Heading to the outdoors with the windows down and the smell of pine in the air only gets better after biting into a perfectly grilled steak at night.
Getting that crispy outer sear just right while keeping it tender and moist in the middle is only possible if you know how to work the heat of a fire.
Learn how hot campfires get, the ranges of temp based on the different fire zones, and how you can manipulate your fire to get the best meals possible without burning your equipment. So pull up a log and get comfortable, it’s time to learn all about campfires.
The Different Parts of A Campfire
To learn how hot a campfire is, you need to understand which parts are the hottest and what causes them to be this way.
Thanks to Dr. McCaffrey’s extensive measurements on different diffusion flames and their temperatures, we now have three distinct areas of a fire: the continuous flame zone, the intermittent flame region, and the thermal plume region.
Continuous Flame Zone
The continuous flame zone is the core of the fire where most heat centers around. Several researchers have concluded this area ranges in temps somewhere around 1652°F (900°C).
The fuel source located directly below the continuous zone gives more energy to the fire, causing this zone to be the hottest.
Intermittent Flame Zone
The second area is the intermittent flame zone. This is where you’ll see the tips of the flames before they disappear.
The intermittent region temps are always fluctuating because the fire plumes at the very tip of the fire change chemical structure quickly, making them hard to measure.
Thermal Plume Zone
The last region is the thermal plume zone and it’s located right beyond the tips of the flame.
Temperatures here will rapidly decrease the higher an object is from the fire.
How Hot Is the Hottest Part of A Campfire?
The core of fire, otherwise known as the continuous flame region, is the hottest part of the fire and temperatures are just under 1652°F (900°C). This area of fire was categorized by Dr. McCaffrey who conducted research on turbulent diffusion flames.
A fire needs two main components to become hotter: fuel and oxygen. The more you add of either, the hotter your fire will get.
The trick is balancing the proportions of both elements to get a really hot result. As more fuel is added, more oxygen will be needed to raise the temperature.
As more oxygen is added it will burn through the fuel faster and you’ll need to add more wood or other resource to keep the fire burning hot.
Pro Tip: Keep your fuel source gathered together as closely as possible to create a hotter fire. Spreading out your fuel will cause the same amount of oxygen flowing ito the fire to be less impactful, causing the fire to be less hot.
Cooking With Hot Temps From A Fire
Most campers and outdoor enthusiasts will cook in the intermittent flame region of a fire. The temps are ideal for cooking food thoroughly without burning it or ruining outdoor cooking equipment.
You might be tempted to cook in the continuous flame region since temps here are the hottest and you might be convinced your food will cook faster.
The problem is the heat is so powerful you’ll need a protective covering for your food like foil or a cast iron.
If you’re cooking at a state park you might have an adjustable grate you can lift up and down to control the temps while cooking.
To get that nice sear on a steak or burger, you’ll lower the grate as much as possible at first and raise it higher after a few minutes.
You can also flatten out your fire if you’re getting too much heat right off the grate, even at the highest setting.
It’ll help you even your temps by creating a wider surface area.
You actually have the power to manipulate the temperatures of a fire yourself using various methods. Learn what those methods are and how to use them below.
What Makes A Campfire Hotter?
There are three sources of fire that makeup what is called the “fire triangle.”
Fuel, oxygen, and heat all control how hot a fire gets and you’ll learn how to heat up or cool down your fire with precision in the section below.
The type of fuel you have burning will make a big difference in how hot your fire gets.
Most dense woods will take longer to burn and put out more heat.
This is because the fire needs to exert more energy in order to burn the thicker wood.
Hardwoods like oak, cedar, and hickory will put off more heat if you’re looking to stay extra warm or cook with higher temps.
Avoid fast-burning woods like pine that’ll produce more smoke than heat. As anyone who has cooked over a fire knows, smoke can burn your eyeballs worse than cutting onions.
