The secret to a great cooking fire is building a fuel log structure (called a “lay”) that supports your grilling rack, provides even, consistent heat and nurtures a good bed of coals for cooking foil-wrapped bundles of delight in the middle. If you have a great structure, the means to light it, a good pair of long, sturdy tongs and a trusted grilling rack, you’re in command.
The Log Cabin Lay
Many would argue that the Log Cabin campfire lay is king. Once it’s blazing, it’s fairly low maintenance and works itself down to a beautiful bed of coals in the centre while providing you with a stable and flat top to place your camp grill and cookware over.
Build it: Get a small, pyramid-shaped stack of tinder and kindling smoking first, then it’s time to remember childhood hours spent with Lincoln Logs. Stack four interlocking walls of fuel logs or sticks around the kindling. Make sure your structure is low and even enough to support your cooking grill frame and pot or skillet.
The Platform Lay
Similar to the Log Cabin, the Platform lay is more like setting up a game of Jenga, with rows of three logs stacked in alternating directions that will slow-burn down the centre.
Build it: Lay three fuel logs close together in a row, then add another layer with three more logs facing the opposite direction. Repeat up to five layers. To light your fire, build a stick pyramid around a pile of kindling on the top of your platform and light it. Getting this lay lit is a little tricky, but well worth it as it will burn slowly through the layers of your platform for a hot bed of constantly-renewing coals as it moves along.
WHICH WOODS BURN BEST:
Hardwoods are generally the best types of wood to use for a cooking fire. They burn slower and hotter, create less smoke, and burn down to a beautiful bed of long-lasting coals.
Maple and ash are popular firewood varieties, and many campgrounds or neighbouring businesses will have bags of locally-sourced firewood for sale. Walnut, apple or other fruit woods add unique, smokey flavour notes to your meal.
Good kindling is a crucial element to a quality campfire and to the experience of getting it going. Make sure you bring some along on your next culinary expedition:
PIT RULES: SMART & SAFE CAMPFIRE COOKING
- Look for and obey Restricted Fire Zone signs and check for local and fire department fire bans before you start any fire.
- Always have a bucket of water or sand nearby to quickly douse a fire.
- Never leave a fire unattended. Not even for a few minutes.
- Have a spray bottle handy for any flame flare-ups caused by oil and grease splatters and drips of fat. Alternatively, try avoiding foods that can produce a lot of grease and fat build up, and be sure to use proper fire-safe cookware rather than cooking right on a camp grill.
- Don’t cook over naked flames to avoid burning your food or encountering unexpected raw pockets from uneven heat.
- Plan your meals around simple equipment and prepare your food ahead of time. Start marinades at home, pre-chop vegetables and store them in reusable containers to save time, mess and unwanted garbage outdoors.
- Don’t forget tin foil. This multipurpose item can be used to line cookware, wrap fruits and vegetables for cooking directly in the coals, and make wraps for gently cooking proteins. If you’re in a pinch, you can even mold it to form a basic pot or serving bowl.
- If you don’t have a camp grill, you can use a flat, medium to large-sized granite, slate or marble stone slab. For best results, find one that is as flat and even as possible. Avoid other types of rock as these may explode when heated.
- Make sure you invest in proper, quality utensils—nothing is worse than having your only set of tongs break when you’re in the middle of turning your food over on the grill!
- The same goes for cookware. Low-quality cast iron pans and other cookware won’t last as long and may rust or be harder to work with.
- That being said, make sure to properly care for any cast iron cookware you have. Be sure to season them with prior to your trip, clean gently with steel wool and be sure not to leave water standing in your pan after use.