According to the National Parks Service, human activity is the main cause of wildfires in the United States, and unattended campfires are the major culprit, being responsible for about 85 percent of wildfires. To prevent such incidents, national parks, forests, and fire-prone wilderness areas often implement restrictions and bans on open flames.
Regulations may vary based on the location and season, so you always have to check and see what rules are in place before planning your trip. Some rules require you to obtain an open-fire permit or improvise when all flames and propane stoves are off limits.
Camping without a fire to roast marshmallows over may seem gloomy, but putting together whatever is available can make your campfire-free trip be just as rewarding, as you can still spend your days hiking, swimming in lakes or rivers, and can have the best stargazing condition without the brightness of a campfire.
To help you with your campfire-free trip, we’ve listed some ways to cook your meals during a burn ban.
Cooking outdoors and away from the comfort of your kitchen can be intimidating, frustrating even. But, who says you can’t bring your kitchen to the wilderness? Check out this article about our top recommendations for the best camping cookware for all budget and sizes.
A burn ban is a temporary ban on open flames, especially recurrent when there are drought conditions. This means no campfires, open fires, or barbeques, regardless of whether or not you are in a commercial campground. However, burn bans can mean different things depending on the location. It could mean no wood-burning, no open flame, no charcoal burning, no bio-fuel stoves, or others, so it is best to check in with local authorities or do your research before heading to the area.
There are two kinds of camping fire restrictions. Stage 1 is the least restrictive, and stage 2, the most restrictive. When things get bad, national forests get shut down until restrictions are lifted and the forest is re-opened.
Although restrictions vary around the world, here is what the two stages mean according to the Lake County Office of Emergency Management:
Building, attending, maintaining, or using a campfire, fire, or stove fire unless in constructed, permanent fire pits, fire grates within developed campgrounds. Using gas lanterns, pressurized liquid fuel, portable stoves, petroleum, fully-enclosed stove with a 1” spark arrestor type screen is allowed.Smoking, except in a developed recreation site, an enclosed building or vehicle, or in an area at least 3 feet in diameter cleared of all flammable material.
Building, attending, maintaining, or using a campfire, fire, or stove, including charcoal grills, coal and wood-burning stoves, barbecues, sheeperder stoves even in developed camping sites or picnic grounds.Exceptions: Pressurized liquid or gas stoves, grills, or lanterns that have shut-off valves are permitted when used on areas at least 3 feet or more away from flammable materials.Smoking is prohibited unless inside an enclosed structure, building, or trailer.Operating or using any internal combustion engine without a spark arrestor system properly installed and working effectively.Possessing or using any motor vehicle off established roads, established parking areas, motorized trails, except when parking in an area with no vegetation within 10 feet of the vehicle.
Is a camping stove considered open flame?
A camping stove is considered an open flame and is prohibited during a burn ban, except in developed picnic and campgrounds where there are agency-built grills or fire rings provided, which comes with fees. Pressurized liquid or gas stoves, heaters, and lanterns are also usually allowed. Always check if there is a burn ban and what restrictions are in place before you bring your camping stove.
Cooking outdoors while camping is always a fun activity but sometimes it can be a bit of a hassle. What if you forgot to pack your camping cookware? To remedy this situation, you have to be a bit creative and utilize what you have on hand. Read our article to learn how to cook without utensils when camping.
Tips for cooking during a burn ban
1. Plan your meals
Some fire restrictions only prohibit wood and charcoal fires, which means gas or propane grills and stoves are allowed, provided that they can be easily shut off with a valve. You can cook a lot of meals with a portable burner, including pancakes, chilis, one-pot pasta, and other simple dishes.
Other restrictions prohibit the use of all open flames. However, there are still a lot of no-cook meals out there that you can try. You can have granola or muesli, wraps, and salads, and you can also prepare your meals at home, bring dehydrated, frozen, or dried food, and for extra protein, energy bars and trail mix packs.
2. Use Propane Campfire
If you really want to sit around a campfire, you can use a propane campfire if allowed. This will get you as close as possible to a real campfire experience. However, you will miss the crackling and popping sounds and the smoke that a real campfire creates. Still, you and your friends can get lost dreamily around the mesmerizing flames of a propane campfire. Plus, you can still roast marshmallows and cook hotdogs over it.
3. Use Propane Camp Stoves
If allowed, you can also use propane single- or double-burner camp stoves to cook meals. These are small, portable stoves that you can use to roast hotdogs and marshmallows. They are generally allowed during a burn ban, but you must double-check the restrictions.
4. Use Propane and Electric Griddles
If it is not prohibited during the burn ban, you can use these propane griddles to make wonderful recipes like pancakes, s’mores, burgers, and more. Electric griddles, on the other hand, can be used even on stage 2 burn ban, but you’ll need an electrical source for it. Use electric griddles to avoid any open or exposed flames. Although you’ll also miss out on the crackling and sizzling of campfires, you can still make amazing meals on these.
5. Electric Cooktops or Stoves
As with electric griddles, these electric stoves will help you stay on good terms with the local park ranger and the environment while still allowing you to cook and heat up your meals.
6. Solar Cooking Equipment
Another option for cooking without a campfire or open flame is to use solar cookers or ovens. Over the years, manufacturers have come up with new designs that will let you cook amazing meals for your family and friends when outdoors. Solar power can reduce our dependence on fossil fuel, combat greenhouse gas emissions, and improve public health as it is not sourced from coal and natural gas.
7. DIY Tin Foil Oven
Those who love DIY crafts can make a solar cooker or mini oven using cardboard, tin foil, and help from the sun. Harness the heat from the sun to warm up your pre-cooked foods. This is a safe way to cook during a fire ban and an awesome food project.
Cooking outdoors is indeed challenging, but you should see this as an opportunity to learn new skills and be more creative when in comes to cooking. Whether you have access to a fire or not, we have 15 cooking tips for camping that will surely improve your camping cooking experience.
As mentioned above, people are a major cause of wildfires. However, we can all do our part to prevent them. So, here are fire safety tips when camping outdoors:
- You should make use of any existing fire pits or campfire rings whenever possible.
- You should build the fire no less than 10 feet away (or at least far enough) from any flammable materials like leaves, overhanging branches, rotten stumps, logs, steep slopes, or dry grass. You should also pile any extra wood away from the fire.
- Campfires should be 4 feet in diameter and less than 3 feet high. You should only use charcoal or untreated wood as fuel. Try making a good bed of charcoal or a little fire that is surrounded by rocks as this already gives plenty of heat. Within a 10-foot-diameter circle, scrape away any rubbish and flammable material to keep the fire from spreading.
- Make sure that your match is 100% exhausted and hold it until it is cold.
- You should never leave the campfire unattended as even a small breeze can cause the fire to quickly spread.
- If you are done with the campfire, you should drown it with water to make sure all coals, sticks, and embers are wet. Move the rocks around as there may still be burning embers underneath them.
- Stir the campfire’s remains, then add more water to it, and stir it again. If there is no more water available, you can use dirt. You should not bury the coals as they can smolder, break out, and start a fire.
- In remote areas, opt for a small stove for cooking instead of making a campfire.
Fire is a very helpful element for us humans, especially outdoors where we use it as a source of heat and as a way to cook our food. But, fire is also very destructive. Wildfires cause devastating damages and once a forest burns down, it can take hundreds of years before it can return to its former glory. Burn bans are implement to prevent this kind of disaster from happening.
Despite the lack of or limited use of fire, cooking while camping is still possible. With our tips and a few tricks up your sleeve combined with resourcefulness and proper planning, you’ll be able to enjoy hot meals even when lighting a fire is banned in your campsite.