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How to Cook in the Wilderness With No Dishes

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: July 2, 2019
How to Cook in the Wilderness With No Dishes

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Knowing how to cook in the wilderness without a lot of the modern conveniences is a skill worth honing. There are a lot of different ways to create a great meal with very little. Let’s start out with some basic methods and explore more advanced cooking techniques.

I owe a mention to Bradford Angier’s classic book for helping inspire this post and giving me some of the methods to share with you. I recommend this book for your prepper library. It has a cool rubberized cover so it is a durable book if you need to take it outside.

Oh and my husband, Matt, for brainstorming and suggesting some of the other ideas.

How to Stay Alive in the Woods

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Stick Meat

Cooking meat on a stick is the classic way to cook without dishes. Small game can be skinned, gutted, and cleaned and roasted on a stick either over or near a fire. You have to be careful and turn it some to ensure even cooking. Also, you want to make sure that it doesn’t dry out too much. Greasier meats usually are not too bad and may even spatter a bit so be careful cooking. Fish cooks well on a stick. You can roast fish like a hot dog!

Make sure to choose woods that won’t leave an unpleasant taste or that have toxic properties. Hardwoods work well. Resinous woods should not be used.

Cooking On A Rock

Rocks near a fire or in the center of a fire can be used to cook on. This can take some time and you definitely want to make sure your rock is clean or let it burn off a bit. Remember that thinner cuts cook faster so use your pocket knife to cut meat and veggies down to size. For more even cooking you may want to get a rock and set it in a spot where you can build your fire up around it.

Cooking In Clay With Fire

If you live in an area where clay is abundant you can use it to form a barrier to keep moisture and heat in while cooking meat and veggies. I have mostly heard of this being done with fish. Native Americans are the inventors of this method. Take a fish that you have gutted and cleaned and form clay around it. This clay encased fish can be put in a fire and cooked. To eat simply allow to cool enough to break the clay open and then eat up.

Animal Skin and Hot Rocks

In a survival situation, you can use an animal skin as a makeshift pot for boiling water or making a soup or stew. While getting the right amount of calories and fats you need to survive is important, so is staying warm. Creating a nourishing broth, veggie, and meat dish can be done using the following method.

  1. Hunt and butcher some small game.
  2. Dig a hole and place hide in it. Note that this is dependent on you being able to skin an animal well enough that you don’t leave a hole in the hide so be careful. On a larger animal, you may not need the whole hide anyway so cut off a piece that you know is free of holes.
  3. Make sure to cut up meat or foraged veggies small so that they cook fast. Slow cooking veggies are not the greatest for this method. You can do it but you may have to heat a lot of stones to get a decent result.
  4.  Make a fire and throw in smooth clean stones. These will need to get as hot as possible.
  5. Add water to your “skin bowel”
  6. When stones are very hot use whatever method you have to throw them into the hole. Cover as well as you can if you have anything at all. The heat from the stones will cook your food.

Dry and Smoke On Rocks Or Racks

If you are in need of a way to make something you have caught or butchered go further then smoking and drying can help extend the life of your food supply. The old people and Cherokee in the mountains of western NC did not have ball canning jars and pressure canners. Smoking and drying were done often. Salt makes it safer and more long-lasting.

Cooking In Bamboo

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Large diameter bamboo can be used to boil water and even cook rice and a variety of meals. The pic above is an example of how to do this. Just make sure that you cut the bamboo so that you have sealed segments that will hold water and food.

Wrap Meats In Leaves and Place On Coals

Fish and other fast cooking cuts of meat do well when wrapped in leaves and allowed to cook. You can use any leaf you want as long as it is from a tree or plant that is not toxic. I have seen articles where people have used Kuzu leaves. Ideally, you will have large leaves but you can also cut meats down to a smaller size. If cooking meats other than fish, make sure to cut them thin enough so that they cook up fast. If you have any spices or grease to use you can put some in the packet you make.

Cook On A Spit


It can take a little bit of setting poles and carving a few sticks but you can make a primitive spit for roasting meats on. Just be careful to not overload your spit. Turning the meat doesn’t have to be done constantly but you will want to turn it some so plan your spit accordingly. The basic concept is two sticks with a fork shape on each end and a long pole to lay between them.

Roasting Larger Meals

Pit BBQ is a popular thing in the South where we live. The art of cooking a while animal and some veggies in a pit is something you see in a lot of cultures. In Hawaii, they cook pigs in pits dug in the sand and use a different variety of sauces! If you are out in the woods and need to cook a whole animal than digging a pit and getting a bed of coals can be the way to go if you have some time on your hands.

