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How to Build a Keyhole Fire

A keyhole fire is made in a keyhole-shaped fire ring, and is used for cooking. The large round area is used to build a fire in order to create coals. As coals develop, they are scraped into the long thin end of the ring to cook.

Keyhole Fire Graphic

What Is a Keyhole Fire

Keyhole fires are a type of fire built with one goal in mind: to allow the user to cook food using the coals from the fire while keeping the fire going next to your cooking area. 

This is achieved by creating what looks like a “keyhole” with your main fire and cooking area. As your fire burns, the coals are racked over into the narrow area of the keyhole firepit to create a hot but controlled cooking area while the main fire continues to burn and thus create more coals for cooking. 

The keyhole fire allows for cooking over open flames if you so choose, cooking slow and steady over hot coals, and even allows you to go back and forth if needed. 

The keyhole fire is literally the perfect fire to cook over

Why Would you use a keyhole fire

A keyhole fire is really just a smart way of managing your fire if you plan on using it for cooking while burning. 

The keyhole shape allows others to continue enjoying a flaming fire and give the chef an area to cook and prepare food. 

It is also handy if you have a lot of cooking to do. This method prevents you from having to add fuel to your fire in the middle of cooking, you can actually keep your fire going the entire time while continuously taking perfects coals over to your cooking area. After you take your coals, you can add more fuel to your main fire while you cook.

How to set up a keyhole fire

Types of campfire with firewood layout methods in educational outline diagram. Labeled collection with log cabin, tepee, dakota and keyhole fire burning methods for outdoors heat vector illustration.

Choose a Safe Location For Your Fire

The first step in any fire is to choose a safe location to set up your keyhole fire. Make sure it is away from any structures, trees, and the area is cleared from any potential fuel.

Set up your fire ring

Next, shape your fire ring with stone or dirt into the shape of a keyhole. Make a round large area up top that connects to a narrow rectangular area below.

The rectanuglar area should be no bigger that what is needed for your cooking. I like to make mine come off of the main fire about 2-3 feet but keep it no wider than 6-8″. This keeps the cooking area far enough away from the main fire so I don’t get too hot working in my cooking space. It also gives me a nice trench to easily rake my coals from the main fire to the cooking area. By keeping it no wider than 6-8″, it keeps the cooking area narrow enough where I can easily 

Select your kindling, fuel, and fire type

Depending on your location, you next need to select your kindling and fuel sources. This is different in every area. Maybe you brought your own or collected it nearby, either way, this will help determine the type of fire that you create. 

If you need some ideas for the best types of fires for your needs, check out all of our fire creating posts here. 

Building Your Cooking Area

The trickiest part of building the keyhole fire is setting up your cooking area. One simple idea is to dig the rectangular area 6-8″ deep and narrow enough that your pots can rest on the ground above the fire pit

Recipes To Try On Our Keyhole Fire

Keyhole fires are great to use with dutch ovens and anything you can possibly make in a dutch oven.

If you have a grate to put over your keyhole fire, then your options really open up to anything you can grill or place on a grate.

Wrapping Up Keyhole Fires

Keyhole fires are great when you need open flames and the slow steady heat of coals. They are perfect for keeping you main fire going while creating a controlled cooking space as well.

If you have any tips on how you use keyhole fires, let us know in the comments below.