The glow of a campfire, the sound of wood crackling, and the smell of food sizzling over open flames are some of the most cherished memories from my countless outdoor adventures. Campfire cooking is more than just a means to an end; it’s an experience that bonds us with the wilderness and with one another.
Over the years, I’ve discovered the joy of cooking everything from simple marshmallows to complex stews using the open flame. But beyond the romance of the fire, success in campfire cooking comes down to having the right tools and essentials. Whether skewering sausages, flipping pancakes, or simmering a hearty chili, the tools we choose directly impact the ease, enjoyment, and flavor of our campfire culinary endeavors.
The following list explores the must-have tools that have become indispensable in my campfire cooking arsenal, each one playing a unique role in transforming raw ingredients into delicious meals under the open sky.
Must-Have Essential Campfire Cooking Tools – Stuff You NEED
By equipping yourself with these campfire cooking tools and essentials, you set the stage for culinary success in the great outdoors. Each tool has its function and contributes to the ease, enjoyment, and flavor of the meals prepared over the open flames. It’s the combination of these tools, the fresh air, and the crackling fire that creates an unforgettable cooking experience that resonates deeply with the spirit of adventure.
- Cast Iron Skillet: The #1 piece of camping cooking equipment is a cast iron skillet. It’s excellent for frying and sautéing, a cast iron skillet retains heat well and can withstand the high temperatures of a campfire. Plus, it gives a smoky char that’s one of the best parts of fall camping.
- Dutch Oven: Ideal for stews, soups, and baking, a Dutch oven allows for a wide variety of cooking techniques over the campfire. Don’t forget your Dutch oven liner (parchment paper or aluminum foil) for easier clean up.
- Roasting Sticks: What’s a campfire without s’mores? Not an awesome one, that’s for sure. Always bring roasting sticks for marshmallows and hotdogs over the fire. We prefer ones that have a rotating neck so it’s easier to get an even roast on all sides.
- Long-Neck Tongs: Every chef needs tongs, but the key here is the long neck part. This will keep you from roasting the hair off your knuckles whenever you reach for something cooking in the fire. They also need to be metal, as plastic may melt.
- Plates/Bowls/Cups: We absolutely love this nesting dining set that has cups, bowls, and plates all in one. No more wasting paper plates or packing fragile plates from home.
- Silverware: This little package comes with a spoon, fork, and knife contained within a protective plastic. Each person can be responsible for their own utensils!
- Grill Mat: A grill mat is a recent hack we learned for cooking directly over at a fire at a campground. Those campfire grates can be so nasty, but a grill mat covers them and you can cook with minimal equipment. Plus, you get that smoky campfire taste!
- Long Spatula: A long spatula is necessary for flipping food, stirring chili, and so much more.
- Heat Resistant Gloves: This is probably the piece of gear that most campers forget – gloves. Campfires are hot (obviously) and you need something to protect your hand when you need to reach over it to check on your meal.
- Cooler for Food Storage: Safe storage for perishable items is essential, and a quality cooler can keep ingredients fresh.
- Fire Starter and a Lighter: While not a cooking tool per se, you can’t have a campfire without a long-neck lighter or some kind of fire starter.
- Potable Water Container: Access to clean water is vital for cooking, cleaning, and hydration, so having a container or jerry can is beneficial.
- Portable Camp Stove & Fuel: While not directly a campfire tool, a portable stove offers controlled cooking and can be used alongside or instead of the fire. No matter where we are going, we also bring along our camp stove.
- Cutting Board and Knife: Preparing ingredients at the campsite requires a sturdy cutting surface and a sharp knife suited for various cutting tasks.
- Aluminum Foil: Tin foil can be used for creating foil meal packets, aka hobo meals, which is a personal favorite of ours.
- Digital Thermometer: Since campfire cooking may be a bit foreign to you, make sure to bring along a digital thermometer so you can make sure you cook your food to the optimal temperature for safe eating.
Extra Accessories Campfire Cooking – Stuff You May WANT
There’s a big difference between need and want, so we’ve broken it down into two separate lists. Above is the stuff we consider necessary for most campfire chefs, while the stuff below is more specialized equipment that may or may not be needed depending on your cooking style.
- Cook Set – There’s lots of different kinds of camping cook sets that have a variety of equipment all in one package. See below for our favorite cook sets for campfire cooking.
- Coffee Equipment: Making a hot cup of coffee is the best part of the morning (or mid-day depending on the person), so having your choice of coffee equipment can take your camping trip to a whole new level. Some ideas include a camping percolator, an AeroPress, or instant coffee.
- Kettle: Speaking of coffee, you’ll need a kettle if you want to make hot drinks, dehydrated meals, or a water bottle heater (a hack to stay warm in a tent).
- Collapsible Mixing Bowls and Utensils: Space-saving and practical, collapsible bowls and utensils can assist in food preparation and serving. You may choose to do this kind of prep work at home, or bring it along for cooking at camp.
- Skewers: Kebabs anyone? This is one of our favorite things to make on a campfire – plus, they’re ridiculously easy.
- Campfire Griddle: A griddle is a flat cooking surface that can be placed over the campfire, perfect for cooking items like pancakes, eggs, or even grilled sandwiches. It provides a stable, evenly heated surface that’s great for breakfast items or any food that might otherwise slip through a grill grate.
- Pie Iron: A pie iron is a cooking device consisting of two cast-iron or aluminum plates connected by a hinge, with long handles to keep your hands away from the heat. It’s designed to cook foods like sandwiches, pies, or even omelets directly in the fire or over hot coals.
- Steel Tripod: A steel tripod is a sturdy, three-legged structure that can be set up over a campfire, with a chain or hook hanging down from the top. This allows you to suspend a Dutch oven (or other cookware) at varying heights over the flames or coals, providing controlled heat for cooking.
