No matter how spectacular the scenery, meals around the campfire are often the highlight of the camper's day.
Modern camp stoves and specialized cookware make the cook’s job easier, but nothing beats the taste and appeal of a meal cooked over the campfire. Success at campfire cooking will encourage you to go camping more often.
Caution and Respect
In days gone by, cooking over an open fire could be taken for granted. Today, with concerns about air quality, restricted areas for camping and dwindling firewood stocks in many campgrounds, the freedom to cook over an open fire is a privilege which requires the utmost in caution and respect. Here are a few important considerations:
Campfire cooking requires a clean-burning, hot fire. This is only achieved with dry, seasoned wood. Stripping trees of green wood is fruitless – your fire will be smoky, will burn poorly and create unnecessary pollution. If dry wood is not available, it will need to be packed in. Many public campgrounds supply firewood – call ahead to see what’s available.
Pay close attention to the ground before preparing any fire. In circumstances where building your fire on a rock is not possible, one should ensure that the base of the fire is on bare mineral soil. A fire that is burning all evening has lots of time to burn through the organic layer of the soil and will not be put out with a simple bucket of water. Use previously established fire pits if available, to avoid scarring the area with more fire pits.
Any medium to strong wind is hazardous. The danger of sparks getting away can ignite a forest fire. Also, the coals will reduce more quickly and provide much less cooking time. If substantial wind shelter is unavailable, any outdoor fire is out of the question.
How to Build a Campfire for Cooking
The object is to have all the wood turn into coals at the same time. This gives an even fire with no flames reaching up to burn your food or blacken your cookware. It also yields the longest cooking time from the coals.
Prepare the Site
- Select a fire site at least 8′ from bushes or any combustibles. Be sure no tree branches overhang the site.
- Make a U-shaped perimeter using large rocks or green logs. If using logs, they’ll need to be wet down from time to time. If breezy, have back of firepit face the wind.
- Put a large flat rock at the rear of the firepit to act as a chimney. The “chimney rock” will help direct the smoke up and away.
Lay the Kindling
- Fill the fire area with crumpled paper or tinder.
- Lay kindling over paper in layers, alternating direction with each layer. Use thin splits of wood or small dead branches. Do not put kindling down “teepee style”. The whole fire area should be covered with the kindling stack.
- Set a bucket of water near the fire area. Light the paper to start your fire.
Build the Fire, Grade the Coals
- When kindling is ablaze, add firewood. The wood should be all the same size, as much as possible. Use hardwood or hardwood branches if available. Distribute wood evenly over fire bed.
- As soon as the last flames die down leaving mostly white coals, use a stick to push the coals into a higher level at the back end and lower level at the front. This will give you the equivalent of ‘Hi’, ‘Med’ and ‘Low’ cook settings. Or, level the coals to your preference.
To cook, set the grill on rocks or wetted green logs. Put food directly on grill or in cookware and prepare your meal. If cooking directly on the grill, a small spray bottle or squirt gun is handy for shooting down any rogue flames, usually caused by food drippings.
As the fire diminishes, bank the coals to get the most heat from them.
After cooking, add wood for your evening campfire. Before retiring, extinguish thoroughly and soak with water. Turn rocks in on fire bed. It will be easy to reassemble the next day if required.
Fire-Safe Ovens and High-Efficiency Stoves for Outdoor Cooking
If you are unable to have a campfire due to fire restrictions, a solar oven a great alternative. All you need is sunlight and you can bake, boil, or steam without any flame. Another option is an enclosed stove, such as a ‘rocket stove’, which provides low emission, high efficiency contained fires for outdoor cooking.
SunOven: For Camp Cooking in Areas Where Fires Are Restricted
- Bakes, boils, or steams any kind of food with the power of the sun
- No fire needed! No fuel needed!
- Ideal for everyday use in your backyard, at picnics, while camping, or in the event of a power failure
For more information, view our solar ovens for sale.
Rocket Stoves: For Safe, Contained, Efficient Cooking Fires
- Burns wood, charcoal, or any solid biomass
- Super-efficient use of fuel; insulated chamber results in very low emissions
- Ideal for outdoor camping, picnics and emergency preparedness
- Available in three model options: Dura, Versa, and Plancha
For more information, view our rocket stoves for sale. For recipes designed for your rocket stove, see Cooking Tips and Recipes for Your Ecozoom Rocket Stove.
Clean Water for Campfire Cooking
When preparing meals outdoors, you have several choices to ensure your water is safe for cooking and drinking:
- Use water from a reliable drinking water source such as the standpipe in a campground. Parks and other authorities will identify these as potable water sources.
- Bring water into your campsite using Water Bricks or other food-grade containers.
- Boil water gathered from any wilderness sources for at least one minute before using it for cooking. If you’re at elevations higher than 2,000 meters (6,562 feet), boil water for at least three minutes.
