Cooking meals over an open fire is one of the best parts of camping outdoors. However, cooking over an open fire is not as easy as cooking at home with a stove, since there is no temperature control. Furthermore, you will have to work with a limited number of cooking supplies, since you cannot haul your entire kitchen to your campsite. But as much as cooking over open fire appears intimidating, it doesn’t mean that it’s not doable. If you are going for a camping trip, here are some campfire cooking tips that will help to make the process easier, safer and manageable.
Set Up the Fire Properly
Building a campfire is more than just putting together a few logs of wood and lighting them. It requires experience, patience, the right knowledge, as well as the right supplies. On top of that, you will also need to gather good firewood. Different campgrounds have different rules when it comes to firewood. But in most forest parks, bringing firewood from outside is not allowed, to prevent the spread of infestations or diseases. If that is the case, then you will have to purchase firewood from the park’s ranger station or collect it from the forest.
Whether you are collecting firewood from the forest or you are purchasing it from the ranger station, you will need three types of firewood – tinder, kindling as well as fuelwood. Tinder refers to small, fluffy material, which you will use to start your campfire. Some of the materials that you can use as tinder include candle wax, dry leaves or grass, dry lint, wood shavings, cardboard pieces, and pine needles, just to name a few. You can either use commercial fire starters or gather some around your campsite.
Kindling refers to larger pieces of wood such as fuzz sticks, twigs, or splinters. Ensure your kindling is dry and not too thick, otherwise, it may extinguish your fire or prevent the fire from developing as fast as you would wish. Fuelwood is the mainstay or foundation of your fire. It’s the most important element of your campfire. Therefore, you should make sure that your firewood is completely dry. For fuelwood, you can use tree varieties like beech, oak, maple, ash, birch, and cherry, among others.
Now that you have gathered the firewood that you will use, it’s time to build your fire. There are different types of campfires that you can set up during your camping trip. The different types of campfires have different cooking potential, different heat output and varying lengths of burn. Some of the most popular campfires that you can set up include:
- Cone or tepee: This is arguably one of the oldest types of campfires. It features a wide, circular base, which lets in plenty of oxygen. One of the main benefits of this type of campfire is its easy setup and maintenance. Since it burns through wood quite fast, the cone campfire is mainly used for light cooking tasks such as boiling water. To cook with this campfire, you should first let the wood burn completely until it forms a coal bed. You should then set a pot or a pan on the coals, while feeding the fire with small twigs or sticks, to keep it burning.
- Log cabin: If you will be cooking a heavier meal such as roasting meat, then you will need to set up a long-lasting fire. And this is where the log cabin campfire comes in. To build this fire, you will first need to place two smaller pieces of wood on the fire bed, running parallel to each other. You will then repeat the process, adding larger pieces of wood – until you attain your preferred height. After that, you should then place the kindling and the tinder in the center of this fire and then ignite it. As the firewood burns, the logs will be falling on top of each other, thus adding new coals to the fire.
- Star: If you are want to cook a meal on a campfire but you are low on firewood supplies, then you should consider this type of campfire. Just like its name suggests, you will place your pieces of firewood as if they are forming a star, and then ignite them at the end where they intersect. As the fire burns, you will just need to push the pieces of firewood closer to the center, so that they can replace the parts that have already been converted to coals.
Use the Right Gear
Now that your campfire is already established, you can now start cooking your meals. Regardless of the meals that you are cooking, it’s highly advisable to use the right cooking equipment. Ordinary pans and pots are not designed for outdoor cooking. Therefore, if you cook with them over open flames, you may end up damaging them. There are numerous types of cooking utensils that you can use for open fire cooking. The equipment you will carry for your trip will depend on the cooking that you intend to do. Some of the most common open fire cooking tools include:
The Dutch oven is one of the most popular outdoor cooking utensils. You can use it to cook almost any meal over an open fire. From soups, stews, and roasts, the Dutch oven can cook almost any meal during a camping trip. You can even use it to bake biscuits and pizzas. The Dutch oven made of cast iron is the best when it comes to outdoor cooking. Its heat retention is exceptional. Furthermore, its tight-fitting lid will help you to retain your food’s delicious flavors.
This is an outdoor cooking system, designed for cooking large pieces of meat. Whether you are roasting turkey, pork, large cuts of beef or chicken over an open fire, using a campfire rotisserie will make your work a whole lot easier. By spinning the meat above the fire, it will cook evenly and uniformly, while retaining all its delicious juices and flavors. If you have a large camping party, then you can use the rotisserie to do some spit-roasting. Some rotisseries are equipped with a battery pack, which will turn the meat rod for you, meaning you don’t have to do it manually.
Metal skewers are used for roasting different types of foods over an open fire. You can use them to roast meat, potatoes, sausages, or anything else that you can stick them through such as marshmallows. Skewers are popular with most campers because they are incredibly easy to pack, lightweight, easy to clean and versatile. Ensure you use long-handled metal skewers when roasting foods over an open fire so that your hands are a safe distance from the fire.
When you are cooking meals over open flames, you will need a platform where you can place your pans and pots. This is where cooking grates come in. Some grates come with legs while others don’t have legs. Those that have legs are mainly used for cooking hamburgers, hot dogs, or steak. If you opt for those that don’t have legs, then you will need to put some stones underneath them, before you can start cooking your food. Make sure the stones are well positioned so that the grates don’t tilt sideways and drop the food.
As noted earlier, the type of equipment that you will use while cooking over an open fire will depend on the type of food that you are cooking as well as where you will be camping. For instance, if you will be car camping or RV camping, then you can bring all sorts of fancy cooking equipment. On the other hand, if you will be camping in remote wilderness, areas, then you will be limited in terms of the supplies that you can bring.
Choose a Cooking Method
Now that you have chosen the tools that you will use for your cooking, it’s time to choose a method that you will use. You can cook your food over either open flames or use coals. If you opt to cook your food over open flames, then you should not do it directly, since the flames might burn the food. Therefore, you need to use pots and pans. Soups and stews are some of the foods that you can cook over open flames.
Whether you are camping in the backcountry or in a campground near you, it’s important to observe outdoor cooking safety procedures and practices. Cooking on an open fire is quite different from the indoor cooking that you are used to. And if you are not careful, you might end up starting wildfires, which may result in monumental environmental damage. So, how do you maintain safety when cooking outdoors?
First, avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing when you are cooking on an open fire. The wind might blow the flames to the direction of your clothing, and they may end up catching fire, leading to burns. Also, if you are camping with pets or with young children, they should not be too close to your cooking area. Sparks might fly off from the campfire, leading to burns.
Second, ensure you adhere to all the local regulations and rules pertaining to campfires. Every campground or forest park has rules that campers should follow when it comes to campfires. And these rules vary from area to area. Therefore, before you leave for your camping trip, make sure you check whether your camping site requires any campfire permits. If permits will be needed, you should acquire them in advance, to avoid last-minute inconveniences.
Third, check the weather conditions before you light up your campfire. Avoid lighting a campfire if it’s excessively windy and dry. If it’s excessively windy, the wind may blow off some sparks from the fire to the grass, making it hard to control. By following these campfire safety tips, you will significantly reduce the risk of burns or starting a forest fire.
As you can see, cooking over an open fire during a camping trip is not as hard as it appears. You just need to set up the campfire properly, choose the right cooking equipment, and select a cooking method based on the meals you are preparing. Once you’ve finished preparing the meals, ensure you store the leftovers properly in airtight re-sealable bags. After that, you should then put out the fire, and clean up the site.