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How to Cook Over a Fire (Pro Campfire Cooking Tips)

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One of the best parts of camping is gathering around the campfire in the evening.

But you know what can make that experience even better? Food!

And don’t worry if you never cooked over a campfire before.

Today, we’ll go over everything there is to know about that, as well as all the tools you need to do it.

Let’s dive in.

Tips to Cook Over a Fire

If you never cooked over an open fire, here are some tips that you should know before even trying.

Build Your Fire Correctly

How to Cook Over a Fire

Making a fire isn’t a tough task, but there are still a few things you need to make sure of. In other words, you need to:

  • Use the right wood
  • Find a suitable location

Collecting kindle from fallen branches is always a plus, but you shouldn’t use just any tree.

Ideally, you want species like oak, ash, hazel, beech and birch. Of course, it also has to be dry.

Wet wood doesn’t burn very well and it makes a lot of smoke.

Depending on the location you’re camping at, you might not have access to firewood, so you’ll have to bring your own.

Just keep in mind that you shouldn’t move firewood by more than 50 miles.

That’s because it might contain certain invasive insects and diseases that can spread to the local tree population.

As for the location, you want to set up the campfire in an open area, with at least 10 feet of distance from surrounding trees or bushes.

If there isn’t one already available, you want to dig up a fire pit and form a perimeter around it with stones to prevent fire from spreading.

When building a campfire, start by laying down the tinder.

Then, stack kindling on top of it (in conical, pyramidal or in a log cabin type), then finish up with the frame for the rest of your fire.

Keep in mind that you can’t cook the second you light up the campfire.

Instead, you need to wait for kindling to burn and you’re left with white coals, which can take anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour.

Read: Best Types Of Wood For A Campfire

Use the Right Gear

grilling on open fire How to Cook Over a Fire

You can make tons of different meals over a fire, but having the right equipment is a must.

At the very least, you need adequate cookware that can withstand the high heat of the campfire.

Cast iron is, hands down, the best option out there, but it’s quite heavy.

Good alternatives that weigh less are stainless steel and aluminum.

Of course, you shouldn’t forget about utensils either.

Just like cookware, your utensils need to be made of suitable material to withstand the high heat of an open fire.

After you’re done eating, you’ll need to wash your dishes, so make sure you have cleaning gear as well.

If you’re using a grill, that also means having grill gloves and a wire grill brush.

Don’t Forget the Aluminum Foil

I simply love cooking over a fire with aluminum foil.

Aluminum foil is both cheap and easy to pack, taking almost no storage space.

Not to mention the convenience of not having to wash the dishes after cooking.

But what’s even better is that you can use it for practically anything – be it meat, veggies, fish or even fruit.

Now, you might have heard that aluminum can leech into your food when heated. And that’s true.

But – the amount is too small to be dangerous to our health. Plus, aluminum is all around us.

We’re exposed to it every day, be it through drinks, food or even cosmetic products.

Heck, even aspirin can contain aluminum in small dosages. So there’s really no reason to be worried about cooking with aluminum foil.

Do the Food Prep at Home

doing food prep at home How to Cook Over a Fire

Trust me, doing food prep at home saves you a lot of time and effort.

By this, I mean slicing and cutting both meat and veggies, then packing them into releasable bags and storing them in a cooler.

It’s much easier to simply wash the dishes in the sink or a dishwasher.

In fact, by prepping food at home you don’t even have to pack up the cutting board for your camping trip.

If you own a vacuum sealer, you should definitely use it. By getting rid of all the air, your food can stay fresh for much longer.

Do Not Cook Directly over Naked Flames

Do Not Cook Directly over Naked Flames

When we say cooking over a fire, we definitely don’t mean placing your food directly on the flames.

Doing that will only result in a burnt meal. That’s because the flames are very hot – we’re talking 2000+ degrees hot!

Instead of putting your pot directly on the fire, you want to use a cooking surface (and we’ll get into your options in a minute).

Wait for the coals to be white hot before placing your cookware.

You should also try building a fire on one side of the fire pit, while moving hot coals to the other side.

The fire side is suitable for roasting meat, grilling veggies and boiling water. The hot coal side is for cooking with foil.

Read: Can You Put Stainless Steel On Open Fire

Choose the Right Cooking Method

make sure to choose right cooking method

I highly recommend planning your meals at home. If you know what you’ll be cooking, then you know what cooking method you’ll be using.

