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Roasting The Perfect Marshmallow At Your Campsite

Roasting marshmallows over a campfire is one of the highlights of a camping trip or an outdoor gathering, especially to a state park area. No question.

Folks wait for the campfire to burn down to coals and embers while long skewers are at the ready to roast marshmallows just after sunset at a lakeside location. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

You would think roasting a marshmallow over the coals and embers in that furnished fire ring may seem like the easiest thing to do, right? Not necessarily.

How many times have you seen someone pull their stick from the fire to reveal a perfectly roasted marshmallow? That’s right, not very often. What you normally see is somebody quickly removing their stick from the fire while waving it erratically to put out the flames of the sugary blob, at least the exterior of it.

The end result of that scenario is something that is completely charred or blackened on the outside but still hard and cold on the inside. Not my view of the perfectly roasted marshmallow. Would you agree?

Yeah, I know some of you may want to cook your marshmallows like that, but I find it hard to believe that you actually prefer them that way.

The mission with the sugar-based confection on a stick or skewer and carefully held over the radiant heat of campfire coals is to create a smoky, caramelized or charred outer texture with a liquid, molten layer underneath.

Look, it has often been said that that roasting a marshmallow over a fire is “the lowest common denominator of outdoor cooking.” But, that isn’t true.

Professional chefs and survival experts say it is a litmus test of your ability to cook any edible food over an open flame.

According to Paula Marcoux, the author of Cooking With Fire, roasting a marshmallow is a great learning tool when it comes to cooking campfire fare. She points out that toasting a marshmallow over the coals of a campfire is like roasting real food on fast-forward. “Experiencing that process attentively will allow you to approach roasting anything — a chicken, a hog, an eggplant, a fish (things you really don’t want carbonized on the outside and raw in the middle) — with a refreshed understanding of the task.”

Roastingmarshmallows.
A pair of marshmallows being roasted over the radiant heat of coals and embers next to flames. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Here are some helpful hints on how to effectively roast the perfect marshmallow.

The Marshmallows

Unlike some foods, the brand of marshmallows is important in outdoor cooking. Many cheaper brands of marshmallows burn too quickly when being roasted. Jet-Puffed and Campfire brands of original or larger sizes are recommended. Not only do these name-brand marshmallows taste much better than the less expensive store-brand marshmallows, they roast more evenly, and you can slide off the outer roasted shell to double-roast the marshmallows. There are now many different types of marshmallows on the market from sugar-free to gourmet to vegan. You could even sample green apple-flavored marshmallows or even bourbon-flavored ones.

The Fire

To cook the perfect marshmallow you need the perfect fire, a smaller fire. A big fire is going to roast that creamy glob of deliciousness until it tastes like wood ash. What you need to achieve the state of the golden-roasted marshmallow are the glowing hot embers or coals next to flames to get that crispy exterior. It’s okay to have flames off to one side, but they really shouldn’t be under your prized marshmallow. Also, look for and use a natural oven in your campfire, with walls that will reflect heat. This is referred to as a marshmallow roasting “hot box.”

The Stick

You can buy fancy roasting sticks or long, forked skewers at any of your favorite camping stores or you can just use a green stick from the ground long enough, sturdy enough and straight enough. Use hardwood sticks that do not contain sap or plant toxins. Do not damage living trees. Soak the stick in water for a while before you use it to reduce the chances of it burning or catching fire. Roasting sticks need to be about as long as an adult’s arm (roughly 30 inches) and have a point or points to easily insert the marshmallow. Make certain to adequately secure the marshmallows on the skewer or stick.

The Technique and Result

The number one thing to remember when roasting a marshmallow is to be patient! Attaining the perfect consistency of gooey goodness takes a little time. Hold the marshmallow approximately five to eight inches from the coals on the edge of the fire. Rotate it around slowly, or go for a quarter turn at a time, somewhat like a slow rotisserie. You don’t have to change positions around a fire if you rotate the marshmallow. For added stability, rest the stick on a log or chair so that the marshmallow maintains the same distance from the fire as it rotates. This should take about four minutes or so. As the marshmallow turns a crisp, tawny color, it will sag on the skewer. A vertical slit may appear where the marshmallow and the skewer meet indicating that it is essentially done. Exercise caution, the marshmallow will be very hot! Wait at least 30-60 seconds after pulling it out of the fire before touching it or eating it. If your marshmallow catches fire, don’t freak out. Just blow on it until the flame goes out. The roasted marshmallow can either be eaten whole or the outer layer can be removed and consumed separately and the rest of the marshmallow can even be roasted again!

A perfectly roasted, golden-brown marshmallow with a touch of char. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The Classic S’more

In a classic s’more, the perfectly roasted marshmallow is the star of the show. It provides additional flavor, a soft, sticky texture, and is the heat source that melts the chocolate just enough to be appetizing.

The homemade, goey goodness of s’mores with milk chocolate, graham crackers and perfectly roasted marshmallows. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Camping season is here, so visit a Nebraska state park area soon. Enjoy a campfire in a fire ring, grate or grill with family and friends roasting the perfect marshmallows, making classic s’mores and creating memories. For more information, go to OutdoorNebraska.org 

Micah Wagner of Omaha, NE smiles with his perfectly roasted marshmallows giving them a chance to cool a bit. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Public Information Officer and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media sites, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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