Using fire to cook food is thought by some to have been a pivotal step in human evolution, potentially increasing the size of our brains.
There isn’t a lot of consensus on just how long ago humans learned to control fire for the purpose of cooking meat, fish, and foraged foods. The oldest remains of what are obviously hearths are believed to be about 400,000 years old. However, some scientists argue that our human ancestors could have begun cooking over an open fire as long as 1.8 million years ago.
These days, we modern humans tend to cook our foods with ovens, stoves, microwaves, and toasters (or we let a restaurant do the cooking for us). There’s something so satisfying, though, about cooking over open fire. It helps us connect us with the history of humanity as well as our loved ones that are hanging around the campfire.
Open fire cooking isn’t terribly difficult, but there are some things you’ll want to know before you start gathering kindling. Let’s take a look at five tips you’ll want to know so that you campfire meal is lit rather than burnt.
1. Be Prepared
We’re so used to simply turning on our stovetop to get dinner started that it’s easy to forget how many tools we have at our disposal in our own kitchens. When you’re deciding to make a meal in an old-school way, you need to make sure you have the right open-fire cooking equipment and tools.
If you’re heading out for a camping trip, don’t expect that there will be open fire grills or dry wood at the site. Bring everything you’ll need with you, and plan out your meals ahead of time.
You’ll also want to prep anything you can beforehand, such as making baking mixes, mixing sauces, and chopping vegetables. This makes it easier to focus on what you need to while cooking over an open fire, and also lets you have a more relaxed and enjoyable experience.
2. Don’t Cook Directly Over the Flame
Many people assume that cooking over an open fire means cooking food right on top of the hot flames. However, if you go this route you will more likely than not end up with burnt food.
A better way to cook over a fire is actually to build a fire on one side of your fire bowl or pit and then use the other side as a place for hot coals. For things like roasting meats, boiling water, and grilling vegetables, you can place the open fire camp grill right over the fire. For meals that are cooking in a Dutch oven or wrapped in aluminum foil, you can cook them over the hot coals.
3. Don’t Overcook the Food
When you roast food over the fire, they stay hotter for longer after you take them off the heat. This means that they continue to cook even when there aren’t flames or coals underneath them.
Basically, it can be a good idea to remove your food a little bit before you think it’s completely done. Then, you should allow it plenty of time to cool when it isn’t on the heat anymore.
For large pieces of meat, you’ll want to remove them about five degrees before the temperature you’re looking for. You can then put foil over the top and let it rest for five or ten minutes before you cut it and serve it.
4. Be Patient
The best fires for cooking are actually mostly hot coals with a few burning logs. This means that you don’t want to start cooking as soon as you get flames going.
What you should do instead is let a campfire burn down to the right conditions. Depending on the weather and other factors, this can take somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes.
Before you start cooking over the fire, let it burn down a while. For lots of types of open fire cooking, a bed of glowing coals is ideal.
5. Don’t Add All the Wood at Once
It can be tempting to build a huge fire when you’re cooking. The issue with this is that big fires can burn down fast, leaving you with no direct flame and coals that are hotter than ideal. You also can use all of your wood up, leaving you with a dead fire only halfway through the cooking time.
What you should do instead is start by building a small fire using kindling and smaller logs. You can then let this burn for about 30 minutes. During this time, you can add larger pieces when necessary.
At this point, you’ll be left with a warm base of coals as well as direct heat. It also helps you conserve wood so you know you have enough fuel for the whole night.
Cooking Over an Open Fire Can Lead to a Delicious Meal and Unforgettable Memories
There is something so special about spending time around a campfire. From gathering wood and starting the fire to managing it and sharing stories with friends, there are few activities that are both so relaxing and fulfilling in our modern world.
If you’re going to be hanging out singing songs, swapping tales, and enjoying some beverages, why not cook a delicious meal at the same time? Cooking over an open fire can be an activity that hits home pretty much any time of year, and it can lead to some of the most precious memories you build with family and friends.
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