Why does that matter?

Well, if you already know you’ll only be grilling meat and veggies, then you don’t need to bring a Dutch oven with you. But, you’ll need a grate and skewers.

The length of your stay and the number of people you’re cooking for are also factors that affect what cooking method might be more suitable for your camping trip.

Use a Spray Bottle to Dampen Flare-Ups

Always keep a spray bottle by your side when cooking over an open fire. Grease and oil can splatter during cooking, and that can lead to flare-ups.

Flare-ups can easily turn your delicious meal into a bad one.

That’s because they can affect heat distribution, causing your food to get cooked unevenly.

Luckily, that’s easily avoidable with a simple spray bottle. Basically, you just need to spray a bit to keep the fire contained.

Have Water and Sand Ready

No matter how careful you might be with fire, you should always be prepared for accidents.

A sudden breeze can easily cause the fire to spread. Well, that’s why you need water and sand.

If the fire starts spreading or getting bigger, a bucket of each water and sand should be enough to contain it.

Of course, that’s also what you should use to put it out when you’re done cooking. Remember to stir the embers until they’re completely cold.

Cooking Surfaces

As I already said, you can’t just put your food directly onto the fire. So what can you use? Here are your options.

Grill Grate

Grill Grate over a Campfire

A grill grate is a classic tool for cooking while camping. It’s simple to use and quite versatile.

You can place food directly on the grate to achieve those nice grill marks.

In case you’re grilling food that produces a lot of dripping, like a steak or burger, you can use aluminum foil as a layer between the food and the grate.

But the great thing about the grill grate is that it also can work as a stable surface for your pots, pans and Dutch oven.

So when it comes to campfire recipes, you have tons of options if you’re using a grill grate.

Rotisserie Grill and Spit

Who doesn’t like juicy rotisserie chicken? Sounds like the perfect meal for camping.

If storage space is not an issue, having a rotisserie grill and spit can really step up your campfire cooking game.

The rotisserie is great for achieving an even cook on your food. Plus, it also self bastes the meat simultaneously.

Just make sure to place a drip pan underneath it to prevent flare-ups during cooking.

Dutch Oven Stand

dutch oven lid stand (1)

Most Dutch oven meals require a bit of time to cook.

So while your stew is slowly cooking, you might wish to grab a bite, so you want your grill grate available for that.

In that case, I definitely recommend getting a stand for your Dutch oven.

The stand keeps it just at the right height for your food to cook slowly.

Cast-iron Cooking Tripod

Alternatively, you can get a cooking tripod to hold your Dutch oven.

To be honest, there’s no real difference between using a tripod and a stand.

But the tripod is so much cooler – you can feel like a cowboy in the Wild Wild West.

Utensils to Cook Over a Fire

Given that open flames are much hotter than a stove, you’ll need to choose your utensils very carefully.

A Good Fire Cooking Pit

Some campgrounds offer fire cooking pits, but if that’s not the case here, then you need to pack your own.

Nowadays, you can find tons of different models on the market, made of different materials and in different sizes.

There are also “smokeless” models, which have double walls that capture the smoke and prevent it from actively burning wood.

They’re typically slightly more expensive, but well worth it.

Pie Iron with Steel and Wood Handles

How to Cook Over a Fire

To be honest, a pie iron is not a necessity. But it’s a great tool that makes even better toasted sandwiches.

They come in different sizes and are super practical for having a quick meal over an open fire.

Steel Tongs

stee tongs are helpful during camping cooking How to Cook Over a Fire

Steel tongs should be a staple in your cooking setup for flipping your food on the grill.

Now, they come in different lengths, and I definitely recommend going with long ones.

Even though you’re not actually touching the fire, you still want your hands to be as far away from the grill as possible.

Grill Utensil Set

I’m a big fan of grill utensil sets. Having all the tools inside a designated case is practical and time-saving, but also really neat.

It’s like a briefcase you’re carrying to work – except that your work in this situation is to make some great campfire burgers.

Plus, you might also save a bit of money by buying a set instead of each utensil separately.

Long-Handled Spoon

If you plan on cooking stews or soups, a long-handled spoon is a must – for the same reason long tongs are.

When it comes to material, you have several options – wood, steel or aluminum. I prefer using wood, but the other two are definitely much easier to clean.

Top Campfire Cooking Methods

Remember how I said you should choose the right cooking method for your camping trip?

