In the words of Midwestern camping expert Barb Clements, there’s nothing better than enjoying a cup of coffee around a campfire on a cool morning with a group of friends. We couldn’t agree more, but from preparing your own firewood to getting ready for a full day of meals in the outdoors, there’s a lot to know about campfires and campfire cooking. Here at 812, we want you to get the most out of your campfire experience, so we asked the experts for you. Our campfire guide takes you step-by-step through everything you need to know to get the most out of your campfire cooking experience. Beginning with your first flick of a match and ending with dousing the campfire at the end of the day, we’ve got you covered. All you have to do is gather the wood, food and friends.
Your must-pack, must-buy and must-know list for flawless campfire cooking.
The list of gear and gadgets is endless — you may find yourself getting a little carried away.
Standard size fire pan (15 in. x 24 in.)
Swiss army knife
Charcoals and charcoal starter (if you plan on cooking over coals)
We all have our own campfire-cooking favorites, but this grocery list will prepare you for the recipes featured in 812.
3 medium bell peppers
2 jalapeno peppers
2 red onions
3 lbs. potatoes
Muffin mix (we used blueberry)
Prosciutto, bacon or ham
1 jar marinara sauce
1 bag of shredded cheese
Seasoning of your choosing (we packed garlic, oregano and Italian seasoning)
Pizza toppings of your choosing
2 packages pre-cooked sausage
Believe it or not, firewood can carry pathogens that can be responsible for devastating DNR property, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources is cracking down on the spread of these pests. Consequentially, firewood brought into state property must meet these DNR standards:
- Wood purchased from a department store, grocery store, gas station, etc., must have a USDA compliance stamp.
- Wood purchased from a campground or outside vendor must bear a state compliance stamp.
- All scrap lumber must be kiln-dried.
- If you are bringing wood from home or a separate Indiana location, the bark must be removed.
To properly prepare your wood, the DNR suggests you allow it to season for one year in a warm, sunny location, such as along the south or west corner of your home.
Fighting hunger with fire: surviving the great outdoors like the Boy Scouts
Rule number one: Always make sure you have plenty of kindling to get your fire started. Or is it tinder? No, maybe it’s fuel. Though 11-year-old first-class Boy Scout Chad Thompson may have had a little difficulty keeping the three types of firewood and their descriptions straight, he is still considered a fire-building expert. On an early spring day between gusts of wind pummeling us from all directions, we asked Chad to teach us how to build the perfect campfire, and boy, does he know his stuff.
A member of Boy Scout Troop 121 in Bloomington, Chad is equipped with his Boy Scout Field Book, his Scoutmaster and his Firem’n Chit, which certifies him in both fire safety and proper fire-building technique.
Scoutmaster Clay Slaughter tells me he stopped by Murray Park in Bedford because he had gotten out of work early, but after seeing the relationship between Boy Scout and Scoutmaster, it’s clear that this duo comes as a packaged deal. The two pace around the campsite looking for twigs and dry leaves before filling the fire pan with the most carefully constructed lean-to you’ll ever lay eyes on.
When Chad can’t remember which particular wood to place at the bottom of his fire, or when he forgets what else can be used as kindling, he looks to Slaughter, who shrugs before delivering his classic line, “I don’t know why you’re looking at me!” Chad’s face crinkles up in a battle against smiling, but he eventually bursts out into laughter before the two continue building their fire.
Now for the flames. Using a pesky book of matches with a cardboard flap covering the front, Chad successfully coaxed his fire into burning on the first strike and flames begin to spread across the fire pan. We’re thoroughly impressed that this 11-year-old Boy Scout is able to get a substantial fire started despite the gusts of wind blowing out several of our matches. Looking up from the growing flames for the first time, Chad wastes no time in replying. “Boy Scouts can light fires in anything.”
Stepping back to admire the results of his training, Chad uses a spare twig to point out the difference between a campfire (open flames) and the perfect cooking fire (burning coals beneath the flames). An experienced camper and outdoor cook himself, Slaughter admits that food is the best motivation for teaching boys how to build their own fires. Chad nods his head.
“The only reason I know these things is so I don’t starve,” he says with such a straight face, you would think he’s a man in the middle of an Everest expedition.
Even the Boy Scouts have to eat sometime.
- Napkins, dry leaves and dry grass can also be used as tinder to get your fire started.
- Don’t ignore the first rule of fire safety: Never leave your fire unattended.
- The ideal wood to start a fire with is Sassafras, as it burns most easily.
- When you can hold your hand over your fire for 3-5 seconds before wanting to pull away, your fire is at approximately 350 degrees and ideal for cooking.
- After putting out your fire, be sure to dispose of your ashes in the woods where no one will risk running into them, minimizing your impact on the environment.
1. Stack your fuel (the “big sticks,” about the thickness of your wrist) along the side of your fire pan.
2. Lean the tinder (the “medium sticks,” think pinkie-finger sized) perpendicular along the fuel.
3. Stuff some kindling (the “small sticks” or twigs) in the gap under the tinder and into every nook and cranny of your lean-to.
