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There are few things more satisfying than relaxing around a campfire while your supper is slowly cooking over it. A bubbling dutch oven hanging over your fire is a wonderful thing, but if you have never tried using a campfire tripod before you may not be confident in your set up. I was a beginner once and felt this way, so below I have documented the quick and easy steps to have you cooking with your tripod in no time!
Find the rod with the largest eye (the bent over part at the top of the rod), or if they are all the same size just choose one. Hold this leg in your left hand and turn it so that the eye makes a “P.” Adjust the other two legs with your right hand so that their eyes lie flat against one another and both point in toward you. Pull the “P” leg away from the other two legs, spanning the fire pit, and then pull the third leg out to make a tripod. Adjust the legs so that they are around 3″ apart and feels stable.
Some things are just easier with pictures, so read below to get a more detailed explanation and photos to help you easily set up your tripod and become a campfire boss!
1. Line Up the Eyes at the Top
A campfire tripod is a simple piece of equipment, but trying to set it over a fire for the first time, especially, can feel awkward with the legs going every which way. Your first instinct may be to just try to have all of the eyes (bent over parts of the rods at the top of the tripod) line up the same way, but this will actually make your setup more difficult.
One way to make the legs easier to fold out is to line up the eyes at the top in a specific way first. Find the leg that has the largest eye. If the eyes of your tripod are all the same, just choose one. Hold this leg in your left hand and turn it so that it looks like a “P” in front of you. With your right hand, adjust the other two legs so that the eyes are facing the same way. These two legs should lie flat against one another. Roll them in your right hand until the eyes point in toward you.
Prepping the legs in this way makes it much easier to unfold the legs into a stable tripod.
2. Unfold the Tripod Before You Start the Fire
This would be vital for beginners, but smart for seasoned campfire cooks, as well. Trying to work over the top of an open flame is both scary and dangerous. Because of that, set up the tripod before lighting your campfire.
The first time I set mine up it took a few tries before I got it right. Had I done that over a fire I’m pretty sure I would’ve burned myself at least once!
Set the legs out how you would like them around the fire pit and then check to make sure there is the same amount of space between each leg. The closer the legs are to each other, the more easily the tripod could tip over. At the same time, if the tripod legs are way too far apart the whole thing could collapse in the middle when weight is put on it.
A good distance to start with is approximately 3 feet. No, you definitely don’t need to measure this, eyeballing it is perfectly fine. No two fire ring or fire pits are alike so yours may not be exactly 3 feet and that is ok, but you want to shoot for somewhere in that ballpark.
Give the tripod a little shake from a couple of directions and make sure it is sitting level, that it is sturdy, and that there is an equal distance between the 3 legs. This may seem overly cautious, but it is better to find out your tripod isn’t quite level now than it is when there is a heavy and steaming pot of stew hanging from it!
3. Hang Your Empty Dutch Oven
You are almost ready to get your fire roaring, but first, get your chain adjusted to the length you would like to start with. Then, try hanging your empty dutch oven on the end to make sure this will go smoothly once you have fire and food in your pot.
If you have a bail on the handle of your dutch oven that makes it easier to carry, but impossible to hang on the chain of your campfire tripod, you can simply shove it to the side of the handle.
For beginners, I suggest setting up a few pieces of firewood underneath just to get a sense for what height you need your dutch oven to be set at. You may still have to adjust it, but this helps get you close, at least.
4. Start Your Fire
Finally, fire! Build your fire in whatever way you choose and get that heat going!
If you are also new to starting campfires, or if you would like an easy way to get your fire built and roaring in a simple way, check out our post on a quick and easy method to start a fire here. I use things you can find in your home and never need to use lighter fluid to get it started. Also, this method is great for beginners who struggle to build a firewood teepee and find that theirs falls down at first. Got you covered!
5. Adjust Your Chain Length As Needed
Once your fire is blazing, it is finally time to get supper started and get good use of that tripod! Always being incredibly careful, hang your dutch oven on the end of the chain.
If yours did have the bail, the handle will be straight in the middle and not round. That will still work, just try to keep the hook of the chain in the center of the handle. I have done this and never had my pot handle slip down the chain and spill my food!
You may find that your dutch oven is either too close or too far away from the flames. Sometimes it takes more than one adjustment of the chain length before you get it just right. Some tripods have a feature where you can adjust the chain while something is hanging on the end of it, but most, including mine, don’t have that feature. Just take the dutch oven off, set it aside in a safe place, adjust the chain carefully, and hang it again.
