So you want to cook on the campfire? Congrats! While there’s nothing wrong with using a campstove, there isn’t anything like food cooking over an open wood fire. Learn five methods of campfire cooking, how to regulate the temperature, plus lots of tips and gear.
Table of Contents
Guide to Campfire Cooking
Toasting marshmallows, roasting hot dogs, or grilling a freshly caught fish… there is nothing quite like the unique flavors from campfire cooking. That mellow smoky flavor makes food come alive producing a mouth-watering meal – even when you are in the wild.
If you are new to camping and looking for advice on how to build your fire to supply the heat needed to make a satisfying meal, or a seasoned camping pro there’s something here for you.
We will go through the basics and provide some tips to help make some amazing meals. Grilled, roasted, toasted and buried, this guide will help you cook like a pro and make lip-smacking meals quickly and easily.
- Guide to campfire cooking, including how to regulate temperature
- 5 campfire cooking methods
- Recommended gear: grills, ovens, roasting sticks
Ready to get cooking? Here are a few ideas for your next camping meal: s’mores, cast iron pizza, pancakes, campfire biscuits, cinnamon roll sticks, berry cobbler, and more.
Here’s a taste of 9 easy campfire meals:
Now that you have built your fire, how much heat you need depends on what you plan to cook.
Just think of it like you are cooking at home, you have turned the hotplate on and it’s ready to go. Only with a campfire you cannot so easily turn the heat down with a twist of the dial so how do you turn down the heat if you need to?
How to Regulate Open Fire Temperature
Campfire cooking is different than just about all other methods. Here’s how to regular the cooking temperature on your campfire.
Turn Down Campfire Heat
To turn down the heat, simply raise your pot or grill a little higher above the fire. You can do this by raising the grilling platform higher or by moving some of the logs from underneath and using the coals alone to cook with.
This can be tricky at first but once you have done it a few times it becomes second nature and soon you’ll be grilling and cooking over a campfire like a pro.
Just like you do in your backyard standing over your barbecue. The biggest rookie mistake is that people leave food unattended while chopping or collecting more wood.
Increase Campfire Temperature
Let’s talk about raising the temperature now, which is a little trickier than lowering it.
You have your nice even bed of coals generating a constant heat source, so now when you want a little more heat, all you have to do is slowly add a little more wood. Not too much.
Just one more quarter of a log to give it that boost. If you throw six logs on the fire all of a sudden, it’s too hot and chances are you will burn your food.
Handy Hint: Less is more when it comes to cooking. Cut some larger logs down the middle, then again so they are in quarters ready to go before you start cooking.
If the fire gets too hot, remove your skillet from the heat, raise the cooking platform higher and continue cooking.
Or move the log which is closest to the bottom of your cooking platform to the side, this will create more space, and cool the fire slightly.
More heat = bigger flame, and less heat = smaller flame.
Here’s how to make coffee while camping.
5 Campfire Cooking Methods
Now for the fun part. Cooking. There are entire books of great camping recipes like Easy Campfire Cooking which has over 200 recipes covering every style of cooking you can do over a campfire.
In the coals, in a skillet, in a dutch oven, on a grill over open flames or in foil. It also covers delicious breakfasts, sides, mains, desserts and more.
A great read if you love cooking, are camping for a week or two and want to prepare meals, or if you want a wide variety of meals during your trip.
These days you can cook just about anything, and only need a couple of pots and pans to do it.
If you are a seasoned camper and have your favorites that’s great too. For those that are unsure or are just starting out, we’ve included a few easy campfire recipes for you here.
1. On the Coals
Potatoes in their jackets: take a large potato, poke some holes into the skin with a fork then slice an X in the top before placing it on a piece of aluminum foil. Roll it over twice to wrap it evenly and protect against tearing.
Twist both ends shut making little handles so it is easier to check during cooking.
Just remember they will take 40 minutes to an hour to cook through and be soft inside, depending on the size of the potato. Once done, unwrap, open it up and fill with your topping of choice.
If you are really adventurous, you can try a caveman steak – directly on the coals.
Quick Tip: Corn on the cob, sweet potato and beets are also excellent done in the coals.
2. Grilling over an Open Flame
Grilling your meat and vegetables over a campfire adds that beautiful smoky flavor you just don’t seem to get anywhere else.
Quite possibly the most popular of all outdoor cooking styles, grilling is a camping tradition.
Hamburgers and hot dogs: Make sure your grill is the height you want over your campfire so it’s not too hot, not too cold.
Once your grill is heated, place your hamburger patties and hot dogs on the grill, grab a cold beverage and relax.
Turn them as they brown and are cooked to your liking, then straight onto a bun for the best hamburgers and dogs you’ve ever had.
Quick Tip: Remember to take long handled tongs to turn your meat with as it will leak fat which may cause the flame to get higher.
Grilling fish: Cooking freshly caught fish is very popular. It can be done any way you please, so we’ll cover the top choices here – grilling, wrapped in foil, and fried in a skillet.
Fish baskets: You don’t want the flames too high because fish cooks quickly and is a delicate meat. There are special fish baskets you can buy to grill with or just place the whole fish on the grill and watch carefully.
Fish may cook quicker depending on the size of the fish, 5-10 minutes on each side should get the job done.
Of course, if you have just hooked that prized trophy trout you may need to cut it into steaks and then grill individual servings.
In foil: the advantage of cooking fish wrapped in foil is that you can easily add seasonings. Slices of lemon, onion, fresh herbs and even chili flakes are very popular.
