Friday, March 2, 2012

Campfire Friday - Campfire Basics (Because you need a fire before you can cook!)

When my wife asked me to write about campfire cooking, she really wanted me to write about the cooking part. But part of the success or failure of campfire cooking is in the campfire. I have to confess here that I am a snob in only ONE aspect of my life…. Campfires. I can’t stand watching somebody attempting to burn a green tree stump in the camp next to me (and usually up-wind). I take an odd pride in creating a smoke-free fire and thus avoiding having to do the “chair dance”. Truth be told, I’m just not a good dancer. People, you are NEVER going to get that stump to burn right (smoke-free). Just stop it, for the sake of all others in the campground.

A good campfire starts with reasonably dry wood, but you need three things to have a great fire. Heat, fuel, and AIR.  You always carry a sharp hatchet with you, right? Good, because we’re going to use it here.  A good fire is started with a small bundle of tinder. This can be pine needles, paper, or any of various small twigs that will catch fire fast and flare-up quickly. Just say no to the lighter fluid please. Your family’s food will thank you later. I build a small log cabin around that tinder bundle with sticks no larger than ½” (13mm) in diameter that I have cleaved from the larger logs. At this point have the rest of your wood ready and you can light the fire with one match (although any self-respecting campfire snob like myself will use a flint and steel). I try not to resort to rubbing sticks together, that would just be showing off!  These sticks will then burn just long enough to ignite the main fuel wood of my fire. I try to keep the fuel small at first.

Remember I listed heat as a requisite for a good fire? At this point the fire really hasn’t got that hot yet. I can still get my hands scary close to it and not lose my knuckle hairs. You may actually have to kneel down and GENTLY blow into the fire to stoke it up. Aim for the base. Please note, if you have kids….. don’t let them do this. They will proceed to sit directly across the fire from you and blow with all their might! Dads don’t really need any more scars on their faces. We do just fine at home with our “safety” razors. Sticks that are 1-2 inches (25-50mm) in diameter are perfect at this point. These sticks can be placed in a larger cabin shape around the smaller sticks. Just be sure to allow room for air to get to them. As soon as these bigger pieces have reached their maximum roar, I then add a quarter cut log or two to the fire. At this point even I begin to use tongs (you did remember them again, right) because I hate the smell of burnt eyebrows. This method will allow you to start a fire with 1 match, build heat quickly, and not choke the family down-wind from you. Not only will you avoid the chair dance, your neighbors will too. With just a little prep time and a good sharp axe, you have created a perfect campfire that your family can enjoy together as you prepare your next meal.

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