We love campfire cooking! No kitchens, no electricity, and very few other modern conveniences. Somehow, everything tastes better when you've worked that much harder for it. And how can you beat the ambiance of al fresco dining on an African evening under the stars?
In this post we'll cover:
- Campfire cooking tips and tricks,
- A checklist for your campfire kitchen,
- Campfire cooking principles,
- 2 of our favourite campfire recipes from the Wilderness Leadership School.
Campfire cooking tips and tricks
- Plan your menu to use soft vegetables that will get ruined early on, and hard vegetables like carrots and butternut that will keep for longer, later on.
- Fresh meat that is frozen (and vacuum-sealed) at the start of the trip is a great treat for the first night. After that, use dried meat like biltong, droëwors or salami.
- Start preparing as early as you can to make use of daylight - preparing in the dark is not so fun.
- Rubbing mud on greasy plates is a great way to get rid of excess grease and oil without using soap.
- Likewise, rub mud or a paste made from a bar soap onto the outside of your pots to stop them from turning black from the soot of the open fire.
- Collect hard, slow-burning firewood from trees like Camphor, blue gum, Sekelbos Kameeldoring or Rooikrans. If the wood is wet, dry it out next to the fire to avoid excess smoke.
- Build your camp fire with the logs radiating out from a central point. As the logs burn down, simply push them further into the fire in the middle.
- A supply of fresh water close to your camp kitchen makes life much easier! If the water source is far away, use sturdy canvas bags lined with plastic as camp buckets to bring that water closer at hand.
- Be sure to clean up once you're finished eating. Leaving dirty dishes and food waste lying around will attract animals to your camp.
Campfire cooking checklist
Fire making gear
- Hand spade/shovel for collecting mud to make a fire mound (the base that the campfire will be built on and discarded once you’re done).
- Firewood – This can be found in the bush near your camp. Look for hard woods like Camphor, blue gum, Sekelbos Kameeldoring or Rooikrans. Make sure you know what wood you're picking up! Some woods, such as Tamboti are not suitable for cooking, or even serving food.
- Waterproof tinder box filled with cotton balls, or any light tinder. Tinder can also be collected from the bush, or you can use teabags.
- Fold up, aluminum wind shield. Great for getting a fire going in windy conditions.
- Lighter/matches - stored in a waterproof pouch.
If you'd prefer gas cooking then you could substitute the fire making kit with:
- Butane gas burner
- Burner head
- Aluminum wind shield
- Camp kettle – Bring along the appropriate size depending on the number of people in your party.
- Cooking pot – Old beaters are the best.
- Bar soap / mud – This is used for making a paste that you apply to the base of your pots and kettles to prevent them from going black with soot while cooking over the flames.
- Foil – Multipurpose material for wrapping vegetables and cooking them on the coals.
- Pot stand – You’ll need to elevate your pot from the campfire to keep it going while you cook. A metal pot stand is best, although you can also balance your pot on rocks or thick logs. This is a little more precarious though!
- Wooden mixing spoon – This can also double as a serving spoon.
Food storage and carrying
- Toiletry and cosmetics bottles for keeping liquids such as oil, or salt, pepper and other spices. The small bottles are the best.
- Old 500mm water bottles – Good for liquids like oil or biodegradable soap.
- Zip-sealing plastic bags – These are great for storing portions of dry ingredients, as well as sealing off leftover food.
Cleaning and refuse
- Plastic refuse bags.
- Dish towel (or let your dishes drip-dry).
- Steel wool/ scouring pad – Great for removing any soot on your pots and kettle.
Cutlery and crockery
- Knives, forks and spoons - There are some great all-in-one products out there.
- Camp plates - Metal or plastic.
- Camp mugs – We like tin cups.
- A flask - Useful for saving hot water for that mid-morning tea break, or when boiling water is not possible.
- Cutting/peeling knives - A multi-blade pocket knife would do, but nothing beats a dedicated cutting knife.
- Cutting board – wood or plastic (we really like the flexible plastic sheets). You can also use your camp plates for chopping.
- Ladle / serving spoon – Depending on what you’re serving.
- Bottle and can opener – Depending on the food you pack.
- Head lamp – Absolutely essential for hands-free lighting when you're cooking at night!
- Biodegradable soap to wash your hands.
- Solar lamp - Be careful of the kind that come in glass bottles though, they might break in your pack. They are also very heavy to carry.
- Fresh water supply – usually a river or stream. Avoid stagnant water and be suspicious of any pool with no green vegetation growing around it. Boil any gathered water before ingesting it.
- Water purifiers – These come as either pills or drops which can be used to purify drinking water.
- Coffee filters to get rid of river debris such as small leaves, sticks and sediment.
- Canvas bags lined with heavy-duty plastic refuse bags – These can be used to carry water from the river and store nearer your camp. Fold the excess plastic bag over the top to stop leaves from blowing in.
Things to be aware of when cooking on a campfire
- Avoid glass packaging – decant all products stored in glass bottles into a plastic containers or zip-sealed bag. Likewise, pack only what you need. Decant large volumes into smaller containers or zip-sealed bags.
- Make sure you have a constant supply of fresh water. Use water purifiers if not, and never drink salty or overly brackish water.
- Have waterproof backups in the event of rain. Tinder and fire-starting gear should always be kept in waterproof containers and wet wood should be dried out next to the fire before being used to avoid smoke.
- Scatter your fire mound as soon as you're ready to leave camp and ensure you've left no trace.
- Clean up as soon as you've finished eating and seal all leftover food and refuse. Do not leave leftover food exposed overnight as this will attract animals.
Leave No Trace
"Leave no trace" is a principle we learned while on the iMfolozi Wilderness Trail. It is as simple as the name suggests - to leave no trace of your presence and activities when you leave your night's camp. From carrying every scrap of rubbish back out with you, to building your campfire on a mound of sand that protects the ground below from being scorched as well as being easy to scatter once you're done, leaving no trace is better for the environment and great for the people that will use the trail after you.
Wilderness Leadership School campfire cooking recipes
Trail-Style Meat Stew
Check out the full recipe with cooking instructions here: Trail-style meat stew with the Wilderness Leadership School.
Leave us a comment below to tell us your favourite campfire cooking recipe.