When you think about making food on a camping trip, you probably imagine cooking over a roaring fire. While the image of good friends eating hearty food around a firepit is iconic, there are also other ways to cook in the great outdoors — and it pays to know them, in case you can’t build a fire on your next adventure.

For your convenience, we’ve assembled a list of the best ways to cook while camping. This guide will tell you when to use each of these methods and give you helpful advice on how to master them.

Campfires: the Tried & True Method

Campfires are the most popular way to cook in the wilderness, and they’re one of humanity’s oldest methods of meal prep — short of just tearing raw meat off the bone like an animal. We’re guessing you don’t want salmonella, though, so let’s assume that’s not an option.

It’s also important to realize that there are numerous ways to cook with a campfire. You’re not limited to just skewering things and roasting them on the open flames! Moreover, cooking directly over fire can burn your food or cook it unevenly, making some meals unsafe.

Here are a few of our favourite ways to make use of the firepit at your next campground:

  • Bring cast-iron cookware: cast iron is denser than other common metals used in kitchenware. As a result, cast iron pots and pans are better at retaining heat and more likely to distribute it evenly.
  • Use a grill grate: these metal grids can be placed on top of a firepit and used for several purposes. It’s usually possible to cook meat by placing it directly on top since the metal will conduct heat and cook the food more evenly than an open flame. Grates can also support cookware — allowing you to do things like boil water without holding the pot yourself. They are typically made from stainless steel or cast-iron and have an enamel coating.
  • Wrap with aluminum foil: wrapping protein and veggies with foil allows you to place them directly in the coals, resulting in evenly cooked food that you can eat right out of the package. There’s no short supply of recipes that use this method, and foil can be used to line cookware as well.

When Can’t You Use a Campfire to Cook?

There are a few different situations where using a campfire for cooking just isn’t possible. Be aware of them so you can have a few backup plans ready.

Campfire Bans

Most areas don’t allow campfires under certain environmental conditions. Restrictions tend to be most common during dry and windy conditions when forest fire risk is highest. Before setting off on your adventure, it’s always smart to check the list of fire bans for the province where you’ll be camping.

Too Rainy

Even when fires are allowed, sometimes it’s impossible to start one. Rain may extinguish a flame before it can spread from the kindling to the tinder. Damp wood may not even light with fire all around it, so starting a fire in clear conditions can still be difficult if it has rained recently.

The Fire Won’t Grow

Cooking over a bonfire is much easier than cooking over a weak flame. It’s like the difference between a kitchen element set to “high” and one set to “minimum”. If your campfire keeps going out or isn’t getting large enough to cook efficiently, it’s best to explore alternatives — that is, unless you feel like waiting an hour to boil water.

Other Ways to Prepare Meals While Camping

If you can’t use a campfire for cooking, try using some of these methods instead:

Portable Stoves & Grills

Travel-friendly kitchen appliances make it easy to cook without an open flame — just make sure you have enough fuel or a power source nearby. Most portable grills and ranges are either electric or gas-powered, so you may want to pack spare cylinders or a small generator if you plan on using them.

Pre-Cook & Pack Food Before Leaving

Some meals taste better cold, especially if you go camping in warm weather. Try cooking rice or quinoa at home before leaving for your trip, and use it as the base for a filling and nutritious salad.

Eat No-Cook Foods

Some foods don’t need to be cooked at all! Sandwiches, cereal, cold cuts, and canned food are all easy to bring on a camping trip and can be enjoyed with practically no preparation beforehand. However, make sure you store them in a cooler so that their scent won’t attract wild animals.

Many Ways to Cook While Camping

Your campsite may not have all the conveniences of a modern kitchen, but it still offers plenty of ways for you to cook creatively. Campfires are much more versatile than most people think — and when you can’t build one, smart packing and a portable stove will ensure that you have other options.