Cooking on an open flame: How to do it

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 3, 2022

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Open flame cooking is a cooking method where heat is provided by an open fire. The fire can be either contained in a fire pit or in an open fireplace. The food is cooked either directly in the fire or on a grill or smoker extension or grill extension (like a smoke drum or smoker box). 

Open flame cooking is a great way to add flavor and texture to your food. But how exactly does it work? Let’s dive a bit deeper.

What is cooking on an open flame

Cooking Outdoors: What Is Open Fire Cooking?

What Is Open Fire Cooking?

Open fire cooking is a way to cook outdoors over an open flame, usually with firewood or charcoal. It’s a skill that dates back to the Wild West, when cowboys used chuck wagons to cook meals for their cattle-driving crews. Nowadays, open fire cooking is popular with everyone from van-lifers to professional chefs.

Why Is Open Fire Cooking So Popular?

Open fire cooking is a great way to unplug from the tech-filled world and reconnect with nature. Plus, it’s a practical skill that can be used in any terrain, and it’s delicate enough to be considered an art. It’s also a great way to challenge yourself and hone your cooking skills – without relying on Bluetooth thermometers, phone timers, or online recipes.

How Do You Get Started With Open Fire Cooking?

If you’re at home or in an established campground, it’s easy to light a grill and get cooking. But if you’re starting a fire from scratch, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Gather your materials: firewood, charcoal, kindling, and a fire starter.
  • Clear a space for your fire and make sure it’s away from any flammable materials.
  • Create a fire pit and arrange your materials in a teepee shape.
  • Light your fire starter and let the flames do their work.
  • Once the fire is going, add more fuel to keep it going.
  • Enjoy your open fire cooking adventure!

4 Fun Ways To Cook On An Open Fire

With a Stick

Who needs a kitchen when you have a stick? Roasting with a stick is the perfect way to cook up some deliciousness over an open fire. Whether you’re looking for a classic s’more, a hot dog, or a kebab, this method is the way to go. Plus, it’s super easy to do and requires minimal cleanup. So grab a stick and get roasting!

With a Cast Iron Skillet or Dutch Oven

If you’re a beginner when it comes to outdoor cooking, a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven is your best friend. Not only do they make it easy to control the heat, but they’re also great for cooking up some of the best camping recipes. Think chili, stews, and braises – perfect for a chilly night spent outdoors.

In Foil Packets

Foil packets are the way to go if you want to cook up something delicious without making a mess. You can cook pretty much anything in foil packets – potatoes, salmon, butter, eggs, sauce – you name it! Just make sure to wrap it up tightly and fold or crimp the edges to make sure no ash gets in your food.

Directly On Coals

Cooking directly on hot coals is a great way to get that delicious smoky flavor. Plus, it’s safer to eat off of than your average picnic table. Meats like steak and burgers are perfect for this method, as the hot coals will give them a great sear and a crispy crust. Veggies like peppers and chiles also work great, as do foods that get extra flavor when smoked or charred, like onions and corn. Just make sure to keep an eye on your food – it’ll cook quickly!

Essential Gear for Open-Fire Cooking

Grill Grate

Grill grates are the perfect way to get your open-fire cooking game on point. Whether you’re looking to char up some delicious meats or just want to heat up a skillet, a grill grate is the way to go. Plus, you can rest easy knowing that you’re the only one who’s been cooking on it!

Roasting Sticks

Forget about fancy kitchen tools – all you need for outdoor cooking is a clean wooden stick! Roasting sticks are the perfect way to get your food cooked to perfection over an open flame. Plus, you can feel like a real outdoorsman while you’re at it.

Leather Hot Pads

Leather hot pads are a must-have for any open-fire cooking adventure. Not only do they protect your hands from hot cast iron, but they also double as trivets for setting your hot skillets or pans on a table. Plus, they’re sustainable!

Aluminum Foil

Aluminum foil is a kitchen essential for any open-fire cooking adventure. It’s perfect for mess-free meal prep and individual-sized food portions, plus it’s great for quick and easy cleanup. And when you’re done, you can wrap up your leftovers in foil and reheat them directly in the fire the next day.

