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People cooking marshmallows over a campfire

How to Cook Food Over a Campfire

Updated on February 4th, 2024

When you’re camping, a quick meal is a luxury that generally comes in the form of a protein bar, some beef jerky, or even a bag of potato chips. If you’re hungry for something more filling, you’ll need to cook it yourself.

Simply put, when camping, especially dry camping, you’ll need a campfire for both heat and cooking.

Being prepared is important, but being able to safely build your campfire is too. In this article, we’ll discuss a few techniques to do just that.

Understanding the Process

Cooking over a campfire involves making a small fire on the ground that is usually surrounded by rocks or other items that can keep the fire contained. A grill can be placed over the fire so that you have a level surface to put a pan or a pot on for cooking different foods.

There’s no electricity, so you’re going to need to make sure you have matches and other items that can start your fire and that can keep your fire going so that it doesn’t go out until you’re done cooking.

RELATED: What to Do If Your Matches Get Wet While Camping

Although a campfire is easy to use, you need to be able to monitor your food so that it doesn’t burn, but also fully cooks.

Preparing Your Campfires for Cookies

Before you begin cooking over a campfire, you need to make a few preparations. For safety, find an area without a brush as this could easily start a fire.

Try to let the fire burn out a bit after it’s lit before you put your food over it. This is similar to what you would do when you use a grill at your home.

Pay attention to the coals as you’re going to wait until they turn bright red before putting your food over the fire. This will ensure that the temperature is high enough to thoroughly cook everything from meat to vegetables.

A marshmallow being cooked over an open fire


Coals are one option for what’s needed to rely on for campfires when cooking.

One of the common ways to rely on campfires for cooking is by using coals. This is an option to consider if you don’t want to cook around an open flame as the coals are lit and then left to burn until they turn red or gray.

Once they lose their black color, it’s time to cook your food. There will need to be a large number of coals to cook on to ensure that they don’t go out during the cooking process.

Make a pile of coals to light with a match or a lighter and fluid. You’re then going to put your food on top of the coals.

You can use a grate, but it’s usually not needed as long as the surface of the coals is clean. There usually isn’t a need for any pots or pans when using this method.

Make sure you have the proper tools for maneuvering the food on the coals so that you don’t touch it with your fingers.

Coals are very good if you go camping during winter.


After making a fire, you can use sticks that you find in the woods to roast everything from marshmallows to hot dogs. You’re going to need to cook foods that can easily be placed on the sticks without the foods falling off into the fire.

Make sure you rotate the food while it’s over the fire so that each side is cooked evenly instead of burning one side and leaving the other barely cooked. This is a way to cook food that is pretty basic and that doesn’t involve a lot of extra tools, which is beneficial if you happen to leave something at home.

Foil Packs

A fun way to rely on campfires for cooking is to make foil packs. These are packs of food that are often complete meals that you put over a campfire until the food is cooked.

You can make everything from chicken and vegetables to baked potatoes. These packs can contain healthy meals or those that are fun to enjoy.

You can prepare the packs at home before you go camping so that all you need to do is put the packs over the fire. Keep the packs in a cooler with ice to keep the food in the packs fresh until you cook them.

You can prepare packs for every meal of the day if you want to have something filling and tasty instead of hot dogs and marshmallows all the time.

Modern Designs

If you have time to get the supplies, then you can have some of the comforts of home while you’re camping. There are usually camping rings that are already built at most campgrounds so that you don’t have to make your own area for starting a fire.

These rings are often made with stones or bricks to keep fires from getting outside the containment area. You’ll usually find grates as well that can be used for putting pots and pans on while cooking.

The only thing that you need is the food you’re going to cook and the utensils for moving your food around. Start the fire in the ring, letting it get hot and then burning out ever so slightly before you put your food over the fire.

Father and son getting a campfire started

A modern amenity that many campgrounds have is a large kettle that is placed over the ring. The flames from the fire will heat the pot, which contains the food that you want to make.

You can also put a grate on top of the pot if you want to slow-cook your food. A dutch oven is an option as well. This large pot is placed directly on top of hot coals or over an open fire.


If you have a long stick and plenty of time to wait for your food to get done, then consider using your campfire to roast your meals.

