One of the best parts about being in the wilderness and camping is joining around a communal fire. The warmth provided by the flames and friends makes hard days on the trail so much better. The only thing that makes campfires even more enjoyable is when there is a pot of something cooking on it. The sounds of the fire, the smells of the meal, and the chatter from family combine for a really memorable experience. The bad thing is that campfire cooking can lead to scorched food. So these expert campfire cooking tips will get you prepared to wow your family on your next outing.
If you are ready to kick your campfire cooking up a few notches from roasting marshmallows and hot dogs then keep reading. The following will provide even the most seasoned campfire cookers with some handy tips and tricks that will ensure a safe and delish campfire meal! So strap on that apron, snap those tongs, and let’s get to building our fire to become a campfire chef!
Expert Campfire Cooking – Build the Best Fire
Cooking over a fire is not about building the biggest fire possible. You do not need to see your campfire from space. Trust us on this, huge flames are only going to embarrass you here. So set the, hold my beer approach to the side, and add some finesse instead. In fact, the real goal here is to create a set of coals that can provide consistent heat instead of direct open flames. So you need to be prepared with enough wood to make those coals. Let’s take a look at how to get prepared and start building the best fire for expert campfire cooking.
Collect your wood
Wood for your fire should burn consistently and slowly. A fast-burning fire isn’t going to create coals. Instead, it will just use all of the fuel quickly and result in ashes. These can be useful in some instances but for longer cooks, you need to shoot for true red hot coals. You should never transfer wood into your campsite due to pests, but it is likely the campsite will have some firewood available for you to purchase. This wood will be dry and ready to burn slow. Do not add an accelerant to the wood.
If you do want to add flavor via the wood type, then we would recommend purchasing seasoned wood. Also, there is a wide assortment of flavored charcoal briquettes which will work fantastically in your fire. The best part with these is you do not need to worry about transmitting pests. Our favorite briquettes for adding to fire and coals are mesquite and apple.
When you are staying in a developed campground make sure to always use the provided fire pits. In many cases, places like KOAs will even have grill grates on the fire pit to aid you in organizing your fire pit for cooking. Additionally, if not already done make sure that your fire pit is protected from wind and free of unwanted burning materials like grass, leaves, and trash. Don’t forget to look up to ensure that there are no low-hanging branches. Always make sure that you have a clear space of 10 feet in every direction.
If you are backcountry camping we would suggest not starting a fire at all. The fact is that there have been too many wildfires in the last few years started by improperly controlled fires. There are plenty of camp stove options out there to take into the backcountry that are much safer. So we recommend taking those.
As I mentioned before, many developed campgrounds are going to provide you with a grill grate for your fire ring. Some of these will flip out of the fire ring, some will raise up and down, and others will be fixed. It is important to know which you have before you start. You will also want to know how to make adjustments. These can be heavy so make sure you have your strong pal with you to help you move them! In any case, the use of the grill grate will be dependent on the recipe you are using. Generally, a dutch oven recipe will lay right in the coals. If you are skillet cooking then you may be on the grate. Whatever you do though, please keep your cooking tools and food away from the direct flame! That is only going to lead to charred, bad food!
Build the fire
Now that you have all your wood and the space is prepared it is time to start building. There are many different types of fire structures to choose from. Some are easy for beginners than others but expert campfire cooking is not dependent on one style over another. So use the one you are most comfortable with. I like using a lean-to-fire. This fire structure is straightforward. You place tinder (the small stuff that will burn quickly) against a log. You then lean your kindling (smaller sticks and twigs) over the tinder and up against the log. This will get your logs burning down to coals quickly and provides you with ample space to add additional logs once the fire is established. Remember the goal here is to burn the logs down to provide you with coals. You can use sticks or a shovel to move coals so that you have high, medium, and low cooking zones.
This could take some time depending on your process and how dry the wood is. So be patient. Keep yourself occupied but never leave your fire unattended for any reason! Another important thing is to ensure that you have a bucket of water or sand nearby in case things get too big too quickly!
