After a long day on the trail, the last thing you need is a packet of burned food. Even intense hunger can't make a ruined dinner taste better.
To help you cook the best meals possible on your camping trip, you need a certain set of skills. More than that, you need to avoid typical campfire cooking mistakes that rookies make.
Here are the top problems to avoid while cooking over a fire on your trip.
1. Forgetting Your Tools
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when trying to cook over an open fire is forgetting your campfire cooking tools. Pack the essentials on your camping trip, so you're not handicapped when it comes to dinner.
Here are some essential tools to bring with you:
- Cast iron pan
- Marshmallow toasting fork
- Sandwich bread toasters
- Aluminum foil
- Other tools
The "other tools" category depends on what you plan to cook. Based on the recipes you're making, you may have to bring other specific tools to make it happen. Which brings us to...
2. Not Planning Ahead
When you're packing up for your trip, make a meal plan. Food is an essential part of mental, emotional, and physical health. It's dangerous not to plan ahead.
Even if it feels less adventurous, practice your adulting skills and plan the meals you'll eat on the trail. Bring the recipes you need for each meal, along with the ingredients. Make a shopping list based on the components required for each recipe, and buy them before you leave.
Many ingredients require refrigeration. Either choose meals that don't have refrigerated ingredients, or bring a cooler and ensure you'll have ice to pack it with.
3. Using the Wrong Fuel
Wood for campfires should be dry. If you're gathering wood for a fire from the campsite, choose pieces that are already on the ground.
Don't disturb the woods or cut down trees for your fire. Green wood won't burn very well, and it's vital to practice leave no trace camping.
Make sure you don't bring wood from other places. The emerald ash borer is an invasive bug that lives in wood, and you could accidentally bring it to a place that doesn't have it. You could inadvertently be the reason a forest gets destroyed.
Some more primitive campgrounds or wilderness areas won't have a camp store or firewood available. Yet if possible, buy wood when you arrive.
4. Burning the Food
Cooking over flames is a considerable challenge, and if you don't do it right, you may burn the food. It's hard to regulate the heat on a campfire. You can't just turn a knob on the stove.
You can't just go to the fridge and get out more if you have to throw away some burned food, so follow these helpful tips to keep from burning your dinner.
Don't add all the wood at once. Make sure you keep the fire going at an even pace by adding a stick or two at a time while it's burning.
You don't want sudden flare-ups or a fire that burns down to coals. These mistakes will make the fire's temperature erratic, and the food won't cook evenly.
5. Skipping the Test Run
It's important to practice at home before you head out on the trail. Skipping the test run means you won't have a chance to work on your campfire cooking skills.
Prepare some of the same meals you plan to prepare while you're camping. Practice will help you get better so that you won't have any mishaps on the trail.
Chances are you'll also have hunger on your side while you're on your camping trip. Hunger is the best sauce, so even if the food isn't that great, you'll still think it's delicious.
6. Campfire Cooking Mistakes: Starting Too Late
Don't try to cook anything over the fire until you've had it going for a while. It's a good idea to start the fire at least a half-hour before you want to cook over it. After the fire has been going that long, it has a good bed of coals built up, which will help regulate the heat.
If you try to cook your dinner while the fire is fresh, you'll end up with some burned bits and some raw bits. Check that the fire is evenly burning before you get dinner started.
Put your pan or your grill over the fire while it's getting up to temperature. The pan will heat up and be ready for cooking by the time the fire has a good bed of coals.
7. Getting Too Elaborate
Don't prepare any meals that need a lot of fuss while you're camping. Comfort food and simple recipes are best because they'll have the protein and calories you need and the easy steps a fire necessitates.
Prepare most of the food ahead of time, if possible. Do the chopping at home, then bring the prepared ingredients along on your trip. This makes cooking over a fire much more basic.
The same is true for your coffee. If you can spend less time fussing with your favorite brew and more time enjoying the hot beverage on a chilly morning, you'll thank your past self for being prepared. Try a single-serve pour-over coffee pack from Kuju to get your caffeine fix with no prep.
8. Not Practicing Fire Safety
While you're working with open flames, keep a spray bottle of water nearby. You should also fill a bucket with water and keep it close in case the fire gets out of hand. If you're lighting a fire and it has been a dry summer, wet down the grass around the fire pit before you get started.
If possible, build the fire in an existing ring or use stones to ring the fire. You can also keep a bucket or pile of sand or dirt handy if water is scarce to smother the fire with if you have an emergency.
Don't put your tent, sleeping bag, or other flammable objects too close to the fire. Not practicing fire safety tips like these is a big mistake that could be dangerous.
Avoiding these eight campfire cooking mistakes will make your trip so much easier. You won't have to account for extra time, and you won't get hangry as you re-cook your food.