Fresh ideas for the common campfire

OK, confession time.  Please don’t judge me.  I hang my head in shame as I confess my deep dark secret to you, but I must confess … that … I … um … I … don’t … like … Marshmallows. True story.  The truth is that I am actually all marshmallow-ed out.  I am no stranger to camping, I couldn’t tell you how many I have done over the years and one common pastime for camp is the Saturday Night Campfire.  Ah yes, they are amazing.  And I can remember many a great time at the campfire.  And in my case, for a good length of time, each campfire, we would roast marshmallows. And don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the little guys with their soft, warm and gooey insides, encased in a hard but not burnt shell that makes your eyes roll backwards under closed eyelids. Nope, they are great, but believe you me, that there is in fact, such a thing as having too many marshmallows.

So then what makes the perfect campfire?

Ok, ok, before I come across in any way as anti-campfire, let me set the record straight.  I love the campfire.  And I love to be creative with it.  So I thought I’d share with you all, some ideas to take the classic campfire to one that stands out in the memories of your campers. Firstly, the classic campfire for any Newbies to Campfiring…. you will want a large campfire (most campsites will set this up for you via prior arrangement), and ask your campers to find a stick off the floor or bring skewers with (it’s worth noting that breaking sticks off trees should be discouraged from a protect-the-environment perspective).  Aneach kid gets a marshmallow or two to toast over the fire.  This does work best a little later in the evening once the fire has burnt down a little to prevent singed eyebrows, and you get better toasted marshmallows as a perk.

I get that different people like marshmallows done differently, and one can range from the Burnt-to-a-Cinder (not recommended) to the Raw-in-your-Jaw mellows, but I’d recommend the Roasted-till-Toasted approached.  This is where your marshmallow sits comfortably above the coals of the already burnt down fire and every few seconds rotate your stick slightly.  As long as it doesn’t touch any fire, it shouldn’t ignite.  Once toasted, you have the option of the All-In-And-Chew vs the classic Pull-Off-the-Outer-And-Repeat approach.  A personal favourite for me, is both in the following sequence: 1 pink and 1 white on the same stick, for this illustration the pink is on top and the white directly below it.  Roast-to-Toast both.  The pull off the outer crushed mellow of the pink one and eat it.  Then pull the outer-crust of the lower white mellow over the pink gooey center to create a pink and white sensation.  For this part you do the All-in-and-Chew technique and then finish off with a once more Roast-to-Toast on the soft gooey, white, fluffy mellow which is lower on the stick.   Try it, and in advance, you’re welcome!

And as promised, the epic campfire ideas that don't include the classical toasted marshmallow

Ok, ok, getting your marshmallow perfect is only a small part of the perfect campfire.  Here are some extra ideas to take it from a good camp memory to the camp highlight.



Toasted marshmallow (Roasted-to-Toasted method), placed on a Digestive biscuit (Marie Biscuits also work well), then a block of chocolate gets pushed inside the hot marshmallow, then a second biscuit goes on top to make a marshmallow biscuit sandwich.  


You will actually find that the chocolate melts in the marshmallow which in turn melts your heart in the sheer indulgence of it all.  In case, you have never heard of S’mores, they stand for “Some MORES”, so be prepared for campers wanting more.  What works well for large groups is 1 S’more per person and then extra marshmallows for those who come back and they can just toast them.

Bar-One in foil:  

This is a personal favourite.  Each camper gets a marie biscuit, some tin-foil and a piece of Bar One Chocolate (the bite sizes work well or you can buy the large ones and cut them).  Pre-cut your tinfoil into strips about 15cm X 30cm.  It’s recommended that campers need to bring a teaspoon with them.  It’s simple, foil the biscuit and Bar One together (shiny side of the foil on the inside).  Then place it next to the fire once it has burned down.  Rotate after 2 minutes (times may vary depending on the heat).  You are looking for the caramel center to melt and then strap yourself in for a taste sensation.  Please note that if you put it on the coals, you will likely burn your biscuit.  It’s also advised to have tongs handy if needed, and to allow your hot tasty treat to cool to a temperature that doesn’t burn before eating.

