Photograph of attending to the camp fire

Coal Baking for Beginners

by Nikolaus Yee.

While you might imagine that everything is spit roasted over a roaring campfire flame, the reality is that coals are the heart of any camp cooking enterprise. The steady, high and slow heat that coals provide is much better for cooking than an open flame which will fluctuate in direction and intensity.

To prepare a campfire for cooking, first pick a safe spot at least 2.5 meters away from any trees or bushes that might be set alight by a flying spark. Digging a shallow pit or encircling the fire with stones, or both, allows easy and safe access to the fire.

Build the fire in layers:

  • Kindling is the first layer: paper, twigs, dry leaves. Anything easily burnable with a high surface area, coconut husk or lint makes excellent kindling. Lay down as much as you can across the firepit.
  • Tinder is the second layer: small branches or larger logs split down, and laid down in alternating rows and columns, like a checkerboard. A teepee structure is often built for campfires, but a flatter, evenly spread fire is better for cooking. Make sure there are small cracks for air to get to the kindling below.
  • Logs or large branches are the final layer: these should be placed onto the fire just after you have lit the kindling and are sure its burning. The kindling will start a small, fast burning fire that will spread to the tinder, and the tinder’s fire will spread to the logs.

Wait about half an hour for the fire to burn down. Don’t be impatient, don’t be tempted to start cooking on the open flame, it’ll just be a mess. Put the kettle on. Once the fire has burnt down to coals, black on top and white underneath, you’re ready.

With a stick or a shovel rake the coals. You can either move them around to get an even spread of heat or divide them into layers for “Hot” and “Very Hot”. The white side of the coals is hotter, and turning them will increase the heat output, but they will burn out quicker.

Baking over coals is the easiest method of cooking over them: simply wrap any veggies in two layers of foil and chuck em in. You can use this simple method for damper and prepared meats and fish.

Protip: throw butter, salt, pepper and herbs into the foil with your food before you chuck it on the coals.

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