Building a Campfire Never Fail Tips 

Tips for Building a Campfire

Here you will find tips and techniques for building a campfire that will cook a delicious meal or give a relaxing ambience at the end of a fun day.


We'll show you how to build a perfect campfire that you can enjoy instead of having to fight the smoke!

Building a campfire is a special part of camping - The smell of wood smoke, the dancing flames and glowing coals all combine to make a special part of camping in Montana or anywhere.

There is just nothing to compare to a crackling campfire, singing campfire songs and of course, campfire treats and snacks like s'mores and campfire marshmallows.

Instructions For Building a Campfire

You will find it easy to get your campfire burning if you follow these steps showing how to build a campfire. I always use this method for building a campfire and it has never failed me.

  • Unfold and crumple up lots of newspaper pages and put in the center of the fire ring - newspapers make good campfire starter.
  • Cover paper with a good amount of kindling or dry twigs about the diameter of your finger.
  • Cover kindling with split wood or dry branches about the size of your arm.

Stack larger pieces of wood around the edges in a teepee formation.

Light the paper with a match.

As the campfire burns, the wood around the edges will fall in to the middle. Just keep adding wood as it burns according to the kind of campfire you want. The wood needs air to burn, so when you add wood, be careful not to smother it.

Building a Campfire For Cooking

Campfire locations should be at least 15 feet away from your tent and not too close to any overhanging branches.


 If there isn’t a camping firepit for building a campfire, you will have to make one.

 Dig down 4 to 6 inches, piling up the dirt around the edges. Line with rocks laid close together. It helps to anchor a large flat rock on end to block the wind.

 Make the rocks even in height if you are going to put a campfire cooking grate on them.


If you want to use coals for cooking, you will need a large campfire with big pieces of wood. 

 After your fire is burning well, add 4 or 5 larger pieces of wood and after they burn down some, add that many more.  Don't wait until it is way burned down though, or the big pieces won't burn and they will put out a lot of smoke. 

It takes about an hour or an hour and a half to get enough coals for cooking.

Have enough large pieces of wood handy to keep your campfire replenished so you don't need to chop more when you need it.

Cooking With Coals After Building A Campfire

Cooking with coals is a great way to make delicious camping meals.

There are 4 main ways for cooking with coals:

  • Using foil-lined packets directly on the coals
  • Using a cast-iron cooking grate over the coals
  • Using a tripod over the coals
  • Using the coals with a Dutch oven 

When you use foil-lined packets on the coals, you need to make sure the coals do not have any flames left.  Any flames next to the packets will burn your food.

Since you probably want to keep a fire going, scrape out the coals with a shovel and put them on the side for cooking.  That way you can build up your campfire again when you are through cooking.

You can turn the packets over half-way through the cooking process, or you can use the shovel and put coals on top of the food as well as underneath.  I have found that putting more coals on top can sometimes be too much heat, so I usually just turn over the packets using long-handled tongs.

This is a method I frequently use and some of my favorites are chicken thighs with teriyaki sauce and baked yams.  They each take about an hour to cook.



Using a cast-iron grate over a campfire is a wonderful way to grill food - the wood coals give a nice smoky flavor to food.  It is best to have an adjustable campfire grate so you can get it as close to the coals as you want.

You would be surprised how much heat the coals give you - I always thought you needed flames to cook with.  Not so!

You can also use a skillet or pan - you just have to make sure you have enough coals to replace when you are cooking for a longer time. 

A big bonus - cooking on coals instead of flames won't make your pans black!



Using coals with a tripod lets you put your cooking pot or Dutch oven as close to the coals as you need.  This is an awesome way to cook stews or ham and beans.  Again, you need to keep an ongoing supply of coals burning.




You can use wood coals with a Dutch oven just like you would charcoal.  The only difference is the wood coals don't last as long, so you have to replace them more often.  But they work the same way.





Building a Fire For Campfire Cooking

The most well-known way of campfire cooking is using a hot dog toaster or a marshmallow fork.  We all know the delicious treats that come from those.


But you can use the campfire for other cooking too.  The thing is, using flames will make your pans black.

