Sunday, July 19, 2009

Camping Season: The Perfect Fire for Cooking

campfire Coming up on the biggest camping weekend of the year (in Canada anyways), I thought it would be a great time to talk about campfire cooking. Not just campsite cooking with your coleman grill or camper but actually cooking over an open fire.

It can be a little daunting just thinking about it and takes more time than firing up the hibachi, but the result is usually amazing. Whether it is the environment and fresh air or the satisfaction of creating your own heat source, it is a rewarding experience.

I have cooked everything from salmon, steak to sweet potatoes and each have their own techniques but the greatest key to success is the fire. Getting the best fire is all about even heat and not a lot of flames. Below is a step by step guide to getting the best camp fire for cooking:

1. Plan ahead so that the fire is ready when you want to use it, I would start the fire 30 to 45 minutes before you want to actually put the food on.

2. Make sure you have enough wood and it is nice and dry. The more wet the wood, the longer the fire will take to get up to heat and the more smoke the fire will produce which is not great when you are leaning over trying to cook on it. If your wood is really wet, give yourself some more time but you can also leave the wood close to fire (perhaps the evening before) as the heat from the fire will help to dry it out. Careful not too close!

3. Always make sure you have something to start the fire. I prefer newspaper (about three sections). You can also use dry grass and leaves if in a bind, but you will need a lot more than you think.

4. The fire pit is also key. You will want the fire blocked from the wind so that your flame stays consistent. Using rocks or a metal enclosure works great.

5. Have lots of kindling ready in all different sizes. This means that you should always bring an axe or hatchet so that you can get the pieces you need. I find that even when I purchase a bag of kindling I still like to split the pieces smaller.

6. I prefer a tepee technique to start the fire as it lets lots of air in the fire and makes it easy to add wood. Start with your newspaper in the middle and stack the smallest kindling around the paper, leaving about a 2 inch gap at the bottoms of the tepee. Add some larger pieces on top of the smaller ones but only a couple to start.

7. Light the fire at the bottom of the newspaper pile in about three places to ensure at least one of them gets a nice flame. As the fire grows and you know your flame is coming off of the wood and not the newspaper, add bigger pieces of kindling. This probably should take a couple minutes. Once you have a nice big flame coming out of the centre of the tepee it is time to add some of your large pieces of wood.

8. Add more wood as needed and let the tepee-style fire go for about 20-30 minutes. I like to make sure I add lots of wood during this time and get some of the pieces completely burnt to coals. This is the key for cooking as the coals act just like charcoal on a fire (without the petrochemicals).

9. You are almost ready to cook on the fire, but the last thing you need to do is knock your fire over! You don’t want that big flame any more as it will cause chaos when you put your grill over the fire. Take the big pieces in the fire and turn them over so that burnt side is up. If the fire is hot enough the coals should be glowing red and white and the heat should be easily felt.

10. Put your grill over the fire and get cooking. I like the grill to be about a foot over the bottom of the pit to leave enough room for the wood.

The best part is you can get a head start on the s’mores for dessert!

Campfire Related Posts:
- Campfire Cooking: The Making of A Foil Bag
- Balsamic Dijon Salmon