There is nothing like a hot cooked meal when you are out in the woods camping, but cooking over a campfire can be daunting. If you have ever wondered how to cook over a campfire, look no further. We are going to break down the steps involved in making a great meal over your campfire and the equipment you need.
We will review the type of fires you can build and which equipment to use for the best results when your goal is a hot meal.
Keep reading to learn how to cook over a campfire like a pro!
Preparing for Success
The first step in learning how to cook over a campfire is to set up and prepare for success. Good prep work is always going to yield good results. The first thing you will want to do is choose a location for your fire, and set up a safety ring.
You will want a space that is at least 15 feet from trees, shrubs, and anything you have that is flammable. It is best to find a level area and to clean it to make sure there is no debris around that could catch on fire.
The next step in learning how to cook over a campfire is to make your fire ring. This is a ring of stones around where you will start the fire, and is a key to safety. The fire ring helps prevent the spread of embers or free debris from blowing away and spreading – which is important for wildfire prevention. Stones bigger than your first should be arranged in a circle large enough to give you 6-8 inches of space between the stones and the active fire.
You will need plenty of fuel for your fire, and kindling to start it, so next you will want to collect supplies. You should find logs about the width of your wrist, and if the only ones you can find are larger you should split them with a hatchet such as the Fiskars X7 Hatchet. You should also cut any large branches down so they burn more easily.
For kindling, you will need cardboard, dry leaves, or paper in addition to small branches. You will also need matches, a lighter, or a chemical starter like a ferro rod, like the Bayite Ferro Rod for your initial spark.
Fire Designs and Cooking Equipment
Your first decision in learning how to cook over a campfire is what kind of fire you want to build. We are going to review two types of fires – the teepee and log cabin. The teepee is great for a tripod, and the log cabin is great for a griddle or direct cooking.
Teepee – Tripod Cooking and Quick Heat
The teepee is a great fire for beginners and anyone cooking with a tripod, like the one we tried – the Stansport Tripod Cooker. Tripods are how to cook over a campfire with indirect heat which is great for food that you need to be careful to not overcook, such as fish and veggies.
The teepee is formed by piling a small amount of kindling in the center of your fire ring, and placing logs standing up and leaning against each other over the kindling. You light the kindling which burns and ignites the logs.
This fire stands tall which helps it carry plenty of heat up to your tripod without scorching your food. A tripod works by hanging a wire platform above the fire that you can place a pan, dutch oven, or pot on. They are easy to set up and take down, and the Stansport Tripod Cooker, which is one we used, is adjustable so you can change the height of your wire platform to accommodate what you are cooking with.
Once your pan is hot, cooking over a campfire with a tripod is as easy as cooking on a stove. You can add extra kindling to your fire if you need a burst of heat, otherwise just make sure to give it a steady serving of logs. The combination of the tripod and teepee are sure to be one of the easiest methods for campfire cooking.
When cooking this way there are a few things to consider. A tripod’s lack of direct heat does mean searing things such as steaks becomes harder. The tripod also does require you to be more attentive because it hangs, and therefore is more precarious than a griddle. Lastly, it is not good for any direct heat applications, so if you are cooking red meat, poultry, or something that requires boiling you may want to go with a different method.
Log Cabin – Griddle Cooking and Direct Heat
The log cabin is the other type of fire that is great for campfire cooking. The log cabin is formed by placing two logs parallel from each other, and then putting two more on perpendicular to those. Keep doing this until you have 3-4 levels of logs. In the middle of the log cabin you will want to place kindling and branches, which will be your starting fuel. Light the kindling first and eventually the logs will catch as well.
The log cabin gives you a flat surface to cook directly on your fire with, or you can use a griddle like the one we cooked with, the Adventure Seeka Heavy Duty 24″ Folding Campfire Griddle. A griddle is great for providing a large amount of surface area to cook on and applying direct heat to food.
The log cabin will work with a tripod, however it is not as ideal as the teepee because it does not stand as tall, and will not burn as hot. This means your food will take longer to cook, and your vessel , won’t heat as high.
If you are using the log cabin design, you can place your griddle right across the logs to cook on. This allows the griddle to heat up quickly, and do things like sear your meat and get a nice crust on it. We enjoyed cooking with the Adventure Seeka Heavy Duty 24″ Folding Campfire Griddle as an especially great choice because it has a wire side and solid side which gives you lots of options.
