Everything You Need to Know About Campfire Cooking

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There’s something magical about sharing a meal with friends and family at the campsite, seated around a roaring fire. It’s even better to enjoy it with the satisfaction of knowing you cooked it. Campfire cooking isn’t too different from cooking in your home kitchen in some ways.

But there are some critical differences in equipment and technique that you need to know before your next camping trip. Let’s take a look!

Campfire Cooking Isn’t as Easy as It Seems

If you think campfire cooking is just hot dogs roasted on sticks and messy s’mores, think again. Cooking over a campfire isn’t necessarily easy. Campfire cooks need to create fires, carefully maintain coals and monitor their food.

Often, you’ll cook in low-light or areas with little to no prep space. And campfire cooks get limited kitchen equipment. All in all, it’s not as easy as you might think, but it also doesn’t have to be difficult if you have the right supplies and know some essential principles. 

A dutch oven with coals on the lid and a campfire in the background. This is a great method for slow campfire cooking.

Supplies You Need for Great Campfire Cooking

Depending on what and how often you’re planning to cook, your campfire cooking kit could be as simple as a few items or practically a second home kitchen. Here are some of the must-haves.

Cast Iron Skillet

You may hear about family heirloom skillets passed down through the generations and still in use. There’s a reason for this. The cast-iron skillet is one of your most versatile and trustworthy campfire kitchen tools.

Whether you’re sauteing, frying, or even baking, your cast iron can handle it. Unlike many other types of pans, it not only stands up to the intense heat of a campfire but actually thrives on it due to its heavy construction. 

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Dutch Oven

A dutch oven is a general term for any thick-walled, heavy cooking pot with a lid that seals reasonably tightly. Many camping dutch ovens are simple unfinished cast iron, though home models often have a layer of ceramic or other coatings.

Dutch ovens create unique cooking conditions through their heft, absorbing heat to evenly distribute it throughout the pot. The heavy lids and tight seal allow cooks to trap steam and heat inside, perfect for long-cooking recipes like soups, stews, and braises. 

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Campfire Cooking Grate

Unless you plan to roast your food on sticks over the fire, you’ll need a cooking grate. These come in various sizes but generally fold or disassemble easily for more convenient transport.

These heat-proof pieces of metal provide a surface to lay grilled or roasted items on, as well as a place to set a cast iron pan while cooking. 

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Campfire Cooking Tripod

Hang a dutch oven or similar cooking vessel over a fire with a tripod. The device consists of three legs that come together in a triangle over the fire.

Tripods will also include a chain or hook so you can hang your pot or pan easily. These simple and affordable pieces of equipment can dramatically expand your campfire cooking possibilities. 

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Food Tongs

Campfire tongs are a small, inexpensive item that helps ensure your food is perfectly cooked on each side and easily removable when finished. Make sure your tongs can withstand the high, direct heat of a campfire. You don’t want them melting as you flip your food.

Firewood Tongs

It’s always a good idea to have a pair of firewood tongs around when campfire cooking. These are handy to have so you can add or remove firewood as needed.

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Campfire Spatula

Much like your tongs, your spatula is crucial to ensure you cook your food properly. Sure, you can get away without one by using forks or other utensils, but why would you?

A sturdy yet flexible spatula can dramatically improve your burgers, fish, or other campfire food. Lightweight and cheap, it’s a worthwhile investment for your campfire cooking kit.

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Pie Iron

Pie irons are, essentially, two cast iron pans hinged together, creating a waffle iron-type device. Place this sturdy piece of equipment directly over a fire like a cast iron pan.

While (as the name implies) you can create some delicious pies, you can also craft all sorts of sweet and savory dishes, including waffles, pizza pockets, and more. 

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Percolator

There’s nothing like a hot cup of coffee on a cool, serene morning around the campsite. And abandoning the traditional drip coffee maker for its campfire cooking cousin is the perfect way to enjoy it.

