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Campfire cooking is loads of fun (and delicious), but for me, the only down-side is worrying about how I’m going to cook safely and not burn myself. I am planning several upcoming cooks and wondered, how can I pull this off without any burns?
You can prevent burning yourself when cooking on a campfire if you plan your cook in advance and get your equipment ready before you start the fire, have the right gear on hand that will protect your skin from the flames during your cook, avoid using a lot of oil or grease in your recipes and foods that will drip an excess of grease, having safety equipment ready to extinguish an out-of-control fire immediately, and finding safe places to cool off your hot cooking gear once you are done.
A safe campfire cook is absolutely possible! Read the in-depth tips below to maintain your respect for the fire, but conquer your fear of the flames while campfire cooking. These are NOT the obvious safety tips you ready everywhere, and some may surprise you!
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Setting up a safe campfire for cooking
One thing that many people overlook when campfire cooking is having a plan before they even light the first match.
First, make sure that the wind is an appropriate strength for a fire. If you see the wind blowing the tree limbs around you, that is too strong to start a fire. Check your local forecast and see if wind speeds will decrease and you can start it later, or if you need a plan B for cooking at your site!
Will you be cooking over a grill grate, with coals, on sticks, or with a tripod? These are all questions you need to ask yourself BEFORE you start your fire.
Cooking with a grill grate
If using a grill grate, try setting up the grate before the fire is started so that you know exactly where you will put it and how once you are ready to cook. Trying to fumble around with a grate that isn’t level or won’t stay up once you are inches from an open flame is a recipe for burns!
Also, you won’t want to put your grill grate over a fire that is too big for it. You’ll burn your food to smithereens, and possibly yourself! Plan the fire around the cook by doing a dry run setting up your grate and figuring out how high the flames should be and how big of a fire you should start.
Cooking with coals
Where are you safely going to put your chimney starter when you are lighting it? It will have flames coming out the top and get CRAZY hot, so plan in advance where you will start it so that it doesn’t burn you or others (like kids running around).
Will the actual cook take place in the fire pit or ring, or somewhere else? If you aren’t starting the coals and cooking with them in the same place, make sure you have a safe route from point A to point B so that you don’t trip or step in a hole!
If you can’t do the cook in the fire pit because there is a fire in there, consider using a charcoal grill in your cook set-up to keep everything safe. See more information about that in the “gear” section of the article.
Cooking with sticks
Roasting your food on sticks is the most easy and versatile way of campfire cooking, but there are still opportunities to burn yourself (ask me how I know).
Everyone knows to not get too close to the fire, obviously, but if they are metal sticks, where are you going to put those once you are done with them? Have a plan and tell your kids and guests in advance THE designated spot to put their hot sticks so that no one just lays them on the ground for someone to step on or touch.
Also, one thing you may not think of when roasting marshmallows is the length of your stick! Since marshmallows are made of pure sugar and highly flammable, they often (or always) light on fire prompting someone to blow it out. If you are using a longer roasting stick, blowing it out isn’t possible because it’s too far away from your face.
I have had this happen when using longer. heavy-duty hot dog roasters at our fire and the person begins to panic with the uncontrolled torch at the end of their stick! Most people don’t make great decisions when panicking, and someone could easily get burned.
For marshmallows, use the super cheap roasting sticks that aren’t as long so that the flaming marshmallows can more easily be blown out.
Campfire tripod cooking
Set up your tripod before starting your fire! If you have ever set up a campfire tripod, you know that they aren’t always the sturdiest things in the world when the legs aren’t in the exact right place. If the tripod will be holding up a heavy cast-iron dutch oven full of sloshing chili, you will NOT want to wrestle with that over an open flame.
Again, do a dry run with your entire tripod set up. Figure out how high you are going to want your wood and flames and build your campfire according to your cook. Make sure that your tripod is sturdy and ready to go BEFORE you light your fire. Then, leave it there for the duration of the campfire and you can use it over and over without risking a burn by moving it around.
See the tripod I personally use on Amazon here.
Want to do campfire dutch oven cooking with a more sturdy set-up? Go with a campfire swing and have an extra leg for extra support! Click here to see a campfire swing on Amazon that is not only more solid, but also allows for cooking multiple items over a fire at once. I love my tripod, but this is on my wishlist, also!
Using the right equipment for same campfire cooking
An oven mitt and a pair on tongs isn’t going to cut it. If you are doing any more than roasting things on sticks, you will need some safety equipment to avoid burning yourself. I tried to go the “minimalism” route at first and it was super scary. Get some gear.
Also, have your gear nearby and READY. You don’t want to have to go dig it out of the drawer or tote when you have an active fire situation!
Unless you are just roasting hot dogs, if you don’t adequately protect your hands during campfire cooking, you WILL burn yourself.
