Campfire cooking: elemental

Cooking with fire is our favoured method at fforest. Pizzas cooked in outdoor clay ovens, ribs smoked over apple wood in chief's cast iron smoker, whole roasted pig over an open fire... 

Whilst we're constantly looking for better ways to cook with the flame, we never forget where it all started. Over campfires in the woods, on the beach and under the sand, cooking on sticks or embers surrounded by friends and family. Everyone can get involved, especially younger adventurers. Learning the basics of campfire cooking is a great way to make your camping holidays, trips to the beach and hikes in the mountains even more adventurous. We've adapted articles from Wild Child OutdoorOrdnance Survey Maps who have shared great knowledge of the basics of campfire cooking. Giving tips on how to cook over fire efficiently and safely, and making the whole process more family friendly...

Getting your fire going

If you are planning on cooking over a fire, fuel choice is more important than normal. You want to use wood that does not smoke much, gives a reasonable heat and burns slowly. Hardwoods such as oak, ash and beech are best for steady heat, as they burn for a long time. Softwoods such as pine will burn faster and hotter, which is not ideal. They also contain more resins, which can create bitter scented smoke. Avoid any wood that is painted or has preservatives (green or orange coloured wood) as this could give off harmful chemicals. The smoke from most hardwoods will add to the flavour. If you can find any fruit woods (such as apple) they can add a distinctive taste too.

Whatever fuel you use, it needs to be dry to burn well and reduce smoke. If you are collecting wood locally (again, check local rules), choose wood that's been dead for a while - it will feel relatively light. Alternatively petrol stations, country stores and other local shops often have sacks of ready-to-burn wood.

When lighting your fire, avoid the use of paraffin-based firelighters, lighter fluid or petrol - they're going to taste nasty! You can get 'natural' lighters, or just use small tinder such as paper, straw, shavings or small twigs to get the fire going - see the OS Maps beginners guide on lighting a fire for more detail.

Once the fire is going, you want it to burn down until there are few big flames. Like a barbecue, you generally cook over hot embers, so once it has reduced a little rake the embers to even them out. You can also pull some hot embers to the side, while keeping the main fire going.

So on your next camping trip leave the BBQ behind and try something a bit more adventurous!

Campfire Cooking:

When families go camping, most people cook on a BBQ. They are easy to use, easy to light and provide a consistent heat so it’s a great, quick way to cook outdoors. However, there are more fun and interesting ways to cook outdoors so here’s a few ideas for cooking on an open fire you can try on your next camping trip.

1. On a Grill

Cooking on an open fire is a more traditional way of cooking and a skill worth knowing if you don’t have a BBQ to hand. Just like a BBQ, you can cook on a grill over the heat of the fire. With some careful positioning of logs the height of the grill can also be adjusted. You can also put pans and kettles on to heat water and other food items making them very versatile for cooking a complete meal.

2. Dutch Oven

People have been cooking in iron pots for thousands of years. A Dutch Oven is a cast iron pot that can be placed directly in a fire or hung over a fire using a tripod. They come in different sizes and are great for cooking or heating prepared food. You can also put hot embers on top of the lid to create an oven for baking food. Some makes also have a lid that is designed to be used as a hot plate directly in the fire - excellent for making flat breads.

3. Billy Can

When you’re backpacking or hiking and space is a premium, using a billy can is a great way to heat food to provide simple meals quickly. You can suspend your billy can over an open fire using a tripod or fashion something from any wood you have around you.

4. Foil

This is a good technique for baking food items in a fire. Easier to transport than a Dutch Oven and ideal for potatoes, fish, sweetcorn and BBQ bananas! Don’t forget to turn things regularly and check your foil parcels often as it can be easy to burn food.

5. Stick cooking

This is real back to basics cooking. Great fun for getting the children involved but you’re not going to get a decent meal out of it. Everyone knows about marshmallows on a stick but you can try cooking bacon for breakfast or donut twisters. 

6. On a spit

You can extend your stick cooking to a horizontal spit so that you can cook something a bit more substantial. Cooking on a spit is very rewarding but it can take time. 

Expert tips:

- It takes at least 20 minutes to get a fire with a hearth that’s suitable for cooking on.
- Start too early when the flames are too high and your food will get burnt.
- As with a BBQ you can create areas with different heat to cook food and different times.
- Fatty foods will drip fat onto the fire and the resulting flames can burn your food.
- Get the kids involved and let them help out with preparation, getting wood for the fire and turning the odd sausage.

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