Mom Goes Camping

How to Cook Over a Campfire (without a grill rack)

Normally, if you want to cook over a campfire, you need a metal grill rack. The grill rack is propped over the fire above the flames and provides a base for your cook pots and pans. If you are going backpacking though, you probably don’t want to bring a grill rack with you. 

First off, the grill rack would add a lot of weight to your pack. It would also complicate things since the rack takes a while to cool down before you can move it, and also gets really dirty after each use. You can still cook over a campfire while backpacking or camping though. Just use one of the methods talked about here.


Why Cook Over a Campfire?

Aside from the fact that it is fun, campfire cooking will save you fuel for your campfire stove. That means you won’t have to bring as much fuel with you, thus further lightening your load.

In my case, I like knowing how to cook over a campfire in case I run out of fuel while in the middle of nowhere.  It’s only happened a few times, but it was a lifesaver.


But You Still Need a Camp Stove

Do not rely on a campfire for cooking your backpacking or camping meals. What if it rains? It takes a lot of work to gather wood for a campfire and get it going.

Do you really want to go through this entire process each time you want to heat water for your coffee or for a quick soup?

Also, there is the issue of fire safety. You should never leave a campfire until it has been completely put out. When I go backpacking with my daughter, we go on day hikes. I bring my camp stove on the day hikes so we can have soup lunch on a nice spot on the trail. It wouldn’t be practical or safe to cook our lunches over a campfire on the trail.

healthy backpacking food

Preparing lunch while on a day hike.


Tips for Campfire Cooking

  • Build up hot coals. Don’t put your food over the campfire until you’ve burnt down a lot of wood to make hot coals in the fire pit.  It’s easier to cook over these coals/embers than the waning flame of kindle.
  • Start early. It takes a while to burn down enough wood to make hot coals.  So start the cooking process early or you will end up sitting in the dark, hungry and grumpy.
  • Smaller is better. You don’t need a giant fire to cook your meals. It will be easier to control the heat and flame if you build a small fire. After you are done cooking, you can always build it up more.
  • Coat your camp pots with dish soap. This is a cool trick that I learned a while back. Normally, when you cook over a fire, your camp pots get a black film all over them which is hard to wash off. If you coat the bottom with a thin layer of dish soap, the black will rub off really easily.


Campfire Cooking Method 1: Cranes

If you have a camp cook pot which has a handle, then this is the best method for campfire cooking. It is known as a cooking crane.  There are various ways to set up a cooking crane over a campfire.

campfire cooking crane 1

campfire cooking crane 2


campfire cooking crane 3

campfire cooking crane 4


Campfire Cooking Method 2: Trench

With this method, you need to dig a small pit. You make your fire in the pit.  Then you can put some thick branches over the pit and use these to prop your cook pot on.  Alternatively, you can prop the pot on the rim of the pit.

campfire cooking trench

Campfire Cooking Method 3: Propped On Rocks

This is how a lot of people in developing countries cook over a fire (hence the picture — I don’t have one of me trying it out).  It works just as well when backpacking though — just find some big rocks to prop your cook pot on.  Again, the key here is to make a small fire between the rocks.

campfire cooking propped on rocks


Campfire Cooking Method 4: On Top of a Hot Rock

I’ve never tried this one, and I bet it would take a really long time to heat the rock up enough to get water boiling.  I’m usually too hungry to wait that long!  But it is still a good option to know about, and would be a decent campfire cooking option for when it rains because the rock would block water from getting into the fire.

campfire cooking on top of rock


Not sure what to eat while backpacking?

Then get my eBook!  It has over 50 lightweight, tasty recipes that you can make on a dehydrator.  Just add water and you’ve got a delicious meal.

The book also has lots of tips and tricks for planning backpacking meals.  Learn more here.

dehydrator backpacking recipes

Get the ebook instantly

Image credits: Richard Wasserman Cooking Fire Inside Dani Hut CC BY NC ND 2.0, Found on Flickr
Luke and Kate Bosman IMG_1922.JPG CC BY NC ND 2.0, Found on Flickr
Maximusnukeage CampCooking.jpg CC BY-SA 3.0, Found on Wiki Commons
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About the author /

Diane Vukovic is an avid traveler, outdoor enthusiast and couchsurfer. She loves finding ways to explain complex topics to her 9-year old daughter and hunting beetles with her 1-year old. Follow MomGoesCamping on Facebook and Twitter @MomGoesCamping to stay in touch!

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