Expert Campfire Cooking Methods
There is more to campfire cooking than just roasting some weenies over the open flame. Okay yes, that is one method be we are making a campfire chef out of you remember! What cooking methods are there and what tools may you need to handle each type?
Cooking on the coals
In many Dutch oven recipes, the dutch oven will sit right inside the coals. In fact, they will likely require that you bank the goals around the base and place some on top of the lid to achieve and even bake. Even if this is the case you may still want to obtain a Dutch oven stand which, will keep it close enough to cook but off of the ground itself. Cooking directly on the coals is a fantastic way to create baked items like desserts, stews, and meat dishes that require an oven-like all-around heat.
Cooking on the grill grate may be one of the easier methods of cooking. With a grill grate, you are going to use the grate to support a skillet or dutch oven. It keeps food a little further away from the heat. This will allow you to indirectly heat and cook food. Some grates, especially if you have your own, are great for cooking things like kabobs or roasting vegetables. You want to avoid anything that will drop too many fats or juices. These can cause flare-ups that will scorch your food.
Expert Campfire Cooking Tools
Depending on your method of cooking from above you may only need minimal tools to cook. However, for a real camping experience taking along cast iron can be fantastic. Not only is it rustic in nature, but it also imparts a wonderful flavor from the seasoned metal. Here are a few things to try out to make you an expert in campfire cooking.
Dutch ovens are fantastic for stews, soups, casseroles, or even pasta! They are so versatile because not only will they cook your main meal but they can also be used for breakfasts and desserts. Having a multi-use oven like this in your arsenal will allow you to show off those cooking skills.
Cast Iron Skillet/Griddle
The cast-iron skillets and griddles are handy for making quick things like pancakes, sausage, bacon, or eggs. They can also be used to fry up your freshly caught fish or for caramelizing some onions to go on top of your hot dogs. These can be heavy, however, they impart wonderful flavor into the food. Just make sure that you are seasoning your cast iron!
There are a few different hand tools that you may want to consider having to make cooking easier. These include normal things you would find in any kitchen like spatulas, long-handled spoons, knives, or grill tongs. Having things that keep your hand away from the direct heat but still give you access to the food is very important. Not only will you stay protected but you will get the job done right! Speaking of some hand tool safety. Don’t forget to pack your oven mitt!
There are some other things that you will need as well. For instance, when cooking with a dutch oven you will want to make sure you have an easy way to remove the lid and store it while you are cooking. So a lid lifter and a stand can come in very handy! You will also not want to forget tools that aid you in getting your fire prepped and ready for cooking like a log grabber and shovel. Here is a quick checklist of some expert cooking hand tools.
- Grilling Spatual
- Long-Handled Spoon
- Grilling Fork
- Basting Brush
- Grilling Knife Set
- Grilling Tongs
- Oven Mitts/Grill Gloves
- Log Grabber
- Food Thermometer
- Dutch Oven Lid Lifter
- Dutch Oven Lid Stand
- Grill Brush
- Pie Iron
- Grill Basket
There are some larger tools that take up quite a bit of space. If you are planning on doing long-term camping, or are looking to show off a bit then consider some of these. For instance, you really do not need a dutch oven stand. However, it does help to get your oven off of the direct coals and looks professional too. Additionally, something like a cooking tripod can add versatility to your cooking, but it takes up space when packing. Better yet you can make these right out in nature if your campground permits collecting wood!
Consider some of these additional tools that you may want to throw into the mix!
- Dutch Oven Stand
- Cooking Tripod
- Rotisserie Grill and Spit
Time to Become an Expert at Campfire Cooking
Using the information above you can now start practicing. Becoming an expert in campfire cooking isn’t going to happen overnight. However, if you start collecting the tools you need, practice building a fire, and using some easier recipes first, then you are sure to become an expert! So come together around the campfire and enjoy one of the best parts of camping, communal cooking! Get your tools and fire all set, mix up a delicious Dutch Oven meal, and wow those friends with your expert abilities!