How to Cook Over an Open Fire

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Cooking over an open fire is not a new technique by any means. Our ancestors in the Paleolithic era threw hunks of meat onto open flame up to two million years before contemporary humans learned how to grill a perfect steak.


Photo: Primus

Photo: Primus

Whether you call it barbecue, grilling, braai, yakitori, barbie, tandoor, barbacoa, or char siu, the technique is the same: placing meat or veggies directly over direct flame to sear them creating a Maillard Reaction, a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor.

No beef with vegans, but a nice ribeye steak cooked over an open fire after a long day exploring the backcountry might just be the most perfect thing in the world.

Since life began on the African continent, I thought I’d focus on two open fire cooking techniques that originated in South Africa — potjie (pronounced poi-key) and braai.

While a braai can be a verb and a noun, there is one thing it isn’t: cooking with gas. Braai is intended to be cooked on an open fire, in fact South Africans don’t consider anything cooked over gas as a braai. In a braai, the fire remains lit after the food is cooked and becomes a gathering place where people can talk (and drink), get warm (and drink), and imbibe in their favorite adult beverages, also known as drinking. Or as we call it, a perfect end to a great day on the trails.

On the other hand, Potjie (or potjiekos) is translated as “small-pot food” and refers to a cast iron cauldron (or dutch oven) that is meant to be cooked over open fire of wood or charcoal. Potjie was brought to South Africa by the Dutch Voortrekkers and this method of cooking is perfect for hearty stews, breads, potatoes, or anything you want to cook. If you don’t have the first clue about how to cook in a potjie, check out this dutch oven cookbook filled with traditional South African recipes from Front Runner Outfitters and you can become a Voortrekker too.


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READ MORE: CAMPFIRE SAFETY FOR OVERLANDERS


True to their roots, South Africa-based Front Runner Outfitters has some great products to help you cook over open flames while you’re out in the backcountry while saving precious cargo space in your vehicle in the process. Here’s a couple of my favorites:

Potjie Pot / Dutch Oven & Carrier


Photo: Front Runner Outfitters

Photo: Front Runner Outfitters

There’s no better place to keep potentially hot, grimy, dirty, and cumbersome camp kitchen supplies than up and out of the way, outside the vehicle. Knowing that, the Front Runner Potjie Pot Carrier offers a sensible way to travel with a potjie pot.

The 2.1-gallon, cast-iron potjie pot is secured in the bracket by the three legs. The supplied ratchet strap threads through the lid of the pot and fixes points on the bracket. The entire system affixes to any platform rack with ease.

MSRP: $223.00


Front Runner Spare Tire Mount Braai / BBQ Grate


Photo: Front Runner Outfitters

Photo: Front Runner Outfitters

This ingenious, stainless steel cooking grate, stores over your spare wheel (fits 29” to 35” tires) and takes up virtually no space. The grate features both grill and griddle sections which are useful for all types of cooking. This grill is designed to be used over hot coals and not over a roaring fire.

MSRP: $168.00


READ MORE: GEAR CHRONICLES: ONE MAN’S QUEST FOR FIRE


Originally based out of Stockholm, Sweden, camp cooking brand Primus also has some great products to help you get the most out of your open fire cooking. Here’s a few that I think are perfect for the overlander as they fold flat and take up very little space when not in use:

Primus Aeril Stove


Photo: Primus

Photo: Primus

This compact stainless steel campfire stove is height-adjustable so you can move your food closer or further from the flames. Best of all, it folds flat and fits into an included stow bag for easy, clean transportation. 

MSRP: $129.95


Primus Kamoto OpenFire Pit


Photo: Primus

Photo: Primus

Being a good steward of our public lands means leaving no trace. The Primus Kamoto OpenFire Pit raises your fire off the ground so you can enjoy a fire without damaging the earth around your campsite. This fire pit folds flat for easy storage and includes a grilling grate for cooking up your favorite delectables.

MSRP: $129.95


Primus Skewers


Photo: Primus

Photo: Primus

Kebabs are so simple for a quick camp dinner! These skewers are great for easy cooking over an open fire. The sharp tip makes it easy to stick your favorite foods on the skewer, and the flat shape ensures the food will stay on and turn when you are ready to turn it. Since they’re flat, it is easy to find a home for them in your rig. 

MSRP: $19.95

Oh, and one more thing. Here’s a great cookbook from Primus to help you raise the quality of your open fire camp meals:


Culinary Heights Cookbook: FREE from Primus!

Culinary Heights Cookbook: FREE from Primus!

I hope this inspired you to elevate your backcountry meals. Happy open fire cooking.



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AUTHOR: ANTHONY SICOLA

Anthony is the Director of Sales for Overland Expo and travels extensively with his wife Astrid and his dog Sir Digby in his 1994 Toyota Land Cruiser, nicknamed Hank the Tank. Follow his adventures on Instagram @overlandnomads


Header image: Front Runner Outfitters

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Photo by Brett Willhelm

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