How to Cook Over a Campfire

Pelican Flyer  |  August 08, 2020

If you ask someone what their favorite part of camping is, there’s a good chance that they’ll mention hanging out by the fire and eating delicious food. What’s not to love? From gooey s’mores and apple pie packets to juicy skirt steaks and hearty stews, the number of mouthwatering foods you can make over a campfire is truly endless.

If you’re wondering how to cook over a campfire, you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’re sharing a few tips and pointers to help you master the open flame and prepare top-notch meals on your next camping adventure.

Get the Right Tools

The first step to learning how to cook over a campfire is getting the right tools for the job. Your cooking equipment can be simple or fancy, depending on the meals you want to make.

For beginners, we recommend getting a portable grill grate. Grill grates make campfire cooking easier by providing a stable and level cooking surface. Not all campsites have grill grates, so be sure to bring your own just in case–especially if you’re boondocking.

You should also invest in cast iron cookware, such as a cast-iron skillet and a cast-iron pot. Although cast iron can be a bit heavy to carry around, they can make some amazingly delicious campfire meals.

Don’t forget to bring the following cookware essentials:

  • Insulated work gloves (for lifting hot cookware)
  • Heat-proof utensils
  • Reusable plates and cups
  • Stainless steel grill brush (to clean your grill grate afterward)
  • LED headlamp for hands-free cook prep in the dark

Do the Prep Work at Home

Try to do as much food prep at home as you can before your camping trip. Cooking over a campfire is easier when your food has already been cut, chopped and marinated. Pack your favorite spices and other must-have ingredients in a Ziploc bag and bring them along to give your food some flavor.

Store perishable food items such as meat and dairy in an insulated cooler and be sure to pack it with frozen water bottles and jugs. Depending on where you’re camping and how many people you plan to feed, you may want to invest in a rolling cooler for easy transport.

Need a cooler for your next camping adventure? Visit the official Pelican store and shop coolers in a range of styles and sizes.

pelican consumer blog cooking on a campfire

Build the Perfect Cooking Fire

The secret to amazing campfire cooking is the coals. You do NOT want to cook your food directly over an open flame, as this will only result in you burning your food.

Instead, you want to build a fire that burns evenly and let it slowly die down so that coals are white-hot. If you’ve never built a fire before, check out our blog post—How to Start a Campfire—to learn more.

When building a campfire, remember to keep the following in mind:

  • Choose a safe location for your fire. A pre-made fire pit is the safest option, but barring that, pick a spot on level ground that is free of hanging tree branches and other structures.
  • Never move firewood from your home to a campsite. Always buy or gather firewood at your campsite to avoid the risk of starting a new infestation of invasive pests. For maximum flavor, buy oak or mesquite wood.
  • Keep a bucket of sand and/or water nearby. To reduce the risk of forest fires, have sand and water nearby so you can extinguish the fire safely after you’ve finished cooking.

Choose Your Preferred Cooking Method

Now, it’s time to get cooking. But how?

If you want to make things ridiculously easy, make-ahead tin foil packets are always a safe bet for beginners. Just throw chopped vegetables and meat into a tin foil packet, cook it over the coals, and boom—you have a delicious meal with little to no cleanup.

For cast-iron cooking, we recommend practicing with a cast-iron skillet at home before you decide to try cooking over an open flame. And once you get the hang of it, be sure to skip the oil and use butter instead (oil is more likely to cause fire flare-ups).

Dutch ovens are nice for cooking savory chili recipes and hearty stews over a campfire. Depending on what you’re cooking, you can place your Dutch oven directly on the coals (ideal for browning meat) or elevate it with a wire rack for low-and-slow braising.

Mastering the Art of Campfire Cooking

It’s a simple fact of camping: Everything tastes better when cooked over a campfire. The open flame gives your food that irresistible, charred smokey flavor that you can’t replicate easily at home. By putting these tips into action, you’ll be a camping cookfire master in no time.

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