Planning to cook over your campfire? Nice. But how hot is a campfire? In this post, you'll learn the average temperature of a campfire and how to cook like a chef while camping.
How hot is a campfire? (Jump to the answer)
How Hot is a Campfire?
Chef’s Guide to Campfire Cooking
Toasting marshmallows, roasting hotdogs, or grilling a freshly caught fish… there is nothing quite like the unique flavors from campfire cooking. That mellow smoky flavor that 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 every meal amazing. Grilled, roasted, toasted and buried, this guide will help you cook like a pro and make lip-smacking meals quickly and easily.
This guide is pretty comprehensive so we have broken it up into four sections for your convenience:
- How hot is a campfire? The scientific answer, plus 3 factors that affect temperature (jump to section)
- Guide to campfire cooking, including how to regulate temperature (jump to section)
- 5 campfire cooking methods (jump to section)
- Recommended gear: grills, ovens, roasting sticks (jump to section)
How Hot is a Campfire?
There are lots of variables that affect the temperature of a campfire, which we'll get into. But here's the short answer.
How hot is a campfire? There are two temperatures to know.
- Internal Temperature: A campfire can reach internal temperatures of 1650°F (900°C) in the flames, known as the continuous flame region.
- Cooking Temperature: Above the flames (called the thermal plume region) where no flames are visible, you can expect temperatures of about 600°F (320°C). This is where you'll do your cooking. The further away from the flames, the lower the temperature.
Large campfires (like a bonfire) can get even hotter – in excess of 2000°F (1100°C). Of course, you aren't likely to cook on a full scale bonfire…
For more about flame temperatures, check this page.
Typical campfires can get hot enough to melt an aluminum can but not a cast iron frying pan. Likely you've seen what happens to a soda can (aluminum alloy) when it's thrown into a fire – it melts and almost disappears except for parts of the top and bottom of the can.
Here are some average metal melting points for comparison.
- Aluminum: 1220°F (660°C)
- Aluminum Alloy: 865-1240°F (463-671°C) Melting point depends on the type of alloy.
- Cast Iron: 2060°F (1127°C)
- Stainless Steel: 2750°F (1510°C)
And some camping cookware is made of aluminum – make sure to keep it out of the direct flames so it doesn't damage your pot.
The color of the flame indicates the temperature. Red indicates cooler temperatures, while blue is much hotter. White flames indicate the hottest flames of all.
3 Variables Affecting Campfire Temperature
Like all fires the temperature will vary depending a number of things.
- Type of fuel: type of wood (softwood, hardwood, resinous) and its dryness (seasoned or green).
- Size of the fire: the amount of fuel will affect how hot the fire can get.
- Oxygen flow: A campfire contained in a metal fire-pit won't get as hot as one with a consistent supply of oxygen (light breeze or pair of bellows).
There are three ingredients to a good fire: fuel, air and heat. A large, rapidly burning fire piled high will burn a lot hotter than a steadily well prepared fire, which is what we want for cooking. So, let’s discuss how to build that fire. You will need three things:
- Tinder: Small twigs, dry leaves etc. that quickly catch fire and generate heat to start the larger pieces of wood burning. Paper, cardboard and firestarter also works as tinder.
- Kindling: Thicker pieces of wood that will burn easier than the pieces of log you will place on top. These can be larger, thicker twigs, small branches or slivers of your main fuel chipped off the larger logs. These will start generating coals as they burn down quickly allowing a good foundation for your fire.
- Fuel: This is typically the larger harder wood that is laid across the top which needs a lot more heat and flame to get burning, but once they do they will burn down nicely to create a perfect cooking fire.
For cooking you want an even heat to help cook steadily just like you would at home. If you pile everything on at once and make a blazing inferno it may look impressive but is not ideal for cooking. An intense campfire can reach temperatures of 1650°F (900°C) which is capable of melting aluminum – and it will chew through your wood supply quickly and burn your food.
For cooking your fire needs to burn down a little first and create a good even base of coals. Start with your tinder and kindling. The tinder will heat and catch fire to the kindling which in turn when burning will generate enough heat for your bigger pieces of fuel. As they burn down it creates the perfect even heat base just like a stovetop and you can vary the temperature by adding more logs as you go along.
The only thing to take into consideration is the type of wood you use. Old, dry hardwood burns a lot longer and hotter than a soft wood (like pine) that burns quickly. Green or freshly cut wood is full of sap and not entirely dry so it will burn at a lower temperature. Ideally you want some good hardwood logs to get you through and burn evenly.
Guide to Campfire Cooking
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.
Watch on YouTube
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 Temperature
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.
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.
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 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. Here's how:
Watch on YouTube
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 hotdogs: 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 hotdogs 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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 families camping gear. They help make life long memories of roasting marshmallows over the campfire and making the sticky sweetness of dreams… s’mores.
Here are some fun camping activities for around the campfire.
Recommended Gear for Campfire Cooking
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 a perfect.
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.
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.
Not such a good camper? Don't worry, you're not alone :). Check out these incredible camping fails.
Have a campfire cooking tip to share? What's your question about cooking on a campfire? Join me in the comments!