Crafting An Effective Campfire Cooking Kit
Tom Waits once said, “When you’re down on your luck and you’ve lost all your dreams, there’s nothing like a campfire and a can of beans.” While I have definitely consoled myself after an unsuccessful hunt with a can of beans (and maybe a cold beer) back at base camp, I am thoroughly over my “slumming it” days. I blame it on my wife. Shortly after we got married, I began carrying good cookware and good ingredients “for her.” But the truth is, after I ate my first fireside ribeye with a baked potato and a side of fresh asparagus, I lost my appetite for beans. I’m still a fairly minimalistic camper, but I consider preparing and eating good food in a scenic locale to be one of the more worthwhile things I can do with my free time. In this article, we’ll look at the components it takes to put together a first-rate campfire cooking kit, and a few “out-of-the-box” kits for those who prefer to think less and cook more.
- Selecting Appropriate Campfire Cooking Kit Equipment
- Campfire Cooking Kit Fuel And Fire-Making Tools
- Efficient Packing And Organization For A Campfire Cooking Kit
- Ready-Made Campfire Cooking Kits
- Best Backpacking Campfire Cooking Kit
- Best Car Camping Campfire Cooking Kit
- Best Cast-Iron Campfire Cooking Kit
- Final Thoughts On Campfire Cooking Kits
Selecting Appropriate Campfire Cooking Kit Equipment
Let’s revisit my favorite songwriter’s can of beans. While campfire cooking doesn’t require much equipment, even that simple meal requires 3 things. Unless you like ash and dirt, you’ll at least need a flat rock to set your can on. Your can serves as your cookware, and it’s up to you if you classify it as a pot, kettle, or pan. And finally, unless you really have lost all of your dreams and self-respect, you’ll want a fork to eat those beans with.
Grill, cookware, and utensils. These 3 categories of gear will make up the backbone of your campfire cooking kit. Let’s look at each in more detail.
Campfire Grills And Grates
While there are a multitude of canister stoves that we’ll get into later in the article, let’s start by assuming that you’ll be doing some real, honest-to-goodness campfire cooking that would make Nessmuk or John Muir proud. Before you can get started, you’ll need a grill, grate, tripod, or some other method of suspending your cookware above a bed of coals.
When selecting a campfire grill or grate, several key factors deserve careful consideration to ensure a successful and enjoyable outdoor cooking experience. First and foremost, the material’s durability is important, as it should withstand the rigors of open-flame cooking and resist corrosion over time. Coals get hot, and thin, cheap grates will burn out in short order.
A sturdy and stable design is the next criteria. There is nothing that can ruin an otherwise serene evening under the stars like going to bed hungry while nursing the burns your spilt beans inflicted upon you. A good campfire grill or grate should be able to hold multiple pots, pans, and kettles full of food without buckling or rocking when you shuffle things around.
You also want to balance sturdiness with packability. Even if you’re “glamping” at an improved campsite in wall tent or RV, cooking gear can quickly take up all of your cargo space. Make sure that your stand folds up flat and can be quickly unfolded when it’s time for dinner.
Finally, since campfires lack a handy knob that turns the flames from low to high, you’ll want something with adjustable cooking height. Getting the food further away from the fire is the only way to achieve “medium-high” instead of “melted your skillet like a beer can high.” Sometimes you want to achieve that level of heat to quickly bring a percolator to a boil, but other times you’d like your eggs over easy. An adjustable grate means you can do both.
Texsport Heavy Duty Barbecue Swivel Grill
- Solid metal construction welded of high quality steel
- Large 24″ x 16″ grilling surface
- 28″ vertical support stake
- Height adjustable to 17″
- Rotates 360 degrees
If you’re going to take it upon yourself to man the grub wagon on your next outing, do yourself a favor and make sure that you have the right tools for the job. If you’re new to the smoky range, it’s a bit different from the one in your kitchen. The pots and pans under your counter probably won’t fare well over a campfire, and it’s an unfortunate fact that a lot of out-and-out junk is sold under the guise of whiz-bang, ultralite, foldamatic cookware.