- Purify cooking water with reliable backcountry water filter before adding it to the pot.
Recipes for Campfire Meals
Simple to make, four basic ingredients, one bowl to wash. This kids’ favorite is tasty, nutritious, and fun to cook on a stick over the campfire.
It can also be cooked in a skillet. Bannock can be a meal in itself.
- 2-3 cups flour
- 1-2 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt (optional)
- 2-3 Tbsp oil, butter or lard
- 2/3 cup warm water
Put everything but the water in a bowl and mix with your fingers until crumbly. Slowly add water and mix until dough feels soft. It may seem that you don’t have enough water, but keep working the dough till it holds together. Don’t add more water!
Take a small handful and wrap around the end of a green stick, like a marshmallow roast. Knead it so it stays together. If your dough isn’t staying on your stick, you can also roll into a thin cylinder and wrap around your stick in a spiral. Cook over coals for about 10 – 12 minutes, rotating to cook evenly. Eat as is, or add a bit of jam or honey.
Chop, skewer and cook…couldn’t be easier! Let the campers cook their own meals – it’s a fun activity and much more nutritious than the standard wiener roast.
- Beef or pork cut into 1″ cubes
- Small whole onions
- Red or green peppers, whole mushrooms, whole cherry tomatoes
Brown the cubed meat in a skillet over high heat for 1/2 minute on each side. Cut the peppers in large chunks, leave the other vegetables whole. Slip the pieces onto a skewer, alternating the ingredients. (Skewer the onions and mushrooms through the core, or they might fall off while cooking.) Cook over the open fire for 15-20 minutes till done. Sprinkle with grated cheese and breadcrumbs before serving.
This meal pretty much cooks itself: just leave it in the coals! Be sure to count how many potatoes you put in the fire, because the foil becomes covered with ash, and blends in well with the coals.
- Large baking potatoes
- Whole onions, red or yellow
- Dill, parsley, bacon bits
Slice potato almost all the way through, but leave enough to hold it together. Slice the onion, and put one slice in between each potato slice. Sprinkle with bacon bits and a little dill. Wrap well with heavy aluminum foil and bury in the coals of the fire.
Leave untouched for about 45 minutes, and test for doneness by piercing with a fork. The fork should lift out without lifting the potato. Cooking time depends on size of potatoes and strength of fire. Serve with pat of butter and a few sprigs of parsley.
Beer Batter Fish Fillets
If you’ve had luck fishing, do the catch justice with this simple, mouth watering recipe. Be sure to dry the fillets on the outside so the batter will stick while cooking. Cook over medium heat.
- 1/2 pound fish fillets per person (or two small, cleaned pan fish per person)
- 1 cup buttermilk pancake mix
- 3/4 cup beer
- 1/4 cup cooking oil
- Parsley, dill, lemon
In a small bowl, blend the buttermilk pancake mix with the beer using a fork. Whip the batter until smooth and the consistency of heavy cream. Blot the fillets dry using a napkin or paper towel, and dip in the batter. Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the fillets until golden brown on the outside.
The meat should be moist and shiny on the inside. Be careful not to overcook: fillet should flake easily when tested with a fork. Serve with a sprinkle of dill and garnish with parsley and lemon slice.
For more delicious campfire cooking recipes, read Incredibly Delicious Recipes for Your Next Camp-Out
Pan-fried fritters are great for breakfast and the leftovers keep well for lunch or snacks. You can make your own variations on this simple theme, but remember the secret to successful fritters: the oil must be very hot before setting in the batter.
- 2 cups corn bread mix
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup canned corn, drained
- 1/4 cup cooking oil
Put the corn bread mix in a bowl and, using a fork to blend, gradually add the water. Be careful not to over-blend. The dough should be quite stiff. Add the corn, which should be well drained. Put about one-fourth of the oil in a skillet and heat. Ladle the batter into the hot oil and fry for about two minutes, turning once. Serve with syrup, honey or butter. This recipe makes about 12 fritters.
Recipes from Eartheasy Readers
Here’s a wonderful method for campfire meals which is simple, versatile, and doesn’t even require cookware or a grill. All you need is some heavy-duty tin foil.
Tear off a 12″ sheet of foil and fold it back over your fist, making a “pocket.” Roll the sides in a few turns so the pocket is only open at the top, and roll a turn or two up from the bottom for extra strength. The pocket needs to be leak-proof, and formed well enough to withstand cooking directly in the coals. If your foil is thin, you may need two layers.
Start by lining the bottom of the pocket with thin slices of lemon. This helps keep the food contents from burning, and imparts flavor to the meal. Chop potatoes and carrots (cut small enough to cook all the way without overcooking everything else), tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, onions, green beans, etc. and stuff the pockets. Add garlic, salt and pepper, olive oil, and a dash of cayenne. Add 1/4 cup of beer or water, fold the top edges of the pocket closed and set directly into the hot coals….it takes anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, depending on how everything’s cut. All the veggies slow roast in their own juices! – Jessa, Jen, Lori and Sarah
I think my most favorite campfire meal is really true “Campfire Beans.” I make them with whatever is in the cooler starting with the bacon drippings from breakfast, then add onions and other veggies … toss in the DRY beans (if they have been soaked great, but it does not matter).
