While planning a camping trip the other day my wife asked me how to cook over a campfire. I explained that it was not that difficult. I pointed out that there were several variations of a campfire that you could cook on. Each of these having their own techniques and tricks. I figured I would take a moment to lay those out for her. As well as for anyone else who may have asked themselves the same thing.
The first thing to discuss would be some of the various types of campfires. You might use any of these on your camping trip. Fire pits, open fires, fires contained within a grill and even a rocket stove are some options.
If you are going camping at an established campground or in your backyard then you are most likely to encounter either a grill or a fire pit already at the location for your convenience. Cooking on a wood grill or cooking over a fire pit are very similar. Both will normally have a grate to hold your pots or other utensils. If not they can easily be fitted with one of your own. They can also be fueled by any style of fire lay that you choose.
Rocket stoves are relatively new to me and so I will leave a detailed discussion for another day. In essence they are designed to get very hot quickly. They use the fact that heat rises to create a sort of forced air induction into the bottom. This results in somewhat higher temperatures than a normal fire. Often you can set a pot on top of them and quickly boil water etc.
If you are going backpacking and plan to cook along the way then you are more likely to encounter an open fire. Though it is possible a firepit is available if traveling an established trail. A little more thought should be given when preparing to cook food on an open fire. You need to decide if you are going to be using foil wrappers, pots, or just open flames. Each of these techniques will change how you set up your fire at the beginning.
Starting a Campfire for Cooking
In any instance where you plan to use a fire for cooking you want to avoid using chemicals to start it if possible. This is easily done by selecting appropriate wood and tinder to start your fire. One of my favorite combinations is large dry leaves, topped with pine cones, then small twigs and moving up in stick sizes. I generally use sticks the size of your pinky as kindling and sticks around the size of your wrist as my main fuel, rarely do I use larger material than that.
One great natural material you can use for kindling is fatwood. A resinous form of pine that easily ignites and can be found in fallen pine trees.
If you are working with a fire pit or wood fired grill then the basic layout of your fire will not matter much. Well that is as long as it lights and burns easily. I prefer to use a teepee style of fire in most instances, it just seems to get going much better for me. My son and I created this video that demonstrates this type of fire along with us cooking some foil wrapped burgers in it.
One thing that makes cooking over a fire pit or a wood fire grill easier is a Firepit Cooking Grate. These can either sit on the edges of the fire pit or come with their own legs enabling them to stand over the fire. I prefer the Texsport Heavy Duty Grill. (Amazon Link for your convenience.) It is very durable and folds up nice and slim so that I can pack it easily. The use of a firepit cooking grate enables you to either place the food directly on the grate or set pots, pans on it greatly increasing your cooking options.
If you are going to be cooking over an open fire then it is suggested that you learn how to make a fire with rocks. For this you will want to find a pair of large rocks that are around the same thickness or height. You will then put these in the center of your fire location. You want to place your pot on these and then slide them apart so that the area under your pot is open but it is still able to sit on the rocks. If possible you then surround your fire area with rocks as well, this creates your own mini firepit and will help negate the possibility of your fire spreading.
Now you can either build a teepee fire as before, or another style. Often I find that a cabin style works better here. You can also go with a lean too but I feel it isn’t as good in this case. I have included a video of a cabin style fire below for your convenience.
Tools you need to cook on a campfire
Learning how to cook over a campfire would not be complete without discussing the tools of the trade. Some of the tools that make campfire cooking so much easier include a campfire cooking grate, campfire tongs, a campfire poker and a camping pot set.
A Dutch oven is also a favorite. Dutch oven camp cooking will allow you to make things such as a pineapple upside down cake and biscuits with relative ease. If you decide to use a Dutch oven then you may want to include a small coal shovel as well.
We have already discussed campfire cooking grates and the campfire cooking grate that I recommend and use myself is this folding style made from heavy duty steel. It has welded folding legs that allow you to easily store it and can be found at Amazon as well as other stores.
When selecting campfire tongs and a campfire poker just make sure you get some that are long enough to keep you safe from the fire. I just picked up a cheap set on amazon (link to campfire pokers for your convenience.) Though I will admit they are kind of heavy so I only use them at home. When I go camping anywhere else I just poke the fire with a stick. If you are using a dutch oven you will at least want some way to pull it from the fire and a campfire poker is very useful for this.
Dutch ovens are large pots with a lid. They are normally made from cast iron and are designed so that you can almost completely bury them in the coals of a fire. Due to the cast iron and large space inside it creates a sort of oven allowing you to bake many of the same things you would at home in your oven. You can also suspend it above the fire or sit it down directly on the coals and make soups, stews or even campfire chili.
Let’s Get Started Campfire Cooking
Now that we have sorted out the types of fire and the tools you need lets prepare a basic meal or two. For your first meal I would likely plan out something simple. Kabobs or “Hobo Packets” are probably two of the easiest and always a hit.
