How to Build a Campfire for Cooking

Here’s a quick guide to starting and enjoying a campfire. The advice is for a campfire in a designated campsite, the beach or picnic area. Backcountry campfires are a whole different ball game.

Material

Start by collecting the materials you need. No one wants to be desperately hunting for wood when it gets dark.

  • Dry piece of wood/logs about 1” to 10” in diameter. Please use local sourced wood to avoid transfer of pests and diseases.
    • In some places this might be the law.
  • Small pieces of kindling wood. If it bends but does not snap chances are that it’s to green.
  • Scrunched up paper, tinder or firelighters
  • Waterproof matches/lighter

Be Safe

Don’t take chances. A campfire can be fun but fire can also be dangerous.

  • Start by checking that you are allowed a fire, where you can build it and how big.
    • You might need a permit.
  • Fire blankets, water and shovels to cover the fire with dirt are all important.
  • Keep children away from the fire and always supervised.
  • Have a First Aid kit on standy.

Never leave a Campfire Unattended!!!

Fire rings, Fire Pits and Fireplaces

Most campgrounds provide a fire pit or similar on designated campsites.  If not building one for yourself is not too difficult..

  • Collect good sized stones to create a fireplace circle.
  • Remove any flammable materials (dried leaves and twigs) to a safe distance
  • Keep spare wood and other material well away from the main fire.
  • Check that there aren’t low hanging branches or other material that might catch fire.

Campfire Cooking Tips

  • Start early as it does take time for the fire to be ready and hot enough.
  • Bigger is not better. Keep the fire a reasonable size and add extra fuel little and often.
  • Aim for a steady burn that will be more even and last longer.

Starting the Fire

Everyone has their own system and I’m sure they work well. Me, I like the pyramid approach.

  • Start with three or four of the larger logs on the bottom. Create a triangle or square outline.
  • Create a second layer at 90 degrees of slightly smaller logs and follow this with a third layer.
  • As you build the pyramid place tinder/firelighters/scrunched up paper in the base and small kindling above that.
  • Light the tinder at the base (remember fire burns up).
  • If necessary, or even just because you can, blow gently to increase oxygen flow.
  • Your fire should burn nicely.

Ending the Fire

Don’t just let it smoulder, have a plan to close it down safely.

  • As the fire is coming to an end move all the embers and other unburnt material towards the centre.
  • The plan should be to reduce everything to white ash and have no glowing embers.
  • Use water to extinguish the last hot spots.
  • Careful not to stand down wind of the steam as it can scald.
  • Stir the firepit and add water until there are no hotspots.
  • Everything should be warm to the touch – careful don’t burn yourself.
  • Make sure you clean up afterwards and take home any garbage.

Do Not use dirt/soil/sand to put out the fire.

Under safety I mentioned having a shovel ready to put dirt on a fire. This was for an emergency if you need to douse the fire quickly. The problem with covering with sand or dirt is that it might simply cover hot embers rather than put them out. The danger is that if the coals/embers are uncovered you have the possibility of a fire source without supervision.

Have fun.

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