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Another great option is Stokbrood: 

This is basically a dough that each camper makes and then wraps it around a stick (so they will need to find a stick on the floor), and then it is cooked over the fire.  I personally use the following recipe which has served me well because it’s easy to remember:

Each camper gets a (medium sized) plastic sandwich bag. Then inside the each bag add, 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 pinch of salt and half a cup water. Then hold the bag closed and massage the dough for about 30 minutes while the fire rages.  You will 
know when the dough is ready because it wont be gooey and will rather be a smooth dough. Wrap it thinly around the stick and cook it over the flames, rotating regularly.  It should cook for about   20-30 minutes but this time depends on how thick the dough is.  When it looks like bread on a stick, IE. golden in colour, break off a small piece to check the inside and enjoy. Serving suggestions: have some butter ready to melt on or some delicious dipping sauces handy. You could even wrap it around the stick with bacon, allowing the bacon to crisp to perfection while the dough cooks. If you want a sweet treat, brush with melted butter when it is done and then roll in some cinnamon sugar, or some good ol’ golden syrup.

Now we have the campfire snacks down pact, here are some fun activities you can do around the fire

The Campfire creates an ambiance which means that it is the perfect setting for some great activities while the flames rage on.  Singing songs or for church groups, having a time of worship are special moments indeed.  Another idea is a talent show by the campfire.  The campers prepare this in advance and showcase their talents by the campfire. Telling stories or Testimonies around the fire are good ideas too as the soft light and crackling of the firewood sets a good mood. Or you could go for a night hike or other evening activity that ends at the campfire. Truth is that the fire creates a beautiful mood and atmosphere, it’s a good idea to prepare how to best ride the setting for maximum impact and memory for your group. But remember that the campfire is mostly a relaxed setting so caution not to plan too much and land it with some chilled time around the fire with a tasty sweet treat or even a cup of hot chocolate.


Let's get practical

Lighting the fire

I wanted to also share a few practical tips, because after all, if your fire wont start, your mellows wont roast.  Firstly, plan with your venue regarding firewood.  Not all venues have this set up without a request. So it’s a good idea to book your campfire in advance.  Most of the time, most groups have a campfire on the last night.  This is great except for when the weather says otherwise.  So check the weather about 3 days before on and again on the morning of your arrival date. This way, if rain or wind (especially in the dry season) is expected, you can swap with the night before or vice versa.  If rain is forecast of Saturday day time, but clears for the night, consider that your wood may be too wet to light.


Some venues will light the fire for you via prior-arrangement, but really it’s easy enough with the following tricks: Light the fire in one place.  I have seen people try to light the firewood in 2 – 3 places and then they are stumped when all their little fires burn out before the wood catches.  Use easy to light materials.  Firelighters seem the obvious choice here, and they make perfect sense.  I personally prefer to use egg box cartons and corrugated box cardboard (these are normally easily available on most camps, because people eat a lot of eggs generally speaking on camps).  They light well and get hot quick enough to light a dry bonfire.  The trick is a lot of heat on the same spot,  so I normally stuff in my cardboard and some smaller sticks, I try to make my starter flame as hot as possible.  Once it catches, the whole bonfire goes up pretty easily.

Starting a fire

Back to the topic of firelighters.  Let me take a moment to tell you about reusable fire-lighters.  That’s right, reusable firelighters are a real thing and you can use these to start your camp fire, braai, fireplace fire.  It’s a cool concept and they are available here.

What safety measures should be taken?

Having a recently trained and qualified first aider with a stocked first aid kit handy is always recommended.  Also, avoid having a campfire when the wind is heavy.  And when you are done with the camp fire, don’t forget to put it out by spreading the embers with a stick and pour a few buckets of water over them.

If someone does accidentally get burned, here is a link to Netcare’s advise on appropriate first aid treatment for burns.

The essence of a campfire

Your campfire should really encapsulate all five senses,  a something to eat, the sounds of crackling wood and/or songs, the ambient light and maybe a show, the warmth of the fire and the smell of hot chocolate in hand or burning wood.  This is why campfires are so powerful, because they can give a complete sensory picture to every camper.


Be safe and have fun and feel free to be creative.  I want to close off with a story of 1 of my favourite campfire memories.  I did a campfire in a unique way and it was a blast … It was a 4 night camp so on day 4 we woke the kids up early.  Really early.  Before the sun came up early and around 4:45am, we lit our camp fire and enjoyed hot chocolate, marsh-mellows and stock brood watching the sunrise.  We knew that the kids would be tired so we planned in a camp siesta as part of the programme for that day.  I tell you, that campfire was a hit and a memory that those kids wont forget because sometimes the best campfires are the ones that are just that little bit different to the standard campfire.


Go out and make awesome memories around your next campfire!

Andrew Gunn

Founder: Camp Deals

Fresh ideas for the common campfire
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