Cooking colorful potatoes in a cast iron dutch oven over a campfire

I've been traveling on the road and cooking over campfires for a little over 4 years now. In that time, I have to say, I've learned a thing or two. For the bushcraft people out there, these may seem as luxuries. For foodies, it may seam painfully spartan. But, if you are interested in getting into campfire cooking, these tools can make the process infinitely easier. These should make for a solid start while you develop your own style and find what works best for you.

1. Roasting Fork

Almost everyone’s introduction to campfire cooking is the s’more. You put a marshmallow on the stick, and watch it brown. It is a very visual lesson in how a fire puts out heat and how to manage the cooking process. While you can roast marshmallows on any fresh branch, life is a little easier with a roasting fork. Collapsable roasting forks come with the added benefit of not taking up too much space when not in use.

The double pronged design of most roasting forks opens up a greater number of cooking options. After marshmallows, the next intuitive thing to cook is a hotdog. While you can deviate into sausages and other solid meats, hotdogs are a good entry because you can buy them precooked so your only concern is warming and browning rather than cooking the meat completely.

2. Cast Iron

I have two core cast iron necessities: my frying pan and my dutch oven. Between these two, I can cook most any meal I have a mind to. From searing a steak to roasting potatoes.

While dutch ovens can come in many different shapes, I opt for the pre-seasoned Lodge Camp Dutch Oven. This model includes a handle for carrying the heavy dutch oven by hand or suspend the open over a fire using a tripod. The three legs make it easier to place the oven over a bed of coals and allow some air circulation. The design is such a classic, you will likely start noticing it in museum displays of frontier travelers, settlers, and other historic iron cooking.

The size of both of these pieces of equipment depend greatly on the number of people you anticipate cooking for. Given that you are likely short on space, it does not pay to over estimate the number of mouths to feed. My pan and dutch oven are both 10-inch models. Which means that I can also use the dutch oven lid on my frying pan should I need to melt some cheese on top of a burger or lock in moisture to steam some dumplings.

3. Storage Bags

Cooking over the campfire is a dirty business. Ash can get everywhere and when there’s a bit of grease around, it can create one crazy, sticky mess. With water often a limiting factor at these times and a desire not to stay up late scrubbing dinner pots and pans, having a carrying bag for your dutch oven can be a huge benefit. Not only does it keep everything in one place but it can isolate all that ash and grease from items that could get stained and create an even bigger mess.

As I have a Lodge dutch oven, my gut reaction was to buy a Lodge carrying case to go with it. But reviews of it were dismal. Apparently the fabric is rather flimsy and is prone to wear and ripping. Instead, I bought the Camp Chef Dutch Oven Carrying Bag in the size of my dutch oven, 10-inches. It has held up remarkably well over the three years that I have had it. I continue to rely on it for storage and isolating mess.

4. Tripod

Most developed campgrounds come with a fire ring equipped with a grill. Yet, many times I find myself setting up a campfire in a ring of rocks or a fire ring without an adjustable grill. Occasionally, I may position those rocks to hold my frying pan in place over a flame. But, more often than not, I will pull out my tripod to suspend the dutch oven over the open fire.

My Lodge, case iron tripod is a very simple, three legged design. With it, I can suspend a dutch oven—or other item with a handle on top—over a fire. The hook and chain at the top of the tripod allows the dutch oven to be suspended at varying heights. Not only does the tripod allow me to vary the proximity of my dutch oven to the fire, but it also allows me easy access under the oven to feed and maintain the fire itself. Many other arrangements aren’t quite so convenient.

This has become my most common cooking arrangement.

5. Long handled Spatula and Tongs

The beauty of a campfire is it’s nice and hot to get a good sear on your steak or boil up that chili. The beast of a campfire is it’s mean and hot to reach into with your hands. Having a pair of long handled spatula and tongs makes it easy to adjust a steak or flip a veggie without having to gear up against the heat. Many grilling sets will have what you need. The longer the handles, the better. Such as this 5-Piece Grilling set.

6. Grilling Cage

The grilling cage is one step up from the roasting fork. This metal mesh container can be used to grill sandwiches, toast hotdogs in bulk, roast whole fish, or cook most any solid item you can fit in the cage that won’t slip through the bars. Like the roasting fork, the cage allows a direct view of what is being cooked, offering an up-close experience in the campfire cooking process while allowing you also to cook a wider selection of foods in bulk. A great starting point is preparing a grilled cheese sandwich. As you become more comfortable, you can branch out into vegetables, meats, and skewer combinations.

7. Oven Mitt With Strong Grips

Having the right mitt is particularly critical when working with a campfire. Cast iron takes on a tremendous amount of head and often the times you get burned are when you are rushing to pull food out of an overly intense space. I have fallen back on hand towels and rags on occasion and suffered the blisters as a result.

Not only does the mitt need to be well insulated, it needs to have solid grips. Cast iron pan handles can actually be hard to grip at odd angles with the wrong mitt. Personally, I like these silicon mitts because they have excellent grips and the interior can be removed and washed. I have also heard a lot about grilling gloves.  They are definitely worth a look, but, without any personal experience I have not formed an opinion of them.

8. Skewers

Skewers make for an ideal campfire cooking style.  Like a roasting fork and grilling basket, skewers allow you to clearly observe the cooking process over the campfire.  Skewers also are a very simple method of grouping servings of produce and/or meat while also evenly exposing the sides.  This allows for a much more even cooking solution when trying to grill a large amount of food at a time.

While, yes, a simple set of bamboo skewers can do the trick, I’ve been caught up too often trying to flip over a skewer only to have one of the heavier items on the skewer spin against the rest. That’s why I’m recommending this set of skewers with double points to make it easier to secure and flip the food.

9. Propane Camping Stove

As much as I live for a campfire, there are situations where my hands are tied. Some days, I forget to grab firewood for my remote campsite. Or, I may not have the time to build and nurture a fire before cooking. Other days, the wind is too hard to safely build a fire. Yet, More often than not, that limitation comes in the form of a fire ban. Whatever the reason, when open flames are out of the question, small, propane camping stoves are a solid fallback.

When it comes to selecting a propane camping stove, the options can be mind bogglingly extensive. There is everything between mini attachments to propane canisters meant for backpackers to large collapsible stoves complete with griddle. Honestly, others may be more selective than me. But, as someone used to cooking over a changeable campfire, the base line, two burner model works well enough for me. Best of all, it runs off of the same propane canisters that I use to run my Little Buddy Heater. So, I rarely lack for fuel.

10. Roasting Logs

Look, yes, I am all about the classic seasoned log. But, frankly, there are days where I simply do not have access to firewood. The pine beetle has decimated forests across the country. So it is important not to travel with raw wood that might carry the pine beetle to new forest land. Instead, by local wood in the region where you plan to burn it. Most developed campgrounds have a camp host selling fire wood but I don’t spend time in most developed campgrounds. I lean toward dispersed camping where I have to bring everything in (and out) with me.

On those days that I have no natural logs, I keep a backup supply of synthetic, cook safe, fire logs. Unlike most fire logs, these are designed to be safe to cook fire over. One set is enough for me to cook and enjoy dinner. Another bundle could take you deep into the night. As someone who has come across campgrounds charging $12 a bundle for fire wood. The $9 price tag is acceptable insurance to make sure that I can have a campfire whenever the occasion arrises.

Unfortunately, I can only find a 6-pack of these on Amazon.  But you can find them in single packs in the camping aisles of many big box brick-and-mortar stores such as Walmart, Target, Home Depot, or Lowes.

Do you think we missed a campfire cooking must have? Share it in the comments!

Lexi lives in a truck camper down by the river.

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