The best advice I can give is to look for cookware that strikes a balance between simple functionality, portability, and durability. If you can find multitaskers such as pans that handily double as pot lids, awesome. But ask yourself first, “Is it actually enjoyable to fry eggs in?”
Avoid non-stick coatings like the plague. It may seem appealing to have an easy-to-clean pot or pan, but most of those coatings will flake off the first time you underestimate your coal bed. Worried about something sticking? Add more butter or bacon grease. The fresh air and exercise you’re getting will balance out the cholesterol.
My advice is to keep it simple. You need a skillet, a big pot, a little pot, and a kettle. Of course, I’m a little biased, because those are the 4 items that live on my stove top at home. They’re what I’m already comfortable with cooking with. If you’re not sure what you need, take a second to walk into your kitchen. What 3-4 pieces of cookware do you use 90% of the time? Find their equivalent in cast iron or stainless steel and buy that.
Lodge Cast Iron Combo Cooker
Lodge Cast Iron Deep Camp Dutch Oven
GSI Outdoors Convex Kettle
GSI Outdoors Percolator Coffee Pot
I’m referring to both cooking utensils and dinnerware in this category. I personally forego camping-specific utensils in favor of packing my favorite tools from my kitchen. There’s not that much weight or packability difference between any “camp spatula” I’ve seen an old faithful that flips my eggs every day for breakfast. And I have a wooden spoon that has lived with me for longer than my wife has. It’d be disrespectful not to take it with me.
But under no circumstances do I advise taking your wife’s silverware to the lake or subjecting the good china to a bumpy dirt road. I have the ubiquitous blue enamel coated dinnerware set that’s sold by several companies, and while a Michelin chef may cringe at my plating, I’ve never had a friend complain.
Stansport 24-Piece Enamel Camping Tableware Set
Norpro 8″ Spatula Stainless Steel
17 Inch Extra Long Grill Tongs
Campfire Cooking Kit Fuel And Fire-Making Tools
It should go without saying that your campfire cooking won’t go far without a campfire. There are several ways to go about starting one. Traditionalists prefer matches, and survivalists have what I regard as an odd but probably harmless obsession with ferrocerium rods. Personally, I prefer a Bic lighter, which makes up for in reliability and ease-of-use what it lacks in style. However, I confess to occasionally packing a Zippo purely for aesthetic purposes. There is a certain flair in whipping out a nice piece of chromed steel from the pocket of your plaid wool jacket before breaking out the dutch oven.
While we’re on the subject of style and flair, there is 0 charm in being the guy who relies on drenching a fire with gasoline, ethanol, or some other liquid accelerant, but I won’t be the guy to lecture anyone about the proper “one match” fire coaxed from a bird nest of lovingly gathered dry tinder. We’re several generations away from that skill being useful in our day-to-day lives, so I won’t judge anybody who uses a fire starter cube to get their cooking started. I confess to using these myself. Just be discreet about it.
While campfires score a full 10/10 in charm, they barely break a 4/10 in terms of convenience. It takes time to build a good coal bed. Gathering wood and kindling, tending the fire, dealing with smoke, and worrying every time the clouds turn gray can add more stress than some people are looking for to a weekend getaway.
There are a variety of camp stoves on the market that make cooking outdoors much easier. I usually carry one with me even if I fully intend on cooking on a campfire, because you never know when the weather will force you under an awning. Having an extra burner also makes some meals easier, and it’s nice to have the option to just turn a knob and have coffee going on a cold morning if the fire died overnight.
Classic portable propane stoves offer convenience with their easy ignition and adjustable flame control, making them ideal for quick meals and brewing hot beverages. They’re affordable and cook almost exactly like your gas range back at home, but the 1lb bottles aren’t refillable and the 20lb bottles are…well, 20lbs.
