Is it just me or does food taste 10x better while camping? I don’t know if it is because we are exhausted and hungry from outdoor activities or because we appreciate the extra effort that it takes to make a meal. When it comes to camp food, campfire cooking holds a special place in my heart. Beyond roasting s’ mores and hot dogs, there are tons of ways to get creative with campfire cooking. From safety and cooking tips to campfire recipes, this campfire cooking guide breaks down everything you need to know to be a master camp cook.
Campfire Cooking Safety
Build the Right Fire
First things first, only build fires in designated fire pits or rings (unless backcountry camping). Ensure that there is nothing within a metre of the firepit that could also catch fire such as bush, twigs, and other outdoor debris. It is also important that you ensure there is no plastic burning in the campfire as the fumes are dangerous and can get into your food.
After you have cleared your campfire space, you can begin to build the fire. First, place kindling and start a small fire before you add the firewood. Use dry wood as it will ensure a well-burning and controlled fire. Aim to keep the campfire small and manageable; all wood should fit within the firepit and not stick out the top or sides. Finally, pay attention to wind as a sudden gust could be dangerous to those around the campfire while cooking.
Always keep a bucket of water on hand when burning a campfire in case you need to suddenly extinguish the flames.
Bring Gloves and Tongs
Campfires are hot and burns are likely if cooking equipment is not handled properly. If cooking over the fire, you’re going to want some protective equipment to help you handle the heat and keep your distance.
All cooking utensils should be long to give yourself enough space between you and the fire including tongs, spoons, spatulas, basting brushes, and whatever other cooking utensils you may require.
Heat-resistant gloves are also essential for all campfire cooking. This will allow you to lift a pot or stir without fear of being burnt. Be sure that they are flexible and have enough grip to safely move items over the fire.
Know Your Food Safety
Food illness is a sure way to ruin a camping trip. Properly storing and cooking food while camping is extremely important to avoid any unwanted illnesses. Place any raw meat as close to the ice as possible in a cooler and only take it out right before you are going to cook it. Make sure the ice is replenished whenever it begins to melt.
On hot days, it is very important that food is not left out for very long. Pack away any unwanted food back into the cooler to ensure that leftovers do not go to waste.
If unfamiliar with campfire cooking, a meat thermometer is a good investment. Food may not cook over the campfire the same way it would at home. Using a meat thermometer ensures your meat is thoroughly cooked every time.
Campfire Cooking Tips
Most campsites will have a grate built into the campfire ring. This creates a flat and stable surface but still allows for the flames to get through. This is one of the easiest ways to cook over the campfire as you can place your pots, pans, grill, tin foil, and sometimes even food directly onto the grate. However, not all places will have these grates and you may want to invest in purchasing a grill if you plan on using one while cooking.
Cast Iron Pots and Pans
In my opinion, a cast iron skillet is a must-have for campfire cooking! Cast iron is very different than wrought iron and is much more suitable for camping. It retains the heat of the campfire and evenly spreads it across the pan while cooking. To use a cast iron skillet, preheat the iron before you begin cooking and always use oil and seasoning.
To clean it, simply run some paper towels or a dry cloth over the pan. You want some of the oil and seasoning to stay in the pan as it protects it from rusting. You may have to sometimes use water to clean the cast iron, but to ensure it does not rust, heat your pan again and evaporate any traces of moisture after you’re finished cleaning it. Avoid using soap entirely as it can damage the protective coating.
Cook in the Coals
The embers of a fire retain an incredible amount of heat. The heat you want from a fire is typically in the hot coals that come once a fire has burned down and not directly over the flames themselves. I suggest building a large fire before you want to start cooking, wait for it to burn down, and then use the coals to cook your meal. This makes cooking more manageable and helps to evenly cook the food.
To get closer to the coals without actually putting your pots and pans in them, place and stack a few rocks as a makeshift cooking surface. This method is much more closure to the coals than a campfire grate.
Another method is strategically placing your fire on one side of the pit and reserving the other side for more cooking. Move coals to the cooking side as the wood burns down to cook one part of the meal and use a grill over the flames to cook the other part of the meal.
For more great camp cooking essentials, check out my article where I break down some of my favourite cooking products, including some campfire essentials.
My Favourite Campfire Cooking Recipes
To make sure your campfire cooking goes as smoothly as possible, plan all your meals ahead of the trip. Do as much prep work at home as possible so you can spend less time cooking and more time enjoying the outdoors!
- The Best Classic S’more Recipe + 10 Delicious Variations
- Campfire Apple Pie Packets
- Waffle Cone S’mores
- Campfire Cappuccino Monkey Bread
- Campfire Eclairs
- Easy Kabobs for Camping: 10 Simple Shish Kabob Recipes
- Grilled Herb-Rubbed, Bone-In Pork Chops
- One Skillet Lemon-Rosemary Chicken Thighs with Broccoli
- Hearty Minestrone Soup with Fresh Arugula
- Campfire Tacos in a Bag
- No Mess Camping Omelettes in a Bag
- Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Camping Breakfast Burritos
- Camping Breakfast Sandwiches
- Cowboy Breakfast Skillet Recipe with Sunny-Side-Up Eggs
While delicious and fun, campfire cooking is not always reliable. Be it a campfire ban or wet wood, always have a backup method for cooking in case you can’t start a fire. Investing in a small camp stove is a great alternative.
Whenever you can, I encourage campfire cooking. There is something about the extra smokiness and hints of charcoal that bring some authentic camping flavour to your meals. Sit around, enjoy the fire, and have some wonderful meals with friends. Happy cooking!