Also, any wood with a lot of sap is going to burn up quickly so you’ll end up needing more wood to have the same amount of heat for your fire.
Keep in mind that anytime you buy wood you want to make sure it has been cured. State parks already do this for you but local sellers may not be as kind.
Cured wood just means people have been drying it out for a longer period of time. When you put the wood over fire, it will catch immediately.
Wet wood has a higher moisture content and it’ll take longer to fully ignite. It’ll also produce a ton of smoke in the process and could potentially ruin your relaxed time by the fire.
You won’t have a strong fire if you don’t have oxygen flowing through the wood pieces.
You can manipulate oxygen levels flowing through the wood by playing with how you stack your wood pieces.
Fire structures like the teepee method create lots of opportunity for oxygen to flow through while the pyramid structure is compact and doesn’t have much negative space.
Also, manual manipulation like stoking the flames, using a bellows, or adding tinder will help breathe new life into your fire and make the flames taller and hotter.
Watch out for too much oxygen flowing through your fire. It’ll burn out quickly and cause you to go through firewood much quicker.
You can blow on wood all you want but it’s not going to ignite a fire unless there is heat involved.
Heat is the final ingredient in a fire cocktail that causes combustion and all residual effects.
When building a fire your heat can come from a number of sources including:
- flint and steel
- manual friction
Once the fire has been started, the heat will become a result of the oxygen and fuel source reacting with each other.
What’s the Hottest Burning Wood?
You already know at this point denser woods make for hotter temps in your campfire, but there are certain types of dense woods that burn hotter than others.
The heat in wood is measured in BTUs per cord and the higher the number, the hotter it burns.
Here are some of the woods with the highest BTU counts.
Live oak is the kind that will burn all night long. It’s dense enough to burn extra slowly while producing a ton of heat.
Like with all woods on this list, you’ll want to be careful before heading to bed at night.
Make sure all the wood is contained and safe or the coals have burned out.
36.6 million BTUs per Cord
Osage Orange is also called the horse apple because it drops large green fibrous fruits that are filled with a sticky sap but look a lot like apples.
This type of wood may be hard to cut and chop down but it’ll be well worth it once you get it on the fire.
32.9 million BTUs per Cord
Dogwood is rated as 2150 on the Janka hardness scale, which measures the hardness of wood. This test measures how much force is needed to push a steel ball up to half its diameter into the wood.
30.4 million BTUs per Cord
Oregon White Oak
By name, you’d recognize the Oregon White Oak to be from the Pacific Northwest but it’s actually only one of four deciduous oaks that are native to the west coast.
28 million BTUs per Cord
The Shagbark Hickory is common in the eastern part of the US and the Southeast part of Canada. It can live up to 350 years old and grow as tall as 100ft.
27.7 million BTUs per Cord
What the Colors of A Fire Mean
Fires will have different colors based on a few elements like the type of fuel it receives, the temperature, and the type of combustion.
For example, methane or propane waste no gas during the burning process and, as a result, have a solid blue flame color along with a consistent temperature.
This process is known as a complete combustion and you’ll learn more about it shortly.
Since most campfires are made from wood, this section won’t go in depth on the various fuel sources or types of combustion.
It will, however, give you a full breakdown on the different fire colors and how they relate to temperature.
Complete combustion, as mentioned above, is when all the gases in a fire are burned efficiently at the same time.
The chemical reaction leads to an intense heat stronger than any of the other colors in a fire.
That’s why you see blue colors in a campfire right near the fuel source, where all the gases of the fire burn more efficiently.
Blue fire have been measured between 2,600°F and 3,000°F and have a significant amount of oxygen and gases.
Right around the continuous flame region is where you’ll see white colors in your fire.
It’s the second hottest color and reaches temperatures around 2,000°F.
White flames still aren’t great for cooking because the heat is too strong and easily burns food.
You’ll want to stay higher up on the fire near the tips of the flames.
Yellow or Orange
Yellow and orange are the two most common colors flickering within a fire.
