Bushcraft Cooking Guide for Beginners (Part 2- cooking kit)
The useful and efficient pieces of equipment you may need when cooking outside over fire whether you are camping outdoors or cooking at home.
Quite often at workshops and public events I am asked by guests, “What equipment do I need?” The answer is, not very much. People have been cooking outside over fire for centuries and the key principles have remained the same over that time and improvisation can play a key part here too. I have repurposed my coal rake as a pot lifter, and silicone jam spoons have a greater length that makes it easier for little ones to cook with safely. While I often cook for 30-40 people the amount and size of equipment for an individual or small family would naturally be much less.
Here I am providing a guide so that hopefully you will end up with the cooking kit that you need rather than the stuff you don’t.
Campfire Cooking Essentials
What do I really need?
Having taught hundreds of outdoor cooking workshops in South East England over the past few years and cooked outside for many more. I have spent much of this time collecting all sorts of pieces of equipment and would say that the most important pieces are those I bought first (or rather my wife did!). For me I will happily cook almost anything with my cast-iron pot and tripod. I choose to use a Dutch oven with feet, which you can place over hot embers, but when hooked upon a tripod you get a greater sense of temperature control and you can cook on an earlier stage of the fire.
What outdoor cooking equipment is right for me?
As I said previously I feel that the tripod and pot are the absolute essentials, I will now go into these products in more detail along with a few other useful pieces of kit.
While these can be whittled and improvised from suitable branches of wood in true bushcraft fashion, this isn’t always possible, so I have one fashioned and bent from 9mm hardened steel. If you can, avoid tubular steel tripods, while these may be more portable, that is their only real benefit. Anything tubular will retain water no matter how hard you try to keep them dry, while hinges, screws and joints are prone to weakness and rust. Such tripods are lucky to last a year, I have had mine for many. In terms of cost, both types of tripod cost about the same for one that is about 1.2m in height, expect to pay about £50-70 for one with a chain and hook, from good online retailers or in my case the local blacksmith!
The Dutch Oven
There are a number of manufacturers of excellent cast iron Dutch ovens, I unsurprisingly have quite a number of them in all shapes and sizes. The one you buy will have to suit your needs, they vary in size from 1 litre to 20 litre capacity(see above).
What I always look for though is a flat lid with a rim, as this will hold embers on top when baking and roasting, many also come with a small hole to insert a temperature gauge in which can also be useful for these purposes. If you have a lid with feet, it can be reversed and used as a hot plate or skillet on the embers, this is my most common use! The main pot will often come with the option of feet or without. Feet on Dutch ovens are extremely useful as they can be placed on top of the embers without burning the food on the bottom of the pot and also allow air to circulate underneath so that the fire is not smothered and therefore continues to burn.
Dutch oven size guide
3 litre-light and portable will cook a small dish for 2-3 people
4.5 litre- still quite light, ideal for baking a large loaf or a cottage pie to serve 4 people
6 litre- this will weigh about 8kg and is big enough to cook a one pot roast dinner
12 litre- This is the size use the most, when full they weigh over 25kg, however these can cater for about 20-30 people, ideal for forest school groups if you don’t mind the weight!
Remember that the larger the Dutch oven, the longer it will take to warm up to cooking temperature.
Most of us have enjoyed food cooked over a barbeque, and for many using an outdoor grill is perhaps seen as the easiest way to cook food over the fire.
Grills tend to come in two forms, those which hook onto a tripod with a chain or others which rest on feet over the embers. Both have their benefits, but the former makes heat-control much easier by allowing you to adjust the height of the grill on the chain.
One important thing to note is the importance of letting the flames die down, so that you are cooking on hot embers rather than smoky flames which may taint your food. If you are pushed for time, one solution to speed this up is to chop your wood a little smaller, increasing the total surface area. This will help the fire develop at a faster pace, additionally providing more oxygen will also help it advance.
An Axe (or two!)
At some point a good axe and a chopping block will be of essential use . This could be for splitting larger pieces of timber which may be too big to work with and are possibly wet, or perhaps more commonly for making your own kindling. The axe is a most essential tool and the one you possess has to meet your needs.
If you search online you are likely to find a whole range of axes for different purposes with a variety of names, sizes, weights and cost. Personally I have one go-to axe, this is a trekking axe which can be used with one or two hands, with a 900g head.
The weight is important as anything much less than this will simply not provide the velocity to fulfil its purpose, while heavier axes can prove more unwieldy as always needing both hands to chop with.
Please note, as with any sharp tool, axes benefit from regular sharpening when in use, this is normally done with a stone and doesn’t take too long, remembering that a sharper axe will require less effort when chopping!
What to cook over fire?
The answer to this is pretty much anything you like!
Certain dishes require different levels of attention than others. The Dutch oven is a versatile piece of kit that can cook a whole range of foods from sourdough bread, one pot roasts to fruit crumbles, with a bit of skill and invention you really can take you kitchen outside.
If you are cooking outside for the first time then stir fries are an easy win as they can be cooked on any stage of the fire. While if you are looking for a way to feed and impress friends then I heartily suggest one of my chilli dishes, these are without doubt better cooked over fire, both meat and vegan recipes can be found here.
I am regularly updating my website and adding new recipes these are not only delicious, but also a great teaching resource inspired by the young people I get to teach, examples of Roman, Viking and Ancient Greek recipes can be found via my recipes page.