There is no shame in this taking a few tries before you find that chain link that gives your dutch oven the perfect height you are looking for.
So, that’s it! You have successfully set up your campfire tripod and have a delicious supper cooking on the end of its chain!
How High Should My Dutch Oven Be?
This depends on what you are cooking and how quickly you want it cooked. I like to think of campfire tripod cooking with a dutch oven the outdoor equivalent of a crock pot or oven. No two fires are alike, nor do they burn at the same temperature, so there is no definitive answer to how high to put your dutch oven, but the guidelines below should give you a good start.
If this recipe is something that you would want cooked at about 350 degrees, like you would in an oven, you will get to eat your meal fairly quickly, probably an hour or less, and you would want to hang your dutch oven so that the bottom of nearly touches the top of the firewood.
Cooking this low to the fire also means that it should be checked a little more frequently to make sure you aren’t scorching the bottom, but right at firewood level will get you somewhere around the 350 degree mark.
If your recipe is something you want to cook a little longer and slower than you would in an over, similar to a crock pot set to high, you are going to want your dutch oven a bit higher.
A crockpot set to high cooks at around 300 degrees. Pulling your oven up about 1-2 or so inches off of the top of the firewood can get you similar results and close to that 300 degree mark.
Again, because each piece of wood and each fire burns differently, check it at the 30-minute mark to make sure it is getting enough heat. Also, you can start your dutch oven with the bottom right on the wood to “preheat” it for 10-20 minutes or so, then pull it up 1-2 inches to slow the cook a bit.
If you are looking to smell your supper over that campfire for hours and want to go the low and slow route, you will need to pull that chain up a few more inches. A crockpot set to low cooks at about 190 degrees. If you would like to cook something on your tripod that would work well in a crockpot on low, try adjusting the chain so that the bottom of the dutch oven is around 4 inches from the top of the firewood.
Again, at this height, you will want to check a few times at the beginning of the cook that you’re getting enough heat. You could also preheat it to give it a kickstart by setting the chain so that the bottom of the oven touches the top of the firewood for about 10-20 minutes or so and then pull it up to around the 4″ mark to let it simmer all day.
What Safety Equipment Should I Have?
There is nothing wrong with being a minimalist campfire cook, but you can’t scrimp on the safety equipment or you will have a much better chance of burning yourself or someone at your camp.
One essential is a good set of heat protecting gloves. This was probably my most important purchase for safety as, if you’re going to burn yourself campfire cooking, it will more than likely be your hands, wrists, or forearms.
My gloves are a heat resistant knit material, making them easy to move my hands in, which is important. The palms have a grippy surface, and they are long enough to cover my forearms. Also, there are two of them! That sounds silly, but before these, I had one heat resistant glove. It only covered just passed my wrist, leaving my arm unprotected, and I quickly realized that a full dutch oven is HEAVY and I need to safely use two hands frequently while campfire cooking!
Since I have gotten these, I have used them at every campfire cook. They have definitely been a worthwhile purchase. See the current price of the pair I own here on Amazon.
The other pieces of safety equipment I recommend would be a lid lifter for your dutch oven and a trivet or two. The lid lifter is specifically designed to lift the lid of a steaming hot dutch oven. I have used my gloves to do it, and even though I don’t get burned, I can still feel plenty of heat through the gloves. I am much more comfortable using my lid lifter to do the job.
See the current price for the lid lifter I own here on Amazon.
Trivets are important because at some point you are going to have to set the super hot dutch oven down on something so you can eat, AND you have to set the equally hot lid down somewhere, as well. Wrought iron trivets are perfect for the job. They hold up to the heat with no scorching.
I like my trivet and you can find it here on Amazon.
What If I Am Still Not Confident Cooking On a Tripod?
Tripod cooking is fun and can be easy, but not if you just never feel confident that you have set it up right or if you struggle to get it upright by yourself. If this is the case for you, a great alternative is a campfire swing.
Campfire swings have 4 legs instead of 3, adding extra stability and ease of setup. It also has the added bonus of having a rod across the top where you can hang multiple chains at different lengths and cook a multiple things at once.
The one below comes with a 16″ grill grate that can hang from the swing as well as multiple hooks of different lengths to hang your dutch oven from. See the current price for this swing here on Amazon.
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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!