Open Fire Cooking: Everything You Need to Know
It is been a busy week, and all you want to do is get away for the weekend. Camping with the family or even camping solo to get away from the hustle and bustle of your day to day life sounds good. You know you are going to have cook for everyone, but in most cases will only have a fire to do that with. Even if you have an RV, cooking food over the fire is a great way to cook while you are camping. In this blog, we are going to discuss the most common form of cooking while you are camping, open fire cooking. Cooking over an open fire is a little unpredictable, and this is because you do not have a specific temperature that you can go off when cooking. For some it is easy, they use gas stoves at home, and it is similar in that you are watching the flames and not some temperature reading. Those that have electric stoves, it is a little harder to determine, but we are going to give you some tips that should help.
Building the right fire
Let us face it, building the perfect fire to some is the easiest part. Create a fire ring for safety if there is not one provided (you can use rocks, or dig a pit). Place the wood in the middle of the circle and start it. The right fire seems like it should be easy, however, a fire used for cooking is different from a fire for sitting next to and keeping warm at night around. A fire built for cooking will be smaller and needs to burn for about an hour, to ensure that you will make enough hot coals, as well as a great temperature to cook it.
Most campsites have a premade area for you to build your fire in, it will vary in size, but the goal is the same for cooking. Depending on the equipment you bring with you, which will be discussed later, will determine the size of the fire and the room you will need to make it.
The tepee method is a great method to use for cooking, this will ensure that you will have a fire that burns at a slow, consistent pace. This also allows you to separate the areas of your fire pit into two spots. One for your fire and an area for you to place a circle of rocks for cooking anything in a pot or pan. You will need logs that are about the same length and size, as well as some tinder to get the fire going. Take two logs and place into a V-shape in the pit that you want to start your fire. Place some tinder underneath, and then place your remaining logs in a circle around the tinder, making sure that the logs form a tepee shape. Place your grill rack across the top of the logs to ensure it is level or as even as possible, and the right height.
Next to this area, if you are going to cook using a pot or pan and do not have a rack to set over the fire, then some flat smooth stones in a circle next to the fire is a great thing to have. If you are going to cook with pans, you will place your stones, which should be about the size of a softball with flat tops. Place those in a circle with a good center where the coals can be placed. Place your pot on top of those rocks to make sure that it is level and not going to be tipped if too far over. Start your kindling on fire, as it burns, it will burn more evenly and at close to the same temperature. Glowing coals or embers are ideal for roasting, and you will want to move them into your circle of stones. This will require a long stick, and during the cooking process, you can move more over if needed.
Most people build too big of a fire, and it is a rookie mistake that most do not even realize that they are doing. It will burn down quick and then you are left with coals that are too hot and no real direct flame to cook over. Later in the evening after your cooking is all done, you can add bigger and more pieces of wood to create a great bonfire.
Best Open Fire Cooking Tools
There are many types of cooking equipment that has come onto the market as of late, to make campfire cooking even more easier. Here is a list of the most common cooking tools, as well as some of the more common items you should bring with you.
Grill Grates or Cooking Grates
These are useful for cooking food directly on them or even putting pots and pans on it. Grates can come with legs on them to put over the fire itself, or without legs, in which case you can put on the stone circle you made next to the fire.
Grates with the legs would be great for cooking items such as hot dogs, hamburgers, even some steaks in which they would require more of a direct flame. You can put foil and pot dinners on this grate as well but remember this is a direct flame when over the open fire. One thing to keep in mind, is that this food will cook faster and has a higher chance to burn if you do not have enough distance from the flame.
Grates that do not have legs, these can be put on the stone circle that you made. These are great for foil dinners and any items that you would be bake. Since the coals or embers from your fire are in the middle of the stones, this is not a direct flame and will have more of baking property to it or like cooking in an oven. Slow cooked meals in a pot or pan would be a great way to use this grate over the embers as well.
