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How to create the right kind of campfire

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Feb 2016; updated May 2023.

Take the family camping? Planning a campfire? Here are a few types of campfire you can build, from keeping warm, to cooking a meal.

Having a campfire is a big part of camping. But do you know what type of campfire to make?

Don't believe everything you watch on TV or see in the movies. There are different types of campfires. Some are best for heat and light, others are best for cooking over.

Creating a Campfire for Cooking

Campfire for Cooking

TV shows and films often have a roaring fire with pots and other items cooking over the flames.

Whilst it's not impossible to cook that way, you'll usually end up with burnt and undercooked food.

Hot coals and embers are much better to cook with, as they give out good steady heat, and it's easier to control the temperature by adding or taking away hot coals.

Flame tends to burn yet not get that hot, at least not hot enough to cook the inside of your food before it scorches the outside.

If you want to do a lot of campfire cooking for your family, I recommend you get a Dutch Oven (see our article on how to use a Dutch Oven for more info).

Dutch Ovens and other cast iron cookware work well with hot coals, as the heat from the coals transfers to the iron, making it ideal for frying, baking, and roasting.

Let's look at a few different types of campfires.

The Tepee Campfire

Tepee Campfire

Tepee Campfire

The Tepee is a classic-looking campfire and ideal for creating a quick fire to warm up with.

Pile up dry tinder kindling and set it alight. Then start placing sticks around it in a tepee shape, ensuring you don't smother the fire.

As the fire gets bigger, you can use larger sticks and logs.

This good fire puts out a tall flame and heat in all directions, making it an ideal campfire to sit around in the evening.

You will need plenty of fuel close to hand as this fire burns quickly.

However, the tepee campfire is not a good choice if you want to cook food.

The Criss-Cross Campfire

Criss-Cross Campfire

Criss-Cross Campfire

You must build a Criss-Cross fire if you want a campfire to cook over.

You build this by simply placing a crisscross of logs stacked on one another.

I find it easier to light by creating a small depression in the ground, starting a small fire with dry kindling first, adding more small twigs, and then building the crisscrossed logs above the fire.

Although the fire's shape provides a flat platform to cook things over, the logs will eventually collapse on themselves.

This is not a problem, as it's the hot embers and coals that this sort of fire makes that you then use for cooking.

The Keyhole Fire Pit - The Best of Both

Keyhole Fire Pit

Keyhole Fire Pit

So what if you want to sit around a campfire and cook? How can you have a good campfire that does both?

Well, the ideal solution is a Keyhole Firepit.

You cut a keyhole shape in the ground and start a Tepee fire in the round part of the keyhole.  This fire provides light and warmth.

Family campfire cooking at Nipstone Camping

Us using a keyhole fire pit to cook on

Now you can either wait for the Tepee fire to create enough hot embers or start a second fire for cooking with.

If you decide to wait, then rake hot embers from the main fire into the slot where you can cook food.

Alternatively, start a small criss-cross fire in the slot to create embers while the tepee fire is warming everyone and lighting up the camp.

The Swedish Torch

Swedish Torch Campfire

Swedish Torch Campfire

The Swedish Torch campfire is very popular on the internet. After all, using this design, a single log can burn for hours.  Sounds amazing, right?

The concept is quite simple.

You cut some slits into a log. You stand the log on its end and start a fire at the top. As the fire embers fall into the slits the log starts to burn.

Air is drawn into the slits, and the log burns down from the top and the inside.

We've created something like this before, and although you can have a log burning for a long time, it doesn't give out as much heat or light, so a group of you at a campsite won't be keeping warm by this fire, unlike a tepee fire.

Though if there's just one or two of you and you don't have much wood, the Swedish Torch could be a good choice.

You'll also want to make sure the log is firm. You don't want it falling over, especially with kids around.

If the top of the log is also flat, you could place a small pan or pot on the top and use the log to cook on. The Swedish Torch does put out a lot of heat at the top of the log.

Here's a video from the internet on making a Swedish Torch campfire.

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So there you go, a couple of different methods of creating a campfire.

Here's a handy summary:

YouTube Video Thumbnail
Types of Campfire Pin

See also

For many campfire recipes, we've been using a Dutch Oven.

And if you have space to transport, this big cast iron Robens Big Horn is ideal for cooking over a small campfire.