Cooking on a campfire isn’t about burnt sausages. You can eat like royalty (but shouldn’t be stuffing swans as it makes Liz angry). Quality ingredients and a little planning mean you don’t have to slum it.
If you’re looking for camping cookware which can handle considerable punishment, Zebra billy cans are ideal.
They come in four sizes. 10cm, 12cm, 14cm and 16cm. The 10cm and 12cm cans are ideal for one person, the 14cm for two, and the 16cm for three to four.
As you’ll see in the image, they also come with what looks like a dog bowl, which fits inside the main pot held on the rim. This allows steaming, smoking meat, cooking two layers of food or as a plate or shallow bowl.
Hang them from a tripod over a fire (the handle has a curve in the middle allowing this), pop them on a camp stove or lay them on their side and even use them as an oven to bake bread, these are versatile pots which will take years of abuse. Expect them to discolour slightly after use, but that just adds to their character.
The 14cm can is an ideal size to snugly hold a wood gas stove during transportation. Due to its height and unlike a normal pan with a standard handle, we find this more stable on a smaller stove allowing safer cooking.
What we like:
The odd inner pan for steaming food;
What we don’t:
A design flaw is the plastic clips used to hold the handle upright – these melt if the pan is on a campfire. Take them off when cooking.
The issue with the clips is not enough to detract from just how good a piece of kit this is.
Some complain that the handle gets hot. Use a stick to lift the billy can when you’re ready to serve. Set it on the ground, and then use the stick, gloves or an oven glove to lift the lid. It’s not rocket science. Stainless steel gets hot! If not cooking with the lid on, you can also use an aluminium camping pan grip which are cheap to buy to handle the pot. This can also be used with the internal pan, and hey presto, you then have a mini frying pan.
In the following video a zebra billy can is used as an oven to roast a whole chicken on a small spirit burning stove. We know of people who use theirs to bake fresh bread in the morning. Please note the zebra can in the video has a minor modification, in that the plastic clips have been replaced with sprung wire.
Crayfish are a wonderful delicacy, and in the right locations you can catch 20 to 30 in a couple of hours by simply tossing a trap into water where they’re present. Please be aware that you need a license to capture native white clawed cray fish. In many waterways, an invasive species, North American Signal Crayfish are also present, and these are a pest. They spread a disease which harms native stocks, and damage river banks and eat salmon and trout eggs.
You need three things to catch non-native crayfish in England and Wales:
1. A lawful trap;
2. The landowner’s permission;
3. Consent from the Environment Agency in England or National Resource Wales (this is free). This application form should be used.
Once your application is approved, you will receive identity tags for your traps and a catch return form. Please be aware that if you catch crayfish without consent and using equipment which does not meet the Government requirements you may be prosecuted. If you catch a North American signal crayfish by mistake and throw it back in the water, this in itself could be a criminal offense. The maximum fine is £40,000 and you could face a year in jail.
If you want to catch crayfish in Scotland, contact Marine Scotland on 0300 244 4000. North American signal crayfish are still relatively rare in Scotland, and licenses may be more difficult to obtain than in England. If you’re going to catch them, do it legally. The risk to the environment from breaking the law (and to you personally if prosecuted for unlawful trapping) simply isn’t worth it.
Identifying Species: The colour of white clawed crayfish claws is lighter on the underside than on the top (hence the name) and the claws are smaller relative to the size of its body. The bottom of North American signal crayfish claws are red with a prominent white or bluish patch in the claw joints (and the claws are large!).
Compliant Traps: Crayfish traps must conform to specific criteria. This is to stop other species such as otters from being caught and drowning. Trap entrances must be no more than 95mm wide, be no longer than 600mm, be no wider than 350mm and have mesh no wider than 30mm.
Be cautious of buying collapsible traps online. Some are not UK compliant. We like the Swedish Crayfish Trap, which is! If you want one which collapses for convenient transportation, don’t buy the ‘luxury’ ones online which tend to be too long (over 600mm). Jackal Outdoors sell one which is the right legal length and width.
Baiting Crayfish Traps: Fish heads, cat food or even salami is used. Most crayfish nets have a small zipped or drawstring bag for you to put the bait in. You’d be amazed at how many you can catch in some waterways, with 80 being caught by one friend in an afternoon.
Placing Traps: In the South of England, crayfish have spread all over the river system. You’ll find it easier to get a license in the south than in the north or Scotland. Place the baited trap in the water course (some take a can of cat food, drill holes in it and use that as the bait. Weight it down with a couple of stones inside to stop it floating away. Tie a length of paracord to the net and stake the other end down firmly on the river bank. It really isn’t harder than that. Come back and check in a few hours. Make sure you wash and disinfect the trap thoroughly to stop the risk of transferring crayfish diseases to other water courses.
