Outdoor Cooking: Basic Tools for Campfire Cooking

For millennia, humans gathered around a campfire every evening to share food, stories and love. Perhaps those early years in human civilization are somehow wired into our genetic makeup. Especially in today’s world of endless digital distractions, a campfire has a magical ability to create a serene environment where people can unwind and watch their troubles float away like smoke on the breeze.

The best way to get your family to gather ’round the fire pit is to cook there. The following is a look at the basic materials required for cooking over a campfire. (We assume that you will be car camping, not backpacking. Those who want to venture into the backcountry would do best to research stoves and other equipment they’ll need to survive out of just a backpack.)

A good camping knife.

Once you find the right camping knife for you, you’ll wonder how you ever went camping without it. A camping knife will come in handy for any number of activities, including cutting up your food. If your kids are in their teens, you might even give each of them a camping knife. Show them how to use it safely, and they will find all kinds of tasks to help you with, such as cutting kindling for the evening fire.

A ready-prepared dish, at least for the first night.

Just getting to the campground can be quite a challenge – there are so many things to remember. You’ll probably be more tired than you anticipate as you pull into your camping spot. Do yourself a favor and have the first night’s dish prepared ahead of time. For example, you might prepare a pot of baked beans at home. Once you get to the campground, top the beans with your favorite cheese (cut with your camping knife, of course), hand out some crusty bread, and watch the hassle of getting to the campground melt away.


When you’re car camping, it can be tempting to bring most of your kitchen gadgets with you, since you’re only limited by how much you can fit in your car. However, once you get to the campground, this “bring-everything-except-the-kitchen-sink” approach only makes things more complicated. Instead, look for multi-tools that can accomplish more than one task. For example, any number of camping multi-tools include both a corkscrew and a mini-saw for cutting branches into campfire-sized pieces.

Cutting board.

It may seem too bulky when you set out, but once you arrive at the campground, you’ll be glad to have a clean surface for cutting with your camping knife or multi-tools. The ideal camping cutting board is small and made of wood, which tends to provide more “grip” than plastic.

Aluminum foil.

Campfire cooking can be super simple if you have aluminum on hand. For example, you can simply prick potatoes with a fork or one of your multi-tools, wrap each one in aluminum foil, and place it in the hot coals. Forty minutes later, you’ll have delicious baked potatoes. Use your camping knife to slice each one open, add butter, sour cream and cheese, and voila! You’ll have a carb-rich meal to keep your family energized.

A strong pan.

Obviously, if you plan to do any cooking over a campfire, you’ll need a pan that can stand up to the flames. Pioneers chose cast-iron pots and pans because they are extremely durable and fairly easy to clean (just boil water in the dirty pan until it evaporates and then wipe up any lingering food particles). If you don’t have a cast-iron or other heavy pan, choose one that you don’t mind burning a bit.

Utensils for moving items in the flames.

Bring tongs, pokers and any other tools you will need for moving food and logs around in the fire pit.

In addition to the items listed above, you will need to bring specific ingredients and tools for each meal you’ve planned. It’s a good idea to plan all of your meals ahead of time, checking off items for each recipe before you hit the road. Double-check that you’ll have everything you need. The last thing you want is to be stuck in the woods without a can opener when your meal is based on canned beans. When this sort of situation arises (as it inevitably will) you may be able to find a solution by using one of your multi-tools or a camping knife.

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