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The ability to cook our food is a crucial part of survival. While we tend to think of cooking food as a way to tenderize it and make it more edible, there’s an even more important reason for cooking it: The act of cooking kills any bacteria contained in that food, making it safe to eat.
Yet the average bug out bag doesn’t have room for an entire kitchen, let alone a smaller survival kit. Most of the time, we’ve got to be more creative than carrying a heavy cast-iron pan just so we’ll have a way to cook in a survival situation. Fortunately, there are alternatives we can use, if we know how.
Of course, any cooking method is going to require fire to produce heat. But we need a way to get the food close to the heat and a way to remove the food once it’s cooked. Both parts are equally important.
So, what can we do?
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Water Bottles & Canteens
Before getting carried away trying to turn unusual items into cooking utensils, make sure you check what you already have in your pack. We often carry things that can be used for cooking, without that being their primary purpose.
If you carry a military-style canteen for water, then you should have a military canteen cup as well. That makes a great pot, especially if you tie the handle to a stick, giving it a long enough handle to hold it over the fire without cooking your hand as well.
Likewise, if you use water bottles to carry water, you should use metal water bottles rather than plastic. A metal water bottle can be put in the fire to purify water, as well as being used to cook in. It may not be the most convenient pot for making rice or soup in, and even harder to clean out; but it will work.
Use Aluminum Foil
One of the old standbys that has existed in the survival community for decades is aluminum foil, specifically the heavy-duty version of it. It was standard practice to carry some in a survival pack in olden days, giving us a means of making a makeshift pan or pot to cook in. If used carefully, the same piece of aluminum foil could be used three or four times.
Taking that idea a step further, the disposable aluminum baking pans we have available to us today would make great cooking pans to carry in a bug out bag or keep in the trunk of a car for emergencies. Not only would they be more durable than the aluminum foil, but they could be folded to pack them away and then unfolded for use.
Use a Stick
Does anyone remember roasting hot dogs or marshmallows on a stick? It still works. You can even roast a squirrel on a stick, just like a hot dog, holding it in the fire after it has been skinned and cleaned. Granted, that’s not the most elegant cooking method and probably isn’t something that any of us would want to do for a prolonged period of time, but it works.
If you’re going to cook on a stick, then you want to use a green stick rather than one that has dried out. The green stick is going to be stronger and better able to resist catching fire. Just be sure to peel off the bark, as the sapwood underneath the bark will be cleaner.
Taking the stick a step further, find two forked sticks about the same size and stick them into the ground on either side of your fire, so that they are forming the capital letter Y. You can then lay the stick in those forks, making a rotisserie and saving yourself from having to hold the stick.
This might require a slightly bigger stick, as the weight of whatever you’re cooking on that stick will tend to make it bend. But on the positive side, you can use it for several days, without problem.
Another thing that most people don’t realize can be cooked on a stick is bread. Once the dough has been kneaded, the bread dough is sticky, especially sticking to itself. It can then be made into a long tube, wrapped around a stick, and suspended over a fire to cook it, whether that is hand-held or on a rotisserie.
Wood planks were actually a common means of cooking, especially cooking bread, at one time. You need a solid hardwood without resin to do it, as softer woods or woods with resin in them tend to burn easily. Solid hardwood should last through several cooking cycles. While it might singe on the bottom side, it should stay good on the top side.
The biggest problem with cooking on a wood plank is coming up with the plank. Last I checked, there weren’t any lumberyards in the woods. Even so, you could split a hardwood log to make a plank. Try to smooth the surface, as much as possible, by shaving off high points and splinters with a knife. Then rub rocks across the surface to “sand” it.
Cooking on Rocks
Of course, if you have some large, flat, smooth rocks making up your fire pit or that you can place next to the fire pit, you won’t need the wood planks. The rocks themselves can work for cooking on, especially after cleaning them.
Rocks retain heat well, making them ideal for cooking. About the only problem is that if you get the rocks out of a stream, they may contain some water. When that water heats, it could cause the rock to break.
Rocks can be used in more than one way though. Our ancestors used to heat rocks in the coals of their fire and use them for a variety of different things, especially for heating the bed with a bed pan, or for carrying along as portable heat in the wagon. Rocks were also used for cooking.
One way to use rocks for cooking is to heat the rocks and then drop them carefully into a container with the food in it. That container could be just about anything, including things that would normally be flammable, such as a container made of leaves, heavy paper, or tree bark.
As long as the food inside is not hot enough to cause the container to ignite, it will be safe for cooking in.
Speaking of tree bark, you can boil water in a bark cup made of birch, aspen, or some other flexible bark. As long as the flames stay below the water level, the bark won’t burn.
Rather, the water inside the cup will absorb the heat, even to the point of boiling. It can’t get above that temperature, meaning that container will never get hot enough to burn, as long as there is water inside.
Wrapping Food in Leaves
Finally, food can be wrapped in large, fresh leaves and put into the embers of the fire to cook. This was a fairly common way of cooking fish, foul, and small game back in the colonization era.
Traveling with cast-iron cookware is a bit difficult, especially when you have to carry it on your back. So, it was not uncommon to wrap a catch in leaves to cook it.
A variation on using leaves was to use clay, when it was available. If fresh, wet clay could be dug up on the riverbank, then the same fish, fowl, and small game could be packed in clay, once they were cleaned, and skinned.
The clay would harden as the food inside cooked. Once it had sufficient time to bake in the coals, the clay could be busted off, revealing the moist, tender meat inside.
One advantage of cooking this way is that the clay holds the moisture in the food, keeping it from drying out. It is technically baking method, albeit a rather primitive one.
More About Clay
Speaking of Clay, if you have clay available, you can do much more than just wrap food in it to bake it. You can use that same clay to make containers to boil water of make soup.
In addition, you can make something flat, like a pizza stone, to cook bread on. With clay, you can just about make an entire kitchen, including an oven.
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