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How to Build the Best Winter Campfire (and Cook Like a Boss)

Posted in: Camping Food, Outdoor Tips, Winter Camping

Making a campfire isn't super hard. Here are 6 easy methods. But making a fire in the snow is something else. In this post, you'll learn how to build the best winter campfire – and cook on it like a boss.

Winter campfire guide

How to Build the Best Winter Campfire

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There’s nothing like sitting around a campfire on a chilly night laughing and toasting your marshmallows or making s’mores (check out these campfire recipes). There is just something about a campfire that is comforting, fun and seems to bring people together. It’s a timeless holiday tradition to cook over a campfire when in the great outdoors and you never can seem to get that glorious smoky flavor anywhere else.

To help you cook like a boss and impress everyone around the campfire with your outdoor chef skills on your next winter camping trip, we’ve put together some time-honored and tested tips that will have you cooking like a pro for friends and family.

This guide covers a lot and is pretty in depth so we’ve broken it up into these four sections:

At the end of the post, I've included a pretty nice video of a campfire in a snowstorm – super relaxing.


Making your Winter Campfire

During winter things in the outdoors tend to stay a little damper than usual. Wood takes longer to dry, kindling can retain moisture and this means that collecting your fuel is best done as one of the first things when you arrive at your campsite.

Get it up off the ground to allow circulation, this helps it to dry quicker. Splitting larger logs into smaller ones also helps them dry faster. All of these little tricks make better fuel for your fire so it holds a more constant heat which is better for cooking. Plus, wet wood smokes more and no-one likes trying to cook with smoke stinging their eyes.

Handy Hint: Try to collect wood from rocky areas with better drainage, if there are any.

How to make your campfire

The three things that make up a fire are fuel, oxygen, and ignition.

In the winter, dry fuel will be your biggest concern.

If you build your fire with sufficient airflow, it'll have plenty of oxygen. And if you remember to bring matches or fire starter (that still works when wet), you have your ignition source.

For those of you new to camping, it’s okay, we’ll go through it step by step so you have an amazing cooking fire in no time.

The first thing you want is to build a fire that will provide a good coal base for cooking. A log cabin fire is good for this. It’s different than your traditional teepee style fire that burns hot and fast.

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For cooking, you want a slower more even heat source just like at home on the stove. Here’s how to build a log cabin fire:

  1. Dig a small trench (1”) to allow air to come up into the fire.
  2. Lay your tinder over the trench (the really small stuff that lights easily like leaves and small twigs)
  3. Now take your logs, the bigger ones that are the fuel, and place one on either side of the fire. Take two more and lay them on top of the ends of the first two logs. Fill the area in between with the kindling (bigger sticks) to form a platform and fill that with more tinder (small stuff)
  4. Add two more logs resting on the ends of these to make the next layer and fill the area in between with kindling once again. Continue this to make three layers and finally on the top lay your largest kindling.
  5. Light the fire at the bottom, underneath and it will catch the top layers quickly.

This fire needs little maintenance and as each layer caves in it provides an excellent base of coals to cook on.

Now you can place a grill over the top, resting on the top logs above the coals or you can place a dutch oven down into the coals to make everything from strews to cakes and bread.

Winter campfire log cabin style

More reading: How hot is a campfire?


5 Types of Campfire Cooking

You can make anything on a campfire these days and there are some amazing campfire cookbooks out there to fill you full of inspiration for your next camping trip. All you have to do is decide on the type of cooking you would like to do.

Yes, s’mores delicious warm gooeyness is amazing but we can’t in good conscience tell you to make them as your dinner. It’s tempting and I’m sure we’ve all done it, but we’ll save those as some fun to have after dinner.

Winter campfire tenting

Quick, easy and delicious is what you want for camping. Total crowd-pleasers like hot dogs, hamburgers or freshly caught fish are great for dinner, and pancakes for breakfast are always good but in winter sometimes you want those hearty hot meals that leave everyone full and content.

There are six main types of cooking – let's take a quick look at each.

1. In the coals

Cooking in coals can be done one of two ways.

The first way is that food can be wrapped in aluminum foil individually and placed on the coals like fish, or, it can be buried in the coals so it cooks evenly like you would do with a potato or other vegetables. The good thing about this is that it is so easy. Just add your seasoning of choice, wrap it up and walk away. It cooks itself. Often quicker than using a saucepan, cooking foil also has the added benefit of no dirty dishes. Wrapping a packet of vegetables such as beans, corn or carrots in foil means they cook quickly to add with your meat that is grilling up on the grill. Plus, doing it this way means you make the most of all of your cooking spaces and don’t have to pack as many pots n pans.

The second way to cook in the coals is with a dutch oven. These cast iron pots are like an outdoor oven and you can cook just about anything in them. Slow cooking meats until they are so tender they melt in your mouth or bake a loaf of bread, they are extremely versatile and easy to use to create taste sensations that will have friends and family begging for more.

