The traditional fire source for cooking outdoors was wood coals from the camp fire. I remember watching old cowboys load their Dutch ovens with ingredients then walk over to the fire and shovel out some hot coals and distribute them on top and underneath the Dutch ovens and declare that to be “just about right.” It always amazed me how they could just eyeball it like that.
Whether you’re a rookie cookie or a champion camp chef, charcoal briquettes offer easier and better heat control. In addition, every year, state and national parks place more restrictions on gathering wood and building open fires. All these are good reasons to use charcoal briquettes.
For best results, use quality charcoal but not a pre-treated, fast-start charcoal. Don’t get the cheap stuff. Quality charcoal will burn longer and more consistently, and can make the difference between a great meal and a meal that is burned or undercooked. I prefer Kingsford Original Charcoal.
I keep my charcoal in 5-gallon buckets. It rains a lot here in the Northwest and even when it doesn’t, we tend to get heavy overnight dew so the ground can be really damp sometimes. The 5-gallon buckets are easier than the bags to carry, store, and transport; and I don’t have to worry about bags getting ripped or soaked while camping in wet weather. The bucket also doubles as a stool to sit on.
When starting your charcoal, do not use lighter fluid or any kind of accelerant. It will make your charcoal burn too fast. Use a charcoal chimney and either some wadded up newspaper or a couple of fire starters underneath. I place a couple of my homemade fire starters into the bottom of my chimney before I load in the coals.
After I light the fire starters, it takes no time at all before I have fire blazing up through my coals. My coals are ready in 15-20 minutes.
You can find chimneys in most outdoor stores for around $20. Kingsford makes a collapsible chimney for $25.
For more information on how to make your own fire starters, please see my blog post: “DIY: Making Your Own Fire Starters.”
So, just how naughty do I have to be to get coal in my stocking? And, still get that 16-inch Dutch oven under the tree?