What is Campfire Cooking?
Campfire cooking is when food is prepared over a campfire rather than a portable stove or gas canister. Campfire cooking is a traditional method used while out camping, and the fire can be achieved and maintained using only materials found in and around the campsite. Campfires are a staple when camping, so why not use them to cook your food over?
Equipment for Campfire Cooking
To effectively cook using a campfire, certain equipment is needed. It’s always a good idea to plan out meals before a camping trip so you’re able to pack and plan sufficiently. Some foods are even better off being precooked and merely reheated by the campfire when it comes to eating them.
Some helpful equipment for campfire cooking:
- Mess kit – Mess kits are used as vessels to contain the food and water which may be being cooked. Mess kits are usually stainless steel and perfect for having near an open flame. There are different kinds of mess kits and different vessels you can use to cook your food in.
- Cutlery – Cutlery and crockery is useful to help you eat your food. Forks and knives especially so, as they can also be used to maneuver the food cooking on your campfire to ensure a more even roast.
- Water – Bringing water to for boiling is easier than finding a water source while camping. Boiling water can be used to make certain recipes such as pasta or noodles, but can also be used to clean equipment once the food has been eaten.
- Roasting stick – Roasting sticks can be improvised using actual sticks, or purchased. These are great for sausages or marshmallows.
- Camp Grills – Grills can be placed over a campfire to cook certain foods such as sausages or other meats.
- Frying Pan – Frying pans can be placed on top of warm charcoal which can be treated as a grill or stove. Alternatively, you can put a frying pan on a camp grill over an open flame.
- Iron Tripods – Tripods are used to hang mess kits above open flames. Traditionally used to cook soup and keep food warm for extended periods of time, these tripods are useful for larger meals that require perpetual heat and little to no maintenance.
Make sure any equipment you’re planning to use around the campfire has silicone handles or grips to ensure safety.
Conditions for Campfire Cooking
Like everything with camping, the conditions in which you’re planning on cooking over a campfire can be very important. Damp materials, or materials which may be containing moisture can dampen a fire or not even catch fire. If you’re worried about rain or natural materials being wet or damp, you can bring some of your own to get your fire started. Charcoal briquette fires may be better in cases where wood is unavailable or a fire is hard to maintain.
The wind is also a major factor when it comes to campfires. While it’s always good practice to set your campfire up away from any tents or possessions, if you’re cooking you’re going to be much closer to the fire and spend more time within its vicinity. A strong gust of wind can potentially waft the flame in your direction and can potentially cause burns or other damage.
The best weather for campfire cooking is dry weather with no breeze.
How to Cook Over a Campfire
Cooking over a campfire is a fairly easy process, but there are tips and tricks to help you streamline your cooking. There are many things to consider, even down to how your campfire is made which can affect your methods of cooking.
Cooking Over a Wood Fire
Cooking over a wooden fire is the traditional way to cook whilst camping. Wood is easy to buy and can be easy to find in the wilderness (providing it’s dry!). There are also ways to make wooden campfires without using matches or a lighter. Wood can be arranged to create different campfire shapes, which can be utilized in different ways.
Different Types of Wood Campfire
There are different ways to set up a campfire. Some are easier to cook on than others, and each has their own benefits and disadvantages.
- Teepee Campfire – Teepee campfires are made using a collection of small logs and sticks which are piled in the center in a “teepee” shape. These campfires aren’t suitable for grills to be placed over them, as the shape makes it difficult to. However, these campfires are ideal for roasting or using roasting sticks. Food can also be placed around the outside of the campfire to warm it up, although this method may take a while. Teepee campfires are great for if you’re intending to keep your fire going for a while as they are slow burners.
- Parallel Fire – A parallel fire is defined by its structure. The parallel fire is assembled with two logs next to each other, with a fire burning in between them. This is ideal for cooking on, as if the logs are the correct size, pots and pans can be placed on them.
- Star Fire – The star fire consists of a small hub that is set alight and five logs splayed out around it, with their ends pointed into the hub. As the fire dwindles, the logs are fed further into the fire to keep it alight. This fire requires little maintenance and can be kept burning for a long time. If you have the means to keep your mess tins off the floor above the fire, it makes an excellent source of heat for cooking.
- Pyramid Fire – The pyramid fire, or platform fire, is ideal for campsite cooking as it provides a level and large cooking area which is great for pots and pans to rest on. The pyramid fire is assembled using stacked logs entwined with tinder and kindle. These fires are lit from the top and slowly burn down, giving them a long burn time.
They can, however, take a while to heat up.
