One of the best things about car camping (for us) is cooking on campfires. Marc LOVES building up the fire and cooking on it. We tend to go on long hikes in the day, but then we spend the evening cooking up a storm wherever we are camping. Over the last few years, we’ve slowly worked out a few meals that we really enjoy, so I thought it might be good to share the best of them with you all.
Wait, what is car camping?
Car camping doesn’t mean you sleep in the car. It just means you carry all your camping equipment in the car and park right next to where you set up your campsite. We really like this style of camping as it means we can be a bit luxurious with things like real pillows. It also allows us to cook more elaborate food than we carry into the back country.
Campfire Basics (in BC, Canada)
Firstly, check if there is a fire ban in the campground where you plan to stay. In recent years fire bans have been very common, so we ended up buying a camping stove for days when we can’t cook on a campfire.
Every front country campsite we have visited so far in BC has a campfire pit. This is where you should build your fire. Try not to build the fire too massive (as you need to wait for the flames to die down to cook anyway.) Never leave the fire burning unattended. Make sure the fire is completely extinguished before you go to sleep.
Where do you get your wood?
Never gather wood, break off branches or damage live trees to make your fire. Canada has issues with invasive species like pine beetles, so it is best not to transport firewood accross the province. In provincial parks, we normally buy firewood from the campsite where we are staying. When we’ve stayed in Canadian National Park Campgrounds, firewood is included in the campfire fee. You just help yourself to it from their wood pile.
Camp Cooking equipment
This is the equipment we normally take camping. It’s a pocket rocket stove, along with a cooking pot that is large enough to hold our camping bowls, cups and cutlery. When we’re not using the campfire, this is how we cook.
…And the rest
When we have the luxury of car camping, we bring much more! We keep it all in a camping gear box, so it’s ready to go in the summertime.
- Cast iron pan
- A lid for the pan
- We have a set of cutlery, plates and cups that we just use for camping
- We also have knives, spatula, spoon, peeler etc.
- Chopping board
- A metal grill (in case we want to put food closer to the burning embers)
- We keep a fire-box with newspaper, a lighter and heat resistant gloves
- We also keep a food-box with basic essentials like oil, salt, pepper, ketchup, hot sauce, tea, hot chocolate and aluminum foil. We just need to add the spices for the meal we plan to cook that night.
- Bucket, scrubber and tea-towels for washing up
- Cook box and tupperware for leftovers
- Big jug of water
- We bring Thermacell (mosquito repellent) and mosquito coils to keep bugs away
Are you ready for me to share some food options!? Here we go!
This is one of my favourite dishes to cook on the campfire. The smoke infuses the chicken and is so, sooo tasty. We do not have a specific recipe for this. First spatchcock the chicken (open it out to reduce the cooking time.) Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then rub it in olive oil and harissa paste before roasting it on the campfire. We drizzle with lemon before eating.
We tend to eat the chicken with cous cous (as this is so quick and easy to make while camping!) I normally fry off some of the vegetables (onion, garlic and peppers), then leave the other veggies raw. I add extra harissa paste and oil to the cous cous as it re-hydrates, then just mix in the veggies.
I love hot dogs! We tend to buy smokies, or veggy sausages (like the Spicy Italian Beyond meat) work well too. Find a stick with a fork-like end, and cook them directly on the flames.
We also fry up oodles of onions and add hot sauce or ketchup. It’s simple, but good. This is what we cook on days when we’ve done big hikes. It doesn’t take long at all.
We love a good steak on the campfire. Sometimes we’ll make a pepper or mushroom sauce. Often, steak doesn’t need more than seasoning or a knob of butter.
Like hot-dogs, this is another super-quick meal to throw together on days with long hikes! You can elevate it by bringing fancier cheese (my favourite so far was a burger with bacon, egg and cambozola…) Just add your favourite toppings.
Chili works really well on the campfire. I normally measure out the spices at home, so it is easy to cook. We noticed that you don’t really need meat for this to work well. Impossible/Beyond/Yves fake meat work just as well, and still takes up the smoky flavour once it all stews for a while.
Once you have chili, you can eat it in a few ways. We like it with rice, or in campfire quesadillas (normally using the leftovers the next day), or on jacket potatoes.
We only tried this once, but it worked really well. Cook up some meatballs on the campfire, then make a tomato sauce to go with them. You could pile it onto spaghetti, but we made them into meatball subs. We did this with fake meat, and it was gorgeous.