Cast Iron Staples

If you’re looking to take your open-fire cooking to the next level, you need to get your hands on some cast iron staples. A cast iron Dutch oven or skillet is resilient, easy to clean, and opens the door to amazing slow-cooking options. Plus, you can feel like a real chef while you’re at it!

Cowboy Firepit Grill

The Cowboy Fire Pit Grill is the ultimate system for open-fire cooking. It comes with a steel firepit bowl with adjustable legs, a moveable grill grate, and a suspension bar for hanging a Dutch oven or kettle. Plus, all the components pack into the firepit bowl itself, making it easy to transport from place to place. With the Cowboy Fire Pit Grill, you can get back to basics while still having all the tools you need at your fingertips.

How to Make a Classic Campfire Without the Smoke

Choose the Right Firewood

No one wants to be the rookie at the campsite with a smoky fire. To avoid this, you need to make sure you’re using the right firewood. Don’t bother stripping wood from a tree, as it won’t burn well and will create unnecessary pollution. To get that classic campfire, you need to use dry, seasoned wood.

Here are some tips to make sure you’ve got the right wood:

  • Call ahead to the campsite to see if they provide dry, seasoned wood.
  • Bring your own stock to be on the safe side.
  • Don’t use green or fresh wood – it’ll just make a lot of smoke.

Start the Fire

Once you’ve got the right wood, it’s time to get the fire going. Here are some tips to get the perfect campfire going:

  • Gather your wood and create a teepee shape with it.
  • Place some kindling in the middle and light it.
  • Once the kindling is burning, add more wood in the same shape.
  • Keep adding wood until you’ve got a nice, even fire going.

Now you’ve got the perfect campfire going, without any of that pesky smoke!

Take Your Time When Building a Bonfire

The Basics

Building a bonfire isn’t as simple as throwing some logs on a pile of wood and lighting it up. It takes time and patience to get it just right. You need a bed of hot coals and a few burning logs to get the perfect fire. Depending on the weather and the fire, it can take up to 45 minutes to get it to the right conditions.

Start Small

Many beginners make the mistake of trying to build a huge bonfire. But that’s not the way to go. Big fires die down quickly and leave you with coals that are too hot and no direct flame. To avoid this, start with a small fire with kindling and smaller logs. Let it burn for 30 minutes and add a few larger pieces of wood as needed. This will give you a nice, warm base of coals and enough direct heat for cooking.

Keep the Fire Going

You don’t want your fire to go out halfway through cooking. To make sure it lasts all evening, use enough wood to keep it burning. Don’t be tempted to add too much wood at once, as this will just make the fire die down faster.

Finding the Perfect Spot for a Fire

Where to Look

When it comes to building a fire, you can’t just pick any old spot and call it a day. You need to find the perfect spot, and here’s what you should be looking for:

  • A rock is ideal, but if you can’t find one, look for bare mineral soil.
  • If you’re at a campsite, use the pre-established fire pits.
  • Make sure your fire is sheltered from the wind. Sparks can cause forest fires!
  • Keep your fire away from tree roots and low-hanging branches.
  • Aim for three times the height of the fire in overhead space.

When to Look

If there’s any wind that evening, you might want to reconsider your fire-building plans. Wind can be hazardous, and it’ll reduce your cooking time. So if you’re feeling a breeze, it’s best to save your fire-building for another day.

Cooking Without the Flames

The Traditional Way

We’ve all been there – sitting around the campfire, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, and thinking that’s the only way to cook. But, unfortunately, cooking directly over an open flame will usually result in a charred, inedible mess.

The Right Way

If you want to get the most out of your campfire cooking, here’s what you need to do:

  • Build your fire on one side of your fire pit or bowl.
  • Use the other side to move hot coals.
  • Place a camp grill over the fire to boil water, roast meats, and grill vegetables.
  • Use the side with the hot coals to cook vegetables in aluminium foil packets or with a Dutch oven camp stove.

