When you cook over an open campfire, you don’t need to use a grill. Backpackers know how to make awesome campfire meals without using a grill or rack over the open flames, and pioneers rarely used a grill. For a backpacker carrying a grill would be heavy and senseless, backwoods campsites do not have racks, and it is more natural to cook over a campfire without a rack. You can control your cooking over a campfire without a grill by keeping your campfire small; “smaller is better.” After you are finished cooking, you can always make it bigger for warmth and light.
How do I cook over a campfire without a grill?
Here are several ways to cook on a campfire without a grill.
1. Use only the fire coals, over an open flame, using a crane method, rocks, or with a Dutch oven. Try using the crane method. If you are using a cookpot with handle, then the crane method is a great option for campfire cooking.
2. You can also make use of a fire pit or trench. You can prop your cookpot on a heated rock, or set your pot between two rocks. If it comes down to cooking over a campfire and you are confused about what to use, whittle a stick, put your food on the sharpened end, and cook over the flames of the campfire.
3. Tin foil methods of cooking are fun, and you can always be a Scout and wrap your food in tin foil and throw it into the coals.
4. You can always use a rock straddled over a fire to cook on as well.
Be sure to read our article about using skillets directly on a fire – Can you cook with stainless steel or aluminum over an open fire?
Try these methods to grill-less cooking over a campfire.
Hot Rock Method
Build your fire and remember that “smaller is better” when you are cooking. You might also coat your camping pots and pans with a small amount of dish soap. The soap will prevent a black film from being a permanent addition to your cooking pots and pans.
Try cooking on top of hot rock. It might take the time for the rock to heat up enough to get water boiling for dinner, but it is an option if you need hot water for dehydrated meals. You can also use your heated rock to fry eggs, cook a hamburger, or even a cheese sandwich.
It is also popular to find a couple of big rocks to prop your cooking pot on, but do make sure the fire between the rocks is small. Try this recipe for cooking on a rock.
Steak on a Rock
Find a good sturdy rock that is flat with plenty of surface area. Sandstone works best, but other rocks will do if they are around 4 inches thick. Clean the surface well with clean water before you begin your cooking adventure. Place your rock up against the fire, but not in the fire. Let the rock heat up and to test if it’s hot, sprinkle a few drops of water on the rock. The water sizzles, you are okay to cook. Have a cooler stone nearby for backup.
When the stone is hot, place your steaks on the rock. They will sizzle, smell wonderful, and make you very hungry. Depending on the thickness of your steak, they need to be cooked for about 5 to 10 minutes on each side. (Wrap potatoes, onions, and carrots in foil and toss them in the fire coals, so you have the sides to go with your steak.)
You will note that the part of your steak closest to the fire will cook faster. Turn the stone around to even the cooking on the steaks. Be careful when turning the rock and use a hot pad or oven mitt.
Dig a small pit, make your fire in the pit, and place thick branches over the pit. Use the branches as a “grill” for your cooking pot. You can also prop your frying pan or pot on the rim of the pit. Make sure your branches are thick, so they don’t burn through quickly. Try this soup recipe in a pot cooked over a pit fire.
Be sure to check out our article on using dutch ovens on a fire- Can I Place A Dutch Oven Directly Into or Next To a Campfire?
Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken Noodle soup is always a crowd pleaser and awesome comfort food. It’s easy to make in a cooking pot, and the campfire will impart a bit of smoky flavor.
1 can chicken
2 stocks of celery cut into pieces
1 Onion chopped
1 can chicken broth
Noodles of your choice
Pour all the ingredients into a cooking pot (including the noodles). Stir until mixed. Place over the branches over the fire pit.
Cook until soup comes to the boiling point. Remove the pot from the fire (using potholders!) and let it cool down a bit. Eat with crackers or Dutch oven bread.
Use a Crane for cooking over a campfire
If your camping cookpot has a handle, then the perfect way to cook your dinner is with a cooking crane. There are several ways you can set up a cooking crane over a campfire. One way is to use two notched poles sunk into the ground and the main pole set in the notches between the poles. Place your cook pot with a handle on the center pole using a hanger made from metal or wood. Suspend your cooking pot by the hook and set the pot above the flames.
(Courtesy of Pinterest)
You can also use a log braced with a rock and supported by a large log. Suspend your cooking pot by the handle over the flames.
(Courtesy of Pinterest)
Recipe for Campground Chili Using a Crane and a Cooking Pot
2 lbs ground beef
1/8 cup of cooking oil
1 diced onion
1 diced red pepper
½ bulb of garlic minced
1 can dice tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 can black beans
1 beef bouillon cube
1 cup of water
1 package chili seasoning
1/8 cup of chives
1 tsp salt to taste
½ tsp ground pepper
Dissolve the beef bouillon cube in 1 cup of water and set aside. Saute diced onion and red pepper in the pot over the campfire until onions are tender. Add the minced garlic. Stir. Add the ground beef to the pot. Stir and brown the ground beef. Add salt and pepper for taste. Pour the can of tomatoes, can of tomato sauce, and can of black beans into the pot. Add chili seasoning packet, chives, and the cup of beef broth. Stir contents thoroughly.
Suspend the cooking pot over the campfire and bring to a boil. Move the pot to a cooler spot of the crane after it is boiling and continue cooking at a lower temperature for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Tin Foil Cooking On A Campfire
Some of the best food you will have are foil pack dinners cooked directly in a campfire. The clean-up is nonexistent, and the food will be hot and tasty. You can turn your campfire into a working stove. All you need is to add aluminum foil and your chosen food. You can make steak, stir-fry, quesadillas, nachos, hamburger and vegetables and so much more. Let your imagination soar. You can cook just about anything in tin foil placed in hot campfire coals. (Not in flames, but the coals)
Sausage or Canadian bacon
Frozen has brown or leftover cooked potatoes, diced
Chopped tomatoes and green onions (optional)
Shredded cheese (handful)
Use a double layer of tin foil that has been sprayed lightly with cooking spray.
Lay sausages or Canadian bacon on a foil
On top of the meat, add a handful of frozen or leftover potatoes. Crack an egg or two and add diced tomatoes and green onions. Use salt and pepper to taste. You can also add Cajun spice or whatever spice you like. Wrap up the packet. Make sure the tin foil sealed tight. Double wrap with foil if you need more security.
Place the tin foil packet at the edge of the fire on top of hot coals. You can control the heat to your breakfast or dinner by placing on hot coals. Never throw your tin foil pack directly into the flames. It will burn, and you will go hungry.
Cook for about 10-15 minutes. Lift the tin foil out of the fire with tongs or a long stick. Gently open the tin foil pack and place a handful of cheese on top of the ingredients. Let the cheese melt, then eat, throw away the tin foil, and you are done!
Begin your meal preparation with fire and let it burn for a bit. You will want to cook mainly with hot coals unless you use the crane method or cook hotdogs on a stick.
These are just a few methods for cooking over a campfire. Cooking without a grill and over a campfire has many benefits, and is a good survival skill to have. When you cook over a campfire without a grill, your food will have an interesting flavor that is unique to outdoor cooking.