Fill the reservoir with water, add ground coffee, and set it over the fire. The heat will boil the water, percolating it up through your coffee. It’s the simplest way to enjoy fresh, steaming cups of coffee powered by nothing more than your fire. 

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Cooking Gloves

Cooking around the campfire can get a little hectic at times. You could burn yourself, dealing with the high heat and open flames of a campfire. Cooking gloves will help eliminate this risk. The heat-resistant material allows you to grab hot pans or dutch ovens without fear. Many are also textured to improve your grip.

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Meat Thermometer

At one point or another, most campfire cooks have struggled with meat. It can be tough getting it just the right temperature inside and out. But a small, portable meat thermometer eliminates this problem.

Whether you opt for a digital display or analog thermometer, you’ll know within seconds whether your steaks, chicken, pork, and other meats will come out correctly.

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Campfire Cooking Tips for Great Food Every Time

Campfire cooking can feel a little chaotic at times. And even experienced cooks can find themselves out of sorts cooking at a new campsite. Keep these things in mind for quality, consistent food every time. 

Build the Right Kind of Fire

While you may want to build a huge, roaring fire to get your food cooked quickly, it’s better to create the right kind of fire. The best practice for campfire cooking is to build your fire in just half of your campsite’s fire ring. This leaves the other half to spread out your hot coals for consistent cooking. 

Also, don’t use all your firewood at once. Keep feeding your fire as needed to produce a steady supply of hot coals. Burning your wood too quickly may result in a brief blast of intense heat, followed by temperatures too low to cook your food properly. 

A large fire engulfing a cast iron dutch oven, a mug, and a percolator. This fire is too high for campfire cooking.

Don’t Start Cooking Immediately

Be patient. High-quality campfire cooking comes from hot coals, which take a while to develop. Allow your wood to burn for a bit until it’s red hot and glowing. It may be tempting to jump right in, but waiting is worth it when you taste the final product.

Don’t Cook Directly Over an Open Flame

Avoid cooking over open flames whenever possible. Open flames will char the exterior of your meat without providing much additional temperature to cook the interior. Cooking over open flames is the classic mistake of many amateur campfire cooks.

Pro Tip: When you’re ready to get cookin’, try these easy 5 Best Campfire Breakfast Recipes.

Use the Right Equipment

If you’re trying to cook a recipe designed for a dutch oven in your cast iron skillet, you probably won’t produce a very good quality dish. Likewise, you may run into issues trying to flip food by spearing pieces on a fork rather than using tongs or a spatula. You can avoid a surprising amount of cooking problems by using the right equipment.

Always Use a Meat Thermometer

Meat thermometers are the best way to ensure you get meat done just right. No more worrying about dry chicken or well-done steak when you were looking forward to a juicy chicken breast or medium-rare filet. 

You also need a meat thermometer to ensure you cook your meat safely. Underdone chicken, pork, seafood, or other proteins can result in serious illnesses. And cooking in the sometimes low light or chaotic conditions of a campsite makes it more difficult to ensure your meat is done.

Beef, pork, and lamb should all hit at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit, while chicken and turkey should reach 165 degrees or more. Double-check this food safety chart if you’re unsure what temperature your meat should be cooked to.

A steak that has been grilled by campfire cooking, with a meat thermometer sticking out of it

Prep Food Ahead for an Easier Process

Prepping your ingredients beforehand is helpful even in the best home kitchens. It’s absolutely crucial when campfire cooking. If you’re on a short trip, do as much prep as possible at home, where you have access to the equipment you won’t have at the campsite. Even those on longer or full-time trips should prep ingredients before you begin cooking.

Campfire Cooking Can Be The Best Part of Camping

Campfire cooking can be one of the most enjoyable parts of your next camping trip — or one of the most dreaded. Having the right equipment can be half the battle and help you avoid common issues. Have you ever cooked via campfire? What are your best tips and tricks?

Last update on 2021-10-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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