If you’d like to cook over a campfire, but are a little rusty on how to get the fire started and keep it going safely, this how-to guide will help put your mind at ease. Before you know it, your coals will be cooking and your camping companions will be asking for second helpings.
Start it early
Want to know the most common mistake people make when building a cooking campfire? Not starting the fire early enough. Plan to start yours at least one hour prior to cooking. Coals cook much more effectively than flames.
Begin with a teepee
Around a small pile of tinder, lean some small sticks against each other to form a teepee. Then light the pile of tinder, blowing gently at the bottom of it until the flames get going.
Grow it slowly
Don’t carelessly toss a log onto your burning teepee, or you’ll risk smothering it and have to start from scratch. Instead lean slightly larger sticks against your teepee to make a bigger fire. Once it’s going strong, you can build a log cabin of logs around it or simply stack a couple of small logs against each other, always keeping some space underneath for oxygen to circulate.
Wait for the glow
The best fire for cooking has passed the high flames stage and has become more of a bed of coals. This will make for consistent heat and will give you a large area to cook over (or in). Keep a log burning off to the side in case your coals start fading.
Heat the grill
If you use the metal grill that’s attached to the fire ring, you may need to wipe it down with an oily paper towel beforehand to prevent food from sticking to it. Make sure the grill is nice and hot before you put food on it.
It helps to leave a section of the fire ring fairly clear of coals. This way, if a piece of food flares up (often from grease dripping onto the fire), you can move the food away from the heat for a bit to regain control of the situation. This tactic works better than squirting water at a flare-up, which tends to get ashes all over your food. This cool zone in the fire is also helpful if one piece of food cooks more quickly than another, as it gives you more control over the timing.
Put it out completely
Warm coals can reignite when you’ve gone to bed or wandered off, so don’t forget this final task. The last person to bed should be responsible for pouring water onto the coals and stirring them around. Then, pour a bit more water on the coals until there’s absolutely no warmth or glow remaining.