Here's how to build and start a campfire for cooking up a wilderness feast.
vegetables in cast iron skillet

Camping season is upon us! Whether you're heading into the woods or just your backyard, there are a few rules you should follow for a safe and successful campfire cookout, including how to start the fire and how to set up a campfire grill. Here are five things to keep in mind.

1. Choose a safe spot

Give yourself a 10-foot perimeter from any trees and make sure there are no roots or hanging branches nearby. Build a fire ring with stones or bricks or buy one from a hardware or home-supply store.

2. Arrange tinder and kindling properly

Place tinder (small, dry twigs and leaves that ignite easily) in the middle of your fire ring. Build a tepee around it with kindling (dry sticks, less than 1 inch thick). Lean the sticks against each other, leaving enough space between them for air to flow.

3. Light the tinder

As the kindling burns, add a layer of bigger, dry logs, one or two at a time, mirroring the tepee shape to avoid smothering the fire. Plan to let the fire burn for at least 30 minutes (and up to an hour). You want to cook food over hot coals, not flames. When the fire has died down, you have a base of hot, glowing coals, and the logs are covered with white ash, you're ready to cook. (Expect temperatures of about 500°F at this point.)

How hot is your fire?

Gas grills and many charcoal grills have thermometers built in to gauge the heat, but with a campfire you're on your own. The hack: Hold your palm an inch or two above the cooking grate. The amount of time you can stand the heat tells you how hot the grill is.

how hot is your campfire chart
Credit: EatingWell

4. Consider a grill grate

Place a grill grate on top of the fire ring if you plan on cooking food like steak or need a stable surface for fire-safe cookware. If you are simply sticking hot dogs on a stick, no need to use a fire grate.

5. Put out the fire when you're done

Once you're finished with the fire, put the flames out with a bucket of water or sand. Continue dousing until it's completely extinguished and the coals stop hissing.

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This story originally appeared in EatingWell Magazine June 2020.