Whether you’re RV camping, boondocking, tent camping, or cowboy camping, you will need to eat! Many people will use a camp stove for most of their cooking needs. While you can use your regular kitchen pots and pans on a camp stove, if you ever want to cook over a campfire, you’ll need some more specific open fire cooking equipment. And, this article will help you decide which is the best campfire cooking kit for your needs.
Cooking has a specific set of tools that makes it easier. While some of these items are often at your disposal at home, they are not readily available while camping, unless you remember to bring them along.
Creating or buying a campfire cooking kit will make packing for a camping trip so much easier. If you don’t need to try and remember to pack things from your home kitchen, it is much less likely that you’ll forget something.
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Our Favourite Top 3 Campfire Cooking Kits:
If you’d like to skip the reading and just get to the top 3 suggestions, here they are! These are all available online at REI, or you can probably find them or something very similar at your local outdoor outfitter.
What do you Need for Open Fire Cooking Equipment?
Depending on where you plan to camp, some things may be supplied for you. At a campground, there will likely be a fire pit and possibly even a metal grill either attached solidly to the campfire pit or a movable one.
However, if you are boondocking or wilderness camping, you may need a few extra supplies to ensure a safe environment to cook over a campfire.
Some of your basic supplies could include a metal grill rack or tripod. You’ll need a cast iron Dutch oven or pots and pans that are safe over an open flame. You might also want flame resistant gloves or hot pads, tin foil, and fire starting materials.
Can You Use a Regular Pan on a Campfire?
Your regular kitchen pans are not usually heat resistant enough to withstand the heat of the direct flame of a campfire. Not to mention, any plastic handles will melt instantly. Plus, they’ll come home filthy and need a lot of scrubbing to be kitchen ready again.
Luckily, tons of campfire safe options are available: anything from heavy and big to compact and lightweight. Whatever type of camping you plan to do, there is a pan option that will fit your needs.
So What Kind of Pan Can You Use on a Campfire?
Most people would probably agree that cast iron is the best way to go. It lasts forever, withstands all kinds of heat, and can be used for many different types of food.
Please note this recommendation only applies if you are camping with a vehicle. If you are carrying your cooking equipment on your back, in your canoe, or with a bike, please do not use cast iron!
However, cast iron isn’t your only option for RVing and car camping. We use an old hand-me-down set of camping pots, that I assume are stainless steel. The ones we have are lightweight and pack nestled together for easy storage.
Lodge Cast Iron Cook-It-All – This incredible set features five different cooking configurations using only two cast iron pieces. It also includes removable handles to easily lift hot pans off the fire. This could honestly be the only pan set you need for your campfire cooking kit.
Lodge Cast Iron Skillet – If you aren’t looking to do lots of different types of cooking, a simple skillet could be your answer. You can get all different sizes, depending on how many people you are cooking for.
Silicone Handle Cover – You may want to consider a silicone or even a washable fabric handle cover option. Cast iron gets hot all over, so even the handle will burn you. Be sure you have items to help you cook safely! This particular cover is made by Lodge (the big cast iron company) and so, I assume, will fit most of their cast iron pans.
However, you don’t need anything this special. We keep an old set of oven mitts in our camping kitchen kit for taking hot things off the fire.
Other types of pans can be used over an open flame or on hot coals. You just have to watch for plastic handles as they will melt.
Another super important consideration is how easily they can be cleaned. Your pots and pans will have a huge amount of soot on them. This soot will be super hard to clean out of small crevices. So, consider your pot’s rims, the handle attachments, and such. The simpler, the better in terms of clean-ability.
I know of some campers that just don’t even really bother cleaning the soot off their campfire pots… especially those that prefer to use cast iron. They just wash the inside with a scrubbie, water, and very very minimal soap (if any), then tuck the pan in a plastic bag for storage.
Another option is to use aluminum cooking plates over the campfire. I admit that when I’ve done extended camping road trips with the kids, this was our preferred cooking method. We would wash and reuse the trays until they were unusable, then chuck them in the aluminum recycling.
Putting together your own camping cooking set:
I’ll admit that I would actually recommend putting together your own camping cooking kit instead of buying a set. This way you can pick and choose the best items and only the items you’ll need as some of the sets have ‘extras’ that really aren’t always necessary…. for example, do you really need four different sized pots?
What should your cooking kit contain?
Again, you might have some specific preferences, and you will need a very paired down kit for hiking, but here are the main needs:
- one pot big enough to cook the food for all campers
- frying pan
- spatula and long handled spoon
- large kitchen knife
Other items you might want to add to your cooking set:
- oven mitts or fireproof gloves
- cutting board
- a second or third pot or Dutch oven
- tin foil and aluminum pans
- a camping tea kettle
When it comes to RV and car camping supplies, I tend to use older kitchen items that we have in the house. I also tend to have a bigger kitchen kit than when I’m back country hiking or paddling.
Read more about the essential camping equipment here and about how to pack and organize all your camping stuff here.