Preparing Crayfish: Boil them, skewer them and cook over a campfire, or put straight onto a barbecue. Mr Mears shows you how to humanely despatch them in the video below. You’ve done the difficult part… you’ve got your license, get permission from the land owner, bought a suitable trap, waited patiently… was it worth the effort? For a bucket full of baby lobster… HELL YES!
You need a stable platform to put your pots on and to lift them above the flames of your camp stove. Too low and you risk snuffing out your fire, and if the pot stand is too small, your cooking set up becomes unstable (not a good thing when dealing with hot liquids). In short, you may well need a pot stand.
You can buy them if you find the idea of making one too much hard work. It’s also worth factoring in the cost of tools. One which you can buy off the shelf (which can also be used as a mini fire box to burn twigs) is the Bushbox Outdoor Pocket Stove. This packs flat and is ideal to hold Trangia or home made drink can burners.
If you want to make your kit, or simply wish to save some money, why not make your own stove and pot stand. You’ll find Youtube videos on how to make your own stove here… we promise you’ll never view cans and tins in the same light.
For pot stands, check out the videos below. Test them at home on something concrete (not the decking or the kitchen table!) before you give them a try at your camp site. If you’re trying them out with an alcohol based burner/stove, use only a small amount of flammable liquid until you’re sure the pot stand won’t warp under heat. Think safety first! Also, please remember these stoves and holders will be hot during and after use. Let them cool before handling and never pick up a burning stove with liquid fuel inside.
Design Tip:You want your pot to sit at least an inch above your cooking flame (not much more, and not less). With wood burning stoves, you may want to give enough clearance so you can feed small twigs into the fire without lifting the pan.
Compact Cross Stand
Trangia stoves are compact alcohol burning stoves very similar to drink can stoves (yes you can make these yourself too!). Methylated spirit works well as a fuel. For these stoves, a pot stand really is essential (and we’d also recommend a wind shield for those inevitable British summer days!). In the video below, you’re shown how to make a simple but effective pot stand which will take up no room at all in your pack.
Inexpensive and again, packs incredibly small. Want a more substantial stand? Use thicker wire! In the video they’re using 2mm stainless steel wire. Struggling to find it online? Try welding wire. Coat hanger wire works too (see the video after).
Coat Hanger Stand
Nut and Bolt Stand
Adapt from the following design. Use a larger tin lid. Make the pot holder as shown, but large enough to sit a drink can burner in between the bolts. You then get a more fuel efficient fire (using the drink can design) and a wider pot stand giving you a more stable pot holder.
Making your own equipment isn’t just about saving money, or preparing yourself for survival in post apocalyptic Basildon (I mean, really?!?). It’s a bit of fun. The “I made that” moment.
Below we’ve linked a number of Youtube videos which show just some of the stoves you can make yourself, for pennies. They use the same concepts as those in commercial camping stoves… a fire needs fuel, oxygen and heat.
Please mind your fingers when making these, and don’t let your kids loose on these projects. It’s one for the adults.
We warn you, you’ll start looking at empty tins and cans in a whole new light.
Drink Can Alcohol Stove
The drawback and advantage with these stoves is you have to carry your own fuel with you. We prefer wood burning stoves, but if you set up camp and it’s been raining for hours, dry wood can be hard to find! A small bottle of methylated spirits and a drink can stove can either be a useful alternative or a backup. These are small stoves and ideally suited to the single camper/walker.
Something also to bear in mind is that on a windy day, alcohol stoves blow out! Better to have a wind shield with you (one can be made out of tinfoil or custom bought). You’ll also need to fashion something to stand your pots on above the flame, and also ensure the stove can’t tip over and rests on a flat surface.
Feeling more ambitious? Red Bull gives you… boiled water, and a camp stove which only weighs a few grammes.
Wood Gas Stove
My favourite stove to cook on. Highly efficient and you can put those twigs and pine cones to good use. Best of all, you don’t have to carry fuel with you, and the fuel’s free!
Thomas has the griddle and the skillet from this wonderful cast iron 7 piece set.
With a dutch oven, as well as casseroles and pot roasts, you can bake in the coals from your bonfire. The beauty of cast iron is it’s non stick and lasts forever. You’ll be able to hand it down to the next generation!
The set contains:
4.5 qt dutch oven and lid;
a pot stand;
a lid lifting tool;
a frying pan;
a large ridges gridde;
a wooden presentation box.
Bake, griddle, fry, boil… on equipment which will last more than your lifetime.
Remember cast iron will rust if you don’t take care of it. After cooking, rinse clean, and dry thoroughly. Then rub with a little vegetable oil. Treat them with love and they won’t let you down.
Woodgas stoves are a great pieces of kit. Compact and lightweight, you don’t need to carry fuel with you. Burn twigs, wood pellets, pine needles and pine cones. Proper camping!