Building a Successful Campfire
Building a successful campfire requires the knowledge of what keeps a campfire going and what materials will burn best for it. Fires require fuel, oxygen and heat to continue to burn, so being able to supply those three necessities is your greatest priority.
There are also three components needed to keep a fire burning substantially. These three components are kindle, tinder and wood. Each of these components catches fire and burns at a different rate, and helps your fire stay self-sufficient for longer. The tinder is used to catch the fire whilst the kindling and wood will keep it burning. Ash can also sometimes be reignited once the fire is burnt out and can be used to kick start another fire.
To build a successful campfire, you need to consider what you want to use it for. A slow-burning campfire may be best for cooking, whilst a larger fire may be best for heat.
- Tinder should be made up of small, dry materials, such as small sticks, dry fluffy grass or even manmade materials such as cotton or lint.
- Kindling is usually made up of dried grass or leaves, or small clippings from dry twigs or branches. One great way to harvest dry twigs is by using a knife or even a pencil sharpener to sharpen the stick and use the shavings as kindle.
- Wood can be store-bought or found in the vicinity of the campsite, and is usually significantly denser than the tinder and kindling. The best types of wood to burn in a campfire are oak, ash, maple, beech, cherry or birch. These types of wood can keep a fire burning longer and are easy to get ahold of.
Stones and rocks serve as an excellent heat conductor and are best placed at the bottom of any campfire. Sometimes you can even crack an egg onto one of these stones and fry it very quickly.
When is a Campfire Ready for Cooking?
Whether or not a campfire is ready for cooking depends on what you’re planning to cook. Boiling water can begin to be heated as soon as a self-supporting flame has gained traction, whereas grilled food is best cooked when the coal or stones at the bottom of the campfire have become hot and are producing embers.
Cooking Over a Charcoal Briquette Fire
Charcoal briquette fires are slightly unconventional in comparison to the more traditional wood campfires, but they are more ideal for cooking as they maintain a consistent temperature and burn for a longer time. These fires are better suited for meals which require more prep time. Similarly to wood campfires, charcoal briquette fires can be assembled in different ways to meet your cooking needs.
Different Types of Charcoal Briquette Fires
Formations are more limited with charcoal briquette fires, but some are better for cooking than others.
- Making a pile – A steady pile of charcoal makes a perfect surface for cooking or grilling. Serving more as a grill than a conventional oven, this technique is great for burgers, steak or other foods which need to be flipped to cook evenly.
- Making a ring – Surrounding pots and pans with a ring of hot charcoal is another method which is used for cooking meals. This gives your food an even heat and is better for meals which are best cooked on a stove.
What can you Cook Over a Campfire?
Any food that can be cooked in a conventional kitchen oven can be cooked over a campfire providing you have the correct equipment. Some meals, however, are much more popular than others when it comes to camping trips. Below are a couple of the quicker and easier meals people make when camping.
- Instant noodles – All you need to make some tasty instant noodles is a packet of noodles of your choice, a mess kit and some water to boil. Putting a generous amount of water in the mess kit, adding the noodles and then holding the kit above the fire until the noodles are softened or until the water is brought to a boil is a very easy meal which doesn’t require much preparation or equipment to make.
- Eggs – Eggs cook very quickly and can be cooked in a variety of different ways to suit different pallets. They’re used as an ingredient in some recipes but can also be eaten on their own. One good way to bring eggs camping is to empty their contents into an empty plastic water bottle and simply pour what you need out whenever you need to.
- Potatoes – Potatoes are best precooked and brought along with you, and are best reheated when wrapped in foil. Potatoes are versatile and can be served in many different ways. They’re also easy to pack and carry, as it doesn’t matter too much if they get squashed. Potatoes are useful as they can also be cooked successfully on many different fire types, providing you have the equipment to safely remove one from the fire.
- Beans – Tinned beans are easy to heat up and can be eaten as a side to a lot of other meals. They’re great with sausages, potatoes or even just on their own. Heating beans in a mess kit is similar to heating pot noodles- minus the water.
- S’mores – Whilst not a meal, s’mores make an excellent dessert or treat to eat when camping. S’mores are a campsite tradition and are made of marshmallow and chocolate melted between two sweet crackers. The contents are melted by using a roasting stick and turning them just next to the campfire flame before being sandwiched between the two crackers.
- Soup – Soup is good as it’s a slow burner and doesn’t require much maintenance once it’s been propped up on its tripod. Soup leftovers can also be reheated, making it an easy and tasty dish to prepare.