Options for purchasing a Larger / Full Camping Cooking Set:
Prep and Grill Tool Kit – A handy little kit that comes with a storage mat to keep things organized, you can’t go wrong with having the basic pieces of a knife, a spatula, and tongs. The spatula even has an integrated bottle opener, so that’s one less item you’ll need to pack in your campfire cooking kit. I like that these tools are one piece.
Full Cook Set – A 19 piece set that accommodates four campers, you’ll find plates, bowls, utensils, a drying rack, and a frying pan. Plus everything fits into one larger pot with a vented lid for straining. There’s even a picture of the optimal order to stack everything in on the lid! A bungee will keep the whole set together while you travel.
I really like the idea of the holes in this set’s lid… really, straining pasta is one of the hardest thing when camping with minimal camping equipment! But, I worry how much excess heat you’d loose through those holes?
Cowboy Campers and Backpackers / Hikers
For hikers and wilderness travelers, you’ll need to keep in mind that weight and size matters a lot!
Cast iron items are fantastic for longevity, capacity, and versatility, but they weigh a lot and are not usually small! To keep a pack light and compact for daily travel, you’ll want to invest in some smaller and lighter-weight cooking systems. Be sure to do your research, though, as not all lightweight options can be put directly over a campfire flame, but they may work over hot coals.
(This being said, I will admit that I have seen two young men pull out a cast iron pan on top of a mountain to fry up their steaks after hiking all the way up there! They also hauled up a bottle of Whisky too, so obviously weight wasn’t high on their priorities list!)
Our go-to when on backpacking trips is a super old nestling pot set. There are 2 pots and a kettle. The pot handles are detachable and fit inside the innermost item, the kettle. Then, there are four plates which sit nestled under the lid plus a larger lid that alos functions as a frying pan. While it is a fantastic set, when we’re hiking and keeping our weight to a minimum, we tend to only bring the kettle and dehydrate and cook our food in the dehydrated food bags and we eat our food out of our mugs, so we don’t bring plates.
We also have this MSR set and tend to use these pots when car camping. The handles are a bit tricky to first figure out how to best use them, but we still like these pots for their convenience in storage, being light, and easy to clean.
I’d say that these are a classic, standard go-to… that many outdoorsy folk will recognize.
Other Campfire Cooking Tools
While having the right cookware is a great start to your campfire cooking kit, here are some other items that may be useful:
Campfire Grill Rack – Big enough to fit more than one pan at once, this stable grill rack has legs that fold down for easy storage. It is one of the top sellers and best rated grills out there.
Heat Resistant Gloves – A handy tool if you’re tending a fire during a camping trip, heat resistant gloves can be a helpful addition to your camp kitchen.
Hot Pads – Multipurpose tools are the best option for camping. These hot pads can double as trivets as well as keeping your hands from burning on those hot handles. Silicon is easy to pack, on the lighter side, and a pretty hardy material… meaning, they should last many many years.
Fire Starter – Need a fire starter that won’t ever let you down? A ferro rod and striker will last years and is guaranteed to always start a fire. We have this set and while it does work, I’ll admit, I prefer a standard match for lighting fires. But, it is handy to have and it’s also a great activity for the kids and teens around the campfire.
First Aid – Don’t forget to pack a first aid kit, just in case. It’s always better to have first aid supplies and not use them than not have them when you need them. This is a standard set from a highly reputable outdoorsy store, REI.
Campfire Kitchen Cleaning
Now you have options for your campfire cooking set, don’t forget to think through how you will clean everything at the campsite!
I prefer to use 2 handled buckets that store stacked one inside the other (that I picked up at the dollar store). Then, as the dishes pile up throughout the day, I just add them to the top bucket. When it’s time to wash dishes, I add water and soap to the bucket with the dirty dishes and clean water for rinsing in the clean bucket.
Collapsible Sink – Easy to store! A collapsible sink will save packing space, but allow you to have a decent size sink to clean your supplies in. This two-pack will give you a washing sink and a rinsing sink. Grab a third bucket for pre-rinse or for air drying.
Dishcloths – A regular old dish cloth will come in very handy. This particular one even have a hook to hang it up to dry when you’re done with it. I like that it can be hooked onto something so it won’t blow away!
Scrubbie Cloth – These are my favourite for washing dishes. They are thin so they dry quickly, and they have great scrubbing power.
Kitchen Towels – Kitchen towels are also super handy. A multipack will give you one for drying dishes, one for drying hands, and more for any other uses you can find… like drying freshly washed feet, wiping rain off the picnic table, and using as impromptu oven mitts for getting hot stuff of the fire. You can get yourself a fancy camping set but, be ready for them to get dirty and stained!
Clothesline – You’ll need a place to dry your dish cloths and towels, so don’t forget to pack a clothes line. We don’t have a fancy retractable line like this. In fact, we tend to use a tarp rope line as our drying line. But, I do keep a small bag of clothespins in the camper to stop stuff from blowing away.
No matter what type of camping you plan to do, there is a solution for your campfire kitchen needs. Be sure to think through the meals you plan to make and choose your items accordingly. Having your campfire cooking kit and campfire cooking tools always packed and ready to go will ensure that you have everything you need to easily make your food over a cozy open fire.