Tips for Campfire Cooking with Your Fire Pit
The barbecue grill in your outdoor kitchen is not your only option for cooking in your backyard. If you have a wood-burning fire pit, you can also partake in campfire cooking. Whether you are doing a bit of backyard camping or simply roasting marshmallows to make s’mores with your kids, campfire cooking is a fun way to prepare meals outdoors and without heating up your house.
Of course, when you leave behind the comfort and convenience of your kitchen with its ample counterspace and multiple, easy-to-control burners, you are going to have to make a few adjustments and learn some new cooking skills. But with the right equipment and some helpful tips you will be successfully campfire cooking right in your backyard. Plus, since you can enjoy cooking over a campfire without leaving your house, that also means that all of your handy kitchen tools and appliances will be nearby to make things much easier.
Campfire Cooking with Your Fire Pit: Getting Started
The first thing to know is that wood-burning fire pits are the best option for cooking. It is not recommended to cook over gas fire pits. If you do not have a wood-burning fire pit in your backyard, you can always purchase an inexpensive, portable option that you can leave out to enjoy regularly or just bring out when you are entertaining or feel like to doing some open-fire cooking.
Once you have your fire pit, make sure you set it up in a safe area away from trees and structures that could be affected by the fire. While you are setting things up, now also might be a good time for you to read our guide to fire pit safety.
The next step is selecting your wood. Make sure your firewood is seasoned (dried and aged) so that you can enjoy a safe, cleaner-burning fire. Since most campfire cooking is done over coals, it is a good idea to choose hardwoods, which will leave you with better coals for cooking. If you will be cooking meat or fish that you hope to flavor with the smoke from your campfire, consider hickory, mesquite or oak firewood.
There are many different ways to cook over a campfire, and the technique and equipment that is best will depend on what you plan to cook. You will find that with a little creativity and the right gear, you can use your fire pit to cook almost anything you would normally cook in the kitchen. This includes popular breakfast foods, pasta dishes and even baked goods.
To help get you started, let’s go over some of the most common campfire cooking equipment that will make backyard cooking much easier and more convenient.
Campfire Cooking Equipment for Fire Pits
If you are planning to cook in your backyard, some of your equipment can come straight from your kitchen. Since it will not be lugged around in the back of a truck and propped on tree stumps in campsites, you can be pretty sure your everyday pots, pans and other tools will not be damaged, which means you may be able to save a bit by not duplicating some of the kitchen tools you already own. Plus, if you already have an outdoor kitchen or even just a barbecue grill, you surely already have some of the tools that you need for fire pit cooking.
Long, Metal Skewers –
The first pieces of campfire cooking equipment you should buy are long, metal skewers. These simple tools will allow you to roast hot dogs and marshmallows with your kids or guests. They are inexpensive to purchase, easy to store and are a quintessential part of backyard cooking. The reason these are first on the list is because they are good to have even if you do not plan on doing any other type of cooking with your fire pit. This is the only specialized piece of equipment you need to make s’mores and they are an easy way to let your kids have fun making their own dinner by roasting hot dogs. So, if you buy no other fire pit cooking gear, make sure you at least have some long, metal skewers around.
Grates are essential for campfire cooking if you plan on doing anything beyond basic hot dog roasting or s’mores. A grate allows you to easily grill food over your fire pit, plus, this allows you to place multiple pots and pans over the fire for preparing entire meals.
Cooking tripods are an alternative to grates. While you simply set a grate over your fire pit, a tripod is a three-legged contraption that you would set up around your fire pit so that you can hang a grill or a Dutch oven over the fire. If you are looking for more of an Old West experience while cooking outdoors, you might prefer a tripod to a simple grate.
Long-Handled Tools –
For both safety and convenience, long-handled cooking utensils are a must. You will need at least a set of tongs, a spatula and a spoon. If you are cooking meat, you will also need a meat fork. Folks who have a barbecue grill likely already have these items on hand but, if you don’t, make sure you purchase sturdy, fire-safe tools and avoid plastic.
Dutch Oven –
Using a Dutch oven over a campfire is another throwback to the Old West and reminiscent of cowboys cooking on a tripod over an open flame. While this cooking method was actually used for centuries before cowboys were a thing, it is the image of cowboys out on the range preparing simple meals that generally comes to mind.
A Dutch oven is a versatile piece of campfire cooking equipment that will allow you to make everything from soups and stews to donuts. Cast iron Dutch ovens are the most popular for outdoor cooking, but lighter-weight aluminum will also work.
A cast iron or aluminum skillet will expand your food prep options even more and allow you to cook more than one part of the meal at the same time by cooking part of the meal in your Dutch oven and part in the skillet. This is one of the most versatile pans you can have for fire pit cooking, so make sure this one is on your list.
