Using charcoal in a fire ring?
July 1, 2010 5:08 PM   Subscribe

Can we use charcoal for cooking in a campsite fire ring?

So, we're going camping this weekend, and while we generally cook over a woodfire, my wife suggested trying charcoal. I have no experience using charcoal, so I wasn't sure if this was possible, or a good idea. I know about using a charcoal chimney to light it, and I know that afterward the charcoal needs to be doused in water and disposed of.

What I don't know is whether or not using charcoal in one of those campside fire rings is a good idea. I know how a charcoal grill would be used, but I'm not sure how you'd use it in this context. Do you just light the charcoal, get it hot, and through it the ring underneath the cooking area? Anything else I need to know?
posted by Bulgaroktonos to Food & Drink (5 answers total)
If the intent of the fire is to cook, then yes, I would say you can use charcoal. But if you want a campfire to sit around, but also use it to cook, would it be possible to bring a weber grill as well as have a fire pit to sit around?

One of the things, at least that I've found, about cooking over a fire pit is the uneven-ness of the area. Getting a grate to sit level's tough. I've also found it's alot easier to cook over coals and not over an open flame as the flame just sort of destroys whatever you are trying to cook.

So if you want to cook over an open fire pit, my suggestion would be to get the area where you are going to lay the grate flat, and wait until the charcoal burns down to coals.

You don't mention WHAT you are looking to cook as that would have a pretty big impact on HOW to cook it, so this might not necessarily work.
posted by TheBones at 5:15 PM on July 1, 2010

Charcoal will burn just fine, but you need some supporting infrastructure. A smaller ring of rocks or a ring of iron to support the grate is key. Making sure air can get to the charcoal is very important. Charcoal was, and sometimes is, just primed wood. Wood that's been really dried and in modern times, usually pulverized. It was born to burn. But as mentioned above, you're not going to get a lot of mesmerizing, dancing flames. Intended for cooking—not very entertaining.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:43 PM on July 1, 2010

Can I just ask why? Yes, it will work to cook over charcoal, but why are you perceiving that as better than wood coals to cook over?
posted by Miko at 8:17 PM on July 1, 2010

I tried the charcoal while camping thing. This was at a California state park (I imagine different states have different styles of fire rings). This particular fire ring was a metal ring. There was a grill of sorts made of heavy steel which was chained to the ring.

Charcoal worked okay, but the problems were:
1. The ring is bigger than a webber and isn't designed to keep heat in
2. The grill is permanently positioned higher from the coals than in a webber
3. The grill was composed of heavy slabs of steel, so getting it hot took some doing
4. The grill was also very rusty.

I used a webber coal chimney thing full of coals and could barely cook hot dogs. The coals just took up a very small part of the ring.

So I'm thinking it would be best to bring a small grill or cook over a wood fire after it's burned down to coals.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 9:10 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could do both... Cowboy charcoal, available at trader Joe's, etc. Also called lump charcoal. No briquette chemicals, no funny taste. It does burn faster though.
posted by Gungho at 3:24 AM on July 2, 2010

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