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Everything you need to learn to nail cooking with a portable campfire

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Cooking with a portable campfire

With the right tools, anyone can use a portable campfire to cook nearly anything they make at home. A portable campfire gives you the ability to bring the heat no matter where you go, whether it's in the backyard or out in the wilderness. However, to achieve success while also being safe, there are a few things you need to know and some items to have on hand. Don't miss our testing insights on the innovative Solo Stove fire pit, either.

Shop this article: UCO Flatpack Portable Fire PitSolo Stove Bonfire Fire Pit and Texsport Adjustable Outdoor Camping Rotisserie and Grill

What is a portable campfire?

A portable campfire is anything mobile that creates and contains a fire safely. The design can range from a simple bowl or a canister to a collapsible fire pit that fits in a backpack. Some models have built-in features, such as a grill, which facilitate cooking tasks. Others provide a small heat and light source. A portable campfire can also be a valuable tool in keeping away insects and predators.

What type of fuel do portable campfires need?

Charcoal, propane and wood are all options for portable campfires. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

  • Charcoal: Charcoal gives food a distinctive flavor and burns hot and long enough for a variety of recipes. However, lugging 20-pound bags to and from a campsite is not ideal for maximum portability.
  • Propane: It is easier to control the temperature while cooking with propane. Smaller tanks are more manageable to carry than bags of charcoal, but you still need to pack and carry enough to cook your meals. A 16-ounce tank lasts roughly one-and-a-half to two hours. Additionally, with propane, meals do not have a smoky flavor.
  • Wood: Cooking over a wood fire isn't as easy as cooking with charcoal or propane. The temperature is harder to control, and you may have issues with popping and spitting. Dried hardwoods such as oak and ash are the best wood for cooking fires. There might be no need to pack your fuel since it could be at your campsite naturally.
  • Other: Some companies use wood pellets or manufacture portable campfires with an alternative fuel. Wood pellets have benefits and drawbacks similar to charcoal. Alternative fuel models are often not large enough for meal-cooking needs. They can be excellent for roasting marshmallows and making s'mores.

When to use a portable campfire

Portable campfires aren't limited to remote camping trips. They're usable in the backyard, on picnics or at tailgate parties. They also work as a great backup if you lose power during an emergency.

Basic principles for cooking on a portable campfire

Cooking with a campfire isn't as simple as when you do it in the kitchen, but the same principles apply.

  • Preheat: Most people think of cooking over a fire as actually cooking over a fire. Cooking should never happen while there are still flames. It is the embers that deliver the most consistent, clean heat. An open flame can not only burn the food but can also give it an artificial flavor. When cooking over a portable campfire, do not place food over the flames. Wait until the fire has turned to smoldering embers before cooking.

  • Direct or indirect heat: The two ways to cook over a campfire are by using direct or indirect heat. Cooking over direct heat means placing the food over the heat source for a quicker cooking process. Dropping a burger on a grill is cooking with direct heat. When cooking with indirect heat, the heat source is adjacent to the food. Chefs can create indirect heating on a portable campfire by pushing all the embers to one side of the unit. Indirect cooking requires a lid, and there may not be one available with the chosen portable campfire.
  • Control the heat: Controlling the heat on a portable campfire means adjusting the quantity of embers and the food's proximity to them. While closer is hotter, it is not always the best option because it can lead to burning the food.

Five safety tips for using a portable campfire

  • Be aware of any local codes before starting a portable campfire. Fire laws vary from county to county, and restrictions can change based on weather conditions.

  • Keep the portable campfire in an open area. This means it's clear of debris and away from structures, vegetation, overhangs and combustibles.

  • If it is windy enough that trees are swaying and debris is moving around, it is too windy to start a fire.

  • Always keep a bucket of freshwater or a properly rated fire extinguisher on hand when using a portable campfire.

  • Make sure you fully extinguish your campfire when finished.

What you need to buy to cook with a portable campfire

UCO Flatpack Portable Fire Pit

This durable, stainless steel grill folds flat for easy transport in a backpack. It can be assembled in seconds and features a 13-inches by 10-inches grilling area. The base keeps the fire off the ground for added safety.

Sold by Amazon

Solo Stove Bonfire Fire Pit

This portable fire pit features a compact cylindrical shape with vent holes at the bottom to increase airflow. The unit is 14 inches tall by 19.5 inches in diameter and our tester proved it produces minimal-to-no smoke. They also found it exceedingly easy to set up and take down, though a little too heavy for hiking.

Sold by Amazon

Texsport Adjustable Outdoor Camping Rotisserie and Grill

To cook over a portable campfire, you need a raised grill. This model features a large grilling surface and a built-in rotisserie allowing for a wider variety of foods.

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Bruntmor Grill Swing Campfire Cooking Stand

Bruntmor's innovative cooking stand is suitable for grilling or cooking with a dutch oven. It uses either wood or charcoal fires and has five different-length hooks and an adjustable grill for versatility.

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Lodge Cast Iron Camp Dutch Oven

If looking for a top-quality cast iron dutch oven, this offering from Lodge is unbeatable. The company manufactures pre-seasoned cookware and has been a staple in the cast iron business for over 100 years.

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Cuisinart Deluxe Grill Set

The last item needed to cook with the portable campfire is a comprehensive grill set. This offering from Cuisinart has tongs, skewers, a digital temperature fork, a spatula, corn holders and more. The items come packaged in a durable aluminum carrying case for convenience and storage.

Sold by Amazon

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Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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