The T fire / Keyhole fire technique
An overview of the technique, building method and advantages/disadvantages.
This fire technique needs an average amount of wood. This type of fire is made in particular to cook on and to regulate the heat of the fire. There is a fire in the center and on both sides of this fire there is the opportunity to cook on coals or a smaller fire. You can constantly add or adjust the heat under the pots. As the hunter’s fire needs a lot of small maintenance to keep the temperature exact, this is not the case with this technique. It can burn for 10 to 20 minutes maintenance-free because the fire in the center can be fueled with bigger branches. This prevents the fire to extinguish. It still needs to be said that a cooking fire always needs maintenance to keep the cooking temperature exactly right.
The name of this fire derives of the shape of the fireplace, a T-shape. The leg of the ‘T’ is used to feed the fire with branches and to let oxygen in. The arms of the ‘T’ has a fireplace in the center and both arms are used to cook on coals or on a smaller fire.
Because of the adjustment to the fireplace it is easy to add new fuel to the fire without the need of lifting pots. Also embers can be taken out of the fire and can easily be replaced to cook on. This makes regulating the heat very easy.
Build technique and methods to start the fire
Dig out the first ground layer in a T-shape. Dig the leg of the ‘T’ in the direction the wind is coming from. The leg can increasingly descent as you are digging towards the place where the fire will be build (the arms of the ‘T’). Dig the arms of the ‘T’ till sand or rock-bottom is reached to be able to clean the fireplace up afterwards and to have a secure fire-spot. Also read ‘Before making a fire‘ (opening in new tab) to read about ‘safety’, ‘order’ and ‘leaving no trace’.
The arms of the T-shape keep the fire compact and lead the heat upwards. They also provide a steady base for the pots. If the pots are not wide enough to stand on both rigs you can use two fresh thick green branches to cross this distance. Place the pot on these branches.
Start a fire using the teepee or criss-cross technique in the spot where the ‘leg’ and ‘arms’ are connected. When the fire is steady and produces coal, you can slide these coals in both directions away from the main-fire to start cooking. Now you can place pots on the part with coals for low-temperature slow cooking / stewing and place pots on the part with the open flame for high-temperature fast cooking / baking.
Keep the fire burning by sliding new branches into the main-fire. You can also fine-tune the cooking fire on both sides by adding twigs and small branches under the pots. Keep the coals on temperature by regularly adding coals from the main-fire to the place where you cook.
Leave no trace
To fit this fire into the ‘Leave no trace principal‘ you must dig a fire-pit in advance This pit needs to be dug till sand or clay-ground is reached. Making a fire on rock-bottom is not recommended as the marks of your fire can never be erased. After the fire has burned down and the coals are cooled, the top-ground layer can be replaced to leave no trace.
Pro’s and con’s
The T fire is, like said, useful for cooking on a spot where you want to stay a longer period. You can perfectly regulate the heat of the fire to your desires and needs. It’s possible to cook with several pots and the pots can be really big in size.
This fire is also effective as a campfire as the fire in the center gives a lot of heat, light and doesn’t need a lot of maintenance when it’s used as a campfire. Once you’re finished cooking and you want a campfire, I would recommend building a fire with the pagoda fire technique on top of the fire you already have. Fuel needs to be added every 10 to 20 minutes. This fire keeps animals away. It needs some wind to be effective but not as much as the hunters fire. It needs a high initial expenditure of energy to create this fireplace.
It depends on your situation which fire technique is best for you.
You have to pay attention to the possibility of a root fire when using a T fire in a wooded area. This is a fire that burns underground along the root system of a tree. Root fires can also travel underground and resurface some distance from their point of origin. This is especially the case in dry conditions.