Campfire Cooking: How to Build a Cooking Fire
When I think of camping, I think of spending time in the woods by a warm campfire and enjoying delicious grilled food with family, how to build a cooking fire is only the beginning. Of course we do a lot more than eat while camping but at the end of the day it’s where everyone comes together for a hot meal.
How to Build a Cooking Fire
Over the summer we went camping at several provincial parks where we enjoyed several meals, not many which were simple hotdogs and hamburgers either. Many meals can be cooked just as easily while your camping with the right fire; how to build a cooking fire is a skill I think everyone should have.
- Start with Essentials – You’ll need something to start the fire and keep the fire going: wood, an axe, flame and oxygen. These 4 things sound like a no-brainer but there is a trick to starting a good cooking fire.
- Protect the Firewood – When you get to your campsite and you are all set up, go get wood.
- Choose wood that is dry and not covered in mulch, dirt or other debris that might keep the wood moist.
- Don’t pick the largest logs and look for ones without knots, splitting the logs for your campfire will be easier. Try to find one that might be good to use as a chopping block; if not, you can use the ground.
- When you are back at the campsite, stack the logs in a place where they will stay dry such as under your camper or covered in a tarp. If the logs are damp from the wood pile, stack a few up against the fire pit or, in a culvert style fire pit, on the top platform with the grate slightly over the fire. The goal is to use the heat from the fire to dry out the wood, not to start them on fire. Make sure you are watching and turning the wood as you go; never leave a fire unattended.
- Set aside a few logs to chop with the axe for that nights fire, chop some into smaller kindling.
- Start a Fire Early – For a good cooking fire, you need to start the fire early so that it is good and hot when you are ready to begin cooking your meal.
- Stack Wood Properly – You want to stack your kindling in a square like a log cabin (teepee style is for a heat fire), alternating pieces of wood towards the top of the fire pit. If the fire is already lit, wait until it dies down a bit to stack kindling. You will have to do this quickly. The idea is to build a fire to heat all areas of the fire pit evenly without cold spots.
- Don’t Smother the Fire – Oxygen is key to keeping the flame going, hence alternating wood when you are stacking which allows oxygen to reach the fire at all angles and keep burning strong.
- Burn HOT and Let it Die – Bring your fire to a good flame so that the fire pit is heated evenly then allow your fire to die down so that the coals are cooking the food more than the flame. This will avoid burned bottoms and even cooking. If the flames are coming through the grate, the fire is too hot. You want hot coals with flames below the grate. If it’s cooled down too much, your food won’t cook evenly either. Some fire pits are deeper so you will have to adjust your stack to make this work.
- Cook Food with a Watchful Eye – Even though you may have built what you think is the perfect cooking fire, always keep watch of your food and shift, stir or add wood to keep that food cooking.
- Use Metal Utensils & Fire resistant Gloves – Again, this seems like a no-brainer but I have seen a lot of campers at a lot of campsites over the years trying to use disposable utensils to flip or stir food; plastic and fire do not mix. Use utensils with longer handles and silicone oven gloves that won’t burn. Never grab anything off the fire without gloves.
- Adjust Cooking Times – Recipe cooking times are a guide at best; it really depends on the fire you have built and how well you watch it while you are cooking. You will know within a few minutes if the fire you’ve stoked is hot enough or too hot so you can adjust from there.
- Generally with this type of cooking you will need to cook slightly longer because you are only cooking from the bottom. Most recipes will require some coverage with foil to allow the top to cook and remove once the food is nearly cooked to crisp up the food for the remaining cook time, if you choose or the recipe calls for it.
- Keep the Food Warm – As you can tell in the picture below, you can keep food warm and allow space for the rest to cook on the warming plate of the grill on these culvert style fire pits. I prefer these type as they are a great source of heat for both a cooking fire or a heat fire.
*Don’t forget, how to build a cooking fire is key to cook times however you should be prepared to adjust times based on the look and texture of the food you are cooking.
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Here are some Campfire Recipes to get you started: