Culinistas's Kitchen

How to Start a Fire: 3 Tips for Getting Lit

by The Culinistas

In addition to all things cooking, we’ve been busy burning the midnight oil on our latest bi-yearly zine, The Parchment Paper. We’re calling this one the Burnt Issue, dedicating our words, recipes (our Burnt Onion Ranch is the hottest dip in town) and images to all things fire. Download your FREE copy right now. We think it’s the perfect material to read around the campfire or cozied up next to the fireplace if that’s more your speed. (And if you missed the first issue, don’t worry: You can still get it here.)

From childhood campfires to the fireplaces in our company headquarters, The Culinistas co-founder Jill Donenfeld says that she has always been drawn to the flame: the weird pulsing glow followed by the smutty aftermath of ash and char. Here, she shares her tips for building the Gaggenau stove of campfires.

Let’s Get Started

Like the girl scouts say, a good fire can serve many uses: cooking, heat, light and protection. Everyone should know how to set something alight, and the key is the starter. This is material that will burn long & strong enough to create critical heat to set ablaze a larger mass, like a big log. If you have a good starter, the rest is just marshmallows. 

A few of our favorite recs to get you started: newspaper (The Onion, New York Herald Tribune, New York Daily Inquirer, The Parchment); tinder (tiny twigs, pine needles, pencil shavings, onion peels, fibrous bark, dry leaves, cotton balls, paper egg cartons); dried citrus peels (Navel, Cara Cara, Kumquat, Blood Orange, Meyer Lemon, Keffir Lime); greasy potato chips (Hal’s sea salt, Cape Cod waffle cut, Mikesell’s groovy, Zapp’s mesquite bar-b-que, Kettle salt & pepper)

A-Frame, Log Cabin Style or Z?

Once you’ve sorted out a starter, build a frame of kindling. Kindling could be small sticks, a strip of bark, or the very smallest log.

An A Frame kindling set up is three pieces of small wood connected as a triangle. A log cabin style kindling is two pieces of parallel wood stacked with two pieces of wood perpendicular to those. A Z configuration is two parallel pieces of wood with one piece resting atop, diagonally connecting the two. 

Build up your A-frames & cabins, repeating the process with a few more levels of kindling. The Z works best when starting a fire in a fireplace.

Outdoor Ignition 

After igniting the fire starter & the kindling is steadily burning, incrementally add fuel, increasing the size with bigger & bigger logs thereafter. Avoid jumping from small to big; a successful fire is one that builds gradually. 

  • Look up! Choose a spot that has open sky above, not under a tree. 
  • Set the periphery of your fire by defining a circular space; brush away rocks, leaves, twigs, trash, etc from the space. 
  • Place stones around the perimeter.
  • If starting a fire on a beach, enclosing it in a fire-safe metal container is usually required.

Download your FREE copy of The Parchment Paper: Burnt Issue right now for more tips, tricks, recipes and campfire-worthy stories. 

A special thanks to Ana Ortiz for the beautiful photograph.