Cooking over an open campfire is one of life’s pleasures, yet it does take a little skill and practise to get it right. Having the right campfire cooking equipment also helps. If you are planning a camping trip, or just want to know how to cook in the wild over an open fire, this guide has some tips.
How to Build a Campfire for Cooking
Cooking on a campfire needs sustained heat, and you get that from hot coals rather than flames. Cooking over flames will just result in food that is burnt on the outside, and raw in the middle. Not only will it taste awful, if you are cooking meats it can also be dangerous.
To get your campfire ready to cook on, first get it burning well. I would recommend an energetic burn for about an hour, as this will give you some good hot coals to cook with once the flames have died down.
If you are going to use a metal grill as a base for your cookware, you can do this by putting flat rocks around your fire, so that when you have glowing coals, you can place your grill on the rocks as a base.
The trick to getting the right temperature for campfire cooking is to manage the amount of hot coals you have, or adjust the distance your cooking pot is from the. You can thin the coals down if the temperature is too high, or raise your cooking pot further away from the coals. If the temperature is too low, you will have to set your food aside for a while and get the fire going again with some more wood.
How to Cook over a Campfire
To cook well over a campfire, you need somewhere to put your pots or pans. You can use the rocks and grill plate as described above, or you can use a portable campfire grill that has legs.
The advantage of this is that you don’t need to create a sturdy rock surface to rest a grill on, the legs do the job. The grill can be placed over the hot coals, and you can use frying pans and on cooking pots such as a Dutch oven on top.
If you are hiking and don’t want to carry a heavy campfire grill, there are lightweight stainless steel camp grills that can easily be put in a backpack.
Make sure the cooking equipment for campfires is fireproof – that means no plastic handles! Also, remember that metal handles will get super-hot over a campfire, so you need something to protect your hands when handling. Oven mitts or heat safe gloves work well.
For campfire dishes like soups and stews, or anything that requires simmering such as pasta and rice dishes, a cooking pot suspended over the fire works well. Using a tripod system with a chain gives you a sturdy base from which you can suspend your pot, and the chain can be adjusted to get the perfect distance from the fire to cook your food.
When cooking using a pot, make sure you have some sort of lid for it that you can put on during and after cooking. It will help you food to cook more quickly, and keep bugs and other things from getting in.
Heavy aluminium foil is also used to cook foods on a campfire. Potatoes can be wrapped and baked in the coals, or folded parcels are an effective way of cooking fish and other dishes that require steaming in juices. However, personally I don’t use it as the production of foil is not good for the environment. There are some good alternatives to tinfoil that can also be used to cook on open coals, such as pie irons.
A pie iron is a fun campfire cooking gadget, and it works like a sandwich toaster or mini oven. You can place buttered bread, with butter on the outside, in the pie iron, and add your fillings. Place the pie iron in the hot coals, and you have toasted sandwich meals in no time.
Pie irons are also great for baking fish, cooking eggs and potatoes, and there is not really any limit to the foods your can cook.
Children also find pie irons fun, as they are able to cook their own individual portions of food. Be careful though as the iron gets really hot.
The Stick Method
If you don’t have a lot of cooking equipment with you, it is possible to cook many foods just using a stick as a skewer. Anything that can be put on a skewer stick can be cooked over hot coals. Easy foods to begin with include toasting marshmallows, and thinly sliced meats and vegetables.
Cooking sticks or metal skewers are light enough to throw into a backpack, or you can also find some in the wild. Make sure the stick you choose is long enough for you to hold, or lean against something, while having the food at the right distance from the coals.
You might also want to sharpen the stick with a handy survival or camp knife so you can pierce through the food you want to cook. Scraping the outer bark off and leaving the sap to dry before using gives you a clean stick to eat off.
How to Keep Campfire Cooking Pots Clean
Cooking over an open fire can be messy for your pots and pans, and the bottoms can become black and sooty. However there are some tricks that can make it cleaning up much easier.
One method of keeping pots clean when cooking on campfires is to apply a light coating of washing up liquid to the outside base of your cooking pans. You can do this by placing your pot in a sink or bucket that was water and washing up liquid in, and leaving it for a few minutes. Make sure the water doesn’t go inside the pot or you will have to rinse it out. Take it out of the sink and leave to air dry. You are then ready to cook!
When cooking over an open fire your pots and pans will blacken, however you don’t need to scrub them until they shine each time you use them. Simply get the worst off and keep your pots in a separate cooking equipment bag so they don’t soot up the rest of your kit. You can save the heavy cleaning until you get home.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of eating a meal that you have prepared and then cooked over a campfire. Sharing campfire cooking with family and friends is a fun way to spend time together, and helps instil a love of the great outdoors.
Do you have any tried and tested campfire recipes you can share? Please add yours in the comments below!