Open fire cooking can be misinterpreted in numerous ways. Some think only of s’mores - delicious but the bare basics of campfire cooking- or others of burnt corn on the cob. Is it only for wild adventurers or only for boy scouts? The answer is that open fire cooking is actually a delightful method of preparing your meals, one which takes you out of the kitchen, is far more interactive and social, and produces tastes your stove top never could! So read on for our best tips, from the do’s to the don’ts of campfire cooking.
Be sure to invest in a suitable campfire grill for campfire cooking, an investment you certainly won't regret!
1. DO use the right firewood
A sure way to spot a rookie campfire is excessive smoke billowing from it, the result of using green and fresh wood. Do not bother stripping wood from a tree, as it will simply burn poorly, be smokey and create unnecessary pollution. And I’m sure we all would not want that, right? To create a classic campfire, you’ve got to use dry, seasoned wood. To ensure this will be available, either call ahead to the campsite, as some do provide it, or bring your own stock to be safe.
2. DON’T be impatient
Seeing flames does not mean that your bonfire is ready for cooking. A good fire is primarily constructed out of hot coals and just a few logs of burning wood, and depending on the fire and weather conditions, it can take 30 to 45 minutes to burn down to the right conditions. Be sure to give your fire the time it needs to reach this, as a bed of glowing coals is ideal for roasting. But this patience also extends to the size of your fire, as many beginners make the mistake of trying to build a really big fire. The issue lies in big fires dying down quickly, leaving you with coals that are too hot and no direct flame. If you’ve used all your wood, than you’ll be unable to continue fuelling your fire and it may go out midway through cooking. We advise you to begin with a small starter fire with kindling and smaller logs, letting it burn for 30 minutes and only adding a few larger pieces of wood as needed. This ensures a nice, warm base of coals and sufficient direct heat for cooking. Also this means enough wood to keep that fire burning all evening!
3. DO find a suitable location
You can’t go and start a fire at any old place! The ideal location would be to build your fire on a rock, but if this isn’t possible then aim for the base to be on bare mineral soil. Campsites sometimes supply previously established fire pits, in which case you should always use that, to avoid scarring the area with more fire pits. Try to ensure your fire is sheltered from the wind, as any medium to strong wind can be hazardous. If sparks get away, they could be in danger of igniting a forest fire. Also, coals will reduce more quickly and provide far less cooking time. Try stick to the rule that if there is any wind that evening and no substantial wind shelter available, then an outdoor fire is out of the question! Also make sure to avoid any tree roots or low hanging branches, try to have three times the height of the fire in unobstructed overhead space.
4. DON’T cook directly over the flame
Many of us are raised with the image of roasting a hot dog or marshmallow directly over an open fire, and think all meals can be done in that method. But unfortunately, placing food directly over the open flame is a guaranteed way to get a burnt meal. Instead, try to build a fire on one side of your fire pit or bowl, and use the other side primarily to move hot coals. Then you can place a camp grill directly over the fire, which you use to boil water, roast meats and grill vegetables. The side with the hot coals can be used to cook vegetables in aluminium foil packets or for your Dutch oven camp stove.
5. DO get the right gear
It may be quite obvious to some, but just in case, plastic can melt, so you must use metal utensils. Avoid pots and pans with rubber-coated handles, and instead get an aluminum pot lifter. The best option is to go for utensils that are specifically designed for the outdoors, to avoid any mix ups or mishaps. But the right gear doesn’t just refer to the cooking apparatus, but also what you’re wearing. Be sure to wear sturdy close-toed shoes that can take the heat from the close proximity to the campfire, and long sleeves and trousers in case of stray embers or coals. We also recommend getting a pair of heavy duty gloves, as after all, why risk it?
6. DON’T cook the following
Avoid any foods that create hot, drippy fat as they cook - such as steak and bacon- as these can cause dangerous flare-ups. Try to forgo foods that need to be fried or call for any type of oil. You may think that it is safe given that it will be cooked in a pan, but this is not always the case. If you feel it necessary to cook such a dish, then try using a Dutch oven, as it offers more reliable heat with added protection from splatters.
7. DO plan ahead
Plan your meals before your trip, to ensure you have everything you need. But more than that, plan a little extra food or an extra meal in case. This is particularly vital if you hope to forage for food or catch fish for your dinner. Never rely on circumstances out of your control, and always have some bread and a jar of peanut butter or so ready. In terms of planning ahead, it is also a good idea to prep your meal prior to cooking on your campfire. Check your campfire cooking recipes in advance and do any peeling, chopping, mixing prior, so that your focus can be on getting the right open fire conditions.
8. DO try cooking directly on the coals
This certainly doesn’t work for all dishes, but can work in two different instances. Firstly, for foil cooking. Given the heat of the fire, it is important to protect the food by giving it a double wrap in heavy-duty aluminum foil. You can cook a variety of things in this method, such as corn, potatoes, meat, fish and more. When wrapping the food item in foil, place it in the center and seal it tightly . To seal it tightly, take the edges and bring them together in the center, and then roll or fold it tightly. But be sure to create a handle on each size, as this will make it easier to grab, and reduce the chances of tearing the foil packet and having ash on your lovely meal! Don’t forget to turn it over midway to ensure it cooks evenly. A fun trick is to make s’mores in this method. Simply wrap them up in foil and toss them onto the coals for a few minutes, producing delicious s’mores that are slightly less messy than usual. And for the second way to cook directly on coals, this refers to certain foods that don’t need any foil to be cooked on the coals. This works well for peppers and chiles, as the peels blister and pop, and the smoke and fire produces a delicious flavour.
9. DON’T cook the food for too long
Cooking over an open flame results in more heat for longer periods of time, thus there is more carryover cooking. Carryover cooking is the continued cooking of food when it is removed from its direct heat source, and it occurs during resting. For larger food items, the carryover cooking can occur for up to 20 minutes. This is also the case for fire-roasted food, such as foil-wrapped corn. To avoid this, remove your food from the grill just before you think you should, so it has plenty of time to cool off from the heat.
10. DON’T miss these great recipes!
Many falsely believe that campfire cooking recipes need to be primitive and not very tasty, but this is far from the case! Cooking over an open fire is a way to create fine delicacies, as the flames and embers aid in frying, grilling and boiling. Country Living has put together 39 easy camping dinner ideas that use a campfire. Make sure to check these recipes out before your next trip, and you’ll be sure to stun everyone with your delightful, rustic meals.
11. DO keep a bucket of water next to you
A simple but important rule. Always have a bucket of water ready in case of a fire getting out of hand or stray embers causing havoc. Normally you won’t have to use it, but why not keep it ready for that one time?
From campfire cooking recipes to methods in which to cook those meals, we hope these tips can help you take the leap to campfire cooking. It will allow you to open up the realm of camping dinner ideas and enjoy delights you’ve never even considered for your camping trips. Want to make camping meals even easier and more enjoyable? Get a motorhome for your next camping trip through our site, for the perfect combination of camping and comfortable!