4. Cram some paper towels in there, too.
5. Light your match, get the kindling and paper towel burning, and watch your fire grow.
6. Add kindling every couple of minutes to keep your fire blazing until everything is burning.
7. Begin adding tinder and fuel to your fire.
8. Once a substantial blaze is burning, carefully shift the flames from one end of the fire pan to another, leaving hot coal and ash at the opposite end.
9. Use the coals as a cooking fire and continue feeding the opposite end to use as a campfire.
10. Start cooking!
Cooking over a campfire can be so much more than hot dogs and roasted marshmallows. To inspire your next fireside cooking adventure, 812 rounded up the some of the most creative (and delicious) recipes, courtesy of Pinterest. Next time you venture into the woods, try one of these mouth-watering dishes that are so easy, even the least experienced camper can quickly perfect them.
Blueberry Orange Muffins
These morning delights take a little extra time to bake to perfection, but trust us — they’re well worth the wait.
-Blueberry muffin mix
Cut the oranges in half and use a spoon to remove the fruit from the inside. Fill one half of the emptied orange peel with muffin mix (prepared by following package directions) and place the other half back on top. Wrap the oranges in foil and place in the fire, turning them often. Check the oranges after 5 minutes to ensure they are cooking evenly. Wait until the batter is cooked through and serve.
This easy camper’s quiche will be ready to serve in minutes, leaving you with more time to spend with the great outdoors.
-1 potato, sliced
-1 onion, sliced
-Salt and pepper
Grease the bottom of a Dutch oven and layer the ham on the bottom, followed by potato slices and onion slices. Drizzle olive oil over the top and add salt and pepper. Allow to cook over coals for 5 minutes, or until potatoes and onions are cooked through. Pour the whisked eggs on top and allow eggs to fully cook. Season with more salt and pepper to taste and serve.
Prosciutto or bacon can be used in place of the ham, and cheese can be added to the top of the eggs for extra gooey flavor.
Sugar Cone s’mores
Who can say no to this camping classic? Even the Boy Scouts approve of this new spin on an old favorite.
Spread peanut butter along the inside of a sugar cone. Layer the inside with the chocolate chips, banana and marshmallows. Wrap in foil and place in the fire, turning often for 3-5 minutes.
Sausage HoBo Dinner
HoBos are a simple, customizable dinner option that will fit anyone’s food preferences, but we couldn’t resist this combination of fresh produce and succulent smoked sausage.
-1 package pre-cooked sausage
-1 red onion, diced
-2 pounds new potatoes, diced
-3 bell peppers
-Spices for flavor
Roll out 2 square feet of foil, placing all of the ingredients in the middle. Wrap securely and place in the fire for 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
Set out a buffet of everyone’s favorite toppings and create your own mini pizza in minutes!
In a separate container, mix Bisquick with water until a doughy consistency has been reached. Thoroughly grease the bottom of a Dutch oven with cooking oil. Pour enough dough into the pan to cover the bottom and spread evenly. Add marinara sauce, cheese and preferred toppings. Place over coals for 10 minutes or until dough has browned.
Eat it with dinner, save it for a snack or cook it purely for the spicy sweet aroma that seeps from the fire when this cornbread gets cooking. We won’t judge.
-1 cup yellow cornmeal
-1 cup flour
-1/4 cup sugar
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-1 cup milk
-1 cup egg
-1/4 cup oil
-2 jalapenos, chopped
Mix ingredients together and pour into a greased cooking pan, spreading evenly. Allow to cook on coals, turning pan often to distribute heat evenly. Cook for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Ben Robards told us there is nothing better than sitting around the campfire, talking about the day’s activities and enjoying a hearty meal that you have prepared in the wild. We were anxious to experience this joy ourselves. However, as we began our plans to cook in the great outdoors we realized neither one of us knew what we were doing. To demystify the art of campfire cooking, we sat down with camping experts who shared insider tips ranging from new uses for your favorite snack foods to the importance of a good spork.
Age: 31 Hometown: Greenwood
This camper has been in the outdoors since the age of 5 when he joined the Boy Scouts. His love for camping grew when he started rock climbing in college. Robards is an employee and frequent customer of J.L.Waters and Company Adventure Outfitters in Bloomington.
Tip for beginners: Always make sure to keep a close eye on the grill. When you’re camping you don’t bring a ton of extra food. Burning your food is not an option.
Don’t forget: A good spork. It can be used for just about anything.
Favorite campfire meal: Beef stroganoff for dinner and cherry cobbler for dessert.
Age: 56 Adopted Hometown: Indianapolis
This Midwesterner grew up in Girl Scouts. As her daughters got old enough, she became their Girl Scout leader. She loves being involved with the Scouts’ Day Camp and works there in the summers.
Tip for beginners: Make sure you have dry tinder and kindling to get the fire started. It needs air to breathe. Great fire starters are pine needles and dryer lint. Cheetos and Pringles make great fire starters, too.