The Fun Way

Cooking over an open flame can be a lot of fun – just not the way you’d expect! Instead of roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, try these fun alternatives:

  • Grill up some s’mores – with a twist! Add a layer of peanut butter, banana slices, or even bacon for a delicious treat.
  • Make a campfire pizza – top with your favorite ingredients and cook it over the coals.
  • Try a campfire cobbler – layer your favorite fruit with a biscuit topping and bake it over the coals.
  • Whip up some campfire nachos – layer chips, cheese, and your favorite toppings and cook it in a foil packet.

No matter what you decide to cook, just remember to keep it away from the flames!

Get the Right Gear for Campfire Cooking

What You Need

When it comes to campfire cooking, you don’t want to be caught without the right gear. Here’s what you need to make sure you have:

  • Metal utensils – plastic melts, so you gotta go metal!
  • An aluminum pot lifter – no rubber-coated handles allowed.
  • Utensils specifically designed for the outdoors – no mix ups or mishaps here!
  • Sturdy, close-toed shoes – you don’t want to get burned by the heat of the campfire.
  • Long sleeves and trousers – just in case of any stray embers or coals.
  • Heavy duty gloves – why risk it?

Why You Need It

You don’t want to be the person who gets stuck with melted plastic utensils, or worse, gets burned by the heat of the campfire. That’s why it’s important to make sure you have the right gear for campfire cooking.

Metal utensils are a must – plastic melts, so you gotta go metal! An aluminum pot lifter is also a must – no rubber-coated handles allowed. And don’t forget to get utensils specifically designed for the outdoors – no mix ups or mishaps here!

You’ll also want to make sure you have the right clothes. Sturdy, close-toed shoes are a must – you don’t want to get burned by the heat of the campfire. Long sleeves and trousers are also a good idea – just in case of any stray embers or coals. And don’t forget the heavy duty gloves – why risk it?

So there you have it – the right gear for campfire cooking. Don’t be the one who gets stuck without it!

Foods to Avoid on the Grill


Grilling can be a great way to cook up a delicious meal, but it can also be a dangerous endeavor if you don’t know what you’re doing. Steak and bacon are two of the biggest offenders when it comes to causing flare-ups, so it’s best to avoid them.

Frying and Oil

Frying and oil can be a recipe for disaster when it comes to grilling. Even if you think it’s safe to cook in a pan, it’s not always the case. So, if you’re feeling the urge to fry something, try using a Dutch oven instead. It’ll provide more reliable heat and protect you from any splatters.

Grilling Tips

If you’re new to grilling, here are a few tips to help you out:

  • Don’t cook any foods that create hot, drippy fat, like steak and bacon.
  • Avoid frying and oil-based dishes.
  • If you must fry something, use a Dutch oven for added protection.

Cooking on the Coals: A Fun and Delicious Adventure

Foil Cooking

Cooking on the coals is a fun and delicious adventure, and it doesn’t have to be hard! Foil cooking is a great way to get started. All you need is some heavy-duty aluminum foil and whatever food you want to cook. We’re talking potatoes, corn, meat, fish – you name it!

Here’s the trick: wrap your food item in the foil, making sure to seal it tightly. To do this, bring the edges together in the center and roll or fold them tightly. Don’t forget to create a handle on each side – this will make it easier to grab without tearing the foil and getting ash on your meal. And don’t forget to turn it over halfway through cooking to make sure it’s evenly cooked.

For a fun twist, try making s’mores in this method. Wrap them up in foil and toss them onto the coals for a few minutes. You’ll have delicious s’mores that are slightly less messy than usual.

Directly on the Coals

If you’re feeling brave, you can also cook certain foods directly on the coals. This works great for peppers and chiles – the peels will blister and pop, and the smoke and fire will give them a delicious flavor.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your aluminum foil and get cooking on the coals!


Cooking with an open flame is a great way to reconnect with nature and hone a craft that’s totally unplugged from the high-tech world. Whether you’re a Van-lifer, a professional chef, or just a beginner, you’ll find something to love about cooking over an open flame. From roasting marshmallows on a stick to making chili in a Dutch oven, the possibilities are endless. So, grab your FIREWOOD and get cooking! Who knows, you might even become the next Chuck Wagon Master!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.