It’s a truth universally acknowledged that all food tastes better when eaten in the great outdoors – especially if you’ve cooked it up yourself over a campfire after a day spent in the fresh air. Whether you’re camping in the wild or just preparing an alfresco feast in the back garden, cooking on a proper wood fire is a seriously fun – and surprisingly easy – way to whip up tasty meals. If you’re new to the joys of campfire cooking, you’ll need a bit of know-how in order to light a good fire and pack the right kit to cook over it. My beginner-friendly campfire cooking guide with Heinnie Haynes is here to help you get hooked on making smoky suppers out in nature.
How to build a great cooking campfire
Choose a dry spot on flat ground, away from tents and trees, and clear an area around three feet in diameter. Enclose your spot with rocks if there are any handy – this prevents embers from scattering and offers a bit of wind protection. Make a pile of flammable materials such as paper in the centre of the circle, and over it create a tipi construction by leaning sticks of kindling together. Light the inner materials. When the kindling catches fire and begins to burn, start to slowly add bigger pieces of wood, taking care not to add too many and suffocate your beautiful new fire. When the larger logs are crackling away you can add progressively thicker logs. you need to wait until the wood fire you lit blazes away for long enough to produce a glowing bed of hot coals – this usually takes an hour or so. When you’ve got some glowing coals, use a stick to spread them out to make an even base. Once that’s done, you can stick a grill over it and get cooking
Easy ways to cook over a campfire
Grilling – Easy campsite suppers such as burgers, steaks, vegetables and fish can all be grilled over the fire. Old barbeque grills or grills with pop-out legs are ideal, otherwise you can balance a grill on two bricks or large rocks on either side of the fire. To gauge if a fire is hot enough to cook on, hold your hand about seven inches over it. If you have to draw it away after a few seconds, it’s ready.
Skewering – Thread chunks of meat, vegetables, or fruit onto long metal sticks, then place over the fire to cook, turning regularly.
Foil Packet Cooking – Make your own mini oven by wrapping meat, fish, veggies or potatoes in thick foil and burying the parcel in the coals to cook. I rub the inside of the foil with oil first, then sling in my ingredients and add sauces, herbs or just lots of butter. Make sure the parcels are well wrapped, and check them periodically to see if they’re done. This is also a great way to package up food in your kitchen to take with you on a camping trip.
Griddling and pan cooking – Use cast iron griddles and pans that are designed to be placed directly on the fire or supported on a grate. Cast iron is nigh-on indestructible and retains heat really well, so it’s perfect for whipping up pancakes, eggs and other quick meals.
What to pack in your campfire cooking kit
Camping kettle: If you’re anything like me, your idea of a treat when camping is a cup of hot, fresh coffee in the morning. A dinky camping kettle is perfect for making a quick cuppa outdoors – they’re lightweight and packable enough to come along on any camping trip.
Lightweight cutlery: Pack a few sets of stainless steel cutlery in your cook set.
Cooking pot: An essential – pick a cheap one you don’t mind ending up a bit blackened after regular use.
Camp mugs: Grab a few enamel camping mugs ready for your morning cuppa – I attach carabiners to the handles of mine so that I can string them together in storage.
Portable folding grill: Heinnie Haynes’s clever Pathfinder steel grill folds down flat but is sturdy enough to pop over coals and will support pots and pans nicely, ensuring even heat distribution.
Cast iron skillet: One of my absolute favourite bits of kit for campfire cooking. Cast iron can be put straight on the flames and just needs a quick clean and season in between camping adventures. If you’re putting it straight on the fire, bring a cloth or silicone handle cover.
Portable espresso machine: If you can’t start the day without a proper cup of joe, bring along this innovative, portable espresso machine for proper coffee even in the wilderness.
Stove: You won’t always be able to light a wood fire to cook over, such as when you’re wild camping. In those cases, a pocket-sized stove will still let you whip up a one-pot supper.
Decent knives: Good knives make food prep easier and more fun. You do need to make sure your cooking knives are legal to transport in the UK – this guidance explains what sizes you can carry to camp.
Herbs and spices: Mix staples like salt and pepper or chili flakes and oregano together and take them with you in tin foil packets or small Tupperware containers for instant seasoning.