Mom Goes Camping

How to Cook Over a Campfire (Without Special Supplies)

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:


Ways to Cook Over a Campfire

1. Cranes

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.

campfire cooking crane 1

campfire cooking crane 2


campfire cooking crane 3

campfire cooking crane 4


And below is what a campfire crane looks like in real-life use:

cooking over campfire with crane

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).

campfire crane with notched wood


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

tripod for cooking over campfire


3. Trench

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.

campfire cooking trench

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.

campfire cooking propped on 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.

campfire cooking on top of rock


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!

foil pouches over campfire coals

using sticks to turn food over campfire


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.

healthy backpacking food

Preparing lunch while on a day hike. It’s a lot easier and safer to use a stove for quick meals than a building a campfire each time. 


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.

dehydrator backpacking recipes

Below are pictures of some of the recipes you’ll find in the book. Get the book here.

dehydrator backpacking recipes

From left to right: Blueberry chia oatmeal, pear cardamom ginger oatmeal, red pepper crackers with hummus, beetroot “salami”, mashed potatoes with white bean gravy, & pasta with buttery white bean sauce

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
Turning the Hobos” (CC BY 2.0) by OakleyOriginals
Classic Campfire Foil Dinners” (CC BY 2.0) by woodleywonderworks
Carving Project – Cooking Crane” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by teejaybee
PA140047” (CC BY 2.0) by ProAdventure
Cooking at Munsungan Stream” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Nick Gallop
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About the author /

Diane Vukovic grew up camping and backpacking in upstate New York. Now, she takes her own daughters on wilderness adventures so they can connect with nature and learn resiliency. With dozens of trips under her belt, Diane is an expert in minimalist camping, going lightweight, planning, and keeping her kids entertained without screens.

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  1. Arlen smith

    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 “

    • Diane

      Or you can just make a wind screen for your stove. 🙂 Much easier than putting a chimney in your tent. My main tent is tiny anyways and I’d never cook inside of it because of CO poisoning and fire risks.

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