The stove will also burn solidified alcohol, and just in case you can’t find dry wood when camping, it’s a good idea to carry a block or two of these for emergencies. You can also take wood pellets with you as emergency fuel. We use wood based cat litter!
A wonderful feature is that once the stoves are alight, the design draws smoke through the flame to give you smokeless cooking. It will smoke a bit while it gets going and if wood is slightly damp, but if there are midges about, this will keep them away.
My stove is identical to this and we use it all the time.
There’s no gas cannisters to carry, the fire is kept off the ground so despite a little ash to blow away, you’ll leave your campsite as you found it. It comes in a mesh bag for easy carrying.
Make sure you check out our home-made Vaseline firelighters which really do make lighting this a breeze. We keep a few of these inside a freezer bag inside the packed up stove, along with a mini firestick. Everything you need to get a fire lit, and the stove too.
A different woodgas stove is show in the video below, but they all do pretty much the same think. The Lixada has a couple of better design features though and bigger pot stand.
The Biolite Wood Burning Camp Stove is an amazing piece of kit. If keeping a phone charged while camping is essential, the heat given off while you cook on the stove is converted into electricity and recharges an internal battery. That battery can also power a fan in the stove to dramatically speed up cooking times. Due to this, cooking performance is on a par with white gas stoves meaning you can boil water a litre of water in under 5 minutes.
The stove generates an impressive 2watts @ 5volts. How does this translate into charging time? 20 minutes of burning/cooking time will give you an hour of talk time on an iPhone4. Better still, because the stove has an internal battery which recharges while you cook, you can plug in your gadgets later to charge them from the stored electricity.
The stove will burn pine cones, twigs, and wood pellets. Where can you buy wood pellets easily… try wood pellet cat litter!
Anything that charges via a USB lead can be plugged into the USB charging socket, meaning you can recharge GPS gadgets, phones, torches and even a tablet. Yes you can watch movies in your hammock at night, and on each night of the holiday (if you really must!).
Height: 8 .25 inches;
Width: 5 inches
Bear in mind because this is a wood burning stove, there is no need for you to carry fuel. It’s a space saver!
USB cord (for internal battery charging);
Despite burning wood, due to the design this is a smokeless fire. Good for you, good for the environment, and very clever piece of kit.
Weber is a high quality brand and their barbecue equipment highly rated. These are portable barbecues, but not for hikers. More the keep in the boot of the car kind and carry across a campsite. You can carry them to the beach though! Not the cheapest, but you pay for quality and in the long run, you’ll save money as they’re built to last.
We recommend two of their products in particular:
The Weber Smokey Joe Barbecue
The Weber Jumbo Joe Barbecue
You can cook most things on a camp fire, but sometimes you need a little more control over the heat, and that ‘oven cooked’ effect. For that, simply, you need a barbecue with a lid. If you’ve read Thomas’s BBQ Pork Steak Recipe and want to give it a try on a ‘barbecue pit’, Weber barbecues are the ideal portable equipment.
The Weber Smokey Joe Premium Barbecue
Features of this little beauty include:
a 10 year guarantee;
a locable lid to make carrying easier;
37cm cooking area;
anti rust aluminium vent;
weather proof handles.
These can even handle cooking a small Sunday joint. At home, use as a table top barbecue to enjoy on warm and even milder summer evenings.
The Weber Jumbo Joe Barbecue
A size yet still portable version of the Smokey Joe with a 50cm cooking area. Suitable for the larger crowd, and can handle a leg of lamb!
Large cooking area;
Versatile cooking including roasting.
Weight… it’s 9kg, but like me, it won’t blow over in a strong wind!
Ever fancied cooking pulled pork? Check out the Youtube video below which shows how it’s done on the Jumbo Joe. How better to judge if something’s right for you than to see it in action.
Having a barbecue with you is handy when you need a bit of extra cooking space and the campsite doesn’t allow bonfires (boooo).
We hunted around for a while for a decent portable barbecue which folds up small enough to slip in a rucksack and doesn’t fall apart after two uses. Cost was another factor. We like cheap! For the price of a couple of disposable barbecues (which we don’t like as the coals are too close to the food) you really can’t go wrong.
Now it’s not large enough to feed a family of six, but for one to two people it’ll do fine. We’ve used this as a mini-raised fire pit in the past to keep us warm at night (and to toast marshmallows on!). It’s also small enough to keep permanently in the boot of your car with a bag of charcoal.
The dimensions when opened at 22cm x 31cm x 31cm ,Size closed: 31cm x 4.5cm x 20cm and it’s made from stainless steel. The steel won’t stay shiny after use, but we call that character.
Use instant light charcoal bags for convenience. They’re a perfect size!