How To Grill On An Open Fire: Tips, Dos And Don’ts

Grilling on an open fire is a great way to cook food outdoors. It can be a fun activity to do with friends and family, and it results in some delicious food. However, there are …

How to Grill On An Open Fire

Grilling on an open fire is a great way to cook food outdoors. It can be a fun activity to do with friends and family, and it results in some delicious food. However, there are a few things you need to consider before you start grilling on your next camping trip or summer get-together. Let’s cover what you need to know to get great flavor from the food you’re cooking over an open flame.

Table of Contents

Safety first

This isn’t a post on how to safely build a fire pit or build a strong fire. For that, REI Co-Op has an excellent post to help get you started.

But, we do want to mention safety as open flames (like when campfire cooking) are sometimes not as contained as other cooking methods. Please ensure the area around the fire is clear of any flammable materials. This includes things like dry leaves, paper, wood, and even tree roots. Use a premade fire pit if at all possible. Keep a fire extinguisher close by in case of an emergency. And never leave the fire unattended.

What to cook over an open flame

One of the great things about grilling is that you can cook just about anything, no matter the heat source. Steaks, chicken, fish, and vegetables taste great when cooked well over an open fire (like a campfire.) So, get creative and experiment with different foods. You might be surprised at how good some of them taste.

However, one thing to remember is that not all food will cook evenly over an open flame. Thinner cuts of meat (like skirt steak or flank steak) will cook much faster than a thick steak. That’s particularly true if your open fire is uneven in terms of flame height (and, therefore, heat.) So, you’ll need to pay attention to the food and flip it (and move it) as necessary.

Another thing to consider is that fat from the food can cause flare-ups. These are when the flames jump up and get much hotter. This can ruin your food, so be careful of any excess fat on the meat you’re cooking.

Finally, remember that an open flame will give your food a smoky flavor. This is great for some foods, but not all. If you don’t want your food to taste smoky, you can cook it indirectly. This means placing the food to the side of the fire so it’s not directly over the flames.

How to grill on an open fire

You’ll want to invest in a good campfire grilling grate. They are perfect for setting atop a campfire so that you can grill similarly to how you approach your charcoal or gas grill.


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Start by building a good fire. You’ll want some hot coals to cook the food on, so let it burn for a bit before you start cooking.

The biggest concern is even heat. This isn’t your at-home gas grill with perfectly even heat. It’s not even a charcoal grill where those glowing coals are relatively easy to evenly disperse. This is a living and breathing open fire, and as such there will be distinct areas of the fire with more heat and other areas with less. You’ll want to manage the flames as consistently as possible. And consider the placement of your food carefully. Flame consistency will help you time your food properly.

Next, get your campfire grate set up. You can place the grate directly on top of the fire. Otherwise, set it up so that it’s close to the flames but not over them for indirect grilling.

Now it’s time to start cooking! Place the food on the grill and let it cook until it’s done. Use your typical timings for burgers, steaks, and chicken for direct grilling. But remember to flip thinner cuts of meat, so they don’t burn and watch for flare-ups. And if your fire is inconsistent, you may need to use a meat thermometer to gauge your doneness properly.

How to cook over an open flame without a campfire grate

If you don’t have a campfire grilling grate, we recommend making tinfoil dinners, also known as hobo dinners. They may not sound like much, but trust us, you can make some delicious outdoor dinners with this cooking method. You’re simply sealing food into tinfoil and using direct or indirect heat from the open flame to cook what’s inside.

You’ll need a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil to make a tinfoil dinner. You’ll also need whatever food you want to cook. This could be something as simple as hot dogs or hamburgers. Or, get creative and add in some veggies, potatoes, and other favorite grilled foods.

Once you have your ingredients, it’s time to start building your tinfoil dinner. Place your aluminum foil down, then add in the food and any seasonings you want. Wrap it up tightly in the aluminum foil so that none of the juices escape while cooking.

Now, place the tinfoil packet close to the flames. Let it cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until the food is cooked through. You can also cook tinfoil dinners on a campfire grate using direct heat. It will, of course, be cooked through in less time (10 to 15 minutes.) Be careful when unwrapping the tinfoil packet as it will be hot.

One additional benefit of tinfoil dinners is the food cooked in the tinfoil doesn’t have the same level of smokiness that you get from direct flames. So, going this route may be best if you’d prefer a less smoky meal.

More dos and don’ts for grilling over an open fire

  • Do use dry, seasoned wood for your fire. This will help create a consistent flame and provide the best flavor for your food.
  • Don’t use green wood, as it will produce a lot of smoke and make it difficult to control the temperature.
  • Do build a good bed of coals before you start cooking over your wood fire. This will help evenly distribute the heat and make it easier to control the temperature.
  • Don’t put the food directly on the flames. This will cause it to burn quickly and unevenly.
  • Don’t forget to oil the grate before putting the food on it. This will help to prevent sticking and ensure that the food cooks evenly.