Yes, I know that for some people reading this, knowing how to cook over an open fire might sound crazy. Remember though, it was done for centuries before modern day stoves were invented and thousands of campers do it each year. While you may never need this particular skill, it’s always good to know. We use it quite often in our house. We prefer rural camping so several times from April to November, we’re out in the woods with nothing but a tent and a firepit.
I truly believe the best cookware for outdoor use is cast iron. It’s durable. A good cast iron cookware set that is kept in good condition will still be usable by your great great grandchildren. It’s also the original non stick cook ware. A properly seasoned piece of cast iron will not stick to anything. I recommend that you start with a cast iron skillet and a cast iron dutch oven at the bare minimum. You can pick them up on Amazon fairly cheap a lot of the time but be sure to check your local stores to see what their prices are. We have a habit of getting very, very lucky at our local thrift stores and can usually find quality pieces for under $15.00 each.
If you are planning on using a dutch oven, be sure to pick up a lid lifter as well and if you chose the skillet, be sure to get a silicone hot handle holder. Trust me…your hands will thank you because regular pot holders will NOT work. Your lids and handles will be way too hot for them.
Now that we have our cookware, we need a fire, right? Right, which means we need wood. Fallen dry branches work very, very well. If you use firewood for winter, don’t touch it…that will be used to keep you warm. However if you have charcoal for the grill it will be very useful, to get your fuel for the fire ready in your chosen spot.
First you’re going to need to find a place to build your fire. You can use your grill, a fire pit or just a makeshift ring that you’ve made. If you’re building the fire to cook in an emergency, be sure you don’t use your stove or oven for this. It might sound like common sense, but believe me…it’s not for some people. Your fireplace works well, but ideally, you’d want it some place outside, away from any buildings or other things that could catch easily. Take a few cotton balls and cover them with Vaseline (Petroleum Jelly). Place the jelly covered cotton balls in the center of where you want your fire and light it up with the match. Ideally you’ll want to use strike anywhere matches. They really do strike anywhere so they’re good to carry in your emergency bags. Slowly add small pieces of tinder (very tiny sticks), leaves, or small, loosely wadded pieces of newspaper into the flames. Be careful not to smother your flame.
Once you’ve gotten a small flame going, you can begin to add larger pieces of wood to the pile to get it really burning. Now please understand you don’t need a bonfire to cook and depending on what you are cooking you usually don’t need flames, just hot coals. So let your flames die out quite a bit or all of the way before you start cooking. Otherwise you’ll be campfire cooking cajun style and well, that kinda cajun ain’t no kinda cajun that I want.
Using a skillet over an open flame is pretty much the same as cooking over your stove at home with one exception. You will need to keep a closer eye on what you’re cooking. Even if you’re used to cooking with a gas stove at home, you’ll need to keep a closer eye on it. The heat distrubution is different when cooking on an open flame or hot coals like you do with a campfire. With a Dutch Oven, you place your food in the Dutch Oven (most of the time you can mix it right in the pot), place it in the fire, and place hot coals on the lid. Placing hot coals on the lid allows it to heat not only from the bottom, but from the top as well so you get equal amounts of cooking and don’t end up with a partially cooked chicken.
Off topic? Want a REALLY tasty camping recipe?
- (1) whole chicken
- (3) apples
- (4) large potatoes
- (1) onion
- Garlic and any other spices you might like (salt and pepper for sure)
Chop the veggies and apples to the size you prefer (we do large chunks), place in your dutch oven around the chicken, add spices and cover with water.
Place the lid on your dutch oven, sit in the fire and cover the lid with hot coals. Let cook until the chicken is tender and cooked thoroughly.
Seriously. That recipe is the awesomesauce!
Back to the how-to!
If you’re going to be using the lid on your dutch oven, be sure to check on whatever you have cooking every 5-10 minutes. You don’t have to use your lid if you want, but for some things? It makes them so much better! You can literally cook anything in a dutch oven on an open fire that you can make at home. Even spaghetti! They’re fantastic for baking in too! One of our favorite things to make when we’re out camping is my sausage biscuits and gravy with my homemade biscuits! I bake the biscuits first then make the gravy in the same oven. Sooooo good!
Personally, I recommend that once you’ve got yourself set up? ,Go get some practice using them! Summer isn’t too far off so get outside, take the kiddo’s camping use it as a good way to justify cooking in the great outdoors if needed. Besides, it will shock the kids and they will think you are even more impressive. 😉