- Coleman Portable Kitchen: If you’re a glamper at heart then this portable kitchen will be right up your alley. It’s a great setup that provides a prep and cooking space but it all packs down easily into a compact carrying case.
Best Cook Sets for Campfire Cooking
If you’re interested in a cook set that gives you all the best equipment in one package, look no further. There’s various kinds with different suggested uses, but here’s our favorite options from the web.
- Wolf & Grizzly Grill + Fire Set: This cook set is featured in the top image of this post and it’s an awesome addition to anyone’s campfire gear. The set includes the grate and grill set, plus a fire starter. This setup is especially ideal for anyone who frequently camps in unestablished areas where there’s not a grate already on the fire. We also have their Cook Set, which elevates your campfire cooking even more with a nesting set that includes pots, pans, a cutting board, and more. You can read our whole review of the Wolf & Grizzly setup here.
- Lodge Cast Iron Cook-It-All Kit: This five piece set includes a remarkably versatile cast iron unit that can cook so many different things in different ways, it’s kind of mind blowing.
- Stanley Base Camp Cook Set: This set includes a pot and pan, as well as plates, bowls, silverware, cooking utensils, and more. It all nests together so you have all your cookware and eating-ware in one place.
- GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Cook Set: Similar to the Stanley above, this cook set includes everything you need packed into one small container. The main difference is that the Stanley is stainless steel but the GSI set is non-stick.
- Sea to Summit Alpha Cookware Set: Perfect for backpackers or minimalist couples, this simple and effective camp set is lightweight and really high quality.
Clean Up Equipment for Campfire Cooking
Cleaning up after cooking outdoors isn’t just about convenience, it’s also about respecting nature and leaving no trace. Always follow local guidelines for waste disposal, avoid contaminating natural water sources, and pack out all trash and waste to maintain the beauty and integrity of the outdoor spaces we love.
- Biodegradable Soap: A specially formulated dish soap is designed to break down naturally, reducing harm to local ecosystems.
- Scrubbing Sponge or Brush: For scraping and scrubbing cookware. Having both soft and abrasive sides can be useful.
- Cookware Scraper: Specific tools designed to scrape off stubborn food residue, especially from cast iron or griddle surfaces.
- Collapsible Sink or Wash Basin: Provides a contained space for washing dishes, utensils, and pots. This is especially important for campgrounds that don’t have dish washing station.
- Microfiber or Quick-Drying Towel: Useful for drying dishes and wiping down surfaces.
- Trash Bags: To collect and carry out all waste, including food scraps.
- Paper Towels or Wipes: Useful for quick clean-ups and wiping down cooking surfaces.
- Disposable Gloves: Can be useful for handling greasy or messy items and raw meat without dirtying your hands.
- Reusable Food Containers: For storing leftovers, reducing waste.
- Ziplock Bags: Handy for storing soiled items like sponges or rags until you can properly clean or dispose of them.
Safety Tips for Using Campfire Cooking Tools
When it comes to cooking over an open flame, safety must always be at the forefront of your considerations. Utilizing campfire cooking tools requires a level of caution and awareness that goes beyond ordinary kitchen safety. The unpredictable nature of fire, combined with the outdoor environment, calls for constant vigilance.
Always ensure that your fire is contained within a designated fire pit or ring, and keep a bucket of water, sand, or a fire extinguisher nearby to quickly extinguish any stray flames. Be mindful of loose clothing and hair that can easily catch fire, and use long-handled tools to keep a safe distance from the flames.
In addition to fire safety, proper handling of cooking tools is essential to prevent burns and other injuries. When cooking with heavy cast iron or other hot materials, always use protective gloves or utensils with insulated handles. It’s crucial to remember that metal handles will heat up over the fire, so be sure to have something to protect your hands.
When cooking with oil or other flammable liquids, take care to avoid spills that could cause flare-ups. Remember that safety doesn’t stop when the cooking ends; proper cooling, cleaning, and storage of your tools will help maintain their condition and ensure they are safe to use for your next outdoor culinary adventure.
As with all campfires, you should always have a bucket of water nearby to put out the campfire completely when you’re done. This bucket of water is also a safety measure that’s available for stray embers and other hazards.
Cooking over a campfire is more than just a means to prepare food; it’s an enriching experience that connects us to nature and the primal art of cooking with fire. With the right tools and a careful approach, campfire cooking can be a joyous and satisfying part of any outdoor adventure. From griddles to tripods, pie irons to thoughtful cleanup equipment, the variety of tools available allows for creativity and culinary exploration in the great outdoors.
Safety, as always, should be the guiding principle, ensuring that the experience is both enjoyable and responsible. Embracing the art of campfire cooking adds a unique flavor to outdoor journeys, transforming ordinary trips into memorable feasts under the open sky. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoor chef or just starting your exploration of campfire cuisine, these tools and tips will serve you well, enriching your connection to the wild and the wonderful world of cooking over an open flame.
Frequently Asked Questions
What material is best for cooking over a campfire?
The best material for campfire cooking is cast iron. It maintains its heat and can handle the high temperatures. Other materials that would work include stainless steel, aluminum, titanium, enamel-coated cast iron or steel, and heavy-duty foil.
What types of cookware are safe to use over a campfire?
Cast iron, stainless steel, and other metals designed for high heat are typically safe for campfire cooking.
Can I use my regular kitchen utensils for campfire cooking?
While it’s possible to use some kitchen utensils for campfire cooking, not all of them are compatible. For example, utensils should be made of all metal so they don’t melt. They should also have longer handles so you can keep your hand safe when reaching towards the fire.
How do I clean cast iron cookware at the campsite?
You can clean it with hot water and a gentle scraper or brush, avoiding soap to maintain the seasoning.