The griddle also is large enough to allow you to cook multiple foods at once, a big advantage over a tripod where you can really only use one pan at a time. Because the log cabin design burns slower than the teepee, you won’t need to add as many additional logs and can focus on making your meal perfect.
Other Cooking Methods
While the tripod and the griddle are great options for cooking a huge variety of foods, there are other options available to you though they are much more limited in what they can cook.
Roastings sticks such as the Old Mountain Campfire Forks are great for cooking foods like hot dogs, marshmallows, and veggies. Roasting sticks work great with the log cabin campfire or the teepee, but take way more work than a griddle or tripod because you have to always hold them near the fire. It is very easy to overcook, and drop, your food as you are roasting it.
Roasting sticks are a fun way to cook over a campfire and require the least amount of space in your pack or at your campsite. They also allow each person to cook their own food, which means everyone can prepare their meal exactly as they like. They are, of course, very limited in what they can cook which is the major downside.
Cast Iron Pie / Sandwich Iron
A pie/sandwich iron is a unique piece of campfire cooking equipment. As the name suggests, a pie/sandwich iron is really about cooking pies or sandwiches such as grilled cheese. They work by putting the ingredients in the iron, and closing it around, creating a small oven. The Alytree Double Pie Iron allows you to cook two sandwiches at a time or make a nice size pie for the campsite.
Maintaining Your Fire
Once you’ve decided what type of campfire and cooking tool you’re going to use, you will need to maintain your fire. If you are cooking for a long time you will need to add logs to the fire periodically. If you’re not keen on the idea of adding logs by hand, you can use tongs such as the Rocky Mountain Goods Firewood Tongs to stay away from the flames.
You’ll also need to move your logs around as the fire burns to ensure the flames do not suffocate and can get enough oxygen to continue to burn. You can use a fire poker such as the 40-Inch Fire Pit Poker to maintain your fire and move around logs and kindling.
Safety and Seasonal Considerations
Safety is always the number one concern when campfire cooking, as with any fire. You need to make sure to always start your campfire in a safe space at least 15 feet from any flammable materials, trees, shrubs, and dry leaves. It is extremely important to have an adequate fire ring to help minimize the threat of spreading embers.
Whenever you are going to start a fire you should have an extinguishing material, such as water or sand, nearby. Water is always the best choice, but when not available sand will work. When you are ready to put out your fire, you want to fully soak it and poke through or mix it up with your 40-Inch Fire Pit Poker. This ensures that no hidden embers are still burning and it is fully extinguished. If using sand the same applies, mix your fire and ensure it is fully buried.
Wet and Windy Seasons
There are special considerations if you’re campfire cooking in the winter or during a wet season. First you will need to ensure the kindling and logs you collect are dry so that you can start your fire, and you may want to start the fire under a tarp or other covering to help keep it dry enough.
Secondly, if the ground is wet or has snow on it you will want to dig a small pit and make a rock or wood base to start the fire on. This ensures that the fire is off the wet ground which helps make starting it easier.
If it is windy, there are some major safety concerns which you need to keep in mind. During high winds, embers are much more likely to blow off your fire. You should find an area with at least 30 feet of space between your fire and trees, shrubs, flammable equipment, or dry brush to help mitigate the risk of wildfires.
If your area has experienced a prolonged period with no precipitation, it is likely that you are in dry, or even drought, conditions. This means that plants and debris is far more dehydrated than normal and much more flammable. As a result you want to be extra careful in dry conditions, and add a second fire ring to help keep your embers from spreading.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the quickest way to cook over a campfire?
Both a griddle and tripod can cook quickly, but a tripod is quicker to set up, however its indirect heat can take longer to cook food through. A griddle will take longer to set up, but will cook food faster.
Campfire cooking is a great skill to learn and can make your next camping trip even more fun. It is a great way to immerse yourself in the rustic appeal of roughing it on the trail.
Preparation is going to be your key to success, so ensure you are set up from the get-go. Have extra fuel such as kindling and logs, and set your campfire up for your cooking method. Always remember to keep safety in mind and have an extinguishing material nearby.
For more great camping tips, check out Beyond The Tent and be ready for your next big trip!
- About the Author
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Aaron Leeper is an avid camper, hiker, and outdoorsmen. Having spent over two decades honing the skills, Aaron has done it all from bushwhacking to guided climbs and everything in-between. With a bachelors from Skidmore College, Aaron has long focused on writing as a passion and loves to write about his favorite outdoor hobbies