Coleman Triton 2-Burner Propane Camping Stove
- Built-in handle makes it easy to bring to the campsite
- Two independently adjustable burners for precise temperature control
- PerfectFlow™ and PerfectHeat™ technology to keep the heat steady with less fuel
- Push-button Instastart™ ignition for automatic, matchless lighting
- Chrome-plated grate is removable for easy cleanup
- Two wind guards help shield and protect burners from wind
- Aluminized steel cooktop is rust-resistant
- Heavy-duty latch is easy to open and keeps the stove closed when not in use
- Fits 12-inch and 10-inch pan
- 22,000 total BTUs of cooking power
Liquid fuel stoves provide reliability in various weather conditions and are favored by many for their efficiency and versatility. Your grandaddy probably bought a green Coleman stove that burned white gas or even diesel fuel back in the day. If you’re nice to him, he may even dig it out of the garage for you. If that fails, you can buy this one.
Coleman 2 Burner Dual Fuel Compact Liquid Fuel Stove
- Suitable for camping in cool weather or barbecuing on a summer afternoon
- Spacious cooking surface capable of accommodating two 10-inch pans simultaneously
- Equipped with two Band-a-Blu™ burners providing a combined cooking power of 14,000 BTUs
- Dual Fuel™ Technology allows the use of either Coleman Liquid Fuel or unleaded gasoline
- WindBlock™ panels effectively shield the flame from strong winds and can be adjusted to fit various pan sizes
- Chrome-plated grate is removable, facilitating quick and easy cleanup after cooking
Wood-burning stoves tap into nature’s resources, allowing you to cook using twigs and branches while minimizing the need to carry fuel. I haven’t used one myself, but I have several friends who rave about this one.
Solo Stove Campfire Camping Stove
- Innovative design for efficient and smokeless wood burning
- Secondary combustion system for reduced smoke and increased fuel efficiency
- Sturdy stainless steel construction for durability and long-lasting performance
- Airflow system promotes thorough combustion and minimal ash production
- Portable and lightweight, ideal for camping, backpacking, and outdoor adventures
- Large cooking area suitable for preparing meals and boiling water
- Minimalist and compact design for easy storage and transportation
- Environmentally friendly, utilizing twigs, leaves, and wood as fuel
- Comes with a carry case for convenient storage and transport
- No need for heavy fuel canisters, reducing the overall pack weight
For those valuing compactness, canister stoves use pre-packaged fuel canisters and are known for their lightweight and user-friendly setup. Integrated systems combine burners with pots for an all-in-one solution, streamlining your packing and eliminating the need for additional cookware. I have a Jetboil that has accompanied me all across the southeastern US. I’ve wowed buddies with a fresh cup of french press coffee with it in the duck blind, cooked freeze-dried meals with it in the backcountry, and have used it to make my wife hundreds of cups of green tea or hot chocolate at Corps of Engineer campgrounds. You won’t do much “real” cooking with most models, but they’ll boil water frighteningly fast.
Jetboil Zip Camping Stove Cooking System
- Easy-to-use cooking system boils water in just over two minutes with half the fuel consumption of traditional systems
- 0.8-liter FluxRing cooking cup with insulating cozy makes boiling water—and keeping it warm—a breeze
- Bottom cover doubles as a measuring cup and a bowl to save space in your pack for clothes, gear, and food
- Compatible Jetboil accessories, such as a coffee press, hanging kit, pot support, skillet, FluxRing cooking pot, and utensils make this a necessity for your next backpacking adventure
- Fuel canister stabilizer and drink-through lid with pour spout and strainer included;
- Easy to pack and carry at only 12 ounces
Efficient Packing And Organization For A Campfire Cooking Kit
Once you’ve got your campfire cookingkit assembled, you’ll need a handy way to store it all. After a lot of trial and error, my wife and I have come to appreciate a large, flat, clear, rubbermaid tote. Totes are easy to clean, easy to find stuff in, and they do a great job of containing spilled dish soap or olive oil. We usually have one tote that stores cookware, utensils, and dinnerware, and another that stores shelf-stable food, paper towels, hand sanitizer, and other cooking/eating essentials.
