If you're setting up camp at an established campsite, there may be a firepit area, logs, and kindling ready to go. But if you're really roughing it, you'll need to gather your own wood and set up a safe spot for some primitive open fire cooking over hot coals. There are a few things to keep in mind to keep you and your fellow campers safe and get you on your way to eating delicious campfire cooking.
Set up your campsite in a bare space with no low overhanging branches or power lines and at least 10 feet away from any tents. Start collecting rocks to make a rock border around the perimeter of your fire as an added layer of containment
Obvious Pro Tip: Make sure your fire surface is flat or you'll end up with hot dogs rolling off your grill down a hill into dirt like my friends and I did on our first camping trip in 1992. We ate those "dirt dogs" anyway.
Start collecting dry twigs for kindling. You also can bring old newspaper with you to cut down on the hunting and gathering portion of your camping trip, but you will be gathering larger pieces of wood if they weren't supplied for you at a campsite.
Lay down what you're using as tinder first. Crumpled up newspaper, leaves, or dry grass and hay are easy to find tinder. Start placing the dry thin twigs or branches in a triangular pyramid shape on top of the tinder base. Make sure air flows between the twigs for the oxygen to flow through and keep your fire burning.
Light the tinder, and start adding larger dry branches as the smaller ones start to burn. Keep adding larger firewood and let it burn until you are left with white coals. Be patient, because this process can take about an hour.
As long as your kindling material is totally dry, a simple match should light your campfire with no problem.
Bring This Stuff for Open Fire Cooking
Cast iron cookware is best for campfire cooking because it gets hot and stays hot evenly. Buy the best skillet, flat griddle and cast-iron Dutch oven that you can afford. You'll also want something called a "lid lifter" to check your Dutch oven contents without burning your fingers off.
The right tools and equipment will help you avoid injuries. Stainless steel tongs will help flip food over without burning appendages as well. A grate or flat portable grill rack, a sturdy camping tripod to hang your Dutch oven from, and metal skewers for marshmallows or shish kebabs and roasted veggies on a stick are all great tools to have. Everything tastes better on a stick.
Folding Campfire Grill Grate
Bring extra heavy duty aluminum foil on your trip. Not only is it good for leftovers, but it's also great for foil packet cooking your meat, fish, and vegetables. Who doesn't love a baked potato on a camping trip? Wrap potatoes up in foil and simply drop in the embers to cook.
A sandwich iron is another cool gadget. These are like a cage with a long handle that you can flip to cook toast or gooey s'mores on both sides. You'll use this piece of equipment to make classic camping food and easy camping cooking recipes, or put a quick sear on your steak.
Sadly someone has to clean up all this rugged fun, and most likely it'll be you. Bring a wire brush for cleaning all your cast iron cookware. Don't forget the heatproof gloves for handling all the hot stuff!
Grilling In the Wild
You don't want to do your grilling over flames. It's the hot embers that do the cooking. The flames will quickly burn your food to a crispy mess. Create your campfire grill by pushing the glowing embers into a pile and position your grill rack over the top. It's the easiest way to safely do some serious outdoor cooking.
Campfire cooking requires a few time adjustments. Since the direct heat from an open flame is so high and constant, the food continues to cook for up to 20 minutes after you take it out of the heat source. So remove your chow sooner rather than later.
Choose Your Open Fire Cooking Method Wisely
There are many ways to cook over a campfire, but the cooking method and cookware you need to bring with you depend on what recipe you're planning to make. If a big stew is the menu, then you need a thick heavy duty Dutch oven or at least a cast iron pot for the low and slow cooking method.
For quick hot dogs or hamburgers, just bring your handy dandy grill grate, tongs, and skewers for roasted corn on the cob and leave what you can at home.
Water and Sand. That's your bucket list. Have one of each. In case of a sudden wind or other emergency, have a bucket of water and a bucket of sand within close reach. You'll need them anyway when it's time to extinguish your campfire. Always have a first aid kit with you too.
Try to avoid any campfire recipes that that require much oil. A little olive oil on your fish is ok but make sure to have a spray bottle to squash out any stray embers that may fly off without dousing your whole meal in water.
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