Campfire cooking can always be a challenge, particularly in colder weather when a hot meal is especially needed to help keep us warm. Most basic campfire kitchen skills need only to be modified slightly to make winter camp cooking more efficient and satisfying.
A good bed of embers is always critical for creating and maintaining a cooking fire. Slow burning, hot embers that provide a uniform bed of heat means foods cook in the appropriate time and at the right temperature.
The key to a good fire is the wood used to create the bed of coals. Quality woods for creating those heat-producing, slow-burning embers include ash, hickory, oak and maple. Birch works, too, and is also good, quick fire starting fuel wood as well. Softer woods such as aspen or cottonwood, and high-pitch content woods such as spruce and pine can be used to create a quick fire, but are poor for building up a quality base of embers.
An easy way to get a bed of coals started when car camping is to bring along a small bag of self-lighting charcoal. It ignites quickly and can be used alone to cook on or as a base to get a larger bed of long-burning coals started.
The structure or layout of a good kitchen campfire has several components to it: a large fire ring that can be sectioned off for both the main fire to build coals, a side area to rake and gather embers for a controlled cooking area under a grill, and perhaps a side area to keep foods warm. Keeping foods warm can be achieved by aligning pots (or foods wrapped in aluminum foil) along a cooler, outer area of the fire ring, but away from the main body of embers, placed on a side grill away from direct heat.
Another tip for any campfire, but especially handy in cold weather, is to keep a pot of hot water perched on a back edge of the fire ring. It’s then available for wash up and at the ready for a quick bring-to-boil temperature for hot drinks or cooking.
Here are a few other cold weather cooking tips:
- Freeze cooked sauces in boil-ready zip bags and place in a pot of boiling water used for cooking pasta or rice. Sauce packets are heated in cooking water and once pasta is done, can be mixed together for a fast, filling meal;
- Wooden utensils don’t draw heat from food like metal ones do, also bowls keep food warmer than plates;
- “Cozies” are insulated jackets placed around cups and pots to keep the contents warmer. They can be made from the reflective/bubble-layered car windshield shade material, custom-fitted for each pot and stored among your camp kitchen gear.
- Dutch ovens are classic one-pot meal cookware that every winter camp kitchen should have.
Stews, soups, pre-cooked/frozen sauces and other one pot meal recipes all help create tasty, rib-sticking meals for any backcountry cooking adventure. Creating a work space centered around a good campfire, along with special cold weather cooking tips, will help you maintain a working winter campfire kitchen.