Don’t forget: A bandana, scarf or tie to pull your hair back. Everyone thinks they’re safe and will stand back from the fire, but a wind can come up when you least expect it and boom, hair on fire. Matches and foil can be great lifesavers, too. When you get ready to eat, a Sporkif (spoon, fork and knife all in one) is the best.
Favorite campfire meal: Pudgy pie. You can put anything between the two pieces of bread from cream cheese and jam, eggs and bacon or ham, pizza filling or any variety of pie filling. It can go from breakfast to dinner to dessert.
Age: 40 Hometown: Novelty, Mo.
This Midwesterner may not be from Southern Indiana, but he has tons of experience. Goertz grew up on a cornfield in Missouri, and he was only 7 the first time he went camping without supervision. Since then he camps every chance he gets. He particularly enjoys the challenge of cold-weather camping.
Tips for Beginners: Bring a magnesium block with flint. If you have one, you can start a fire in the pouring rain and wet wood if you have enough of it.
Don’t forget: A Swiss army knife—you can’t use the magnesium block without it.
Favorite campfire meal: Green apples, Gouda, ham and pita. These make for a tasty campfire sandwich.
Age: 29 Hometown: Great Falls, VA
During her time in the Midwest, Dreier and her husband did a 400-mile ride across Iowa, carrying all their camping gear, clothes and food on their bikes. Contrary to popular belief, Iowa is not flat, and going uphill with more than 50 pounds gear on your bike can be tough!
Tip for beginners: Think about where you’re starting a fire and how you’re going to put it out. This is particularly important now, as much of the country is still dry from last year’s drought. I would even go as far as to say don’t start a fire unless absolutely necessary. Think about bringing already prepared foods, if possible.
Don’t forget: A can-opener comes in handy.
Favorite campfire meal: Do s’mores count as a meal? I’m a vegetarian, so pasta with veggies is always a good choice.
Age: 56 Hometown: Indianapolis
Ware didn’t have any experience in the great outdoors until she began working at a camp at the age of 18.
Tips for beginners: Don’t be afraid to try new things and to change recipes and have plenty of spices on hand.
Don’t forget: Bandanas and foil are two items to have. The scarf can be used to shield your hair from the fire, cover your nose if the fire is smoky, can be a potholder or a rag to wash dishes. Foil is the best supply to have outdoors. It can be a scraper, helps to keep cooking dishes from getting to dirty to clean up afterward and a vessel that can be used to cook in
Favorite campfire meal: Deep-dish pizza in a Dutch oven or homemade bread and cake in an orange over the fire. They are delicious!
Age: 31 Hometown: Marion
Slaughter has been with the Boy Scouts of America for 25 years and a scoutmaster for 10. He’s currently getting ready for his fourth backpacking trip to New Mexico.
Tips for beginners: Cook on the coals, not the flames. It’s important to regulate your heat so you don’t burn your food.
Don’t forget: Water. You are going to need it when you want to put out your fire.
Favorite campfire meal: Peach cobbler. It’s not your typical “hot dog on a stick” camp food.
There’s nothing like cooking your dinner over an open campfire, sitting on a log and spending time with old friends under the bright summer stars. Well, there’s nothing like it if you can actually pull it off. For two novices like us, the experience of starting a fire, preparing food and eating outside was significantly trickier than we expected.
As people whose fire-lighting experience started and ended with the wicks of Yankee Candles, we had a lot to learn about gathering and drying wood, fire formations and the difference between a campfire and a cooking fire. However, we’re now proud to report our ability to successfully construct a lean-to formation of tinder, kindling and fuel – a.k.a. twigs, big sticks and bigger sticks.
Our first challenge was the gusts of wind that sent our supplies tumbling off picnic tables and rolling into the woods. We got a workout in chasing a plastic bag across the street, down a hill and into the trees. Lesson learned, Mother Nature. Next time we’ll bring extra potatoes to hold things down.
Starting our own cooking fire would have made for entertaining reality TV, as we’re still not sure that we can justify the outrageous number of matches we used. It’s still a mystery to us if the battle to get our charcoal glowing was due to the early spring wind or a lack of lighter fluid on our charcoal, but we’ll pin this one on the wind.
Then came the actual cooking. We had a basic idea of what we were creating and how to make it, but we were unprepared for the fact that fire burns things. Pizza crusts blackened, marshmallows melted and the bottom of our cornbread charred. Multiple attempts at working with a Dutch oven and heavy-duty aluminum foil taught us to use more oil on the bottom of our pans and to look for places in the embers that aren’t quite as hot (read: not still on fire).
All in all, we city girls had a great time prepping, cooking and especially eating our campfire creations. Allison now dreams of perfecting a campfire cupcake, and Victoria is even thinking of rejoining the Girl Scouts after a 10-year hiatus. We take comfort in knowing that if we ever find ourselves stuck in the woods with some matches, dry wood and maybe a little bit of oil, fresh produce, some salt and pepper and silverware, we’ll have no problem at all feeding ourselves. Not many people can say that for themselves, now can they?