You can suspend the carcass on a pole if you are concerned about burning due to being directly on hot coals.  Some people wrap whole animals in leaves to protect and keep moisture in as it cooks. The pit can be covered with boughs of non-toxic trees or plants to help keep the heat in.

Taking Your Time Is Key

Cooking in a rough bushcraft style takes time. Some of the methods I talk about in this post are more time consuming than others but they are options when many people think they have little or no option at all. I will never say that some of these methods are ideal in any way shape or form!

Sometimes it is hard for everyone to realize that in a survival situation they are going to have a lot more time to focus on the essential needs. You are going to be completely focused on food, shelter, and overall health.

If you have kids and other dependents all of a sudden your duties are going to be 100% dedicated to meeting basic needs. They can help out too and will be focused but might need some better direction.

Order Of Events: Planning Your Fire & Meals

In order to make the best use of your time and ensure a good cooking fire, you should get your fire going while you are prepping your food. A good pile of cooking coals often requires a fire to burn down for an hour or more. If you are entrenched in an area for an extended period of time and their is multiple people, then keeping a fire going may be something you just do for the whole time anyway, especially in cold weather.

A Modern Convenient Way To Cook In The Wilderness With No Dishes

Okay so maybe you don’t want to use dishes but you also don’t mind a little bit of modern ingenuity. The aluminum foil packet is the way to go.

Aluminum Foil

Cooking meats and veggies in aluminum foil is a classic hack for BBQs or when you don’t want a messy pan to deal with. For camping trips and excursions into the bush, a small roll of aluminum foil may be about all the cooking accessories you need.

Practice Now: Plan A Prepper Dinner Party!

Like any bushcraft skill, I recommend practicing during good times rather than bad. This can be a lot of fun. If you have friends and family that want to learn then cooking like this can be a fun skill to practice together. If you really want you can plan complete prepper dinner parties around learning how to cook without a lot of dishes.

Practicing now will help you have better results if you find yourself in dire circumstances. Think about what cooking without dishes can mean when you are out on the trail!

Do you have any favorite cooking methods for when you are out in the wilderness? Some of these ideas are useful for just cooking during the hot months of the summer when you don’t want to heat your house up too much!

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5 Responses to “How to Cook in the Wilderness With No Dishes”

  1. Like “Old Guy” said, but a little different! I was with my dad when he shot a grouse. He immediately built a fire, and started heating stones really hot! then dug a pit. He cleaned the grouse and when the rocks were really hot, he caked the grouse in mud put a few hot rocks in the pit, then the grouse, then added the rest of the stones, covered the whole thing with dirt, then we left it! We did a bunch of running around and about 5 or 6 hours later, we dug up the grouse, cracked the mud in several places, and when the mud came off, the feathers did too he opened up the grouse and started cutting meat off it, we both ate it, and it was really good though I’d never seen anything like that before!!

  2. How does one determine if a particular leaf is okay to use? Which common ones should be avoided? I am currently in the High Desert of CA but moving to Northern Idaho soon. Thank you for any assistance!

  3. Hi, Gaye.

    Like the article BUT please warn people not to use river stones, even if they are not in water (usually identifiable by rounded shape and smoothed surface but that is no guarantee), since they can harbour trapped water for a very long time, especially those high in very hard materials like quartz or granite. In a fire, the water turns to steam creating enormous internal pressure and, as a result, the stones can explode violently, with resultant high speed shrapnel which can cause very serious injury. Sometimes the stones that can explode are not so obvious (I live on a volcanic mount basically made of basalt and a piece of basalt stone exploded in a fire once… completely unexpected… and I have also witnessed round stones from near a river exploding in a campfire… but fortunately nobody was injured).

    If heating rocks in preparation for cooking in a pit, surround them with some kind of barrier while they heat and do it well away from people. At least that way, if a stone ruptures, nobody is likely to be hurt. Large stones generally are not a problem and can be used as a barrier close to smaller stones in a fire, and if they crack, that pieces are usually to large and heavy to present a danger, but don’t count on it… these things are unpredictable.

    Just a warning people should heed. Independence and survival when SHTF is great but seemingly small things can go seriously wrong and end it all badly.

  4. There is the hot rock and pit cooking style too. You dig a pit and line it with rocks and burn your fire down to coals and heat the rocks up. Place your items in the pit and cover over with leaves on branches than cover over with earth and let cook. In this method you would also wrap you items in leaves too. The best leaves are grape leaves and you will need several layers. Always be sure just what kind of leaves you are using.

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