Bread in dutch oven baked outside
(Photo: Bruce Peter Morin/Getty)

Yes, You Can Bake on Your Grill

Baking your desserts and breads outdoors is not as intimidating as it sounds

Bread in dutch oven baked outside
Sarah Glover

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Growing up in a big family, everything was outdoors—holidays, hunting trips, family hikes, and cooking. It was for a good reason: imagine eight kids in the kitchen, chatting about their day; what a rowdy, loud bunch. Take those same kids outside, congregating around the grill or firepit—now, there’s a sense of calm, fun, and excitement.

As an adult, I still try to spend as much time as I can outdoors. And after a long day of adventuring, I often look forward to something sweet before crawling into my tent. But dessert and a campfire don’t have to lead to a fluffy marshmallow on a stick. There’s a whole world of cakes, cookies, and puddings that can be made on a grill or over a fire. Here’s how to master the art of baking in the wild.

How to Bake on a Grill

Most recipes can be baked on a grill or campfire, as long as you’re able to maintain a consistent temperature—inconsistent heat can affect the texture and flavor of the dough or batter when baking. For beginners, a covered grill is your best baking friend: the closed lid will help keep the heat circulating, like in your oven. (Just be sure to wipe the lid and grill grate down to avoid residual grease dripping into your bake.) If your grill is lid-less, it will heat more on the bottom, which will ruin the consistent temperature you’re looking for. To counter this, use a dutch oven for your bake to create an oven-like effect.

If using a recipe developed for the oven, preheat the grill 25 degrees Fahrenheit higher than what the recipe calls for, as you lose more heat when placing your recipe inside a grill. A grill thermometer is also handy. Many grills come with one built-in, but if yours doesn’t, just grab a standard kitchen thermometer and place it inside when preheating. Resist the urge to peek during the baking process, as a grill isn’t designed to hold heat like your oven and chances are the outside air temperature is colder than what it would be in your kitchen. Heat will escape every time you lift the grill or Dutch oven lid and you risk underbaking your cake or bread.

A grill is a good way to add some extra smokey flavor to complimentary bakes, whether it’s by cooking bacon next to your dish or by using a Traeger—I like to use the latter for this flourless chocolate cake. But if you’re looking for your recipe to be similar to the oven-baked version, avoid grilling anything like meat with your baked good, as you risk cross-contaminating flavors.

Lastly, it’s important to create a buffer between your grill and what you’re baking so the bottom doesn’t burn. This is when cast iron equipment is useful, as it helps evenly spread the grill’s heat; a cast iron frying pan, griddle plate, and Dutch oven are all in my grill baking toolkit.

How to Bake over a Campfire

My first piece of advice when looking to bake over a campfire is to work with a hot fire. If you’re making bread or a cake, it’s important to generate a good deal of heat for long enough to bake your goodies. Before heading out on your outdoor adventure, set your home oven at whatever temperature your bake calls for and hover your hand over the element. Now, you’ll have a point of reference when you’re out in the wild: once you think your fire is hot enough, hover your hand over the coals to gauge the heat.

To establish a hot fire, work with hardwoods such as maple, oak, birch, and most fruit trees, and light the fire approximately an hour before you plan to cook and let it burn down to coals. Keep the wood in larger pieces rather than over-splitting them to ensure they don’t burn too fast.

Don’t be afraid to start with a simple bake like a breadstick: coil dough coated with herbs and spices around a foraged stick, then rotate it over the coals. Once you’re keen to advance, grab a tripod, which can help regulate the cooking temperature. Set the tripod over the coals and use an S hook or butcher’s hook to hang a Dutch oven over the fire by its lid handle; while the Dutch oven is still hanging, shovel additional coals onto the lid for an even heat. Pull the Dutch oven from the fire 15 mins before it’s ready to cool—cast iron holds residual heat so it will continue to cook for a further 15 mins once it has been removed from the fire.

You can also nestle the dutch oven into the fire using grill or campfire gloves before shoveling additional coals on the lid. If you’re using your Dutch oven for both sweet and savory dishes, just make sure to line it with baking paper so your almond cake doesn’t taste like last night’s curry!

Ready to light a fire and get baking? Try this recipe for an easy smokey campfire caramel pie