Warm weather means one thing – cooking and eating your meals outside. Whether that’s in your own backyard or at a campsite, cooking over an open fire is a skill that will serve you well.
If you’ve never had food cooked over an open flame, you are missing out on something pretty great. Open fire cooking has been used for millennia to prepare just about anything.
If this is the summer that you’ve vowed to learn something new, campfire cooking is just the thing. With tons of flavor and the ease that goes with the slow pace of the warmer weather, you won’t regret it.
Still feeling cautious? Check out this handy guide, packed with cooking tips and advice for preparing your best meals over an open fire.
Anytime you’re cooking with an actual fire, you need to follow safety rules. Check with your city or state for regulations regarding cooking over an open fire in your backyard.
If you’re at a campsite, check the fire danger and any restrictions that might be in place. Make sure you have plenty of clearance away from trees and a quick way to put the fire out if things get out of hand.
Windy conditions are a deal-breaker when you’re learning how to cook over an open fire. You’ll be distracted by the danger and won’t pick up as many of the skills needed to do it again in the future.
If you have kids or pets, watch them carefully to be sure they don’t get too close to the fire. You might consider some type of barricade if you worry that there might be an accident.
Use caution with your clothing when cooking over an open flame. Large sleeves, billowy tops, and hanging strings all pose a risk.
Choose the Right Wood
The wood you choose will impart flavor to your food, but it also plays a role in how hot and how large the fire gets.
The type of wood you choose is influenced by the area where you live. Some kinds of wood are prevalent in the southwest that you won’t be able to find in the northeast, for example.
In general, experts suggest using hardwood and fruit woods for open fire cooking. That’s because they offer a great flavor but won’t overpower your food. You’ll also get good coals with these kinds of wood.
You want to use dry wood that is already seasoned, not the wood you can chop down at a campsite. While it might make a roaring fire, it’s not ideal for cooking over.
Most of the time, you can purchase various types of wood at your local home improvement or hardware store. Wood is usually available in logs or chips. Experiment with both to see which method you prefer.
Of course, you also have the option of using charcoal for creating a fire. You won’t get the same flavor profile as you would when you choose wood, but it’s a good backup method.
Pay Attention to the Temperature
You may be tempted to start throwing meat on the fire once the flames get going. Don’t do that. The temperature needs to be ideal or you risk either burning your food or ending up with raw food.
In general, you’ll want to wait about 30 minutes to start cooking on the fire, once it gets going. Continue to feed the fire during this time, which allows you to create a warm base that’s ideal for preparing a meal.
When the wood or coals start to change from black to gray, you will know it’s time to get cooking. Another way to tell the fire is ready to hold your hand a few inches above it. If you can last about two seconds, it’s time.
Gather the Right Equipment
You won’t want to use your best dishes on a fire. Most people who are seasoned open fire chefs have a set of items specifically for the campfire.
One of the most important things you’ll need when you’re learning how to cook over a campfire is a grill grate. If you have nothing else, this will ensure that you have a stable and flat surface for cooking meat and vegetables.
Cast iron is the ideal material for open fire cooking, so stock a pan, pot, and skillet for preparing eggs and vegetables, and for warming up soup, stew, or chili.
Stainless steel also holds up well in a fire, so choose tongs, serving spoons, and stirring utensils made from this metal.
In addition, you’ll also want to have a meat thermometer so can ensure that your chicken, fish, beef, and pork are cooked through before serving. Be sure to have extra batteries on hand.
A grill brush makes it easy to clean your grill grate after each use. This allows for more even cooking, but also prevents the risk of illness from old food.
Grilling gloves are a good investment because they will protect your hands and arms from burns as you cook.
Other items that might come in handy include metal skewers, a grill basket, a lid lifter, a spatula, and a pie pan.
Consider having a fire pit grill if you plan to prepare meals in your backyard. This offers an extra level of safety because it helps contain the flames and is more convenient to clean and maintain.
What to Cook Over a Fire
If you think that meat is the only thing that works cooked over a fire, you are in for a delightful surprise. There are so many things that can be prepared on a campfire, guaranteeing a delicious meal anytime you’re outdoor at mealtime.
Yes, you can absolutely prepare steaks, burgers, chicken breasts, lamb chops, pork chops, and fish filets on the fire. But don’t stop there. There’s a whole world of culinary treasures that taste great fresh off an open flame.
You can skewer vegetables, such as zucchini, mushrooms, squash, potatoes, and peppers and give them a delicious smoky flavor. You can also toss vegetables in a grill basket for convenient cooking.
Using a cast iron skillet opens up a huge number of meal options. Try omelets, pizza, stir-fry, pancakes, or grilled cheese sandwiches. Use pots to prepare soup, stew, or chili.
And of course, you can’t go wrong with the classics – hot dogs and marshmallows cooked on skewers and enjoyed hot off the flames.
What Not to Cook Over a Fire
You have a huge list of what you can cook over a fire, but there are some things you should avoid tossing on a campfire.
In general, this will include anything that drips hot fat into the flames, such as steaks and bacon. These can cause scary flare-ups, so put them in a skillet if you want to prepare them over a fire.
You’ll also want to avoid frying anything over a fire. If the oil pops, it can cause a flare-up. Anything else that can splatter should also be avoided. A Dutch oven can help control this issue because it has higher sides than a skillet.
Tips for Cooking Over an Open Fire
Feeling ready to turn out your first open fire meal? That’s great. Here are some additional words of wisdom to help ensure that everything goes smoothly.
One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to place food directly on the fire. This can cause flare-ups, which can be quite dangerous. This is especially true of meat and its drippings.
Instead, place all foods on a grill grate, skewers, or in a skillet or pan. You’ll still get the great flavor the fire offers but in a much safer way.
If you’ve never cooked over an open fire, you might be surprised to find out that food generally takes longer to cook than with other methods. Be prepared for this and stay patient.
If you’re cooking at a campsite, keep food safety in mind. Transport items in a cooler with ice or ice packs to keep them from spoiling on the way. Cook foods to a proper temperature and store leftovers in a cooler when the meal is over.
Consider keeping aluminum foil on hand. Foil makes a great option for wrapping foods for cooking on a fire. You can cook meat, vegetables, potatoes, and much more in foil packets.
Consider doing food prep at home if you’re taking your food on the road. That means slicing, dicing, and chopping, as well as marinating meats and seasoning your foods.
Another great idea is to keep a spray bottle close by. You can use it to control flare-ups, but won’t have to worry about dousing the fire completely. Of course, having water and sand nearby can help put the fire out, if needed.
Campfire cooking is a fun way to try something new and opens up a world of possibilities for your summertime meal rotation. Enjoying a meal with friends and family around the fire is perfect for warm weather nights. By following the tips outlined above, you’ll be a pro at cooking over an open fire in no time.
Check out more of our best travel tips and make all of your summer getaways the best they can be.