Published Jun 13, 2022 1:00 PM
No camp chore is more satisfying than cooking over an open fire—a pot of soup simmering, the dogs browning, the husks of your corn on the cob blackening right at the tips. Given enough time, and supply of dry wood, you can cook just about anything over an open fire that you would cook over your camp stove. To get you started, we’ve narrowed down the pots, kettles, percolators, dutch ovens, and cast-iron pans that are the best camping cookware for cooking over an open fire:
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Things to Consider Before Buying Camping Cookware for Open Fire
Many car campers likely already own cookware they can use over an open fire, either as part of their camp kitchen setup, or in their home kitchen arsenal. That’s because while there are sometimes design differences between the best camping cookware and the best camping cookware for an open fire, oftentimes you can purchase one set for both functions. The trick is to look for durable, fire-ready materials (stainless steel, aluminum, cast iron) and check that there aren’t any rubber, silicone, or plastic pieces on your cookware that could potentially melt off when exposed to the extreme heat of a campfire.
There are some dishes—roasted corn on the cob, hot dogs, shish kebabs—that lend themselves to cooking over an open fire more than others. But there are others that I wouldn’t recommend you try—a risotto, for instance, is going to be more trouble than it’s worth (although I’m sure it could be done by someone sufficiently motivated).
If this will be your first time cooking over an open fire, it’s probably best to start with something simpler than a percolator or a dutch oven. There are hundreds of recipes you can make with nothing more complicated than a simple folding grill and aluminum foil. Once you’re confident in your fire making abilities you can level up to more advanced techniques.
- Depth: 5 inches
- Width: 10 inches
- Capacity: 5-quart
- Weight: 9.70 pounds
Why It Made the Cut
Once seasoned, the GSI Guidecast had a superior finish compared to the others in the best dutch ovens for camping test. It also weighs 30 percent less than cast-iron ovens of comparable capacity, and its versatility was unmatched.
- Notched pot handle
- Stand (trivet) included
- Polished cooking surfaces
- Lid makes excellent skillet/griddle
- Not pre-seasoned
- A little pricey
The Guidecast Lightweight Cast Iron Dutch Oven is, by far, the best overall cast-iron dutch oven for camping. After our dutch oven tester seasoned it, the nitrided surface treatment and polished finish created an extremely smooth and non-stick cooking surface that made searing meats and sautéing vegetables a pleasure. This also made cleaning up after cooking effortless. Another factor that set the GSI Guidecast apart from the rest was its relatively low weight. Weighing just under ten pounds (which is a few pounds less than other dutch ovens of smaller capacity) it also makes a great option for the kind of camping trips that require you to float or pack-in base camp.
All dutch ovens possess some range of versatility, but the GSI Guidecast excelled above the rest in this category, as well. The same quality finish that makes the primary cooking surface such a pleasure to cook on is also on the bottom side of the lid, which doubles as an excellent skillet or griddle. Adding to its versatility even more is the polished surface on the bottom of the pot which allows you to use the GSI Guidecast Lightweight Cast Iron Dutch Oven on stove tops, as well.
If you’re wondering how well this flat bottom dutch oven does over coals, no worries, GSI includes a trivet with this package. Yet another feature that stands out is the notch in the pot handle that makes it incredibly stable and secure when you need to hang it from a tripod.
- Materials: stainless steel
- Manufacturer weight: 9 ounces; measured weight: 9.2 ounces
- Manufacturer total volume: 30.4 fluid ounces; measured total volume: 32 ounces
- Safe fill volume: 24 fluid ounces
- Boiled 20 fluid ounces of water in 8 minutes, 30 seconds
Why It Made the Cut
The versatile Snow Peak Kettle No. 1 doubles as a small cook pot with both a bail handle and foldable side handles.
- Compact design fits easily into a camping box
- Easily doubles as a small saucepan
- Lid does not stay secure during pour
It says something about the versatility of this kettle that I first grabbed it out of the box to heat up some soup, rather than simply boil water. And it worked perfectly for that purpose. It heated up quickly and poured easily from the spout with the assistance of both a top and side handle. Note of caution: the side handle tends to heat up significantly, so it’s best to grab this by the bail handle when removing it from an open fire and use a pot holder for the side handle.
The camping pot-style profile of the Snow Peak No. 1 also made it easy to clean. While this kettle did not boil water as effectively in the best camping kettles test, this is usually less of a concern when cooking over an open fire. That said, the relatively compact shape of this pot, with handles that fold down completely, made it easier to fit into the awkward holes of my camping box, which helped when it was time to pack up.
