Campfire cooking has the same effect as having someone else cook a meal for me – it tastes better! The combination of cast iron, wood smoke in the air, and the great outdoors naturally go together.
Everyone can learn to cook on a campfire. This is a workshop I teach with kids. Start simple and add new dishes as you get comfortable. It’s easiest to start with wet meals that are difficult to burn. Soup is one of my favorite campfire cooking meals for beginners, and a roast chicken dinner is easy and hardy. Put a whole chicken in a Dutch oven, add potatoes and some carrots, a little water and bouillon, and then put it on to roast. It takes about an hour for the oven to heat up and the meal to cook. Remove from heat, ladle out broth for the gravy, and viola! It’s a one-dish meal.
Hints and tips for campfire cooking
Campfire cooking my way relies on coals rather than flames. You’ll need to build your fire about an hour before you plan to start cooking. Use small pieces of hardwood to get the fire going and medium sized pieces (5″ x 18″) to keep the coals going. Clear the space of all debris that will burn and build your fire on solid ground.
Think of coals in terms of charcoal briquettes in size and volume. That will help you figure out how many coals you need to place on top of and under your Dutch oven. If you’re cooking on a grill this won’t matter much. If your heat is too high you move coals out, not high enough you push more under the grill.
Wait! I can’t have a fire in my yard!
You can duplicate the oven temperature called for in recipes by using the proper number of charcoal briquettes on top of and beneath your Dutch oven. This works well on a gravel driveway.
- Each briquette adds 15° to 25° of heat.
- If the breeze is blowing you’ll need a few extra briquettes.
- When strong sunshine hits a Dutch oven for more than a few minutes you’ll need less heat from the coals.
- It’s better to cook with lower heat for a longer time than to use too much heat and burn your food.
This chart gives you the number of briquettes needed on top and under the Dutch oven to hold the temperature for approximately an hour. Have hot briquettes ready to add at the right time if necessary, or add self-igniting briquettes to the hot briquettes at the 45 minute mark.
Temperature & Method Chart for Dutch Ovens
For roasting, use half on bottom, half on top.
When stewing, use one-quarter on bottom, three-quarters on top.
For boiling, all heat on bottom.
8” Dutch oven
350* – 10 on top, 6 on bottom
375* – 11 on top, 6 on bottom
400* – 12 on top, 6 on bottom
450* – 14 on top, 6 on bottom
10″ DUTCH OVEN:
350* – 14 on top, 7 on bottom
375* – 16 on top, 7 on bottom
400* – 17 on top, 8 on bottom
450* – 19 on top, 10 on bottom
12″ DUTCH OVEN:
350* – 17 on top, 8 on bottom
375* – 18 on top, 9 on bottom
400* – 19 on top, 10 on bottom
450* – 22 on top, 11 on bottom
- Moist meals are usually the easiest for beginners. Before you bake bread in your Dutch oven, try a soup, stew or chili.
- Hot coals are easier to cook over than an open flame. Trust yourself.
- Choose Dutch ovens with legs. They’re stackable. Legs allow air flow below the oven so that the coals don’t suffocate.
- When cooking over an open flame, use a grate supported on rocks or bricks, or a tripod. The tripod allows the pot to hang over the flames.
- Unless you’re searing or sauteing, start with a cold pan or oven. Food is less likely to stick and will warm evenly.
- Get used to cooking with one oven, and then add another.
- If necessary, move your ovens around half way through. I add two or three extra briquettes or coals to the top of an oven before adding the next oven.
- When stacking, put the meal that needs the least heat on the top. Desserts are usually fine cooking longer at lower heat. Use your center oven for roasts. Place soups and stews that can take extra heat without burning on bottom.
- For messy meals like sticky desserts or breads that might not lift out well, line the oven with foil. Use one large sheet of foil so that liquids don’t get lost between the foil and cast iron.
- Flip a Dutch oven lid to turn it into a skillet.
SAFETY: If the wind is blowing enough to blow a spark, get out the Coleman stove.
Easy Fruit Cake
2 cans of sliced fruit with juice
1 cake mix, your choice of flavors
To ease cleanup, line the Dutch oven with foil.
Pour both cans of fruit and all of the juice into a cold 10” to 12” Dutch oven. Evenly spread the dry cake mix over the fruit and then smooth out, pushing a little more cake mix to the edges than the middle for even cooking.
Place the lid on the oven, the oven on the coals, more coals on top, and then bake for 30-45 minutes.
Vegetable, Beef & Barley Soup
Choose and prepare your vegetables. Solid vegetables such as carrots should be cut into bite sized pieces to ensure even cooking.
Brown beef in a hot Dutch oven. Drain the fat. Be sure to put the fat in a safe place to avoid attracting bears and other wildlife, and avoid putting it in the fire. If you’re using lean meat like venison or moose, there’s no need to brown first.
Mix ingredients the same as when you’re cooking on the stove at home. Preparation is the same; the cooking method is the only difference.