If you tell me that you don’t need a spice container when camping, I’ll be sure to make a note not to accept any invites to the lake from you. Salt and pepper are the bare essentials, but I usually travel with a little garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, cumin, smoked paprika, and low-sodium Tony Chacheres. If you prefer another Cajun-style seasoning you’re wrong, but that’s not my problem.
In all seriousness, it’s nice to be able to borrow a little pinch of this-and-that out of your home spice rack in the small, specialty bottles sold for campers. Variety and low salt Tony Chacheres is the spice of life, after all.
Because salmonella sucks. I usually travel with 2 coolers, one smaller one designated as the raw meat and eggs cooler, and a second one that holds canned beverages, milk, butter, and other delectables that are better kept below room temperature.
When choosing a camping cooler, I have 3 criteria. I want as much insulation as possible, room for all of my stuff, and a build quality that means I’ll get more than a season out of it. Yeti led the charge with overbuilt coolers, but at this point most common manufacturers have a “pro” or “ultimate” line that features rotomolded construction, an insulated lid, durable hinges and clasps, and probably a nifty bottle opener. I personally am a huge fan of Engels. They make a durable cooler that doesn’t take 2 people to get in a truck bed.
Ready-Made Campfire Cooking Kits
While I believe that a campfire cooking kit will serve you better if you pick out each component individually, there are some pretty slick systems on the market nowadays. Several manufacturers make kits that are perfectly serviceable, and to save you time we’ve assembled some of the best of them right here.
Best Backpacking Campfire Cooking Kit
GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Base Camper 8-Piece Camp Cookset
- Comprehensive cookware set designed for outdoor cooking convenience
- Durable and lightweight construction, ideal for camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities
- Crushproof, heat-resistant, and easy-to-clean nylon lids for the pots
- Folding, removable handles for compact storage and versatile use
- Pots and pans feature Teflon™ Radiance technology for even heating and non-stick performance
- Set includes a 5-liter pot, 3-liter pot, 9″ frying pan, strainer lids, cutting board, and more
- Plates, bowls, and mugs made from polypropylene for durability and easy maintenance
- Folding gripper handle ensures safe handling of hot cookware
- Welded sink basin included for efficient dishwashing in the outdoors
- Cleverly designed nesting system optimizes pack space for easy transportation
- Compatibility with portable stoves for versatile cooking options
Best Car Camping Campfire Cooking Kit
Stanley Adventure Even-Heat Camp Pro Cookset
- 18/8 Stainless steel, BPA-free
- Locking pot handle
- Nesting system
- Dishwasher safe
- 1 18/8 Stainless steel stock pot 4.75Qt / 4.5L
- 1 18/8 Stainless steel sauce pan 1.9Qt / 1.8L 2 Vented lids
- 1 Frying pan 8.5in/21.5cm diameter
- 1 Collapsible cutting board
- 1 Spatula with 2-piece handle
- 1 Spoon with 2-piece handle
- 2 Trivets
- 1 Locking bungee
Best Cast-Iron Campfire Cooking Kit
Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron 5 Piece Bundle
- 5 Quart Seasoned Cast Iron Dutch Oven (With Lid)
- 10.5 Inch Seasoned Cast Iron Griddle
- 10.25 Inch Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet
- 8 Inch Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet
- Seasoned with 100% natural vegetable oil
- Unparalleled heat retention and even heating
- Use in the oven, on the stove, on the grill, or over a campfire
- Use to sear, sauté, bake, broil, braise, fry, or grill
- Great for induction cooktops
- Made with nontoxic, PFOA & PTFE free material
Final Thoughts On Campfire Cooking Kits
With a little forethought and the right campfire cooking kit, the meals you cook on your next camping trip can become one of the highlights of your life. I have cooked several meals on trips with my family that, when I close my eyes, I can still taste. But I have also cooked meals that took years of time before the trauma inflicted by abject failure morphed into something I can laugh about. It is my hope that after reading this article, that you’re poised to elevate your camping experience into a culinary voyage that tantalizes taste buds, fosters camaraderie, and ignites the heart.
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