Introduction: How to Grill/Cook on a Campfire

Welcome to my first Instructable ever!

If you have never eaten a meal cooked over a campfire, you are missing out.
It isn't all that difficult to do and the results are amazing if you do it right.

Step 1: Get Necessary Tools

If you don't have a suitable campfire grilling rack, you can either make one or purchase one in a number of places. The one in the pictures came from a giant-mega store chain that rhymes with "Fall-Tart". I think it cost around 20 bucks and it works well enough.

I highly recommend that you also get some really long tongs if you plan on doing this as they really help cut down on burning your fingers. The heat coming off the fire pictured felt like the surface of the sun even if it didn't look all that hot. Cooking the meal pictured was extremely painful because I didn't have really long tongs.

Those single piece bent strip of metal tongs (not pictured) are a really bad idea because they will torque in one direction or another and will cause your delicious food to suddenly flip and fall into the ashes.

Some nice thick leather gloves wouldn't be a bad idea either if you can't get tongs that are long enough.

Step 2: Make a Fire

Make a fire that you plan to cook over.

  1. Do not use pine or any evergreen type plant for fuel/wood. It tastes horrible and is probably very bad for you.
  2. Only use hardwoods and try to use woods that you would normally use in a smoker like maple, oak, hickory etc.
  3. Do not use petroleum products like oil or gas to start the fire. Try to use paper or a propane torch to get things rolling. Pile up twigs and small sticks at first that are easier to light and then gradually progress to larger and larger diameter pieces of wood until you have a good solid fire going.
  4. Wait until most, but not all of the wood has turned to coals before putting the grill rack down to cook on. You want some of the wood still burning and lightly smoking, because you want a little smoke to get into the meat. Cooking on nothing but coals isn't quite as tasty.

Apply non-stick cooking spray to the grill rack BEFORE you put it on
the fire. Trying to put the spray on the grill after it's over the fire is not safe.

Step 3: Start Cooking

If you plan to cook vegetables that will fall apart when
cooked/overcooked, it is a good idea to use the recyclable aluminum cook pans and/or aluminum foil that were sprayed with a little olive oil before use. It is also a good idea to have one of those pans available as a warming/catch pan for items that are cooked already, but need to be kept warm until the rest of the food is ready to eat. The intense heat of the fire will not likely allow you to have a lot of individual items like slices of vegetables etc to turn over (your hands will be burned if you try to do too much). Enclosing the top of these pans with foil helps keep the heat and moisture in the container, which helps keep the vegetables from burning and it reduces/eliminates the need to flip things over, which burns your hands. Please recycle these 'disposable' pans when the meal is done.

Before you put the meat on the grill, pay attention to how it droops when held by the tongs. Use this as a guide to help you determine the level of 'done-ness' of the meat by eye. It will gradually droop less as the meat is cooked until it reaches well-done. If you are cooking pork or poultry, it is advisable to cook the meat to be well done, while beef can be cooked anywhere from rare to well done and be safely consumed.

The heat of a campfire (like the one pictured inside a fire pit) is very concentrated and very intense. It will cook things much more quickly than you would expect and you will have to watch the food very carefully. The fire in the picture cooked the food almost twice as fast as my gas grill does. The reason it cooks faster is that it isn't heating the food as much via convection as it is by radiant energy (infrared). All that infrared energy will also cook your hands at close range, so try to be brief getting in and out with the tongs and don't try to cook too many individual things or you will suffer if you don't have really good protection on your hands.

Step 4: Enjoy the View and Enjoy Your Meal!

Cooking/grilling on a campfire is absolutely worth the extra effort. The food is superior to any other cooking method I have tried and I have pretty much tried everything including Sous Vide. These steaks weren't as tender as Sous Vide steaks that take two days to cook, but the flavor was infinitely better. I guess you could combine Sous Vide with this technique, but you would have to put the steaks in an ice bath for a while before cooking them over a campfire so the level of done-ness will be what you want it to be. I would suggest using a thick cut of meat if you intend to try that.

In the meal pictured, we grilled a very small loaf of french bread with some butter/garlic smeared all over the insides. We didn't use any tin foil for the bread. I laid the bread buttered side down very briefly to start melting the butter and then flipped it over to cook the crust a bit first. You will lose a bit of the butter this way, so don't be too stingy with the butter. After maybe a minute or less, flip the bread butter side down again and cook until the edges start to burn just barely. Don't wait until the edges are really burnt because it will taste horrible. It was awesome!!

I hope these instructions were helpful and I hope you have a safe and delicious meal. Please leave comments if this was helpful to you.


Scott Gammons

Outdoor Cooking Contest

Participated in the
Outdoor Cooking Contest