This is done in a cast iron pot, nestled in the coals … I put in whatever meat is available … we often have frozen venison, but beef and pork do fine too. Add garlic and any other seasoning you like…do not be afraid of a pinch of cinnamon…. keep adding liquid … beer, wine, water … a few bullion cubes help … chopped celery, diced tomatoes (this is a great way to use the veggies that get soft in the cooler). – Lee
Here’s a recipe that the entire family will enjoy! Start with heavy duty foil and tear off a square, if using thin foil, double it up. Place a fish fillet in the foil, (trout’s the best to use for this recipe, but any fish will do). Place halved cherry tomato, halved small lemon, and a pinch of garlic and lemon salt in the foil. Pure about 1/3 cup of Sprite or 7up in the foil. Seal the foil tightly and place the pocket on the coals for approximately 10-15 minutes. Remove from coals and watch the reaction from the entire family! – Lori
In the center of a large piece of heavy duty aluminum foil place a hamburger patty (venison or chicken breasts would also work). On top of the burger, place a thin slice of onion. Wash potatoes with skins on, slice thinly and add a layer of potatoes on top of the onions. Add salt, pepper, garlic and a large spoon of canned baked beans (Bush’s hickory bacon are my favorite). Bring edges of foil together and fold down to seal then roll ends to finish sealing. Place in hot coals for 30 to 45 min til done. NO muss! NO fuss! GREAT eating! – Lynn
An all time favorite meal in our family is a classic we called campers stew … It’s a simple mess-free dinner the whole family can enjoy.
On a 15 ” strip of aluminum foil, crumble hamburger and top it with finely chopped potatoes, onions, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, and any vegetable you have on hand. Add salt, pepper and a tsp of butter to the top. Wrap it up tight and stick on a bed of hot coals. When it’s done add Tabasco or ketchup. Ummmmmm. It’s fabulous. – Shannon
Roasted New Potatoes
- 2 lbs small new potatoes (washed)
- Olive Oil
- 2 tablespoons dried rosemary (you can also used thyme and oregano)
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon black pepper, salt
In plenty of salted water, parboil the potatoes until the tip of a knife can be inserted easily (roughly 10 minutes depending on size). Drain, then toss the potatoes in enough oil to just coat them, then toss with the rosemary, garlic powder, paprika and about 1 1/2 teaspoons salt as well as the pepper. On a campfire grill, grill over direct heat, turning often, until browned and grill marked, 10-15 minutes. Serves 6 – 8. – Tom
Camping Corn Hash
- 1 can corn and its liquid
- 5 long slices of bacon cut into rough squares
- 1/2 medium onion diced
- 1/2 can diced tomatoes
- Salt, pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
In a cast iron skillet, begin frying your bacon until it gives all of its grease and the bacon is browned and crispy. Add the onions directly to the skillet. Fry the onions for about two minutes. Add a dash of salt. Add the diced tomatoes and the can of corn with the corn liquid. Cook the mixture until nearly all of the water has boiled out. Add the pepper and pepper flakes if desired. Serve immediately. – Kami
Simple Campfire Desserts
Cut a banana in half lengthwise (so you have two half moons), sprinkle chocolate over the flesh of the banana. Wrap the banana in tin foil and place in the fire/coals. Leave it there for about 10 minutes or so: result: nice soft banana with delicious chocolate sauce!!!
Make a hole in an apple, so the seeds are gone. Put apple on top of a piece of tinfoil. Then mix some sugar with cinnamon. Pour the cinnamon mixture into the hole in the apple. The tinfoil prevents it from running away. Then wrap the tinfoil around the apple. Put it for 10-15 minutes in the fire: Result: a nice soft applesauce in an apple skin!! – Henriette
Put a marshmallow on a stick and hold it over the fire until it is just right, then get two graham crackers and two pieces of chocolate; put the chocolate in between the crackers and slide the marshmallow on and you have a smore. – Lisa
You’ll need one can of biscuit mix and one can of your favorite pie filling (apples, peaches, cherry). Roll the biscuits out to about six inches or so. Put a tablespoon or two of pie filling into biscuit and fold over pressing edges close with a fork. Brown in a skillet in some butter and when golden brown, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Homemade pie right at the campsite. – Mary Lou
Take an orange and cut about half an inch off the top, keeping the top. Take a spoon and scrape out the insides, then fill the orange with brownie mix. Put the top back on the brownie and completely cover the orange in foil. Then let the orange cook in the coals for about 20 minutes or until the brownie is done. Enjoy the brownie. – Dani
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