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Campfire Cooking: How to Do It, What to Cook, and How to Keep Safe!

October 29, 2020 6 min read

Campfire Cooking: How to Do It, What to Cook, and How to Keep Safe!

Are you planning on spending some time in the great outdoors? Camping vacations have become hugely popular this year: Nights sleeping out under a starry sky, days spent out in nature away from the crowds, and all without phone signal...sounds pretty dreamy, doesn't it? 

Part of the romance of camping is in campfire cooking. While there are stoves that can do all of the work for you nowadays, making a huge campfire, and sizzling sausages or creating a dinner in a dutch oven is one of the most authentic things that you can do while camping. 

A campfire will keep you warm on chilly nights, and cooking over a fire will give your food a unique taste and authentic camp experience. It's the perfect way to completely immerse yourself in nature while you're away camping for a weekend!

Let's look a bit more at cooking over that fire, and exactly how to do it!

How to make a campfire

While cooking over an open fire is completely natural, there are some important things to know and to respect while making and using your fire. Fires can be very hazardous, so it’s paramount that your campfire cooking setup is as safe as possible. 

Campfire cooking safety procedures

First, be sure that there aren't any rules about open fires where you’re camping. Fires are banned in some places, particularly in wildfire season. It's best to check online or with a ranger before you start assembling your fire. 

Even if fires aren’t banned at your camp spot, if it's really windy and you don't have adequate wind protection, a campfire may be out of the question. Wind can easily cause wildfires by dispersing bits of fire, so it's crucial not to create one in windy conditions. 

Once you've confirmed that you're good to fire up, think about your specific location. Is there a pre-existing fire pit at your camp spot? If so, use that. If not, try to build your fire on rocks, where it can be put out easily at the end of the night. Also, make sure that your site is over 8 feet away from any bushes or trees, and check that no branches overhang where the fire will be. 

How to set up a campfire

Then, it's time to search for cooking wood. Campfires only work with dry wood, and it's best if it's seasoned. If you can't find seasoned wood, you'll need to pack your wood in tightly to have the best chance of flammability. 

You should also collect some large rocks. Make a U-shape with these rocks, placing a large rock at the end that will direct the smoke upwards (acting similarly to chimneys). If there are no rocks available, you could use green logs, but you’ll have to make sure that these are kept damp. 

Next, add some tinder to the fire. This could be crumpled paper or specially designed store-bought tinder. Then place kindling over the fire in layers. First place a row of kindling over the tinder, and then add another layer in an alternate direction. 

Light the fire using a match. Then, add the firewood. The wood pieces should all be similar sizes, and you should pile on as much as possible to begin with. Once the fire is blazing, you can use a stick to push the coals around, creating a high and low campfire temperature!

Place your grill on the rocks or damp logs, and you have your burner - let's get going!

Campfire cooking equipment

Part of the natural style of fire pit cooking is the fact that you don't need much equipment, but there are definitely some campfire cookware items that will make this type of dining a lot easier!

  • We’ve mentioned that you'll need a campfire grill grate. This is to go over the logs and protect any pans or griddles from flames. 
  • A camping griddle is ideal for frying vegetables and meat. 
  • Make some easy one-pot meals with a dutch oven, an excellent piece of open fire cookware. This retains the heat well and disperses it evenly throughout your entire dish.
  • Do you want to make toasties or pies? One of the best campfire cooking tools is a pie iron that can be placed over a fire, and cooked on. 
  • One of the most important campfire tools is some kind of fireproof spatula that can move your food and cookware around. 
  • Be sure to bring some oven gloves to protect your hands from hot pots! 
  • A campfire tripod could be used for items that don't need harsh heat and that will cook well when slightly elevated from the fire. 

Campfire cooking tips

If you want to be a professional at camp cooking, there are some essential tips to remember that will help you both cut some corners and overcome small obstacles. 

Campfire Preparation Tips

One of our top tips is not to go for the biggest fire possible to begin with. Some fires can be too intense for foods that just need to be heated, and larger fires tend to burn out quicker. Know your recipe and the kind of fire that it needs, or try with a smaller fire first and gradually increase its intensity.

Be sure to leave yourself with plenty of time for the fire to light up, and for the food to cook. Try to assemble the fire when it's still light, at least an hour before you begin cooking. Remember that your food will take longer to cook on a campfire as well - cooking in this way is great fun, but it is a whole evening activity! 

Food Tips 

Don't forget to bring aluminum foil. This makes all aspects of cooking with fire easier - your ingredients will cook faster, and cleaning will be a cinch! Aluminum foil can be picked up for next to nothing from most stores, and it makes al fresco cooking and dining hundreds of times easier. 

If you’re only camping for one night, you may find it prudent to do some preparation at home. You could pre-slice vegetables, meat, and other ingredients, or even part-cook some food that may take a while on the fire. This will mean less labor time at the campsite and more time to enjoy your trip! 

Staying Healthy While Cooking on a Campfire

Be sure that you stay healthy by ensuring that your food is cooked and stored appropriately. Meat should be kept cool while being stored - you need a coolbox - and cooked until you're sure it  is ready. Cooking time is likely to be longer than when you are using the hob or oven at home. If you're nervous about cooking meat on an open fire, test your skills with vegetables first. 

It's also crucial to ensure that you’re using safe water. Sometimes, water in rural areas isn’t treated and is unsafe to drink unless boiled first. Therefore, any water that you use for boiling rice, vegetables, or other ingredients should be on the boil for at least a minute before anything else is added to the pan. If you’re at altitude, the water should boil for longer. To be extra-cautious, you can also add a water filter to the pot before cooking. 

Keep your hands clean throughout cooking, to ensure that no dirt transfers to the food. Keep some wipes close to you and wipe your hands down whenever you see visible dirt, and give your hands a thorough wash before cooking. 

Camping food - what to cook? 

So, you've learned how to make a cooking fire, and you're feeling pretty confident. Now, what to cook? We've got some delicious camping recipes that we're confident will be a highlight of your trip! 

  • The camping breakfast days of fruit and yogurt are over! This mountain man breakfast includes sausage, bacon, bell peppers, hash browns, and eggs, and can all be cooked easily in a dutch oven on a campfire. 
  • Baking bread… on a campfire? It's possible! Here's how to make dutch oven bread.
  • Who said camping meals are just BBQs? Try something different with this campfire nachos recipe.
  • This dutch oven pot roast includes meat, vegetables and broth, and is a gloriously succulent dish to add to your camping repertoire. 
  • Another dutch oven classic, enjoy this tender braised beef while camping. 
  • And, one of the best camping food ideas? Dessert! Try this easy peach cobbler on your next trip.

Of course, there are some other essential items that you can bring with you. Don't forget different meats to BBQ, beef or vegetable burgers, different vegetables to griddle, and lots of extras to add to your cooked components, such as cheese and different sauces! 

It's very different from making food back in your kitchen, but cooking over a campfire is one of the most quintessential camping experiences you can have. While you do need to make a few considerations to ensure that you’re cooking in the safest way possible, once you've got the hang of it, you'll be creating delicious campfire cooking meals in no time!

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