These colors exist in the upper middle to high ends of the fire plume region. Temps reach anywhere between 1,000°F and 2,000°F.
The plume region is known as an incomplete combustion. Unburned gases are wasted in the burning process, causing colors to vary slightly between yellow and orange.
The most common gas you’ll see in this region is carbon dioxide but there is also a small amount of methane and other hydrocarbons.
As your fire winds down for the night, shades of red in the flames start peaking through the heat curtain.
Red colors are typically at the lower end of the temperature spectrum and are as low as 500°F or as high as 1,000°F.
They appear when there isn’t enough fuel to support complete combustion. and more carbon is being produced in the flame.
Carbon is what gives us those traditional red embers that marshmallows roast so beautifully over.
Although still incredibly hot, red is actually the coolest part of a fire.
You’ll find red at the very tips of the fire plume or in the embers when the fire is running low.
Best Wood Stack For A Hot Fire
The way you set up the structure of your fire will affect its temperatures. The pyramid, log cabin, and teepee all have unique advantages but they don’t create the same heat.
The Teepee produces more warmth compared to other fire builds and you’ll learn exactly how to build one and why it works so well below.
Teepee Structure for Hot Fires
To get the most heat from your wood, you’ll build a teepee campfire structure.
The build gets its name from the traditional indigenous structure it resembles.
It’s the best fire formation for warmth because it allows more oxygen to travel within the structure compared to other builds.
Here’s how to easily build a teepee structure at your camp site.
Building a teepee structure
- Start by placing your fire starter in the middle of your fire pit.
- Surround your fire starter with tinder either from around your campsite or previous bought.
- Then, stack your kindling in a teepee-like fashion around your tinder, leaving an opening that resembles an entrance to your teepee.
- Now, stack your firewood pieces in the same teepee structure around your kindling, again, leaving an opening to your tinder.
- Last step is to use a long lighter to stick inside the teepee structure and directly light the kindling resting at the bottom
If all your wood is dry, it won’t take long for the entire structure to catch fire and burn intensely.
Cooking over the newly made fire means waiting until the teepee collapses in on itself before putting a pot or pan on top.
Once the teepee crumbles it’ll make a stable foundation that create evenly distributed heat, which is great for cooking.
How to Put Out A Hot Fire Quickly
It might be obvious, but the best way to put out a fire is to use water.
It’s worth putting a bucket to carry water in the back of the car or truck when car camping.
Once you fill up the bucket, pour the water over the flames in a steady and circular motion. You want to cover all embers in the fire pit before running out of water.
Pro Tip: Don’t soak your fire pit with water if someone will be coming after you. They won’t be able to use the pit for their own fire unless sand and dirt are used instead.
Pouring water directly over a fire is going to create a ton of smoke but using sand and dirt prevents that from happening.
Have a shovel in your camping gear so when it’s time to put the fire out you can start shoveling earth material on top.
The method works best when the fire is already going out or you only have the embers left.
Can a wood fire reach 1000°F?
Yes, a wood fire can reach temperatures of more than 1000°F. Most wood fires reach temps as high as 1652°F at the core. The area closest to the fuel source is the hottest and is known as the continuous flame region.
How hot are the embers in a wood fire?
Temperatures in embers can range anywhere from 900°F to 1600°F. Embers are cooler than the surrounding flames because they don’t burn the gases and other materials that the flames do.
What’s the hottest color of fire?
Blue is the hottest color in a fire followed by white, and then orange or yellow. Red is the coolest temperature and is located around the tips of the flames.
Knowing the Temperature of Fire
Knowing the different fire flame regions and the general temperatures will help you when cooking, staying warm, or trying to roast those perfect mallows. You’ll protect any equipment from melting or burning and be able to get the perfect temps on your open fire steaks. Come back to the advice in this article to help remind you of hor to manipulate the temperature of a fire and easily tell how how it is.