Fires: building a cooking fire

October 15, 2018

Many campfire cooking activities need embers to cook on, rather than flames – here’s how to prepare your fire.

Author: Muddy Faces

Age Range: 6+

Duration: 1-2 hours

Location: anywhere

Time Of Day: any time

Season: any

Tags: campfire, fire, firebox, firelighting, guide

Category: * what's new * bushcraft & survival food outdoors


Here we’re describing two ways to build a cooking fire in a fire box, however you can apply the same method to a fire pit or other fireplace to create a cooking fire.

A fire box is a strong rectangular or square fire pit with a lip to hold a grill. It has foldable legs, making it easier to stow away. The fire box provides a handy contained structure to cook with embers. The hot embers are created in the base of the fire and the flames occur above the burning fuel.

double fire box raised on log rounds in background single firebox on ground in front


You will need:

  • Muddy Faces double fire box
  • fire gloves
  • fire lighting resources – Dragons Sneeze, flint & steel etc
  • ignition material, kindling
  • seasoned wood for fuel to feed the fire
  • bricks or flat logs to raise the fire pit up if necessary
  • fire safety kit
double firebox raised with firelighting reources and fire safety kit

Environmental considerations

Consider the environmental impact of preparing for, carrying out & finishing this activity. Could the impact be reduced? A few considerations specific to this activity are:

  • leave no trace – keep fire box away from ground to avoid scorching
  • use dead wood for burning
  • dispose of wood ash carefully

Health & safety considerations

Follow your usual operating procedures and carry out appropriate risk benefit assessments. A few considerations particular to this activity are:

  • general fire safety (for more information look at our Fire safety guide)
  • have a fire safety kit to hand

Setting up

If you are using the fire box above grass or a surface that could be affected by heat then it is advisable to raise the box up – ideally at least 20cm, but any distance will reduce the heat impact on the surface below.

The amount of heat a cooking fire gives off is surprisingly high so it’s important to spend time preparing the right set up.

If you have time you can create an oven space and or a warming space underneath the firebox.

double firebox raised on log rounds

Technique 1 – fire in the middle

Build a fire in the middle of your fire box (for advice on lighting fires read how to create & maintain a fire). Let it grow then start to die down.

Keep adding fuel at the edges to keep the fire burning and, as embers develop, push them into the middle to add to the ember bed.

Keep adding fuel to the fire at the sides and add to bed when necessary.

poking embers on right of double firebox new kindling on left

Technique 2 – fire one side, embers on the other

Using a double fire box in the way described here helps to maintain a bed of hot embers to cook with on one side, whilst keeping the fire going (flames) on the other. Periodically swapping sides means you always have hot embers.

Step 1

Light a small fire in one side of the box (for advice on lighting fires see how to create and maintain a fire).

Continue to feed the fire with increasingly larger pieces of dry, seasoned wood.

Once the fire has been going for a while, embers will have developed.

new double firebox with fire starting to burn on right side left side empty

Step 2

Using a stick, scrape some or all the remaining burning fuel over to the empty side of the fire box, and add more fuel to get it going.

This will leave a bed of embers on the original side. Alternatively light a fire in the middle and spread it out.

Safety note: make sure when you are doing this you don’t accidentally flick burning embers out of the box.