I have a large cast iron Dutch oven that I use only with a campfire and I keep it in a burlap sack, so the black soot doesn't get all over anything - works well.

If you are using a pot with a campfire, it is best to use a cast iron grill to set the pot on - but you can put your pot directly in the campfire if you don't have one.

Have just a small campfire to keep your food cooking. 

The way I cook ham and beans is to have a larger campfire until the water starts to boil, then I shovel away most of it and just keep a little bit of fire.  Then you keep it going with just little sticks about the diameter of your thumb.  Usually just 1 stick will keep it cooking.  The biggest downfall is that you have to keep close watch on it and keep replacing that stick.


Again, you might want to have your cooking fire on one end and keep your campfire going so you can build it up when you are done.



Building a Campfire Ideas for Special Times

A crackling campfire is enjoyable at any time of the day - but there are some times when it is really special:

  • Building a campfire on a crisp morning and drinking a steaming cup of coffee or tea while making a campfire breakfast
  • Having a refreshing before-dinner drink - non alcoholic or an adult beverage - and discussing the events of the day
  • Fixing your favorite campfire cooking recipes and getting so hungry when you start smelling those tantalizing aromas
  • Warming up beside an inviting campfire after a refreshing rainshower
  • Kids making up and presenting campfire skits
  • Cooking smores or roasting marshmallows in the campfire after eating a tasty dinner.
  • Roasting a hot dog for lunch - this is my absolute favorite - there is nothing like using a hot dog toaster over a campfire!
  • Playing campfire games - telling ghost stories - singing kids campfire songs - reading or telling campfire stories for kids
  • Making an apple pie with a cast iron pie iron on campfire coals
  • Building a campfire and throwing in the special packets of campfire colors, then watching the dancing colored flames

This is not so exciting - but you can burn a lot of your trash in the campfire instead of putting it in the trash bins or having to pack it out.

Outdoor Campfire Cooking Recipes

Campfire Treats and Snacks


Gourmet Banana Boats

What you need:  unpeeled bananas, mini marshmallows, different flavors of baking chips

How to do it:  Slice through the peeling, but not all the way through or to the ends.  Spread the banana apart a little and stuff it with marshmallows and chips.  Wrap it in foil and lay it on campfire coals for about 5 minutes until marshmallows and chips melt.  Take it out, unwrap and enjoy!  Eat with a spoon, but be careful - it will be hot!


Fruit Tacos

What you need:  flour tortillas, pie filling, cool whip

How to do it:  Spoon the pie filling onto a tortilla and top with cool whip.  Roll it up and enjoy!


Campfire Pizza

What you need: pie iron, bread, butter, pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced pepperoni

How to do it: Butter one side of a slice of bread and put the buttered side down in a pre-heated pie iron.  Spread with pizza sauce and place pepperoni slices on the piece of bread - top with mozzarella cheese and another slice of bread with the buttered side on top.  Fasten down the pie iron and cook on the campfire coals until bread is browned.




Campfire Breakfast


Breakfast Sandwich

What you need: pie iron, bread, sliced cheese, eggs, thin-sliced ham, onions (optional)

How to do it: Butter one side of a slice of bread and put buttered side down in a pre-heated pie iron.  Break an egg over the bread and break the yolk - lay ham and onion over the egg and top with the slice of cheese.  Butter another slice of bread and put it over all with the buttered side up.  Fasten down the pie iron and cook over campfire coals until the bread is browned.


Breakfast Burritos

What you need:  flour tortillas, sausage, onion, eggs, green pepper, grated cheese

How to do it:  Fry the sausage, add onions and green pepper and sauté for just 1 minute.  Add eggs and scramble until done - sprinkle with the cheese.  Place a spoonful on the tortilla, top with salsa and sour cream, roll up and enjoy.


Cast Iron Skillet Breakfast

What you need:  cast iron skillet, cooking oil, potatoes, onions, sausage, bacon and cubed ham, eggs, grated cheese

How to do it:  Cook bacon and sausage, fry potatoes in oil, add onions and cook just 1 minute.  Combine with the meat, add eggs and scramble.  Add grated cheese.