After making your fire, you’re going to put your food on the roasting stick that is positioned over the fire. Add all of the seasonings on the food that you want because it can be difficult to remove the food from the stick while it’s roasting until you’re ready to eat.

There are a few mistakes that you should avoid making when you’re relying on a campfire to cook. If you’re able to avoid these issues, then you’re going to have delicious food to eat that can usually be saved for another meal if you’re able to properly store it until later.

Being Prepared

One of the most common mistakes that you could make is not being prepared before you go camping. You need to gather all of the ingredients that you’re going to need to cook with as well as the tools that you’re going to need.

Get a cooler to fill with ice and cold items and a storage container for other foods. You also need to have the items needed to light a fire or catch food in the woods if you want to rely on the land to provide the meat that you eat, such as a fishing rod to catch fish.


When you rely on a campfire for cooking, you’re going to need to have patience. You’re not going to have the speed of an oven, a stove, or a microwave to prepare meals or even heat a simple side dish.

It usually takes about 30 minutes for a campfire to get hot enough for you to be able to cook over it.

All At One Time

A mistake that you want to avoid making is adding all of the wood or the coals to the fire at one time.

This tends to make it difficult for the material that you’re using to thoroughly heat as some components could remain cold on the bottom of the stack because the fire doesn’t reach those items as quickly as those that are on top.

One way to prevent this from happening is by adding only a small amount of wood or coals to the fire at a time until the materials you’re using are heated before you add more to the fire.

Open Flames

Open flames by a campfire

Although it might sound as though it’s easier to put your food directly over or in the flame of your campfire, it can sometimes result in your food burning very quickly.

You see, open flames are preferred for campfires when cooking because you can rely on them easier than anything else. All you really need is sticks and dry leaves to keep it going!

Consider building your fire and then placing your food to the side of the open flame or to the side of the coals that you use. This will give you the heat that is needed to cook your food without it being burned.

You should also avoid keeping your food over the campfire for an extended time because it will usually continue cooking after it’s removed from the heat source.

How to Cook Over a Campfire (Video)

Related Questions

  1. What are the key safety measures to consider when building a campfire for cooking?

When building a campfire for cooking, it’s crucial to first ensure the fire is set up in a clear, open space away from flammable materials like trees, shrubs, or tents to prevent the accidental spreading of fire.

Additionally, always have the means to extinguish the fire quickly at hand, such as a bucket of water or sand, and never leave the fire unattended to prevent it from getting out of control.

  1. How does the process of cooking over a campfire differ from cooking on a traditional stove or grill?

Cooking over a campfire involves managing an open flame and heat that can vary greatly, requiring constant attention and often manual adjustment of food placement for even cooking.

In contrast, cooking on a traditional stove or grill provides more consistent and controllable heat, with specific temperature settings and evenly distributed heat sources, making it easier to manage and predict cooking times.

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using coals for campfire cooking?

The advantages of using coals for campfire cooking include a consistent and controllable heat source, which allows for even cooking, and the unique smoky flavor it imparts to the food.

However, the disadvantages include the time it takes for the coals to reach the right temperature, the potential health risks associated with inhaling smoke and consuming food exposed to coal emissions, and the environmental impact of coal burning.

  1. Can you describe the process of preparing and cooking a meal using foil packs over a campfire?

Sure, preparing and cooking a meal using foil packs over a campfire involves two main steps. First, you prepare your meal by placing your choice of ingredients (like vegetables, meat, or fish) onto a large piece of aluminum foil, adding seasonings, and then folding the foil into a sealed packet.

Second, you cook the meal by placing the foil pack directly onto the hot coals of a campfire, turning occasionally, and allowing it to cook for approximately 10-20 minutes or until the food is thoroughly cooked.

  1. What are some common mistakes to avoid when cooking over a campfire and how can they impact the cooking process?

Common mistakes to avoid when cooking over a campfire include using green or wet wood, which can produce excessive smoke and uneven heat, and not prepping your ingredients and tools beforehand, which can lead to overcooked or undercooked food.

Additionally, cooking directly over high flames instead of hot coals can cause food to burn on the outside while remaining raw on the inside, and not properly securing food can lead to it falling into the fire, both of which can ruin your meal and waste your ingredients.

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."
-- John Muir
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