5 Ways to Cook Over a Campfire

By: Patty Riley

June 30, 2020

Category: Recreation

Whether you are going camping, are headed to the cabin or planning an adventure in your own backyard, cooking over a fire is a great way to make a meal!

To start, there is some basic equipment you should have to cook over a fire, including: a hot mitt or leather gloves to handle hot pots, long-handled tongs and/or a spatula for moving things around, and a bucket of water nearby to put out the fire or any stray sparks. 

Once you get your fire going, let it burn down to coals for more even heat, which equals better cooking, then use one of these five basic techniques to cook your meal over the fire:

1. On-a-Stick

group using sticks to roast marshmallows over a fire
Making stick bread. Image courtesy of Patty Riley.

This is about as basic as you can get when it comes to cooking over a fire. Use a stick you find in the woods or a metal one you’ve purchased – one prong, two prongs, etc. – whatever you have. Make sure your food is attached to the stick really well so it doesn’t fall off as you turn to toast all sides.

This cooking method works great for classic campfire foods like marshmallows and hot dogs. Or Kabob-style using any number of vegetables or meats. See two of our favorite recipes for cooking on a stick below:

Stick Bread

  • Biscuit mix of your choice
  • Water
  • A stick longer than your arm and about as big around as your finger

Mix biscuit mix with enough water to make a stiff dough. Take a ping pong ball-sized piece of the dough and roll it into a “snake" with your hands. Wind the “snake” dough around the end of your stick and squeeze until it is firmly attached to the stick. Bake over an open fire until the outside of the bread turns brown and hard. Let cool and then carefully pull bread off the stick. The inside of the bread can be filled with butter, honey, jelly or peanut butter if you so desire. 

Octo-dogs

  • Hot dogs
  • Roasting stick
  • Fixings of your choice
  • Knife

Slice down the ends of the hot dogs, leaving 2 inches in the middle (that will go on the stick). Slice the hot dog again to make 4 flaps on each end. Or slice one end of a hot dog into eighths. As you roast, the ends will curl up and look like an octopus. It's difficult to put an octo-dog on a bun; we just eat them plain!

2. Using Hot Water

For this cooking method, all you need is a pot or kettle that can handle the heat of the fire. Your pot or kettle will get blackened, so avoid using cookware that you regularly use in your kitchen.

Fill the pot or kettle with water and put it directly on the fire or coals right down in the pit, or place it on a grate over the flames. It’s a good idea to put the kettle on as soon as you get your fire going so it can use all that heat and be ready later.

What can you do with hot water? Best things are hot beverages like tea and cocoa, quick-cooking grains like couscous or quinoa, noodles like Ramen, oatmeal for breakfast meals, etc. Just pour hot water into your mug or bowl, stir and enjoy. Holding a hot mug feels so nice on a cool morning or evening and you can use the extra to wash your camping dishes as well!

3. Foil Packets

woman holding food from a foil packet
Enjoying a foil packet meal. Image courtesy of Patty Riley.

When campfire cooking with foil packets, it's best to use heavy duty foil, torn into 18-inch squares, for most meals. You can mix together any precooked meat (smoked sausages, mini meatballs, pepperoni or ground meat) and veggies. We also like using thawed southern-style hash browns, fresh zucchini or green beans, and other thawed mixed veggies.

If you use fresh veggies, remember to cut them into smaller pieces so they cook quickly. Add cheese if you like and spices like Italian or grill seasoning mixes — the sky is the limit! 

Pizza Burritos

  • Tortillas
  • Red sauce
  • Cheese
  • Pizza toppings of your choice
  • Foil

Spread red sauce on tortilla and sprinkle on toppings. Note: Don’t over fill! You need to be able to fold it all up in the tortilla or you will have a burned mess. Fold tortilla like a burrito, wrap in foil and place on top of a grill grate. Turn often. Five to 10 minutes is usually enough time to melt the cheese to yummy goodness.

4. Cast Iron Cooking

cast iron dutch oven with apple crisp in it
Apple crisp in a Dutch oven. Photo courtesy of Patty Riley.

Cast iron cookware like griddles, fry pans or Dutch ovens are great, heavy-duty options to use when cooking over a fire. Spread out the coals of the fire to cover the area under your griddle or fry pan. If using a Dutch oven, make a well in the coals and set it down in the pit, piling coals on top if your Dutch oven has a flat lid (it's harder to do with a curved lid!) 

Make sure your Dutch oven is closed tightly; consider lining the inside of it with foil that can fold over the top of your dish before putting the lid on to keep ashes out of the food.

Some recipe ideas for cooking with a cast iron frying pan or griddle include pancakes, burgers, chops, stir fry veggies, etc. Our favorite Dutch oven dish is an apple crisp:

Apple Crisp (serves 6-8)

  • 2 cans (21 oz. each) apple pie filling
  • 2 packets of instant oatmeal (Brown Sugar and Maple flavor is best!)
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter, sliced
  • Dutch oven
  • Foil

Line Dutch oven with foil (this is a pretty sticky recipe and using foil will make for an easier clean-up). Dump apple pie filling into Dutch oven. Sprinkle oatmeal packets over pie filling. Drop slices of butter on top of oatmeal. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, with 6 to 9 coals around the bottom of the oven and 12 to 18 coals on top. Rotate oven on coals every 10 minutes or so for even cooking.

5. Pie Irons

kids greasing cast iron pie irons
Preparing the pie irons. Image courtesy of Patty Riley.

These awesome inventions are great for cooking all sorts of things! You can find them at many outdoor equipment stores and in camping sections at stores like Target or Menards. Make sure you grease the insides of the pie irons really well and turn them often.

You can cook anything between two slices of bread — we like using sandwich fillings, making pot pies with mixed veggies and precooked meat, and tater tots or thawed frozen hash browns between two pancakes.

We read a recipe recently for cooking frozen cookie dough pucks in the pie irons. (We will be trying this out at our next staff meeting, if not before!) One of our favorite recipes to cook in pie irons is this French toast:

Chunky French Toast

  • 1 egg per toast
  • 1 tablespoon of milk per toast
  • Bread of your choice (we like to use cinnamon swirl bread)
  • Oil or cooking spray to grease the pie iron
  • French toast toppings of your choice: Butter, syrup, jam, whipped cream, powdered sugar, nuts, etc.
  • Optional: A little nutmeg or cinnamon
  • Pie or sandwich iron

Whisk together egg and milk. Tear bread slice into chunks, about 1/2-inch in size and add to egg wash. Mix until the bread is all coated. Spoon mix into oiled pie iron. Turn frequently so it won’t burn. When finished cooking, top with butter, jam or syrup.

At the Baker Outdoor Learning Center, we gather around the fire year-round for summer camps, family camps, Scout groups, survival classes and our Progressive Campfire Cookouts.

Anything you can cook indoors on your stove or in the oven, you can pretty much cook outdoors on the campfire — just experiment, have fun and enjoy the flavors!

About the Author

profile picture of patty riley

Patty Riley is a longtime naturalist who is currently cooking both indoors and out as the Food Service Coordinator at Baker Outdoor Learning Center, where she is known for hiding “secret ingredients” (veggies, protein, whole grains) in everyday dishes. Patty has a degree in Natural Science, specializing in Aquatic Sciences, from Colgate University and migrated to the Midwest 25 years ago. When not in the kitchen, you can find Patty out on a cross-country ski trail or in her garden at home, growing all sorts of great stuff to cook! 

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