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Everything You Need to Know About Campfire Cooking

The Coletti coffee percolator, the YETI Tundra cooler, and a man opening a Mountain House Meal.
Coletti/YETI/Mountain House

Summer’s greatest joys are often the times we get to spend outdoors. If you plan on taking a few camping trips with friends or family this season, here’s how to enjoy delicious food cooked in the open air.

If you’re new to camping, there’s a lot to learn, and outdoor cooking is a pretty large category. Even if you go every summer, there are plenty of tricks that can help you get through yet another fun-filled summer adventure.

We’re sharing all our favorite pointers for cooking over an open flame, as well as which foods to prep and pack, and some of our favorite items to take along.

Campfire Safety

To “cook” your foods, you’ll need a fire that burns just right. But aside from building a well-constructed campfire, keeping things safe is key, too!

Here are a few refreshers:

  • Know the campground rules: All campgrounds have their own rules on firepit safety. Because all campgrounds carry their own safety risks (depending on location, climate, etc.), rules are set specific to those matters. So, be sure to read up on them to avoid any emergent situations or getting fined.
  • Check for existing fire pits: Many parks and campgrounds already have well-established fire pits or rings, so reuse them if available.
  • Keep your fire far away from everything: If there are no existing fire pits and rules don’t restrict you from building your own, make sure to build your site at least 15 feet away from a lean-to, your tent, and any flammable objects. Low-hanging branches, shrubs, and trees are all things to steer clear from, too.
  • Use the right wood: If you plan on taking in your own wood or other materials to burn, make sure they are safe, especially if you plan to cook over these flames. Magazines and mail flyers use inks and coatings that release toxic fumes when burned, and pressure-treated wood releases harmful chemicals that you shouldn’t breathe in. So keep those construction scraps at home, and instead use dry seasoned wood provided by mother nature.
  • Extinguish those flames: Be ready at any time to extinguish flames. Having a bucket of sand or water handy is always a good rule of thumb if your flames get a bit rowdy.

Now that you know how to do so safely, let’s look at some planning and prepping tips for cooking outdoors.

Plan Your Meals in Advance

A pot of beef and veggie stew cooking over a campfire.

Going camping for just a few days requires a lot of planning, especially if you’ll have little ones with you. You have to select your campground, plan for outdoor activities, and pack clothes and everything else your family will need. Food has its own category when it comes to planning and preparing meals.

Start by thinking about which foods you’ll want to eat on your trip. Start with breakfast, and then work your way to lunch and dinner, and don’t forget about drinks and snacks.

From foil packet meals to skillet-fried favorites, there are so many delicious foods you can cook over a campfire. Be sure to check out some easy clean-up meals that pack incredible flavor.

You’ll learn all about making omelets using a freezer bag and fun tricks like cooking campfire crescent rolls using marshmallow sticks.

Prep as Much Food as Possible at Home

When you’re cooking outdoors, everything takes a bit longer as you don’t have the luxury of your kitchen and all its tools within arm’s reach. Feel free to make one or two meals at home before going on your trip to help ease the load once you are there.

Pasta salad is a great option, as it’s easy to make ahead of time and tastes great even days later.

At home, prepare veggies that you plan to cook in the skillet, like onions, peppers, and mushrooms. Marinate meat ahead of time, so it’s ready to cook. Rice and pasta can all be premade, too, and you can store just about anything in freezer bags.

Keep things simple by packing things like hot dogs and buns and all the fixings to prepare sandwiches. You’ll appreciate throwing a bit of peanut butter on campfire toast and calling it breakfast to go with the eggs on busy mornings, too.

Another fun idea is making soups and stews ahead of time, freezing them, and taking them along with you as a big chunk of frozen goodness. That way, you can heat it back up in your skillet or Dutch Oven.

Finally, meats are best if frozen ahead of time, so they’ll stay cold and thaw while you’re camping.

Foods You Won’t Have to Keep Cold

A camper opening up his Mountain House Meal before enjoying a hot dinner on a camping trip.
Mountain House

Camping is all about improvising and making the most of what you already have. While a cooler is vital, there are plenty of foods you can bring that won’t require any refrigeration.

Below are some of the lowest-maintenance foods you can take on your camping trip:

Mountain House Meals: These are a fantastic option when you don’t feel like cooking. Just add some boiled water to a mountain house packet, and you’ll have a meal for one or two in minutes. Sometimes, these are also the best breakfast options, as a bit of hot water transforms the dried bits into a breakfast skillet filled with veggies, meats, and cheese.

