Fires for Cooking

Fires for Cooking

There are many different styles and types of campfires all with unique advantages and disadvantages. Some campfires are superior for providing warmth, some for signaling, cooking, etc. The following campfires are generally better for cooking or purifying water.

When building a cooking fire it’s import ant to ensure that the heat is directed towards what you are cooking and not lost on the great outdoors. Generally, the best way of doing this is to build a fire and surround it with something that will reflect the heat back in and support a grid above the fire on which food can be cooked and water purified. Materials such as bricks, logs, stones (take care to ensure rocks are not porous or wet, porous rocks such as limestone or wet rocks can explode when heated).

Dakota Fire Hole

Dakota Fire Hole
Dakota Fire Hole


The Dakota Fire Hole is one of the easiest and most common cooking fires. Not only is it an excellent cooking fire, but because of how it’s constructed, it also makes an excellent fire for staying warm. This kind of fire also emits very little light which can be useful in evasion situations. Cleanup is also very easy, simply ensure the fire is out and fill the hole back in. Follow the diagram below for approximate scale, this fire can easily be made much larger or smaller depending on the need. Make sure to light the fire from the wind hole side. This type of fire is a prime choice if weather conditions are windy or otherwise adverse.

Keyhole Fire

When cooking food, it’s more efficient and provides better flavor to cook over embers rather than direct flame. The main problem cooking with embers is that they cool after a short while but the keyhole fire solves this problem. Build the fire in a large circle area and pull the hot ashes through into the smaller circle where the cooking takes place, as they are needed. A two inch bed of ashes is required for successful cooking. If available, use beech or oak logs, as these wood types will produce longer lasting embers.

The first step will be to select a fire site at least 8′ from bushes or any fire risk. Be sure no tree branches hang over the site. Make a U-shaped perimeter using large rocks or green logs. If using logs, they’ll need to be wet down from time to time to prevent them from burning up. If conditions are windy, have the back the of fire pit face the wind. Place a large flat rock at the rear of the fire pit to act as a chimney. This “chimney rock” will direct the smoke up and away from the fire area.

Next, fill the fire area with tinder and place kindling over on top in layers, alternating direction with each layer. Use thin splits of wood or small dead branches. Do not put kindling down “teepee style”. At this point the whole campfire area should be covered with the kindling stack.

After the necessary fuel has been placed, it’s time to build the fire up and grade the coals. When the kindling is fully ablaze, add firewood. The wood should be all the same size, as much as possible. Use hardwood or hardwood branches if available and make sure to distribute the wood evenly over fire area.

As soon as the last flames die down leaving mostly white hot coals, use a stick to push the coals into a high level at the back end and low level at the front. This will ensure various temperatures at which you can boil water, cook on medium, and have a warming area at the very front of the fire.

Finally, to cook, set the grill on rocks or green logs. Put food directly on grill or in cookware and prepare your meal. As the fire diminishes, stir the coals to get the most heat from them. Once the cooking is through and no more water needs boiling, this campfire can easily be converted from a cooking fire to one that will provide warmth by simply adding more fuel. This fire is also excellent for mid-long term campsites as it can easily be re-kindled by just adding more fuel.

The Trench Fire

Trench Fire
Trench Fire

The Trench Fire is a very simple fire that can be built one of two ways depending on time, terrain, and preference. The first method is simply placing two large, dry logs parallel to each other. Place the logs very close but not actually touching. Then build a small fire between the two logs. The oxygen will get funneled along the trench making the fire extremely hot and very efficient at boiling water and cooking food.

The second method is to actually build a small trench that slopes downward approximately one foot deep and with an approximately three foot long slant. At the bottom of the trench, place the tinder and kindling and start the fire. Once the fire is sufficiently strong, add the fuel and place sticks over the trench to create a makeshift grill. Pots and pans can then be placed on top of the grill to cook food/boil water. Take care not to add too many pots or pans and block sufficient oxygen from flowing to the fire.


These are three of the most effective campfires used to cook foods and purify water. There are many more types of fires that can be used to accomplish these tasks and often, it will come down to the amount of time available to build the fire, terrain, weather conditions, and available resources. As with any other skill, practice makes perfect and it’s strongly recommended not only to practice building at least one of these fires but also attempt to construct them under adverse weather conditions (wind, rain, etc.) to plan for the worst. Always practice safe fire-craft technique and be sure the fire is 100% extinguished when retiring for the evening or going out of the campsite for long periods of time. Even a fire that is seemingly dead can emit sparks and embers that can catch on fire.

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