Key-Hole Layout – How to Build a Campfire For Outdoor Camping Cooking

Knowing how to build a campfire for outdoor cooking is just as much about what camp recipes and cookware you will be using, as it is about getting the right tinder and kindling for a roaring blaze. If you are going to be doing more than backpack camping, then you will need a campfire layout that suits the camping cookware you will be using.

If you have the choice of laying out your own design, and are not restricted to a contained fire ring or other pre-made fire enclosure, the key-hole layout gives you the best of both kinds of campfire cooking. It gives you an open flame campfire for skillet and grill cooking, and a ‘hot-coals’ area for slower cooking items like cast iron Dutch oven recipes.

The key-hole layout is shaped just like the name implies. It has a main circular fire area, usually about 2 – 3 feet across, and a smaller protruding “nub” that will be the hot-coals cooking area, usually about 18 inches wide and deep. Combined, these two areas allow you to have direct flame heat over the main campfire and a more controlled heat over the hot coals. It is also recommended that you have a border around this layout, either rocks, logs, or large pieces of firewood, this will keep stray boot toes from getting too close. You can set-up a camping tripod to suspend your cooking pot over the flames, and use the hot coals area for cast iron Dutch oven or griddle and skillet cooking.

The main campfire in the circular area will be used to feed coals and embers to the hot-coals cooking area, so it is best to start with a good-sized flaming campfire. Unlike a campfire built just to sit around and enjoy, where you typically start with a small tee-pee of tinder and slowly add larger fuel to build the fire to the size you want, you know you want a larger fire to generate your hot coals. So for this campfire layout start with a larger tee-pee of tinder and a lot of firewood to get a good “roaring” flame going, this will make the supply of hot coals as the fire settles down and you are ready to start cooking that secret campfire recipe. When the coals and hot embers are ready, rake them out of the main campfire into the smaller hot-coals area. Spread these coals evenly to avoid having hot-spots under your camp griddle or cast iron skillet. The size of the hot-coals area, and the amount of coals needed from your campfire will depend on what campfire meal you are cooking and what piece of camp cookware you will be cooking with. The bed of hot coals can be continually replenished from the main campfire as you cook.

Not only does the key-hole layout give you both open-flame and hot-coals heat sources for cooking, it has another added benefit: when all the camp cooking is done, just toss some more wood into your main campfire circle and you will have the perfect campfire to sit around while enjoying a good cup of coffee, as your camping buddies tell you how delicious that secret campfire recipe was.