Campfire Cooking in the backwoods
Camping and campfire cooking is no longer an activity for a few adventuresome souls. For many, it’s rather a way to escape the everyday stress.
Before heading out into the woods, do your research and plan ahead.
Often cut firewood can be purchased at private or provincial campgrounds. If you are using free camp sites you might have to gather your own. Do not transport firewood. Pests, such as insects and invasive disease can destroy our forests.
Find some dry twigs and gather deadfall. The heavier the wood, the better the coals you will have. Coals are the secret of campfire cooking.
The secret to lighting a camp fire is to start small and build it up for your campfire cooking. Don’t throw logs, bushes, and leaves into a great heap and expect a good fire as a result. All you will get is lots of smoke.
Use matches to speed up the process. Rubbing two sticks together is not the best idea to start a cooking fire. It is prohibited to use flammable fluids to start a fire. Start with just a few twigs, dry leaves, and some paper and gradually build your fire up.
When you have a good bed of coals, get your long handled shovel and build a small cooking fire along the side of the main fire.
Big fire mentality
There is an old Indian saying I learned back in my first camping years:
“White man build big fire, sit way back… Indian man build little fire, sit up close.”
I always think of this quote when I light campfires. I never let the “white men” use the fire pits inside my tipis at Silver Spur Trails, to make sure they didn’t get on fire.
An unnecessarily large campfire quickly burns up all the firewood and produces excessive heat and flames. It alerts anyone within a few miles that a novice outdoorsman is camping nearby.
Keep it low and sit close, learn from the First Nation people. A towering, crackling celebration campfire in the backcountry is a recipe for disaster.
Campfires in Canada – things you have to know
For many campers cooking on a campfire is a special bond with nature. Romantic light flickering over the campsite, the crackle of the logs as they burn down to ashes as you listen out into the dark for strange noises. For lots of visitors to Canada, a campfire experience is like living some Canadian history.
Sitting around a campfire on a clear night in the backcountry sharing stories, singing songs and roasting marshmallows, how more authentic can it be.
Most campgrounds in Canada, whether they are private campgrounds or RV parks, provincial parks, recreation sites (forestry sites), or national parks, allow campfires unless there is a fire restriction brought on by prolonged dry hot conditions.
Campers going into the backcountry need to check if there are fire restrictions or bans in that specific area.
Check with campground staff and websites, such as BC Parks, Recreation Sites and Trails or Parks Canada about their protected areas that may disallow campfires before visiting parks.
What to do during campfire restrictions and bans
Forest fires are a major threat to British Columbia’s forests. Campfire restrictions and bans occur when conditions are extremely dry and fire risk is very serious.
When there is a fire restriction campers can still enjoy an authentic campfire cooking experience by using a portable campfire device that is CSA or ULC approved, as a safe alternative.
Portable campfires for cooking are sparks and smoke-free and provide campers with comfort and heat. Many include a cooking rack allowing campers to make cowboy coffee or cook in a skillet.
Portable campfires can be purchased at local hardware, camping or RV retailers. Some campgrounds including many BC Parks and Private Campgrounds rent propane campfires for camper use. Please note, though, that when conditions warrant, portable campfire and stove devices may be further restricted or even prohibited. That’s when you miss out on a campfire cooking experience.
For more information on local conditions, or on acceptable portable stove and campfire devices, check with the local authorities.
My personal tips on Campfire Cooking
Every good cook knows that there’s more to good food than just a recipe. It also necessary to have the right tools and to know how to use them.
Cooking over the campfire is the most idealistic vision of cooking outdoors. It’s hard to beat the taste of food cooked over a campfire.
When I go to a campsite where I can drive to, I like to take my Dutch oven along. The Dutch oven is believed to date back to the early 1700s in Holland. It is not known how it came to the America. The Dutch oven became a valuable item with mountain men and Native Americans. It was taken along when the folks went west.
There are many good Dutch Oven Cooking Books on the market and tons of recipes.
Cooking in the Dutch oven is not rocket science. With a bit of common sense and a sense of smell, almost any one can turn out beautiful meals without much fuss.
My tips for successful Dutch Oven cooking on a Campfire:
- Keep your camp oven clean and well oiled so it doesn’t rust
- Don’t start cooking until you have a supply of good coals
- Make a good bed of coals and place your Dutch oven meal on it
- Spread some more coals on the lid and leave it until you can smell your meal cooking.
- You may have to add more coals or shift the oven onto a bed of fresh coals after a while. Don’t be tempted to hurry it up a bit by adding flames around the oven. You will burn your meal for sure.
- Keep the Dutch oven protected from any wind. Dig a hole in the sand if you have to.
- Be patient. Sit down, have a drink and wait for that tasty smell to hit your nostrils before you even look into the pot.
Campfire cooking in the Dutch oven is easy. As long as you don’t keep piling on the coals or light any fires near your oven, your meal should never burn.
Jaffle iron, the great tool for campfire cooking
- Jaffle iron cooking is similar to Dutch oven cooking and perfect for a campfire cooking experience. For the jaffle iron, it is also key to have a bed of good coals for your cooking fire and to be patient are the secrets of success.
- Butter your bread and put the buttered side onto the open jaffle iron.
- Add your favourite filling, place it on the coals and keep smelling.
- Turn it regularly.
- Pre-cook the bacon in the jaffle iron before putting in the bread, egg, tomato, cheese and spices.
- Bacon, cheese and tomato jaffles made at the breakfast camp are a good lunch time meal eaten cold.
- Ideas are endless.
If you have a good lamp for your camp you can eat after dark when there are no mosquitoes and sand flies.
I always try to carry a large stainless steel pot along. I fill it with water and put it on the main fire for a supply of hot water for washing and showering.
Now you are ready to have some of your own campfire cooking fun.