How to Gauge the Temperature (or Heat Level) of a Campfire for Cooking

Cooking over the campfire is something that gets easier with observation and practice. Sure, it’s easy to roast a marshmallow or hot dog – but what about cooking something more complex? Gauging the temperature of the fire is important. With this trick in your pocket, you can learn to not only cook food evenly and thoroughly, but avoid burning everything to a crisp. 

I learned this trick years ago in Girl Guides. Although not 100% accurate, it’s a simple rule of thumb to get a good idea. It has yet to disappoint me!

The Heat Test

Let me start of by saying you typically don’t want to be cooking things over raging flames. Get a good fire going, but let it settle down. It’s best to cook over small flames and hot embers. 

To test the heat, hold your hand 4-5 inches above or beside the flames or embers (do it where you plan to hold or place your food to cook). The amount of seconds you can comfortably keep your hand there determines the approximate temperature range. 


9 - 12

225 - 250°F

Med - Low

7 - 8

275 - 325°F


5 - 6


Med - High


375 - 425°F


2 - 3

450 - 650°F

Keep in Mind: 

  • The environment you’re in (air temperature, wind, precipitation) can alter the required cooking time and heat outlined by cooking instructions or a recipe. 
  • Don’t use treated wood; they release toxins when burned. You don’t want that in your food (or lungs!)
  • 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.
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The Foodie Behind the Screen

Hi there! I'm Bri.
I create and share nutritious and flavourful recipes for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers.

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