- Includes 4.2 liter pot, one 6.5 liter pot, and two lids
- Also includes a strainer and mesh storage bag
- Weight: 4 pounds, 6 ounces
- Materials: stainless steel and wood
Why It Made the Cut
The solid stainless steel construction and generous bail handles makes this Snow Peak set a great choice for an open fire.
- Large size holds up to six liters
- Tall handles and wooden knob work well over open fire
- Didn’t cook food as evenly as others in my test
- May be too large for the camping box
The surprising thinness of these pots (even the larger of the two was lighter than the much-smaller sauce pan included in the Stanley Adventure set) was both a blessing and a curse. While this set easily won the boil test (even beating out the titanium pot) of the best camping cookware test, the cook and burn test showed that it wasn’t distributing heat evenly across its bottom. For that reason, this set’s highest and best purpose is over an open fire, where precise cooking is out of the question for all but the most experienced campfire chefs, and great heat conductivity trumps all. The tall bail handles also bolster its credentials for open-fire cooking, allowing you to remove the pot from the heat without getting your hand anywhere near the flames. And the wooden knobs on top of the lids make it less likely that you’ll burn your hands if you pick it up without a pot holder (although I’d still recommend it).
Despite their comparative thinness, these pots were fairly durable, with one exception: the joint where the handle meets the pot’s body is exposed and prone to warping if you push it back in the wrong direction. I wasn’t able to break it during my testing, but this is a potential fail point with long-term use.
- Capacity: 36 ounces
- Material: stainless steel, plastic, and silicone
- Cool Grip
Why It Made the Cut
An elevated handle with a removable silicone wrapper made this the only percolator in my best camping percolators test that’s safe to use over an open fire.
- Designed for use over an open fire
- Lid slips off when trying to pour out the last cup of coffee
- More coffee grounds ended up in the coffee than other percolators in my test
There is something magical about percolating coffee over an open fire, with the embers popping and hot water bubbling up into the knob simultaneously. Word to the wise: that stainless steel construction does not mean your percolator is ready for the big time. If there’s any silicone, or even wood, present, then all bets are off. That’s what makes the design of this Stanley percolator so smart. Its removable gripper means that you can alternate between using this on a stove and then taking off the silicone to use over an open fire (be sure to grab a pot holder or oven mitt before attempting to grab it off the flames). The handle is also positioned high enough that I’m confident the silicone won’t singe on your stove top if you position it slightly off center.
There were a few things that I wish were different about this percolator. The lid shifted significantly while I poured out coffee. It’s connected to the pot itself, but if it wasn’t it would certainly fall off. There was also a fair amount of grounds in the coffee after brewing, although you can mitigate this with a coffee filter.
- Materials: iron
- Also available in 3 to 15-inch diameters
Why It Made the Cut
That pre-seasoned skillet on your kitchen shelf can easily be repurposed for cooking over an open fire.
- Nonstick surface
- Heats evenly
- Doesn’t show the soot and grime of a campfire
- Seasoning needs to be cleaned carefully (no soap)
While I appreciate the surprising range of foods (and even desserts) you can make in a dutch oven, when it comes to cast iron, nothing beats the convenience of the humble skillet. The Lodge 12-inch cast iron skillet is a great value and size that is wonderfully versatile—you can use it on your camping stove while you wait for your fire to get going in the morning and then switch it over to a bed of coals to save on fuel.
The only part about cast iron that is tricky is that the seasoning on the pan means that it shouldn’t be cleaned with soap. Instead, simply scrap off anything stuck to the bottom and run a fine glaze of olive oil or vegetable oil over it after each use to ensure it retains its non-stick surface. It’s also important to keep your cast iron dry, as long-term exposure to water will eventually lead to rust.
- Materials: stainless steel
- Stands 5.3 inches high; collapses to 1.8 inches
- 17.5 inches long
Why It Made the Cut
Better access the heat of the coals while cooking over an open fire with this low-lying folding grill.
- Small size fits into most camping boxes
- Easier to clean than the grills provided at campground campsites
- Short height makes this easy to access the heat of a coal bed
- Too small to use over a roaring fire
I’ll admit I’ve used them before, but the grills provided at most campgrounds give me pause. Most seem to have chunks of their coating flaking off, with pieces of rust starting to show and who-knows-what baked onto them after years of use. These days I prefer to bring my own if I want to skip the aluminum foil and cook directly over the flame—the best way to get that smoky flavor injected into your food.
