Let’s be honest – you can’t go camping without building a campfire at least once. It’s the hallmark of outdoor living, useful as a source of heat and light, especially as it relates to cooking. But have you ever asked the question, “How hot is a campfire?”
Sure, we know it’s hot (it’s fire after all), but what about the finer details? Does it even matter?
Of course, the answer to that is yes, it does matter! There are some practical reasons why it’s nice to know how hot a campfire is, but even aside from that, curiosity alone is a good enough excuse for me. So without further ado, let’s dive right in.
How Hot is a Campfire Really?
On average, a medium sized fire that’s been well stacked will burn at about 950 degrees Fahrenheit (510 degrees Celsius) at its hottest point. However, there are quite a few factors that can impact this temperature, including fuel type, amount of oxygen, and the size of the fire. As such, actual temperature may vary dramatically.
Naturally, the easiest way to measure temperature would be to use something like an infrared thermometer. While it provides an accurate number, many of us don’t have a tool like this, and don’t really feel like investing in one either. In that case, how can you tell how hot the fire is? Well, for an easy method that’s practically foolproof, just take a look at the color of the flame.
The hottest of all flame colors, blue indicates that your fire is entering the 2,600-3,000 degree Fahrenheit temperature range. If you’ve ever used a gas stove before, you’re probably familiar with this color of flame.
It’s not too often that you see a campfire that looks blue, though. That’s because the temperature is so hot that the gas molecules are glowing, which creates the distinctive azure coloring. And in general, you just can’t get a campfire to that level of heat using conventional means.
Yellow flames are going to be the next hottest, typically falling between 2,100-2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Again, it’s going to be difficult to stoke your campfire to this level of heat.
Next are the orange flames, which range between 1,800-2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s certainly possible to get a campfire up to this level of heat, though it will depend on the fuel that you use and how you stack the wood.
And finally, we have red flames, which are the most common. As some of the coolest parts of the fire, they tend to hover between 900-1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s worth noting that the darker the flame is, the colder it’s going to be.
As you might have noticed, the heat of the fire is closely related to the colors of the rainbow. The higher frequency waves (blue light) are hotter than lower frequency waves (red light), and everything in between follows the same pattern.
Why Does Campfire Temperature Matter?
Earlier, I said that curiosity is a good enough reason to discover fun facts like campfire temperature. But aside from that, is there any practical reason why this information might be important?
And of course, the answer is yes.
Look at it this way – if you don’t know how hot the fire is, how do you know how long to cook certain foods for? I’m thinking about meat in particular, but it really goes for anything, especially for meals that need to be covered. It doesn’t matter too much if you just need to boil some water or sauté a few veggies, but for other meals, it can really make or break the quality of your food.
Knowing the temperature of your campfire is important for maintaining your cutlery as well. Without some idea of the heat you’re working with, it can be really easy to inadvertently melt one of your plastic (or metal) utensils.
What Determines the Heat of Your Campfire?
A lot of factors contribute to the heat of your campfire. It’s good to know what they are, so that you can take that knowledge and build a fire that suits your needs. From fuel to oxygen levels, here’s everything you need to know if order to build the perfect campfire.
And in particular, we’re looking at different types of wood, since that’s what you’ll be using as fuel. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to use well-seasoned wood, which has had at least 6 months to dry out.
Though it’s not known for creating a large flame, cedar wood is one of the best you can find for creating heat. It’s definitely one of the better wood types for keeping your campsite warm and cozy, and can also be good for cooking.
A slow burning hardwood, oak is perfect for campers who want a minimal number of sparks. The low moisture and sap content means that the fire won’t pop as much, so you can get up close and personal without fear of getting burned by flying ashes and embers.
Ideal for grilling and smoking, hickory is another hardwood that burns hot. A bit difficult to chop, this is the sort of fuel that’s best to buy at a store, or only grab smaller pieces while scavenging.
One of the most versatile wood types, ash is typically easy to find in a majority of environments. It doesn’t emit much smoke, but it burns hot and is relatively lightweight.
The more moisture inside a piece of wood, the cooler it’s going to burn. That’s why green wood is one of the worst options you can choose from, in addition to the fact that it’ll pop more and produce more smoke.
Try to use wood that’s had a few months to dry out, if you can. I know plenty of you will be scavenging for local wood on the forest floor, instead of purchasing some from the store, so it can be hard to know precisely how dry it is. Look for dead branches that snap easily, and don’t go yanking anything off a living tree. Keep your eye on what’s lying on the ground, instead of looking up to see what you can find.
Size is the biggest difference between a bonfire vs a campfire. While bonfires are known for being large and grand, typically used for celebrations or signaling, campfires are much smaller. This is what you want to aim for when you’re camping, in order to reduce the chances of starting a wildfire. While there is a distinct correlation between the size of your flame and the amount of heat it produces, safety should always come first.
Try to locate branches that are about 16 inches long and 3 inches wide. This will keep your campfire small enough to manage, without compromising too much on heat output. It’s also good to stack these branches in such a way that they don’t touch each other very much, increasing the amount of burnable surface area. Consider using the teepee method for the best results, or check out a few other styles and what they’re good for HERE.
Along with heat and fuel, oxygen is necessary for keeping your fire alive. While you might be concerned about the wind putting your fire out, a gentle breeze is actually beneficial for keeping it hot and strong. If anything, your biggest concern should be having a gust of wind spread sparks and embers into the surrounding brush, potentially creating a wildfire. This is just another reason why you should keep your fire small and manageable, and do your best to keep the wood from popping.
Read More: How to Build a Campfire
Metal Melting Point
How hot is a campfire? We’ve answered this question already, explaining how you can gauge the temperature based on the color of the flame. But while this is fun to know, it doesn’t do you much good if you don’t know the melting point of certain metals. Minimizing damage to your cookware is important, after all.
As such, here’s a list of melting points for commonly used metals:
Aluminum – 1,220 degrees Fahrenheit (660 Celsius)
Copper – 1,984 degrees Fahrenheit (1,085 Celsius)
Cast iron – 2,060 degrees Fahrenheit (1,126 Celsius)
Stainless steel – 2,750 degrees Fahrenheit (1,510 Celsius)
Titanium – 3,034 degrees Fahrenheit (1,667 Celsius)
As you can see, it’s a bad idea to use cookware made from aluminum. As a soft metal with a low melting point, it will definitely get damaged if you put it too close to the campfire. Copper and cast iron are better, but I would suggest sticking with stainless steel and titanium as much as possible.
Cooking Over the Fire
For the best results, keep your cookware out of the fire itself. This will minimize any damage done to the metal (or ceramic) and make it easier to prevent your food from burning. The thermal plume region is the area directly above the fire – hovering around 600 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s the perfect space to get some cooking done.
Of course, if you need more heat, you can always lower your pot or pan closer to the fire. Adding fuel to the flame will have the same effect as well. And to reduce the cooking heat, just pull your cookware farther away from the fire. In this way, you can adjust the temperature of your food to make sure it turns out the way you hope.