Here’s how to grill fish in foil: Place your fish on one side of some foil. Add seasonings and toppings of your choice, then wrap twice to create an even layer. Place on the grill and cook for 10-15 minutes each side depending on the size of your fish.
It is easy to check if the fish is cooked through by unwrapping the top and checking with a fork. If the flesh separates easily and is white all the way to the backbone, it is cooked.
Quick Tip: Cooking fish in foil leads to a more succulent richly flavored meal.
Frying: You will need a higher heat for frying fish in a skillet. Place a small amount of oil in the skillet and let it heat over the campfire. While it is heating, season your fish how you like it and then place in the heated skillet. Turn over after 5 – 10 minutes and cook the other side until cooked through.
Quick Tip: Place the fish in the skillet carefully to avoid fat splatter burning you.
3. In Foil
Any meat you choose can be cooked to succulent perfection by wrapping it in foil and placing it on the grill. This will allow flavors to intensify and really diffuse into the meat.
All poultry, game meats, seafood and even desserts can easily be cooked in foil.
Yes, you heard right, desserts. Some can even be prepared before you start cooking. Donuts, baked apples, muffins, and more.
Meat: place your meat of choice on one side of a piece of foil. Add toppings (onions, garlic, tomato etc.) and seasonings (herbs and spices) then wrap twice to make an even coating.
Place on the grill, in the skillet or even on coals turning every 5 minutes. Depending on the type and size of the meat you are cooking, turn until it is cooked to your liking. To check, just unwrap one end and take a peek.
Vegetables: veggies have never been so good as when they are cooked in foil with a dollop of butter!
Ears of corn are sweeter, potatoes creamier and if you add some honey to that butter your honeyed carrots will amaze everyone who tries them.
It’s great cooking vegetables in foil because you can make the packet as big as you like and they all stay together making them easy to plate up.
Quick Tip: keep all smaller vegetables together as they have a similar cooking time, and larger vegetables like potato, sweet potato and corn on the cob, wrap individually and put in the coals as they will need a little more heat and more time to cook.
4. Dutch Oven
Soups, stews, pot pies, slow-cooked meats so succulent they are falling off the bone, and even cornbread are all easily done in a dutch oven. Many feel it’s an essential for all family camping vacations.
Think of it as taking the kitchen with you – only you don’t need electricity. There are dutch oven cookbooks, videos, guides and articles on how easy it is to cook in a dutch oven.
While camping you can bake bread, cakes and pies in it by placing it directly on the coals of the campfire and then placing more coals on the lid heating from above and below.
Or, by placing directly on the coals of your campfire you can sauté, simmer, fry or boil by providing heat solely from below.
You can even use the lid as a skillet making this a handy tool to have on your trip.
5. Roasting Sticks
What’s camping without s’mores. Am I right?!
Roasting sticks are a must in every family’s camping gear. They help make lifelong memories of roasting marshmallows over the campfire and making the sticky sweetness of dreams… s’mores.
Quick Tip: Be sure to get telescopic roasting sticks so they can extend out for more heat when roasting hot dogs.
Here are some fun camping activities for around the campfire.
4 Campfire Cooking Tips
Some important and useful cooking tips for your campfire:
- If you are cooking meat, please make sure that it has been stored correctly beforehand and has been kept cold enough, and when cooking make sure you cook the meat thoroughly to kill any bacteria and pathogens. Here’s how to keep your food cold while camping.
- Avoid cooking any items with lots of fat and avoid frying items on the campfire as oil and grease can lead to a fire getting out of control particularly in very dry conditions.
- Wait to cook until the logs look like ashy chunks on top of glowing embers. If you cook while the fire is still in the early stages you will just chargrill everything you are cooking and leave it all raw in the middle.
- Be careful not to overcook the food. Carryover cooking can occur when you are flame cooking, meaning that the food will continue to cook even when it is taken off the fire. So make sure you balance it to ensure that you don’t undercook, but make sure that you don’t leave it until it is incinerated.
Here are some more tips on thekitchn.com for cooking over an open campfire.
Recommended Campfire Cooking Gear
Here’s a quick list of great camping gear to help you get started. Plus a few little home comforts to make sure your trip is perfect.
Grill: Expedition Research LLC has the strongest grill in its class worldwide.
Sturdy, compact, with reinforced welding and thicker stainless steel than others, it can hold more than other grills. It is lightweight and can easily fit side by side (with as many as you want) making as large or small of a grill as you like.
Dutch Oven: Lodge has a 12 inch/ 8 quart cast iron deep dutch oven. It comes pre-seasoned ready to use.
It comes with its own cookbook so you can surprise your family with their favorite roast chicken while camping.
Pots and Pans: Gold Armour has a 17pc cooking mess kit with everything you need.
This includes a folding stainless steel spork, spoon, fork, and knife. And nonstick pan, pot, cover, 2 plastic bowls, soup spoon, mini stove and carry bag.
They are dedicated to the great outdoors and donate back to restoring forests – ensuring your camping is there for generations to come.
What are you planning on cooking next? Have a campfire cooking tip? Join me in the comments!
- About the Author
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Bryan Haines is a co-founder and blogger on GudGear – and is working to make it the best resource for outdoor gear and guides.
He loves the outdoors and has hiked the Andes, kayaked the Galapagos, and biked and camped around Nova Scotia, Canada.
He is a travel blogger at Storyteller Travel and blogs about photography at Storyteller Tech. He is also co-founder of Storyteller Media, a company he started with his wife, Dena.