Campfire Dinner Ideas


Ham and Beans

What you need:  dry beans, ham bone or pieces of ham, onion, salt and pepper, pan to go on the campfire that is large enough to hold everything

How to do it:  Cover beans with water in the cooking pan and soak overnight or bring the water to a boil and let sit covered, off the heat, for an hour.  Add the ham bone, onions, salt and pepper and simmer until done - about 4 or 5 hours.  Check every now and then to make sure there is enough water.  Delicious!

Campfire Stew

What you need:  a heavy, large pan to go on the campfire, cut up stew meat, potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, stew seasoning packets

How to do it:  Brown the stew meat in oil in the pan you are going to use.  Add water and big chunks of carrots and onions.  Cook until carrots start to get tender, then add big chunks of potatoes and cabbage.  Add stew seasoning and enough water to cover everything.  Cook until meat is tender - about 1 or 2 hours.


You Need Wood To Burn When Building a Campfire

building a campfire - wood pil

Campfire wood should be dry - you don’t want green firewood - and it should be cut to fit the fire ring. If the wood is split, it burns better than big campfire logs.

The secret to building a campfire with minimal smoke is using very dry wood - look for wood without bark and that looks gray.

Another good thing to remember is to have the campfire hot enough to burn the wood so it doesn't just sit there and smoke.

Wood for building a campfire is usually readily available in the trees close to campgrounds. Be sure to collect only dead wood - never cut down a living tree. Campfire wood in Montana usually means pine - it makes a nice crackling fire.

In the Montana forest service campgrounds, you can usually find wood for sale if you don’t want to gather your own.

Stack wood at least 5 feet away from the campfire. At the first hint of rain, collect the kindling and put it with the wood under a waterproof tarp.

It is actually wise to have a good supply of wood and kindling stacked and covered with a waterproof tarp so you always have dry wood to start a fire.

Get the kids to help gather wood and build the campfire - it is special for them.

Be Safe When Building A Campfire

Some rules for campfire safety are…

  • Have a bucket of water and a shovel nearby for emergencies.
  • Never leave a campfire unattended - that’s a disaster waiting to happen.
  • Always build camp fires inside the fire rings.
  • Don’t build a camp fire in high winds.
  • Keep your campfire small.
  • Completely extinguish your campfire before going to bed.

Building A Campfire In The Rain

Building a campfire when it is raining can be a challenge - especially if it has been raining for a while and all the wood is wet. But it can be done!

The easiest thing to do besides having dry wood stashed away is to have a good campfire burning before it starts to rain. You can keep adding wood to it.

Once you have a good campfire going - you can dry out wet wood by placing it around the edges of the campfire. You can do the same thing with wet shoes - just don't get either one too close to the campfire so that they burn.

When Campfires Are Prohibited

Sometimes you're prohibited from building a campfire because of forest fire danger or other regulations. That’s when it’s helpful to have a fake campfire like a little red portable campfire or Coleman fire pits. These propane fire pits are usually allowed when real campfires aren’t. Some people claim to cook on them too, but I haven’t tried that.

Some more pages you might enjoy:

Montana Camping Guide; Learn all about camping - tips and ideas, gear you might need, camping with kids, Montana campgrounds, fixing meals, camping in Yellowstone Park and Glacier Park, plus much more

Tent Camping; Learn all about camping in a tent - with prices so high for hotels and motels, plus eating in restaurants - you might have decided you couldn't manage a family vacation this year - discover how a camping vacation is an affordable option.

Dutch Oven Recipes; Camping food can be much more than hot dogs cooked on a stick - how about pizza, pecan pie, beef stroganoff or fresh bread? Find these and many more delicious Dutch Oven recipes here.

Camp Cooking Supplies; Learn about different camp cooking methods and the supplies you need for each of them.

Glacier Park; What an incredible experience! Snow-covered, glacier-carved mountains - turquoise-colored alpine lakes - cascading waterfalls - dense and lush evergreen forests - abundant wildlife! It's all here for you to enjoy.

Yellowstone Park; Discover how Yellowstone National Park can be an exciting family vacation for all ages. Between the mystical geysers, amazing wildlife and exceptional beauty, there is something for everyone.




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