How to Cook Over the Campfire Like a Master Chef

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Cooking over the open flame can be a little intimidating at first, but don’t worry – with some practice, you’ll be whipping up gourmet meals in no time. We all love a good marshmallow or hot dog roast, but why not take it up a notch? The truth is, you can cook anything you would cook on a barbecue over the campfire. The main difference is how you control the heat and flame.  

With these tips and tricks, including one on how to gauge the temperature of a campfire, you’ll impress your fellow campers with your culinary skills. No more burnt offerings from you! Trust us, once you get the hang of it, you’ll be the king or queen of the campsite kitchen.

Cook over hot embers and small flames

Cooking over embers and small flames is best because the embers maintain a consistent and relatively even heat. They provide a warmth that is not too intense, eliminating the likelihood of your dish being incinerated and ruined. Raging flames, on the other hand, can be a recipe for disaster, as they easily scorch the food, creating a burnt taste that is undesirable. Too hot of flames can also overcook or burn the outer layer of your food, while leaving the centre raw.

Therefore, using embers to cook is a great way to ensure that your food is consistently cooked with an even and mellow heat that results in a mouth-watering taste and texture.

Use the Heat Test

I learned this heat test trick years ago camping in Girl Guides. It’s super simple – and although it’s not completely accurate – it has never failed me before!

To test the heat when cooking over a fire, simply hold your hand 4-5 inches above or beside the small flames or embers (where you plan to cook your food). The amount of seconds you can keep your hand there comfortably will give you an idea of the approximate temperature range.

A meat thermometer is your best friend

There’s a lot of fancy outdoor cooking gear out there, but most of it isn’t necessary. Truth be told, a meat thermometer isn’t either. However, If you’re a meat eater, investing in a meat thermometer is a piece of equipment that you will love. No need to get anything fancy – for a few bucks you can have a tool that can eliminate any doubt or concerns your meat is under – or over – cooked. 

Cast-iron is your second best friend

Cast-iron is perfect for cooking over an open fire because it heats up quickly and retains heat for an extended period of time, which ensures that your food is cooked evenly. Moreover, it is sturdy and durable, making it ideal for outdoor cooking. The pan also gets seasoned with oils each time you use it, forming a lasting non-stick surface. Cast-iron can be used on stovetops and barbecues as well so you have ample opportunity to practice!

Oh,  and incase you didn’t know, there’s an array of cast-iron cooking gear out there! Griddles, dutch ovens and pie pans are a few that come to mind. 

Be prepared to adjust cooking times

Being exposed to the elements – such as wind, rain and the cold – can alter your anticipated cooking heat and time. 

If you’re following a recipe, or following cooking instructions on a package, be prepared to experience different cook times. But don’t sweat it! It’s all part of the outdoor cooking experience. 

Don't use treated wood

They release toxins when burned. You don’t want that in your food (or lungs!)

What is treated wood?

Treated wood is lumber that has been treated with preservative chemicals to withstand the elements, deter mould and increase fire-resistance. It’s typically used for construction purposes for things such as decks, fences and homes.  


Have a back-up cooking method

  • Wet wood, heavy rain, and other weather could make starting – or maintaining a fire – near impossible
  • Fire bans can be initiated at anytime
  • Even though a campfire is an iconic camp experience, is it ideal to always cook over the fire when other sustainable methods are also available? Is it necessary to have a fire going all day, or even when it’s hot out? Reduce smoke emission and wood consumption when you can. 

Be fire smart

  • Remove dead grass and plant matter near your fire
  • Never have a fire below low hanging foliage
  • Always keep a water source and/or tool to smother a fire nearby for emergency extinguishing
  • Always ensure your fire is completely out before leaving camp or going to bed: drench with water and stir; repeat until all embers are saturated and completely wet. Hold your hand close to the embers – no heat should be radiating from them

Rest assured, with these tips and tricks on how to cook over the campfire, you’ll be a master outdoor chef in no time! I challenge you to try out some of these tried and tested techniques, and wow your camping buddies with your culinary skills on your next adventure in the great outdoors! Happy experimenting – and happy cooking!

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