Knorr Pasta Sides: If you’re looking for something a bit cheaper, Knorr is the perfect go-to for delicious, comforting meals that taste even better outdoors. Feeding a family? Grab a few macaroni sides, then just add some cooked bacon or ham for a camp-style mac and cheese that’s sure to satisfy. You can also pair any of these with hot dogs or burgers.

Starkist Tuna and Salmon Packets: You can add mayo to these and make a sandwich, or add them to any skillet meal or pasta dinner. It’s the perfect way to ensure you’re getting enough protein, too. Select your fave flavors, or grab any of the delicious Starkist variations.

You can also save cooler space by freezing several water bottles the night before, and then packing them frozen. By the time you drink them, they’ll be thawed out but still cold.

Turn Your Campfire Into a Grill (Don’t Forget the Aluminum Foil)

Someone using tongs to flip meat over on a campfire grill loaded with food.
Sorn340 Studio Images/Shutterstock.com

Building an excellent bonfire fit for grilled foods is only half the project. From there, you’ll want the right gear that’ll transform it into a mean-cooking machine.

There are several options, including tripod installations to hold up heavy Dutch ovens and elevated grill grates. Otherwise, table grills, stakes, and swings all make wonderful options for cooking over an open flame.

Be sure to read up on all the best options before making your selection. Not only will having the right grilling gear make things much more manageable, but you’ll have a safer cooking experience, too.

We’ve talked a lot about freezer bags, and while you should definitely pack plenty of those, aluminum foil offers advantages, too. In addition to allowing you to make every foil-packet meal under the sun, you’ll appreciate the ease of lining your grill grates with it for easy cleanup.

Foil is also perfect for wrapping up leftovers or packing lunches that need to stay cold for a day hike. You can also leave your grill brush at home and just use a ball of foil to clean those grates instead.

In addition to your grill-transforming gear, there are a few other things that will help you create some memorable, but easy, campfire meals.

Lodge Cast Iron Skillet

Two images featuring meals cooked in the Lodge cast iron skillet.

Having a pre-seasoned skillet designated for your camping endeavors is a must. From breakfast skillets to searing meats and cooking pasta, you’ll appreciate having a heavy-duty, reliable pan like this one.

Lodge has been making cast-iron products since the 1800s and one we’ve been cooking with for several years. Their prices are unbeatable, and their products are trustworthy and of the highest quality.

COLETTI Coffee Percolator

A camper pouring coffee from the COLETTI percolator in a cup while a Chocolate Labrador watches, and the percolator hanging over a campfire.

If you think coffee tastes good in the morning after the alarm wakes you for work, wait ’til you’re sipping a hot cup of joe while listening to the birds on a cool, crisp morning outdoors.

The Coletti coffee percolator makes a robust cup of coffee when you need it most. We love this one most because a team of veterans worked to perfect it during several deployments. You’ll get to enjoy a hot cup of coffee while also supporting American veterans.

Alpha Grillers Instant-Read Thermometer

Twom images featuring someone use the Alpha Grillers instant read thermometer.
Alpha Grillers

Keep things safe by taking with you an instant-read thermometer to avoid food poisoning while off the grid. We especially love that this precise device is waterproof and provides written safe-internal temperatures for various types of meat.

Jolly Green Products Marshmallow Sticks

Two images featuring the Jolly Green telescoping marshmallow sticks. The left images features a woman and her daughter using the sticks to roast marshmallows, and the right image features the package of sticks alongside of a plate of all the fixings for s'mores.
Jolly Green Products

Marshmallow sticks are for more than s’mores. There are several foods you can cook over a campfire with these Jolly Green sticks.

These are also extendable, which means they’re safe for roasting. They also have sharp stainless-steel ends to hold everything from sausage to veggies, and much more.

Portable Outdoor Cookware Utensils Kit

An image displaying all the components of the Life 2 Go Cooking Utensils set on a white backdrop.
Life 2 Go

You can pack your own cookware set from home to save on cash, but having a designated set to keep with your camping gear is super convenient.

For under $30, you can get a solid set of cooking utensils, including a knife and cutting board, complete with a handy travel bag.

Yeti Wheeled Cooler

Two images featuring the YETI Tundra cooler. The left image is a camper filling her YETI tumbler up with a cold beverage, and the right image are three campers standing by their YETI cooler, enjoying the summers day.

Finally, don’t forget a cooler! It’s essential for keeping your foods (and beer) cold. While there are plenty of old reliables out there, nothing beats the high quality of a Yeti.

We love the Tundra cooler because it comes with puncture-resistant wheels and a tough arm for easy transport. Not to mention its unmatched insulation power will keep foods colder, for longer.

Camping is the ideal summer vacation, so why not make it extra special by whipping up some satisfying campfire meals? Now that you have everything you need, it’s time to figure out what you’re going to make!

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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