mail.
“Viewers love his simple, step-by-step instructions and non-intimidating demeanor,” says Wanda. “They always tell us how easy he makes everything sound, and they just love his Southern drawl.”
Wanda and Johnny both say they’re pleased that his show isn’t intimidating to viewers, but they also point out that the simplicity isn’t just for show — it really is that easy to cook over a campfire.
“Sure, we’re all gonna burn stuff from time to time, but that’s just part of being a cook,” Johnny said. “The biggest hesitation for most people is not being able to ‘read’ the fire. But I always tell them to just follow the smoke. Wherever your smoke is, that’s where your heat is. It’s all in just sitting back, watching this living thing and getting comfortable with it.”
Though he swears by Lodge Cast Iron-brand products, Johnny encourages cooking enthusiasts to make sure they use only high-quality cast iron cookware when preparing fireside dishes. Since not everyone has a ready-made fire pit in their backyards, Johnny also sells his custom-made cook sets online, which consist of two side posts, a crossbar, five pot hooks, a lid lifter, fire poker, swing grill, fire pit and utensil hanger.
Why does he go out of his way to send the message that meals made over an open flame are easy and fun? Johnny says the answer to that is simple.
“Food is one of the best ways to bring people together,” he explains. “We’ve traveled a lot, been all over the country doing this type of cooking. Everywhere we’ve gone, we always made friends along the way. Cooking over a campfire is a great way to interact and have a little fun. After all, it’s important to slow down every once in a while and enjoy life, family and friends. And just remember – it’s just cookin’, not rocket science.”
To view recipes from the show or to purchase Johnny’s cookbooks, instructional DVD or cooking set, visit YallEatYet.com. Check local cable listings for Cookin’ Outdoors with Johnny Nix, or find a schedule at BlueHighwaysTV.com.
Black Forest Ribbon Cake
14” Dutch Oven - 12 Servings
2 boxes of chocolate cake mix
2 (8-ounce) packages of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons milk
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cans chocolate frosting
1 can cherry pie filling
Combine cream cheese, eggs and sugar, and mix until smooth. Gradually add milk, butter, vanilla and cornstarch; beat well. Mix chocolate cake batter according to directions using required ingredients. Pour half the batter in a well-greased or foil-lined 14” Dutch oven. Spoon cream cheese mixture over cake batter. Add remaining cake batter. Bake over medium heat for 45 minutes to 1 hour, adding top coals after 20 minutes. Bake until knife inserted in cake comes out clean. Cool slightly before removing from Dutch oven, and allow to cool completely before frosting cake. Top with cherry pie filling.
Charcoal: Bake at 350 F for 1 hour. Use 12 bottom/24 top coals.