Is Cooking Over a Campfire Healthy?

With these 10 tips, you can build a healthier campfire.

Close up grilling barbecue in the campground at summer camp travel, Skewers of pork and beef fillet on barbecue party in camping, Summer Camp Travel one activity for relaxing.


Close up grilling barbecue in the campground at summer camp travel, Skewers of pork and beef fillet on barbecue party in camping, Summer Camp Travel one activity for relaxing.

Photo by: Sornranison Prakittrakoon

Sornranison Prakittrakoon

These days you'll find many folks getting away into nature and opting to go camping. Spending many hours in the great outdoors means you’ll need to hunker down over a campfire to enjoy a meal (or more). Although the smell of an open fire is delightful, is all that smoke healthy? Here’s a look at what’s going on when those logs burn.

How Can Burning Logs Affect Your Health?

When you create a campfire from wood or other organic matter, smoke forms; the smoke from wood burning is made from a mixture of gases and fine particles. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and lungs, and it can cause burning eyes, a runny nose and even illnesses like bronchitis. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these fine particles can also trigger asthma symptoms, as well as heart attacks, strokes, irregular heart rhythms and heart failure in people who are already at risk for these conditions. Children, teens, older adults and people with heart and lung disease are also more susceptible to health issues from burning wood.

What Can a Campfire Lover Do?

There are ways to reduce wood smoke and minimize health consequences — here are 10:

  1. Burn dry, seasoned wood that has been split, stacked, covered and allowed to dry for at least six months.
  2. Test the wood with a moisture meter — 20% moisture or less is what you’re looking for.
  3. Opt for manufactured logs, as they are usually made from sawdust and wax. They tend to produce less smoke compared to traditional firewood. If you plan to cook anything over a fire of manufactured logs, look for a brand approved for cooking (many aren’t).
  4. Choose a calm day with winds at less than 20 miles per hour.
  5. Provide sufficient air to the fire and never let it smolder.
  6. Use smaller logs and keep the fire small. Smaller fires burn hotter and with less smoke. Look for firewood that is less than 6 inches in diameter.
  7. Don’t burn garbage in your campfire. You also don’t want to burn magazines, junk mail, colored inserts from newspapers or colored gift-wrapping paper, as the ink on the paper releases toxic fumes when burned.
  8. Don’t burn wet or moldy wood in your campfire.
  9. Build a proper campfire, which will help minimize how much smoke is given off.
  10. When cooking, don’t place food directly over the open flame, as the flame tends to burn the food. Instead, use a cooking vessel like a pot, aluminum foil or a Dutch oven, which will act as a barrier between the food and fire.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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