9 Ways to Fire Pit Cook Like a Survivor
Cooking over an open flame brings us back to the days of our earliest human ancestors. There is something deeply primal and pleasurable about cooking in a fire pit…but just because you are cooking like a caveman doesn’t mean that you can’t cook intelligently. Knowing how to cook over an open fire pit is an essential survival skill. Whether you love the great outdoors, or just cooking in your backyard, the tips listed below are good advice for anyone who plans to prepare a meal in a fire pit.
- Gather tinder, and have a fire starter on hand. If you are in a wilderness situation, gather small sticks, paper waste from other campers, and flammable plants (ie the fluffy white pods of the milkweed) during the course of your day’s activities. These will make for excellent tinder. It is especially important to carry these in your pack if you expect rain later in the day, as having dry tinder means you will be able to start a fire more quickly. Always carry waterproof matches, a lighter, or a Swedish firesteel striker to help start your fire quickly…starting a fire with flint or by rubbing two sticks together is possible, but difficult and time-consuming. Make sure that you have plentiful logs to keep your fire burning through the night.
- Build a fire pit that will actually stay lit. If you can’t properly build your fire, it will burn out within minutes, meaning that you won’t have a way to cook your food (and you’ll be in for a very cold night as well!) After you have sparked your tinder, and built up the fire with more tinder or kindling, you are ready to add some larger logs. The fire needs oxygen to stay roaring, so keep that in mind as you feed the fire. One popular way to get your fire roaring is to make a “tee-pee” of logs over the lighted kindling and tinder. Another technique is the “log cabin”, where you stack logs around the tinder in a criss-crossing pattern. Make sure to use the driest wood you can find.
- Make use of local materials. A true survivalist knows the benefits of packing light; even a single ounce can make the difference between having the energy to build a shelter at the end of the day or collapsing, exhausted, into a pile of wet leaves. There’s no need to carry cooking hardware (with the possible exception of a lightweight pot for sterilizing water) if you are traveling in an area with even moderate vegetation. Tree branches can be used for cooking food on a stick, and very thin green branches can be woven together to create a cooking basket ideal for grilling fish or squirrels. Stones from a riverbed can be used to grind berries or nuts into a paste for cooking, and large leaves can be used to wrap and steam food items, or as eating surfaces.
- Sanitation is key. If you do not take proper precautions to prepare your food and sanitize your cooking and eating utensils, you run the risk of getting food poisoning. Eat food as soon as possible, unless you have a means of keeping it cold. Make sure to fully cook your food as well, especially if you are preparing shellfish or mollusks on your fire pit, as these creatures often contain parasites or harmful bacteria that can only be neutralized by prolonged cooking. Whenever possible, make sure to sanitize your utensils either by sticking them into the flames of your fire pit, boiling them in water, or rubbing them down with alcohol from your first aid kit.
- Know your ingredients. If you stumble across mushrooms or berries, but aren’t sure if they are poisonous, don’t take the risk. Leave them be and attempt to find another source of food that you know is safe to consume. You may be tempted to take the risk if you are very hungry, but remember that you will burn calories and lose precious fluids if you end up eating something that causes you to vomit or have diarrhea.
- Make use of the whole fire pit when you cook. Many people think of cooking on the fire pit simply by sticking food into the flames. However, a smart survivalist cook knows that there are many ways to cook simultaneous meals with the same fire. You can have kebabs or meats grilling in the direct heat of the flames of the fire, prepare a stew in a pot suspended over the fire, cook a piece of fish on a wood plank next to the fire using radiant heat, bring water to a boil by taking hot rocks from the coals and placing them in a metal cookpot, and leave other foodstuffs (potatoes, root vegetables, bananas, tough cuts of meat, etc.) wrapped in leaves or aluminum foil tucked under the coals of the fire. You can leave the food wrapped in aluminum foil in the coals all night, ensuring that you will have a hot breakfast waiting for you in the morning.
- Build devices that help you cook smart. Putting together a rotisserie spit is one simple way that can help you to cook smart, especially if you are planning to cook a whole animal like a chicken, pig, or game animal. This ensures even cooking, meaning that not only will your food taste better, but you will also have a reduced chance of getting sick from eating undercooked meats. A simple rotating spit can be made by sticking two Y-shaped branches into the ground across from each other on your fire pit, Y-shape up. The simply impale the meat on a long pole, and place the pole into the Y’s of the upright poles. You can also build a tripod out of three sticks lashed together at the top, which can be used to hang a piece of meat or a cooking vessel over the flames.
- Don’t feed the bears. It’s important to be wary of local wildlife like bears, pumas, and even raccoons. All of these animals can be attracted to your fire pit by the smell of food, and while the raccoon may be more of a pest than a threat, pumas and bears have been known to kill campers. Even if you are building a fire pit in your backyard, you may have to contend with stray dogs or other local wildlife. The bottom line is this: never store leftover food or other provisions where you plan to sleep, or leave it lying around your camp site. Hoist it up into a tree, seal it in a plastic bag…just don’t sleep next to it, or your may wake up to find a hungry creature in your tent looking to share your fire pit dinner.
- Always remember to extinguish your fire before moving on. It might seem like tired advice from a Smokey the Bear commercial, but the fact is that nearly 90% of all wildfire are caused by humans, whether from cigarette ash or improperly extinguished campsites. If you are ready to leave your fire pit, it is important to make sure that the fire is completely put out before you leave. No smoke should be rising from the coals, and the pit itself should be cool to the touch. A smart wilderness survivor never uses precious water to put out a fire pit, but instead smothers the coals with sand, earth, or organic materials like wet leaves or moss.