Dutch ovens and cast-iron skillets
Dutch ovens and cast-iron skillets are the best types of pots and pans to bring with you. The high heat from the wood fire could do damage to your nonstick pots or pans, so it is a good idea to get ahold of these types instead. These will distribute the heat from the fire evenly which makes it good for cooking over an open fire or on coals. The Dutch ovens are used for casseroles, stews, soups, etc. The skillets would be useful for pancakes, frying fish, etc. Make sure you get one big enough for the size of your family, you do not want one too small or big, that you must cook longer or have too much extra food that you cannot store for later.
This is the most common item that campers bring with them. They are very helpful for roasting foods over the open fire. You will use these for anything that you can stick them through and cook over the open fire. Most commonly are marshmallows, but you can use the skewers for about anything that you can stick them through; hot dogs, brats, and vegetables. These are very easy to pack with since they are not bulky, easy to clean, and can deliver delicious roasted meals over the fire. Make sure that you pick long handled ones so that you stay far enough away from the fire.
This is a portable rotisserie that is a great way to roast big cuts of meat. It has a battery pack on it to turn the rod for you so that you do not have to sit next to it to manually turn it. This would be a great thing for items like roasts, chicken or even pork over the fire. The key with this again is to make sure that you build your fire appropriately so that your rotisserie is far enough over the fire to not burn your meat.
Aluminum Foil and Common Items
Aluminum foil is your friend at a campsite. Whether it be for cooking in or to wrap up leftovers. This is one of those must-haves on any camping outing. If you are going to cook in the foil, make sure you bring cooking spray so that the food does not stick. Also when wrapping food in the foil, give yourself enough space to wrap it on top so that nothing gets into the foil. You don’t want ash or bugs getting into your food while cooking it. Other items to consider taking with you would be: Ziploc baggies, cling film, oven mitts, knife, tongs, and a chopping board.
How to Cook Your Food
Now that you have the fire and the tools you want to use, now it is time to cook your food. Always make sure that you have a meat thermometer for meats like chicken, pork, or fish. Bacteria can grow on food that warms prior to cooking, so make sure you pull your meat out just before cooking. Camping weather is always usually warmer, and this is a great breeding ground for the bacteria.
Knowing what to cook is also a key thing to remember, as food that creates drippy fat as they cook may cause the fire to flare-up. Try to stay away from foods that need to be fried or use oil, and if you must cook something that needs to have these, try to use a Dutch oven. This has more protection to keep from oil or fat spraying into the fire.
Make sure that when cooking over the flame, you are not cooking directly on the fire. This will burn your food guaranteed, you want enough room for the flames not to be touching the food directly. Do not cook your food for too long, there is a resting period for foods when cooking over an open flame. Fire roasted meals will stay hotter longer once cooked. This is something that occurs during the resting period, the meat can continue to cook for up to 20 minutes. Keep this in mind when cooking.
Foil-wrapped meals will continue to steam once they are pulled off the fire. Whether you are cooking above the open flame, or on the embers or coals. This is especially true for vegetables, like potatoes and corn. This is also true for large pieces of meat or whole fish. Be very careful when opening your foil, as the steam will come out and be extremely hot, you can burn yourself doing this.
Also, use patience when cooking at the campground. Remember this is not something that you can walk away from for long and getting impatient may cause you to undercook your meat. This also can get in the way of you creating the wrong fire, or not letting the fire burn long enough before starting. Let the kids help you out, let them wrap the foods in the foil, or hold one of the skewers over the fire. Kids love to help out, and especially when cooking food if it lets them be in charge of their own meal next to the fire.
In conclusion, once you are done making your food, make sure that you store all your food away from the fire and in proper containers. If you are going to use the same fire as cooking for heat later, the tepee method you used to make your first fire, will be great for adding logs to make it higher and hotter for later for warmth. The perfect bonfire at night is a must-have. Always make sure that you have water or sand on hand to put out your fire. Once you have the fire out, use your long stick or a skewer to stir the coals or embers to make sure that there are still none burning or red. If there are, repeat the process of pouring water or sand on them to make sure that it is completely extinguished. Have fun and enjoy the food, there is nothing else like it.
- Real Simple: Campfire cooking tips
- Firepit and Grilling Guru: Campfire cooking equipment
- The Kitchen: 5 Rookie mistakes when open fire cooking
- Thrillspire: Essential tools needed for campfire cooking