A cast iron griddle is a handy piece of gear that allows you to easily cook eggs, bacon, pancakes and more right in your backyard. While a griddle is definitely convenient and will make cooking foods that require turning with a spatula easier, this one is optional. If you are limiting the equipment you purchase for your backyard cooking, you can skip the griddle and cook the same items in your skillet.
Adding a saucepan to your collection of campfire cooking equipment allows you to easily cook beans, pasta sauce or side dishes on your grate.
Grill Baskets –
You have two options here: grill baskets that sit directly on the grate and handled grill baskets that you can hold over the fire. This is how you are going to easily cook vegetables, fish and anything else that may be in small pieces or may want to fall apart while cooking and slip through the grate into the fire.
Heavy-Duty Aluminum Foil –
Aluminum foil may seem like an odd inclusion on a list of cooking gear that leans towards grates and griddles, but you can cook an entire meal using only aluminum foil and not a single other item on this list – other than the tongs, which you will need in order to move and retrieve your foil-wrapped delicacies.
You can purchase preconstructed foil packets, precut foil sheets or a conventional roll of foil, which you can then use to make your own packets for cooking. When cooking in foil, you can place food directly on or in the coals, on rocks heated by the fire or on your cooking grate.
Easy Campfire Cooking Recipes for Fire Pits
As mentioned above, you do not have to leave the comfort of your home to enjoy campfire cooking. Whether you are sleeping under the stars on your patio or starting your day by cooking an al fresco breakfast for your family, you can simply use your fire pit and a bit of gear to create fantastic meals.
To make your fire pit cooking experience even more enjoyable, take advantage of the fact that your fully stocked kitchen is just a few feet away. Do as much as possible of the marinating, cutting and prepping in your kitchen where you have plenty of counterspace, cutting boards and knives. Then, bring out your gear and ingredients and enjoy spending time outdoors while you cook over your fire pit.
For most meals and dishes using a skillet, saucepan or Dutch oven, you will use the same recipes you would use indoors. Your cooking time just might be a little different, since you cannot control the heat of the fire quite as well as you can control the heat on your stove or oven.
Here are three easy campfire cooking recipes:
Campfire Corn on the Cob
Corn on the cob is one of the simplest side dishes you can cook in your fire pit. Simply place a cleaned ear of corn on a sheet of foil. Add a couple pats of butter, sprinkle on salt and pepper, and tightly roll the foil around the ingredients. Place the foil-wrapped corn among the hot coals and use your tongs to turn it occasionally for even cooking. Campfire cooking times vary, but it should take about 15 minutes for your corn to cook.
Almost as easy as corn on the cob, campfire-baked potatoes take a bit longer to cook but are well worth it.
Clean your potatoes and use a knife to make several small cuts through the skin. Rub each potato with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and your favorite herbs, and wrap each potato in aluminum foil.
If you are using a cooking grate, place the potatoes on the grate over hot coals. If you are not using a grate, you can place your foil-wrapped potatoes directly into or on top of the coals. Turn them a few times with your tongs as they cook, which will most likely take somewhere between one hour and 1.5 hours, depending on how hot the coals are.
Use your tongs to remove them from the grate or coals. Open just the top of the foil to expose your potatoes. From here, you will treat them just like you treat the baked potatoes that come from your oven: Slice them down the middle, give them a little squish to loosen the fluffiness within the skin, and add any additional toppings you enjoy.
One of the great things about kabobs is that they can be personalized for every member of your family or each of the guests at your party. You do not have to worry about preparing separate meals if you have vegans in attendance or guests who do not eat particular meats or vegetables. You simply set out the skewers and ingredients, and let each person create their own perfect kabobs to throw on the grate over your fire pit. Or, if you have long-handled skewers, they can even sit around the fire pit cooking their own meal.
The key to campfire kabobs is prepping the ingredients beforehand. If you plan on using meats, you will want to cut them into bite-size pieces and marinate them in your chosen marinade for at least a few hours. You will also want to cut all of your fruits and vegetables into bite-size pieces that can be easily slid onto the skewer. Some fruits and vegetables that are good choices for kabobs include cherry tomatoes, pineapple, mushrooms, onions, and peppers.
After you or your guests assemble their kabobs on the skewers, simply lay them on the grate or hold them over the fire with long-handled skewers. Turn the kabobs regularly to ensure even cooking.
Vegetable kabobs will take less time to cook than kabobs with meats. If you are cooking meat over your fire pit, it is recommended that you use a meat thermometer to make sure proper internal temperatures have been achieved before consumption.