Of course there are plenty of other recipes that can be made over a campfire, but the items listed are some of the most common.
Choosing your Meals
Sometimes your method of cooking can be decided by the type of campfire you’ve set up. The best meals for camping are ones that are a little more forgiving and can be heated unevenly or slightly burnt. While you can bring any ingredients camping with you, packing easier meals may be better for inexperienced campers. It’s also good to have backup meals which can be eaten cold, just in case. For backup, you can bring snacks along such as chips, nuts or protein bars. But there are more substantial options, such as hard boiled eggs, sandwiches, jerky or other dried foods. Some meals are best prepared at home and brought along to be eaten cold or reheated.
BEAR WARNING – Always make sure your food is stored securely and away from the campsite if you’re in bear country. This includes both snacks and bottled liquids.
Pros of Campfire Cooking
Campfire cooking is an easy and fun way to cook meals while on a camping trip. It’s great for families to use as a means of entertainment, and gathering the necessary equipment to keep the fire going can be turned into a game.
- It can be used as a form of entertainment – Collecting equipment including sticks, logs and other burnable objects can keep you on your toes and active while getting the fire started. Preparing ingredients (if they haven’t already been pre prepared), can also contribute to the activity. If you’re family camping, this can be a great way to get the kids involved in the preparation of mealtime!
- It’s a good source of heat – Traditional campfires are great to have going up until bedtime. They’re a great source of heat and light. They can help keep you warm on chilly nights, and once they’re extinguished, certain parts of the campfire can be used to keep your tent warm.
- They can last a long time – Depending entirely on the quality of materials available, a campfire can be kept going for a long time. There are lots of ways to keep a campfire going, and the different types of campfire you can make can also be used to cook food over. Being able to keep a campfire going for an extended period of time is extremely helpful when camping, as other means of cooking food may be depleted. Relying on campfires whenever possible can help you skimp on carrying replacement gas canisters, grills or other ways of cooking. Whilst it’s good to keep one on hand just in case, you may find that you don’t want to carry a bunch of spares.
- Activities – Along with finding materials and helping with the cooking, there are other ways to keep yourself and others occupied while sitting around a campfire. It’s tradition to sing some songs and tell ghost stories around the campfire. It’s also a lot more fun to roast marshmallows over an open campfire as opposed to some other alternatives!
Cons of Campfire Cooking
While the atmosphere and excitement that can be built along with a campfire can be fun and a way to keep the family entertained, there are downsides to the experience which you need to be aware of before setting off on your camping trip.
- It depends on the quality of materials – If you’ve arrived at your camping ground and it’s raining or had been raining before you arrived, there’s a chance that a lot of materials gathered won’t burn due to the moisture. Carrying your own materials to start a fire is always good practice, but to keep a fire going you may need to replenish your supplies using found materials.
- Getting a fire going can take a while – Campfires are great but only when they’ve started to pick up. Getting a campfire going can take a long and frustrating amount of time, and may not be something you want to spend a while on when you’re hungry.
- It can take longer to cook – Campfires can take longer to warm up than other portable cookers. This can mean food can take longer to heat up, and can cook unevenly. It’s much harder to control the temperature of a campfire as opposed to other portable cooking methods.
Other Ways to Cook When Camping
Sometimes a campfire isn’t the best option when camping, whether that be due to the weather, ground conditions or the time it takes to build and maintain one. Luckily, there are other appropriate options which will help you cook your meal while camping.
Disposable grills are cheap, light, easy to carry and easy to cook on whilst they’re alight. The main issue with disposable grills is that they can severely limit the variety of food you can cook on them. Their small grilling space may make family cooking tedious, and acts such as bringing water to boil or cooking meals thoroughly may prove to be difficult. Disposable grills aren’t environmentally friendly as an option either, as they are not recyclable. They definitely serve better as a backup plan in case a campfire or other cooking method can’t be maintained.
Canister Camping Stoves
Canister camping stoves are more reliable than disposable grills, as they supply a substantial amount of fuel to ignite the flame. Canister stoves are useful for quick meal prep and fast cooking times. They’re easy to set up and lightweight so do not take up much room in a camping bag. Similarly to disposable grills, they aren’t as useful for family meals as the space in which to cook is quite limited.
Chafing fuel, also known as canned heat, is often used in emergencies, but can come in useful as a backup plan if your campfire refuses to ignite. It’s a jelly-like substance and is burned like a candle, with or without a wick. Canned heat is often used for transferring foodstuff in a warm environment. Whilst it might not be ideal for cooking with, it is useful for reheating precooked meals when camping.