Normally, if you want to cook over a campfire, you need a campfire cooking kit which has a grill rack and maybe some pot hangers too. These tools keep your pots and pans above the flame so you don’t end up with burnt food.
But, if you are going backpacking or minimalist camping, you probably don’t want to bring an entire cooking kit with you. You can still cook over a campfire while backpacking or camping though. Just use one of the 6 methods talked about here.
Also read: Complete Guide to Planning Backpacking Food.
Tips for Campfire Cooking
Regardless of which method you use, make sure you follow these guidelines.
- 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.
You’ll Need a Pot with a Hanging Handle
For some of the cooking methods shown here, you need a pot which has a hanging handle. This lets you hang the pot over the flames.
Whatever you do, don’t use a camping pot which has an insulated handle: the handle will melt if you put it too close to a campfire! That’s why I prefer camping pots like these which have removable handles.
Here are some good pots with hanging handles:
- Toaks Titanium Cook Pot (750ml, 3.9oz)
- Lixada Titanium Cook Pot (Multiple sizes available)
- Wealers Camping Cook Set (Stainless steel; 4 pot sizes in set)
Ways to Cook Over a Campfire
If you have a camp cook pot which has a hanging 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.
And below is what a campfire crane looks like in real-life use:
And the picture below shows some next-level bushcraft cooking: Notches in the branches hold the pot and crane! (one more reason to bring a knife outdoors).
2. Cooking Tripods
You can buy tripod to take camping, but it’s also fairly easy to make one yourself. The only catch is that, like with cranes, you’ll need a pot that can be suspended over the fire.
To make a cooking crane,
- Find three long branches
- Tie them together using a tripod lashing
- Set the tripod over your campfire
- Hang the pot from the tripod
A cooking trench is great in places where there isn’t a lot of wood. It’s also good if it is very windy. With this method, you need to
- Dig a small pit.
- Make a fire in the pit.
- Put some thick branches over the pit.
- Prop your cook pot on the branches.
- As the fire burns the branches, you’ll have to replace them with new ones.
4. 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.
5. Frying Rock
This campfire cooking method is good for frying food. You can also put a pot/pan on the rock, but it will take a long time to heat up. To make the frying rock:
- Find a large, flattish rock. Do not use rocks which were in or near water. The water can expand in the rock and explode!
- Prop the rock up so it is 8-12 inches from the ground.
- Make a fire under the rock. If you are scared that the rock will explode, stand back, wait and see!
- When the rock is very hot, put some pre-oiled food onto it and fry.
6. Coal Roasting
Instead of cooking on the actual fire, cook foods on the coals instead. This method works really well for foods like potatoes, yams, onions and other root veggies. It also works well for foods in a foil pouch or Dutch oven.
To cook over coals:
- Make a fire. Keep feeding it until you’ve got a large bed of coals on the ground. When in doubt, make more coals!
- If you want to keep your fire going while cooking, just move some of the bigger coals off to the side of the fire pit. Otherwise, let the fire die down.
- Put your food directly on the coals. If you are using a Dutch oven, pile coals on top of the lid and all around it.
- Be patient! Coal roasting takes time!
Why Should You Know How to Cook Over a Campfire?
I’m a foodie and love cooking over a campfire. Food simply tastes better when it’s cooked this way (or at least you enjoy it more).
Also, I like knowing how to cook over a campfire in case I run out of fuel whil backpacking. It’s only happened a few times, but it was a lifesaver – like the time my fuel ran out before I had my morning coffee. I would have been very grumpy had I not been able to make coffee over the fire! 😀
But You Still Need a Camp Stove!
Do not rely on a campfire for cooking your backpacking or camping meals. First off, 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?
What if it rains? While it is possible to make a fire in the rain, it’s a pain in the ass — and makes campfire cooking even more difficult.
Also, there is the issue of fire safety. A lot of places now implement fire bans because the risk of forest fire is so high. Even if there is no ban in place, you should never leave a campfire until it has been completely put out.
Not sure what to eat while outdoors?
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.
Below are pictures of some of the recipes you’ll find in the book. Get the book here.
Arlen smithNovember 12, 2021 at 10:45 am
Cooking outside in the wind is dumb when all it takes is a 14 ounce 40” chimney to cook inside a tent or tarp shelter.
Google “chimpac “