If you’re looking for a big robust grill that will perch over a roaring fire, the flames licking at the side, this is probably not the grill for you. But if you want to go from freshly made fire to cooking over coals in twenty minutes or less, this is the perfect grill for the job, as its low height makes it easy to nestle the coals underneath your food.
- Material: aluminum
- 200 square feet
- Melting point: 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit
I always have a roll of aluminum foil in my camping box because of its versatility for open-flame cooking.
- Can be added directly to the flame
If you’re looking for a low-price entry point to cooking over an open fire, then look no further. There are hundreds of recipes on the internet for the so-called tin-foil packet meal, featuring everything from nachos to monkeybread to seafood. But the great part about tin foil is that you don’t really need a plan, and plenty of people get started cooking over open fire with aluminum foil simply by wrapping up what they had planned to cook over an open stove and tossing it onto the fire instead.
Because aluminum foil has such a high melting point, you are safe to put it just about anywhere in a medium-sized fire, and even a larger fire can work as long as you don’t add the aluminum foil to the center of the coal bed. Aluminum foil also works well for keeping the soot and grime of a campfire grill off of your food when grilling.
Best DIY: Foraged Roasting Stick
- Material: wood
- Varying thickness
Why It Made the Cut
Save room in your camping bin by forgoing a metal skewer in favor of a foraged stick at your campsite.
- Can sharpen the end into a point with a pocket knife
- Not as sturdy as their metal counterparts
While there are innumerable metal skewers out there that you can purchase for roasting your marshmallows or hot dogs, I still prefer to look for a just-right stick when I get to camp. Sometimes I’ll find it right next to the campfire pit, thoughtfully left behind by the last group that stayed there. Sometimes it takes a bit more hunting, usually while finding dry wood and kindling for that evening’s fire—but be sure to check the local rules of your campground (especially if you are at a national park) before foraging for a roasting stick outside of your designated campsite.
The best kind of stick is long enough that you can still be a good couple of feet back from the campfire itself, without being so long that it bends with the weight of what you are trying to roast. Green sticks (if you can find one) typically work best as they are less likely to ignite by accident than more mature, dry wood. If you feel comfortable doing so, grab a pocket knife and whittle away at the end of your stick (always slicing the blade away from your body) to create a fine point at the end.
Q: How much does camping cookware for an open fire cost?
Camping cookware can cost anywhere from nothing (as in the example of our best free pick) to upwards of $100, depending on the materials used. If you’re new to cooking over an open flame, it’s best to start with the basics before committing to a larger purchase.
Q: What kind of pan can you use on a fire pit?
The best pans to use over a fire pit are those that can withstand open flames and respond well to high temperatures—avoid any camping cookware that has plastic or rubber pieces (such as on the handle), as these can start to melt down at higher temperatures. It can also be helpful to dedicate a set of cookware to cooking over an open fire, to avoid the necessity of having to continually clean up the soot that can build up on the outside.
Q: What are the best camping meals to cook over an open fire?
There are a number of meals that you can cook over an open fire—practically anything that doesn’t require fine cooking temperature regulation can work well in this context. If you’re new to cooking over an open fire, it’s best to start with simple meals that don’t require heating to a certain temperature (like raw meat) and those where the flavor is arguably a bit improved when burnt.
Building a campfire with friends and family at the end of a day of hiking and exploring is one of the most satisfying parts of a camping trip, turning meal preparation from a chore to complete into a communal activity that everyone can experience and take part in. Over several months, Outdoor Life contributors and staff writers tested an array of camping cookware to see what was the best of the best for camping cookware, dutch ovens, percolators, and kettles. This review leverages the results of those tests as well as additional testing of some of the most popular products for cooking over an open fire.
If you’re looking to expand your camp kitchen options to include the best camping cookware for open fires, there are a number of excellent products on the market that can help get you started or take your menu planning to the next level. If this is your first foray, start with a classic foraged stick (pair this with marshmallows for s’mores), some veggies wrapped in Reynolds Wrap, or the GSI Outdoors Folding Campfire Grill—choosing precooked sausages can help take the pressure off ensuring they are cooked all the way through. More experienced campers should opt for the Snow Peak Kettle No. 1, the Snow Peak Al dente Cookset, or the Lodge 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet. If you’ve got the basics mastered and are looking to take your camp meals to the next level, check out the GSI Guidecast Lightweight Cast Iron Dutch Oven or Stanley Adventure Cool Grip Percolator.
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