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  Essentials of Campfire Cooking - a family looking at a campfire at night and smiling - A tent is in the background

Cooking Under The Stars:
Essentials of Campfire Cooking

Last Updated: June 01, 2016
By: Taira Jordan

In This Article: How To Build A Campfire Campfire Cooking

The sun has set on a fun day of hiking and swimming in the lake and you're ready to begin the thing you've been looking forward to all day: cooking around the campfire. Whether you simply roast marshmallows to make s'mores or plan a 5-course campfire meal, cooking around the campfire is one of the most memorable parts of camping.

New to Camping? Here's a primer on planning your next great camping trip as well as an essential camping checklist to make sure you have everything you need.


How To Build a Campfire

Before you build your campfire, check park regulations to make sure that fire danger is low and that campfires are permitted at your campsite. Plan to build your fire at least 10 feet away from all tents, canopies or any other equipment that could easily catch fire, in a cleared area free of trees, roots and dry leaves. If there isn't already a fire pit in your campsite, make a ring of rocks to help contain the fire. Gather firewood and kindling, collecting only fallen branches as firewood should be as dry as possible. With your small sized twigs and kindling, construct a pyramid, lean-to or teepee structure and put kindling inside your small structure while leaving space on the side to let air feed the fire. Your kindling or starter fuel will burn very fast and should include materials such as pine needles, dry leaves and paper scraps. Light your kindling with a match or lighter and as the fire grows, add increasingly larger sticks and then logs when your fire is more established. When building your campfire, keep in mind the following:

  • If your fire will not light, you are most likely using fuel that is either too damp or too large for the size of your fire. Charred wood left behind by other campers is great to use as it is very dry and will burn effectively. Using charred wood also decreases the amount of firewood you need to gather or buy.
  • Your fire will grow more quickly when the diameter of your pyramid or teepee is kept small. Once your kindling is lit, blow on the fire to increase the air flow to grow your fire more rapidly.
  • As smoke is a great bug and insect repellent, add moist, young leaves or sticks to your established fire to create more smoke if bugs are abundant.
  • Never burn synthetic waste material, trash or food scraps. These items should leave your campsite with you.
  • Always have someone watching the campfire - never leave it unattended. Before you leave your fire, make sure that every ember is fully extinguished by removing all fuel, and pouring water on the coals.

If you are in a camping area that does not permit campfires or the gathering of kindling or wood, a portable gas campfire is a great alternative. A fire pit is a forest friendly gas campfire that has all the benefits of a regular campfire without ever having to worry about collecting or buying wood. Plus, gas fires are super easy to turn off when you are done with your campfire. In addition to camping, portable gas fires are great for backyard use.

Campfire Cooking

For the family who doesn't have the time to go all out on a campfire meal, campfire roasting sticks are great for cooking the essentials with minimal prep time or mess. Use roasting sticks to easily cook hot dogs, shish kebabs, corn-on-the-cob and the campfire staple: marshmallows.

a campfire smore on a wood table

To make the perfect s'more, put a marshmallow on a roasting stick and hold it on the fire until the marshmallow is golden brown. Get two graham cracker halves and two squares of chocolate and put chocolate in between the graham crackers and slide the marshmallow in the middle. The roasted marshmallow will melt the chocolate, creating a melted and delicious dessert. Alternately, you can take a sugar cone and fill it with pieces of chocolate and marshmallow, cover the whole thing in foil and grill it over the campfire. The result is a less-messy take on the classic s'more.

When cooking on the campfire, you can create a variety of dishes using a few, simple types of cookware. Use a Dutch oven and your favorite Dutch oven campfire recipe to make chili, stew, soup and pot roast type dishes. Simply add your ingredients, close the lid and allow your meal to simmer on the campfire for a few hours. The resulting hearty meal tastes amazing after a day spent outdoors.

Use a Dutch oven and your favorite Dutch oven campfire recipe to make chili, stew, soup and pot roast type dishes.

You can start your day with pancakes and breakfast potatoes made on a cast-iron skillet and grill your catch-of-the-day at the end of the day. Finish your meal with a banana boat grilled on a cast-iron skillet. To make, take a whole banana and slice it lengthwise, leaving the peel on. Put chocolate, marshmallows, peanut butter and waffle cone pieces inside the banana. Wrap the whole thing in foil and cook until it is melted. The result is a treat that could rival the classic s'more!