Here’s how to cook over an open fire for camping or emergencies (recipes included)
Camping is a fun activity that you can enjoy with the whole family or a group of friends, but it isn’t complete without some snacks and hot meals cooked over an open flame.
Even if you’re just having a barbecue in your yard, you can cook delicious food over a fire with the right tools and techniques. Knowing how to cook over an open flame is also a good skill to have in case you lose power for a long time and have to cook old-school.
Tips for building a fire
If you’re outdoors or you have to cook dinner at home without any gas or electricity, you can start prepping your food once you get a steady fire going. When cooking on the trail, you first need to find a flat surface for your work area. Next, gather dry firewood. Collect some tinder or use items from your kit like shredded cotton balls dipped in petroleum jelly or alcohol, dry paper or even greasy corn chips. Arrange your firewood properly to promote good airflow. Try a log cabin shape so you can easily place your grill plate.
If you’re cooking at home, you may already have a constructed fire pit in your yard. The pit will help shape the heat and you can build whatever type of fire you want if you’ve already stocked up on firewood. Note that not all kinds of wood works the same for cooking. Your choice of wood will also impart flavor and burn hotter or cooler, depending on the type of wood used.
- Alder is best used when smoking salmon, upland birds and puddle ducks. The wood produces a sweet, light smoke.
- Apple adds a light, sweet and fruity flavor to roasted meat.
- Hickory is one of the most popular woods for smoking all types of meat. It also adds a hearty taste to venison. Hickory has a long-lasting burn that’s also suited to larger cuts of wild pig.
- Mesquite adds a heavy bite to red meat and pork. It’s a dense, wiry wood that burns hot and fast.
- Oak doesn’t impart a distinct flavor to food, but it produces a lot of smoke. Oak is another wood that’s versatile and commonly used for cooking outdoors.
- Pecan smoke adds a sweet, nutty taste to meat. To cook meats with another layer of rich flavor, add a handful or two of pecan shells into the open flames.
Use the right cooking implements
To keep things simple, you can cook over an open fire skewering food on a sharp stick or making a simple spit out of twigs. But if you want to cook a full meal, get a metal grill plate that you can stack on top of the fire. The plate ensures that your food cooks evenly.
A metal grill plate will remain hot even when you’re done cooking so you’ll also need a pair of high-quality, heat-resistant cooking gloves, tongs and a metal spatula. Add a meat thermometer if you cook a lot of meat while camping.
When you’re cooking at home, you can build a dedicated cooking surface. If a rugged fire pit doesn’t suit your cooking style, you can install a large wood fire oven like those used in restaurants to cook pizza, steak and other dishes.
You can cook family favorites over an open flame, but you’ll need to be creative and make changes to adapt to a simpler setup.
Try new recipes that are great for camping like baked potatoes, burritos and muffins. Prep the ingredients at home so you can start cooking once you reach the campsite.
Healthy campfire recipes to try
Try these recipes while having a barbecue in your backyard or while camping with your friends!
Grilled foil-wrapped potatoes
These grilled foil-wrapped potatoes are the perfect side dish for grilled meat or salmon.
This recipe uses foil packets that trap in steam to help the potatoes cook in half the time they’d usually take. Using small new potatoes helps maximize the ratio of tasty skin to creamy flesh and cooking with simple ingredients like lemon, shallots and thyme gives the potatoes a flavor boost without overwhelming their natural taste.
Ingredients for 4 servings:
- 1 1/2 pounds of small Yukon gold potatoes (about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter), halved
- 1 1/2 pounds of small red potatoes (about 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter), halved
- 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed juice from 2 to 3 lemons, plus more to taste
- 1/3 cup of medium-sized shallots, roughly chopped
- 4 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves, finely minced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Tear off four 18-inch square pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
- Combine the potatoes, oil, lemon juice, shallots and thyme in a large bowl. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper, then toss to combine.
- Divide the potatoes into four even batches. Place each batch in the center of one square of foil. Crimp the foil closed and roll the sides to fully seal each packet.
- Start a fire and let it burn down to medium-high heat (about 450 F). Spread the firewood. Place the grill plate over the fire and let it preheat for five minutes.
- Clean and oil the grilling grate then place packets on the grill. Align them close but not directly over the coals. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Rotate the packets front to back so the cooler side is closer to coals. Cover, then continue cooking for 10 more minutes.
- Move the packets directly over the coals, cover, then cook for five minutes more. Remove the potatoes from the grill and let cool for five minutes.
- Carefully open packets. Season with additional salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste before serving.
Easy lemon and dill salmon packets
Save time on cooking by making these easy lemon and dill salmon packets! With a bit of foil, you can prepare foods that cook quickly like fish without worrying about who’s going to clean up after. This dish pairs well with grilled potatoes.
Ingredients for 4 servings:
- 4 salmon fillets (6 ounces each)
- 1 tablespoon of butter, softened
- 1 medium lemon, sliced
- 1/2 medium onion, sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced
- 4 fresh dill sprigs
- 1 tablespoon of fresh basil, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon of pepper
- Prepare the campfire or grill for medium heat. Spread the butter in the center of each of the four pieces of a double thickness of foil (about 12-inch squares).
- Place a salmon fillet in the center of each piece of foil and sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper. Top with basil, dill, garlic, onion and lemon. Fold the foil around the fillets and seal.
- Place the packets on a grill grate over a campfire or grill. Cook until the fish starts to flake easily with a fork (eight to 10 minutes). Open carefully to allow steam to escape before serving.
Tasty grilled peaches with honey mascarpone
Tired of boring campfire s’mores? Try making tasty grilled peaches with honey mascarpone.
Once the peaches are done, crumble some graham crackers on top for some crunch.
Ingredients for 4 servings:
- 4 ripe peaches, halved and pitted
- 2 teaspoons of coconut oil
- 3/4 cup of mascarpone
- 2 tablespoons of half-and-half (half whole milk, half heavy cream)
- 2 teaspoons of honey
- Torn fresh mint leaves, for garnishing
- Preheat the gas grill to medium-high or build a campfire and let it burn down to medium-high heat for about 450 F.
- Oil the grill rack by soaking a paper towel in vegetable oil and holding it with tongs to rub it over the rack. Never use cooking spray on a hot grill.
- Rub the cut side of peaches with coconut oil and place them on the grill, cut-side down. Cook the peaches, rotating often until well browned or for at least three to six minutes. Transfer to a serving dish.
- Whisk the mascarpone, half-and-half and honey in a small bowl. Serve the peaches with a spoonful of the mascarpone mixture and garnish with mint.
Cook tasty meals while camping and learn how to cook over an open fire so you can still prep meals during emergencies.