Jacket potatoes are great BUT be warned, it takes absolutely ages for them to cook well on a campfire. Rub oil and seasoning onto each potato, then wrap it in foil and place it on the burning embers. Expect it to take at least an hour (it may take an hour and a half.) You can pre-cook them at home to speed things up. Or cut the potatoes into small pieces before you wrap them in foil. That becomes tasty crunchy potatoes (more like hash potatoes than jackets…) Or, just fry them in the pan.
We sometimes cheat with Indian curry. We bring a ready-made curry sauce, so just cook the vegetables or meat on the campfire, then add the curry sauce and heat it up.
This was the main thing I’d cook with friends when hiking or camping in Japan. You just need to bring potatoes, carrots, onions and a curry roux (you can buy squares of it from most supermarkets in Canada.) It’s easy to make, just like at home.
Okonomiyaki (and yaki soba) work well on a campfire too! If you have not had Okonomiyaki before, it is basically a cabbage-filled pancake, slathered in sauce. Chop up some cabbage finely, then mix it into okonomiyaki batter. I normally buy okonomiyaki mix in advance, so just add water and an egg at the campground. You can use whatever topping you like (in Japan bacon is popular, so is corn, mochi and cheese.) Add the batter to the pan, like a thick pancake. Cook few minutes, then flip it (adding cheese on top.) Lastly you need to add okonomiyaki sauce and mayo before you eat it.
Pasta and salad
Like the hotdogs and burgers, we often make pasta when we are tired after hiking or when we don’t have much time. I sometimes make pesto in advance, so we know we have an easy pasta-dish as a fall back. This is also a good option if you are hiking the next day (as you can make extra, then bring it with you for lunch.)
Stuffed pasta like ravioli are also fantastic for camping.
One of our friends stuffed peppers with goats cheese and prosciutto, before grilling them on the campfire. Those were fabulous. Baking a whole camembert is lovely too.
We often just fry up a bunch of vegetables as a side dish
Other vegetables that work really well are
- Green beans (we fry them in the steak juice)
- Courgettes/ zucchini
- Corn (spicy corn with feta is the best, but just with butter is still good)
Spanish tomatoes vs caprese salad
When tomatoes are in season, we either chop them into slices and add oil, garlic and parsley (then just let them sit for a while). This is how Marc’s mum serves them. Or we go for caprese salad by adding mozarella, basil and balsamic vinegar.
Halloumi is sooo good on campfires or bbqs! Just slice it (5mm slices works well) add it to the pan with a teeny bit of oil until it starts to go golden. Add a squeeze of lemon and enjoy.
Giant lamb feast
We only did this once with friends, but it turns out roasting a whole massive leg of lamb while camping can work out well!
For days when you are lazing around the campground, but don’t want to actually cook. You can just make sandwiches or wraps. We normally bring cheese for this reason.
Breakfast on campfires
We often just grab some fruit in the morning, rather than cooking. But occasionally it can be lovely to take it easy and spend time having a leisurely breakfast at the campground.
- Breakfast sandwich
- Eggy Bread or French toast
- Porridge (You don’t need the fire!)
- Dunky eggs and soldiers (ehem, soft boiled eggs with toast to dip in if you are not British.)
My favourites are smores. You take chocolate, gram crackers and a melted marshmallow, then squish them together in a gooey mess.
Another great option is strawberries, dipped in “fluff.” I’d never heard of this back in the UK. It is basically a tub of spreadable marshmallow, that you can cook on a campfire, in the way you’d roast a marshmallow. The strawberry becomes gooey and jam-like.
I also LOVE banana’s roasted on the campfire with chocolate or nutella. Slit the banana lengthways, poke some chocolate under the skin, then seal the banana in foil, and leave it on the hot campfire coals for around 10 minutes. It looks terrible (not instagramable at all) but tastes fabulous.
Cooking in the backcountry
I should probably mention that the way we cook in the backcountry is completely different. We never make fires when back country camping. It is not worth the wildfire risk, and even when there is no fire-ban, we don’t want to damage the fragile alpine ecosystems with a fire. When backpacking, we either buy, or make dehydrated meals.
I hope that helps give you a few ideas for tasty things to cook on campfires this summer! What did I miss? Do you have a favourite thing to cook when you’re camping? Would a similar post about dehydrating camp food for back country camping be useful for you? If so, I’ll get working on that next.