Campfire Cookouts 101: 6 Tips for Cooking Food Over a Campfire

When the weather warms up, it’s time to pack up your sleeping bags and lace up your hiking boots to enjoy the great outdoors with a good, old-fashioned camping trip. Spending nights under a clear star-filled sky and filling your days with hiking or fishing is the best way to experience Mother Nature to her fullest.

Before you head off-road and lose your cell phone signal, don’t forget to head to your local grocery store and stock up on all the food you’ll need for your trip. 

While cooking over a campfire can intimidate the outdoor-friendly recipe rookie, there’s nothing quite like a hearty campfire-cooked meal after a long day of hiking and wilderness exploration. The fire imparts a delicious smoky flavor to whatever food you cook, and the dim light of a kindled campfire will add to the campsite-cozy ambiance, making for an unforgettable dining experience. 

If you’re nervous about cooking over a fire, here are six tips to ensure that every dish you make is mouth-wateringly irresistible.

Use the right gear

Packing the correct cooking gear is essential for a positive campfire cooking experience. Whether you choose to invest in a complete campfire cooking kit or you decide to buy all of your equipment separately, you’ll need a grill grate, pots and pans, tongs, and an effective cooler for a lip-smacking outdoor meal. 

A grate provides a stable surface for your food to rest on and cook. In your search, try to find a grate with legs or a stand so that you can elevate your cooking surface above the flames. When it comes to pots and pans, cast iron cooking equipment is perfect for campfire meals, so long as you don’t have to hike with it. The properties of cast iron allow heat to be conducted evenly across its surface, ensuring your food is cooked quickly and thoroughly.

Build the perfect fire

One of the most critical parts of campfire cooking is ensuring that you build your fire well. Use seasoned wood, which is wood from which all moisture is removed, making it perfectly dry and flammable. The type of wood you use will also impact the flavor of your food.

Oak, hickory, or mesquite wood are popular options for campfire cooking, but if you’re sourcing wood from around your campsite, ash is an excellent alternative.

Select a safe place to build and light your campfire. If your campsite has a designated pre-built fire pit, use that instead of building your fire elsewhere. Ensure your fire pit is clear of debris like leaves and grass, and don’t light a fire underneath hanging tree branches or any other overhead structures.

Complete prep work at home

Chopping and slicing meats and vegetables can be difficult at your campsite without counter space or many clean surfaces. For optimal time savings and efficiency, complete as much food prep at home as possible, rather than trying to prepare your meal after you unpack your car and assemble your tent.

Additionally, pack your raw ingredients up in storage containers and store them in a cooler packed with ice. 

Once you’re ready to begin cooking, simply toss your ingredients into your pot or pan of choice and place it over your fire. This food prep method also ensures you and your family can start eating a nice, healthy meal as soon as possible, which is a must after working up an appetite post-mid-day hike. 

Pack plenty of aluminum foil

Aluminum foil is any campfire chef’s best friend. Not only can you line your pots and pans with foil to make the clean-up process hassle-free, but you can also fold them up to form small cooking containers or parcels. 

Foil packet meals are a very popular option for seasoned campers looking to make a quick and simple meal, especially with protein. Simply encase all of your ingredients and seasonings in aluminum foil and place your packet on hot coals to cook.

After your food is done cooking, use your tongs to remove the packet from the coals. From there, you can unfold the aluminum foil to reveal a juicy meal ready to be devoured.

Don’t cook directly over open flames

Those who don’t have experience with campfire cooking might assume that cooking over the fire’s raging flames is the best method of preparing your meals. However, cooking over naked flames will only lead to burnt and charred dishes, and the fire won’t disperse the heat evenly around your cookware. 

For a more consistent cooking experience, allow the fire to burn down to hot, white coals, place your grill grate over those coals, and begin cooking. If you don’t want your fire to burn out completely to cook your meal, set aside a designated cooking area with coals and let your campfire continue to burn separately.

Have water and sand at the ready

Though the weather may be nice when you begin to make your fire, sudden gusts of wind that blow through your campsite pose a massive threat to the wilderness around you. To ensure you don’t accidentally start a wildfire or set your tent on fire, keep a bucket of water and a bucket of sand at the ready to put out any spreading flames. 

Once you’ve wrapped up campfire cooking sessions and are ready to head to your sleeping bags, douse your fire pit with water and a little sand. Stir the embers with a long metal skewer and repeat this process until the coals no longer glow and your fire is completely cold.

The bottom line

If you love spending time in the great outdoors, cooking over a fire is a skill you’ll want to master. You and your family will begin to look forward to your mealtimes together for the experience and the delicious food. Campfire cooking is an excellent way to make flavorful meals and memories you and your family will treasure forever.

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