2. On the Grill

This is quite possibly the most popular way to cook over a campfire. And everyone loves hot dogs, hamburgers and let’s not forget the good old bacon and eggs on a frosty morning to give you enough energy for that full day of hiking you have planned.

Resting a grill on top of a log cabin fire provides a large cooking area enabling you to cook anything you wish over the even heat. It heats quickly, cooks fast and can be used sooner than if you were cooking in a dutch oven as it doesn’t need as large a bed of coals.

3. Suspended over Flames

Setting up a metal teepee stand and suspending a pot over the flames is another way to cook, but the one that takes the longest. It’s great for reheating home-made meals like stew or a good pot of chili and the beauty of this is that you can make them at home and then just place the pot over the fire. Easy as that.

The reason it takes longer is that because it’s suspended means it is usually further away from the flames and therefore when the wind blows the flames a certain way the heat source isn’t even.

Winter campfire dutch oven

4. One pot meals

You know those ‘throw everything in a pot and let it simmer’ type meals such as chili or a good stew are not only easy but provide a healthy and hearty winter meal that satisfies everyone. Plus, they have the added benefit of being easy to throw together and are low maintenance. Just add the ingredients and walk away, only stirring occasionally. Another option is to pre-make them and just reheat.

This can be done in a pot on the grill, in a dutch oven, or suspended above the flames.

5. Roasting

Hotdogs, all forms of sausage and anything else you want to put on a stick is a fun way for the kids to help make dinner on those wintery nights. Everyone stays nice and warm close to the fire, everyone helps cook and there’s less cleaning up which is also great for keeping animals (that want to lick the pots after you go to bed) out of your campsite .

Handy Hint: It's a good idea to think about and do up a little meal plan before you go. That way you know you have enough hearty filling winter meals and can pre-cook some to cut down on your workload giving you more time to relax.

Winter Campfire Gear

When planning your winter camping trip, the cooking gear to take will depend on where you are camping, the duration of your trip and how much stuff you want to take. These basics will do everything you need.

Campfire Grill

Just place this grill on top of your campfire logs or fold out the legs and have it freestanding, it’s sturdy enough to boil water while you grill your steak or freshly caught fish right alongside.

Check current price on Amazon

Coghlans have made a simple, easy to use grill perfect over any style of a campfire.

Dutch Oven (8 Quart)

Lodge not only has a great, pre-seasoned dutch oven but they even provide a Camp Dutch Oven Cooking 101 cookbook covering everything from roasting a chicken to making a batch of chili.

Check current price on Amazon

A family-owned company they know all about feeding those hungry kids, and give you all the tools to do it.

Cooking Tripod

A tripod gives you the flexibility to hang your dutch oven over the flames to cook or reheat meals.

Check current price on Amazon

Texport tripods sturdy and strong forged steel tripod is a great example which will last you for years.

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Campfire Safety

Half the fun of camping is that you get to sit around roasting food on sticks. Whether it’s toasting marshmallows and making s’mores or roasting hotdogs, it means not only do you get a delicious meal but yes, you have to get a lot closer to the fire. As any outdoors person will tell you, staying safe is easy and mostly common sense, so we’ll just cover a couple of tips.

1. Use telescopic roasting sticks

Extending out telescopic sticks means you´ll never have to get so close you burn your fingers. Of course, removing a delicious gooey hot marshmallow is a different story… they´re hot! So remember to be careful, because if you flick a hot marshmallow trying to stop it from burning your fingers it turns into a hot little gooey comet flying through the air to burn the next person it lands on. Ouch.

2. Check your firewood

Some types of trees produce a fair amount of sap and if you happen to gather this wood sometimes it has a small pocket of sap inside. Most of the time it’s fine, but sometimes the ‘bang’ of the little-exploding pockets sends hot specks flying all around it. They’re hot and will burn anyone that they land on.

3. Learn Basic First Aid

Learning basic first aid is not only an essential life skill but helps boost confidence in your ability to help your loved ones during your camping trip. Ambulance and emergency services regularly run first aid courses and it’s a great way to make some new friends. Who knows, you might even make a new camping buddy!

4. Get a First Aid Kit

All first aid kits should have burn cream in them along with ice packs, bandages and coverings if anyone should happen to get burnt. Swiss Safe camping first aid kit has everything you need along with a bonus emergency mini-kit. Of course, if you are an avid camper then slipping another tube of some good burn cream like Alocane Emergency Burn Gel is a good idea.

Now that we've talked all about how to build the best winter campfire, cook, and stay safe – let's relax for a little while with this cozy campfire winter snow storm video.

Campfire in a Winter Snow Storm (5 Hours)

Watch on YouTube

Winter campfire tips

With all of these tips and tricks you now have everything you need to build your perfect cooking campfire and cook like a boss!

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GudGear - and is working to make it the best resource for outside gear. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with Bryan and Dena.

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