Luckily, modern technology has provided us with incredibly heat protective gloves at affordable prices! The knit style heat protective gloves claim to be more heat resistant than leather, but they also offer greater dexterity and better grip (so you won’t drop that dutch oven full of stew on your foot).
Click here to see the pair I personally own on Amazon, but there are many styles to choose from. The pair I choose offers great grip and protects further up on my forearm than my previous glove. Also, it’s a PAIR. You need to protect BOTH hands, people!
Dutch oven lid opener
At my first few cooks, I was trying to open my dutch oven with a stick I had just found on the ground. Not exactly ideal, and it really didn’t work that well, either!
Add to that the fact that there were red-hot burning coals on top and I was setting myself up for burning the crap out of myself.
A cast-iron lid lifter is vital to not burning yourself when campfire cooking. Any lid lifter should be just fine. Click here to see the one I own on Amazon.
Dutch oven trivets
If you have ever dealt with a steaming dutch oven fresh from the fire, you know you better have a good plan in advance of where you are going to set that down.
Regular pot holders will melt or burn and setting it on a picnic table will burn a circular mark into it.
Have a plan for where you will set that thing down, and have the plan include a cast iron trivet! These things are made to hold up to the high heat of cast-iron cookware and will protect you by not setting it somewhere sketchy.
They also aid you when using coals for dutch oven cooking because it allows for coals to be placed underneath.
Remember that your lid will be super hot and you also need to set that down somewhere, so grab a couple of those. These are inexpensive and available many places, but to see the one I have experience with on Amazon, click here.
Charcoal grill (NOT for grilling on)
I learned this tip from a MASTER at dutch oven cooking (he taught many classes) AND he practices safety in the outdoors better than anyone I know. If you are dutch oven cooking with hot coals, consider housing your cook entirely within the belly of a charcoal grill.
Think about how many people (including kids) may be walking around your campfire and having a read hot coal cooking setup on the ground suddenly seems much less safe! Protect yourself and others from burns by putting your grill in a safe place where people (including you) are less likely to knock it over and doing your entire cook within in.
Some people feel comfortable plopping another log onto the fire, and some people are freaked out by it. If it worries you, try a set of log tongs. The fire can’t burn you if your hands don’t get near it!
Here is an inexpensive pair on Amazon. You can also use log tongs to move around wood that is already hot or burning, or poke the fire when needed.
If you have long hair, like myself, don’t risk it and put it in a ponytail or bun, so have a hair-tie handy.
Also, if you are making a full dutch oven full of hot, sloshy soup, you may want to consider having a pair of tennis shoes or boots to wear along with long pants. If your tripod slips, spilling your hot soup, or if you slip carrying your hot soup, that is burn city! I love a good pair of flip-flops as much as the next person, but they won’t protect you from steaming chili!
Safety during your campfire cook
If you plan ahead and have the right equipment, most of the battle against burning yourself has already been won! But, there are a few other considerations to keep in mind to stay safe.
When using a tripod
Even though you planning in advance, things happen and sometimes you realize that you need to adjust your campfire tripod or move the food up or down on the chain.
Always take the dutch oven off of the chain and set it somewhere out of the way and safe before adjusting anything! Don’t try to wrestle with a heavy and full dutch oven along with a tripod and a chain. That is asking for trouble.
Grease flare ups
Never ever deep fat fry anything over an open flame. It WILL catch on fire and it will be scary and dangerous.
Be very careful when cooking with anything that has oil in it and NEVER add oil to a pot or pan while it is over the flame. Always remove the pot or pan to somewhere safe first.
When cooking greasy game, steak, hamburgers, or anything that can drip oil or grease, beware of flare-ups. Actually, plan for them and have an idea of what you will do if the fire gets out of control.
First and foremost, ALWAYS be ready to sacrifice the food over yourself. With the planning, prep, and hungry mouths to feed it can be really tempting to do something risky when trying to salvage your burning supper, but always tell yourself before you are prepared to bail on the food and save yourself from burns if it comes to that.
Plan for this and have a 5-gallon bucket of water handy (where you can see it and little ones can’t get to it), and be prepared to douse everything if need be.
Also, have a fire extinguisher close because you DO NOT want to douse a grease or oil fire with water. Yes, using a fire extinguisher on your campfire and meal will be stressful, a pain to clean-up, and even embarrassing. But, it will be far less traumatic for everyone than you or others getting burned or starting an out-of-control fire.
I now you have heard this a million times, but have the extinguisher ready. They say it for good reason. The good news is, you will probably never have to use it, especially if you planned your cook in advance and used the right equipment.
Enjoy your next burn-free campfire cook, and have fun!
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Love cooking outdoors? That may be a sign that you need to add this heavy-duty, stainless-steel adjustable cooking grate from Titan Great Outdoors to your tool kit! Mine is wonderful and has an incredibly sturdy feel. Because it’s adjustable, you’ll be less likely to end up with charred food, and the drip tray for grease keeps flare-ups to a minimum. Take a look here!