Campfire Cooking With Kids
The kids are learning to cook over a campfire. This has been an ongoing learning adventure for several months now. We have tried several different methods for starting fires, making our own camp stoves, as well as different ways of making the campfire pit.
After trying several different arrangements, we came up with one we like the most and have kept for several months now. We use it once or twice a week as the weather and time permits. We really enjoy afternoons and evenings around the campfire.
We started off with simple learning techniques like where to build a fire safely, how to start a fire (matches, lighter, flint, feroconiom rod), how to use different tinders (wood chips, small sticks, dead leaves, tree bark, dead grass and dry plants, cotton balls, cordage, clothing, etc) to get the fire going strong, locating where to gather wood safely, and learn how to split wood into small sizes for burning, etc.
We built fire starter kits for the kids to keep and learn to use. This has been a wonderful resource. Our first kits were made with a salvaged bottle for storing, a few types of tinder, matches, and a feroconium rod and striker. When they used up all the stuff in their first kits, we built new kits that include more of the first, but also added in a lighter, additional versions of strikers, fatwood, etc. By far my son’s favorite method is starting a fire with his striker and a cotton ball. We hope to build a bow drill and learn that method soon.
Once they mastered the art of starting a fire, we learned how to build a firepit. Over time we built a few different arrangements of campfire pits. This whole process has been a great learning experience for the kids and a fun way to spend family time together.
The current campfire pit version we are using is our favorite so far. We found some old bricks someone had left behind from a construction project. These are not the usual bricks you would want to build an outdoor kitchen with, but we are using what we have on hand and getting by with them for now. We dug an “L” shaped hole in the ground and built a loose brick wall around the back side of the hole. The back wall is tall, and the sides come part way around, then we have a short wall of bricks across the front as a fire stop and safety zone. Safety is very important to keep in mind when you have an outdoor fire.
We also found some metal and an old grate someone had thrown away and used them as cooking surfaces by connecting them into the loose brick system above the fire to give us more ways we can cook food. We also put a separate small wall about half way at the back. This additional wall was needed to help support the grill top on one side and the metal bars on the other side and it also allows us to use either 1 side of the fire or both sides for cooking so we can make a bigger or smaller fire as desired.
Using a brick or rock wall on one side of your fire makes a lot of sense. The bricks make a nice windbreak and help to retain the heat from the fire, and then help reflect the heat back towards the people sitting around the fire. I plan to upgrade the pit with some special tiles for baking bread and pizzas on one side soon. I found a local store that carries the fire tiles for break baking. I am very excited about baking nice breads over the campfire. Maybe someday I can make a real outdoor pizza oven too.
The arrangement is large enough that we can choose to cook on the grill, the metal bars, flat rocks or bricks, or over the open fire and coals with roasting sticks or pans. So we can cook up high or down low with several options as needed. We made the pit so we can have a fire on one half, or just move hot coals over on one half while a hotter fire burns on the other half, or use the whole entire thing in a bigger campfire if desired. With 8 people in the family, this arrangement gives us all enough room to gather in front of the fire and benefit from the heat being reflected back in our direction.
We let the fire die down and put it out before going into the house. The next morning when the pit is nice and cool, the kids remove the ashes from their fire and sprinkle them on the location we plan to build our garden. The ashes will provide wonderful nutrients already broken down and released from the organic matter they were bound in for our plants to use. We learned this trick many years ago when we used to heat our home with wood.
His New Wrought Iron Pan
Our 12 year old loves cooking on the campfire and would truly cook on it every day if he could. He is the reason we got into the habit of cooking outside weekly. He wants to try new things and master various skills. After he gets his fire going, and his coals nice and hot, he usually cooks tea and different kinds of soups with his own stainless steel pot. He has made potato soup, rice, chili, cheesy potato bacon soup, chicken noodle soup, and Ramon noodles.
He recently bought is own wrought iron skillet to expand his cuisine options. To start with he learned how to oil and season his new pan and care for it properly. He also has his own knife and cutting board so he is ready to make lots of different things. He is getting great practice and is learning to cook with his new skillet over the open fire.
This day we were cooking turkey burgers, beef hotdogs, sliced potatoes in foil packets, and he was making his own Cowboy BBQ Beans in his new iron skillet.
He had placed a brick over some coals next to the fire to hold his pan level while it cooked. It took them no time at all to come to a rolling boil. He had to pull his beans off the fire a few times and stir them to prevent them from sticking and burning in the pan. His beans turned out very nice, the sugars caramelized and the beans had a hint of smoke flavor of the fire.
Almost everything was done cooking at the same time. That is one of the blessings to having a large working space in this campfire with various spots to set the different foods we were cooking.
When his food was done, he combined his hotdog with his bbq beans for his own version of “beenie weenies”. This was new for him as I haven’t fed the kids beenie weenies before, and he was excited to try them.
He was very pleased with how his “cowboy meal” turned out and thought he could handle making and eating this out on the open range bringing in the cows or up the side of a mountain while on a hike someday. I hope to teach him to make either biscuits or bannock (old fashion cowboy or Indian bread) and chop up some wild greens to go with his meal next time. He found some wild garlic growing in the yard that was already seven inches tall in February. The plant looks like fresh chives and has a small bulb at the bottom when you pull it out of the ground. He brushed the dirt off and tried it fresh. It was spicy! We also found a couple of violets in bloom in the front yard. Soon the dandelions will set on some nice leaves for making a raw salad base or to use as a sauted spinach. The pine trees are also budding and the baby pine buds are nutty and delicious and the needles make a nutritious tea. We have a book he will be using this spring to locate various wild edibles that he can include to improve the nutrients in a meal such as this.
I am very proud of this young man’s achievements. He gets an idea, puts his mind to it, and is not afraid to work toward his goal and see it through. He is currently making a homemade longbow. He has found the branch of wood, removed the bark, and carved it into the shape he desired. He has yet to soak the wood and increase the arch slightly and locate the cordage he will be using. I have no doubt he will reach his new goal.
Learning to cook over a campfire is a fun experience. The skills learned and self confidence gained will benefit kids the rest of their life.