Kabobs – one of the best things to cook over a fire on a stick
Making Kabobs was probably one of the easiest things for me to learn how to cook over a campfire since it was very similar to grilling. For Kabobs I like to use chicken,bacon, steak, onions and bell peppers. If I am cooking over the pit in the backyard then I will add shrimp. However, when camping i don’t normally bring any seafood. I just don’t trust it. Though if you’re down near the ocean already and it’s fresh then by all means go ahead.
Once you have selected your ingredients then you take either metal skewers or bamboo skewers and alternate skewering the ingredients onto them. Season with a little salt and onion powder or other spices as you choose.
If you are preparing them fireside then you can just place them on a plate. But if preparing them in advance I would wrap them in aluminum foil. Build up your camp fire and once it has burned for a bit producing some red coals, either rake them to the side or move them up under the grill. You don’t want to use large flames here. If you do you may burn or char the meat and possibly burn your skewers if using bamboo.
Once your coals are ready just place the skewers above the heat. One way I judge the temperature is by placing my hand over the coals and lowering it to a point that it just starts to become uncomfortable. I will then set my grill height to about 1 inch below that. (That doesn’t mean burn yourself on the fire.) If your grill height is not adjustable then you can elevate the coals by placing a mound of dirt or ashes under them. You can lower the grate by pushing its feet into the ground.
Watch the meat and turn it every five minutes or so. Depending on the temperature of your coals it should take between ten and twenty minutes to cook them properly. Obviously if you use just steak then you can go medium or medium well if you choose. If using chicken I would make sure it was cooked through.
Hobo Packets – so easy a child could do it.
Hobo packets are also very easy. Simply take a square piece of aluminum foil that is large enough to wrap the ingredients you plan to use. Lay it flat on a counter and place a small amount of butter in the center. One thing I want to point out is that I like to use heavy duty foil. This is because it does not tear as easily as the thinner stuff.
Once you have your butter on the foil place your meat of choice. I normally use ground beef for this. Some people use steak, but I prefer to cook the steak directly on the grate if having steak. For my Hobo Packets I like to add a few slices of onions, some carrot slices and a few potatoes. Sprinkle some Worcestershire sauce on top and then fold the sides over. Now fold the ends over as well making a small square packet. Make sure that you crimp the edges down firmly with your fingers. This is so that trap the juices inside with everything else.
Get your fire started and let it burn down to mostly coals. Once that is done drop the packets into the middle of the coals. If possible move some of the lighter coals on to the top of the packets. These are best left alone for twenty minutes or so. Again this is dependent on the amount of coals present and the thickness of your packets.
My kids really love the hobo packets. They say as it is something that they can make and feel like they cooked themselves. Because of hobo packets even my kids know how to cook on a campfire. Try them out and let me know what you think.
Wild Things You Can Cook Over a Campfire
Many people consider classic campfire foods such as smores, burgers and hotdogs to be the only things to cook on a campfire. However, that is not the case and quite a few open fire cooking recipes exist. Some of these open fire cooking recipes include things such as Chicken and Black bean Nachos, Pineapple BBQ chicken kabobs, grilled veggies and even pizza.
Many of these are campfire meals in foil. This means that you take your ingredients, wrap them in foil and then either cook them over the heat or lay them down in the coals of the fire. Almost never do you want to put a foil packet directly over flames. This will result in the temperatures being too high and the food burning. However, by placing them down on the coals it will allow them to cook at a slower rate. If you slightly bury them in the coals it will allow them to cook evenly on each side.
For your convenience here is a link to 21 foil recipes.
Another favorite for the kids is campfire food on a stick. Generally I prefer to use metal skewers over sticks. However you can find long bamboo sticks that work perfectly fine at Walmart, amazon and other camping stores.
The list of food that can be put on a stick almost seems endless. Besides the normal hot-dogs and marshmallows, you could skewer shrimp, chicken and steak and cook those. Another option is corn on the cobb. Many vegetables including broccoli, bell peppers, onions and even zucchini are tasty when cooked over an open fire.
Lastly we have dutch oven campfire recipes, they are plentiful and you can find them all over the web. They include things such as cobblers, casseroles and even biscuits. This is a definite must have if you want baked goods to be added to your campfire options.
There are many, many options for Dutch ovens. Some prefer the newer enameled style. However, I still use an old cast iron one similar to this Dutch Oven located at Campingmaxx. I purchased mine close to twenty years ago when I was in the boy scouts. It’s size makes it great for a medium sized family. One thing I do suggest though is that you get one that has a handle on it. This will make retrieving it from the fire much easier. You can also hang it from a tripod over a fire if you wish to.
My Two Favorite Dutch Oven Recipes
And this tasty pineapple peach cobbler.
4 Campfire Cooking Videos to Get You Started
We are nearing the end of this post now and I wanted to share with you some of the tastiest looking campfire meals I have seen. Mind you I have not tried any of these myself. Most of them were videos sent to me by friends on instagram or facebook. But they gave me permission to share them here. If you enjoy the videos then be sure to check out their channels on youtube.
Now that you know how to cook on a campfire head out and cook up a meal. Make sure to come back and let us know how it turned out. Please sign up for our newsletter, if you would like to receive our newest posts.