Well, it’s time we discuss that more thoroughly.

I’m not saying you should pick only one. In fact, you can pick as many as you want.

But you should take into consideration your storage space, length of the trip, amount of people, the type of food you packed, etc.

To make your task a bit easier, here are the top methods for cooking over a fire.

Roast Over an Open Flame

This is one of the simplest cooking methods for camping.

If you plan on making hot dogs, sausages and veggie skewers, roasting is the way to go.

Of course, we can’t forget about classic camping comfort food – marshmallows.

Roasting is one of my preferred methods when I’m camping for no more than two nights.

It’s quick and practically without any cleanup. Roasting is also great for backpacking, as you don’t need to pack much aside from skewers.

Wrap and Bake in Foil

How to Cook Over a Fire

Foil wrapping is another simple and convenient way of making food over a fire.

It’s suitable for practically anything, be it meat, veggies, fish or pastry.

And aside from aluminum foil, the only other thing you need are tongs for removing the food from the fire.

Of course, you don’t want to place wrapped food directly on the flames, as it will get scorched.

Instead, you want to place it on coals and flip them every 10 minutes or so.

Grill or Barbecue

A grill is a classic option. It’s versatile and suitable for all kinds of food.

But not just that, grilling also creates grill marks, which give the food that lovely smoky flavor you don’t get with other methods.

You can simply place a grate over the fire or get a portable one that works on gas.

Cast Iron Cooking

You have many options when it comes to cast iron cookware – pans, pots, skillets and, most importantly, a Dutch oven.

The great thing about cast iron cookware is that it can go directly on open flames.

The key lies in the material. Cast iron is great at retaining and distributing heat, so your food will get cooked evenly.

Plus, food simply tastes better when made in cast iron. I don’t know what’s the science behind that, but it simply works.

Other Options for Cooking While Camping

Not favoring any of the previously mentioned cooking methods? Here are some other options you have.

Portable Propane Grill

portable propane grill

Portable propane grills are great.

First, the only thing you need to do is hook up a gas can and start cooking, so you can use it practically anywhere.

Second, propane grills are simple to use. Just turn the knob and you can start and extinguish the flames.

Third, they’re easy to clean. They aren’t mess-free, as you need to empty the drip pan before packing the grill. But it takes only a few minutes, unlike real fire.

And finally, you can use them even when fire bans are in place.

Portable Propane Stove

Stoves are quite versatile, as you can make different meals with them.

Two burners are a classic choice, as you can make multiple things at once. Let’s say you’re making pasta.

You can use one burner to make a sauce and the other to cook the spaghetti.

In case you’re backpacking, a propane stove is your best friend.

To save up on space and weight, you can use a single-burner model instead.

Read: Types of Camping Stoves

Cabin With a Kitchen

Camping doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping in a tent.

You can rent a cabin and get the best of both worlds – enjoying nature while having a roof over your head.

Many cabin rentals nowadays come with a small kitchen with all the necessities.

If that’s the case with you, there’s no need to pack a stove or a cooking pit.


What food can you cook over a fire?

You can cook practically anything you want over a fire, from soups and stews to meat and even dessert.

Depending on the dish, you might need to use different cooking methods.

Is cooking over fire healthy?

Cooking over a fire is just as healthy as cooking on a stove. Just make sure to not cook directly over the flames, as your food will be scorched.

What is the oldest cooking method?

Cooking over an open fire is the oldest cooking method. In fact, the earliest forms of cooking actually involved placing food ingredients straight into a fire.

Is it easy to cook over a fire?

Cooking over a fire is actually quite easy, as it feels like a natural thing to do. The only hard part of the job is keeping the flames tamed.

Does food taste better cooked over a fire?

Whether you’re cooking, grilling, roasting or smoking, the fire gives food a unique flavor.

The burning wood is responsible for the intense aroma and delicious taste the good gets.

What kind of pan can you use over a fire?

Cast iron is the best option for cooking over a fire, as it can withstand high heat easily.

It also does a great job at distributing heat and it remains hot for a long time, so it cooks your food evenly.

To Sum Things Up

Whether you’re a pro chef or just a beginner cook, you’ll surely enjoy cooking over a fire.

It’s easy and quite rewarding – fire simply makes everything taste better!

And with proper cookware and utensils, you can make anything you want.

Next up: Campfire Safety Tips: How to Stay Safe Around the Campfire

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