How to Build a Fire

Guest post by Ashley Rodriguez, Not Without Salt

As a child, our camping adventures included the typical camp fare: hot dogs, tin foil packets of roasted potatoes, onions and peppers––and on the rare occasion we caught a fish, we might fry that up over a little camp stove. The memory of those meals always makes me smile. The lingering taste of a smoky, crisp fire-cooked potato… nothing ever tasted as good as the food that came from the fire.

As my love and curiosity for food grew so did my adventures in cooking outside. I started to see the fire as a place of possibility rather than a limitation. Knowing that food tastes so much better cooked over the fire, I began to wonder if elevating camp food could elevate the whole experience.

I immediately fell in love with cooking over the fire. It’s raw, unpredictable, and always changing. It forces me to stay present and mindful of the process which is something I fight valiantly to attempt in everyday life. I still strive to keep the recipes I prepare over the fire quite simple. I don’t want to carry unnecessary ingredients. Instead, I use the best possible ingredients and let them truly shine.

Beautiful dishes that look as if they could come from the finest restaurant kitchens are not expected when you’re sitting around the campfire, and I love that. It’s a joy to create an unexpected memory and to wow fellow campers with their dinner.

I always go back to that lesson I learned as a kid while camping with my family: Nothing ever tastes as good as food that comes from the fire.

Try it for yourself and see.


How to Build a Fire

How you set up your fire ultimately depends on what (or if) you are going to cook. In general, I like to start a fire with a tipi method. I’ll use hardwood that will burn down to create a solid coal base, then set up different zones for the different styles of cooking. Plan to start the fire about one hour before you need to start cooking. 



In an outdoor fire pit, lay down twisted paper for tinder.


Gather kindling and lay it on top of the twisted paper. Use twigs, pinecones, or small branches as kindling, making sure they are fully dried out first.



Around the tinder and kindling, set up three small pieces of hardwood in a standing triangle (tipi) shape.

Using a match, light the paper.



When the fire is well established, add a few more pieces of wood and burn that down until you have hot “coals”.



These coals are the primary heat source for cooking over the fire. They provide a clean smoky flavor, burn incredibly hot, and are easier to control than live flames. (I’ll use flames for heating a cast iron skillet as needed.)

You can roast directly on the wood coals or set a pan on top of them. They can also be used under and on top of a dutch oven for campfire baking.

To set up your fire pit for zone cooking, carefully move your coals to one side. Add small pieces of wood to the other side to create a smaller, more contained fire.



Set a grill grate over that for direct grilling or to create a flat surface for your cast iron pan.

As the wood burns down, move the new coals to the existing pile of coals to keep the temperature consistent.

Photos courtesy of Ashley Rodriguez

Cast Iron fire fire cooking Fire Pits & Grills How-To

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