One of the most underrated items in any field loadout is a metal cooking container. Far less sexy than a sharp knife or the latest tactical apparel, a cup, pot or pan makes life easier in the bush. With a basic mess kit pot or a standard canteen cup, the survivor can boil water, create stews and cook directly over a fire. Modern cooking containers are taken for granted until they are lost, broken or left behind. While many reading this article likely pack a pocket emergency kit, not everyone here has a metal container in their everyday carry (EDC). In an emergency, these items may be no where to be found but the survivor must still eat. How can the survivor prepare food with few resources available? What does one do when survival is at stake and eating to live is the only acceptable option? Falling back on traditional skills and resourcefulness will ensure food can be cooked in a field situation.
Cooking On Rocks
Assuming you are skilled enough to capture an animal, you’re going to want to cook it. Cooked food is more easily digestible and reduces the risk of foodborne illness. On numerous courses and trips, I’ve watched students and companions look with shock when I placed raw meat directly on hot rocks. This is the same type of cooking some high end restaurants charge you for albeit with obvious differences in ambiance and decor. I argue cooking in the field results in better tasting food and provides the survivor a less stuffy atmosphere.
The process is exceptionally simple. Flat rocks are heated when a fire is made over them. Using a green branch, the ashes are cleaned off and the surface is cleared up as best as can. The lingering ashes can be blown away with a quick breath. Since the rock surface was brought up to a high temperature, it is disinfected and sterilized and anything harmful on the surface is no longer present. In other words, you’re not going to catch any germs unless there is some new germ from the high heat of hell. The meat is now safe to place right on the rock. The rock should continue to radiate enough heat to fully cook your food. Depending on what type of meat is being cooked, the fat content will render into grease and make it easy to remove as it shouldn’t stick. When cooking a filleted fish, I generally cook with the skin side down first since the skin, which most people don’t eat, will clean the rock surface of any additional ash and wipe it up before flipping it over to the meat side. Even though the ash can’t hurt, the presentation is more appealing and psychologically uplifting. If no large rocks are available, you can always use multiple smaller rocks as a single surface.
Bread need not be made in an oven. A staple of many camping trips is twist bread. Powdered bread mix has a great shelf life if stored properly and is relatively lightweight with no moisture content. Using whatever bread dough mix you prefer or make your own out of flour, salt and baking powder, a basic bannock recipe. Bisquick is a favorite for it’s premixed ease. The dry contents are mixed in a ziplock bag or a bowl if you are fortunate to have one. Worse case scenario, you could use the same flat rock you cooked on in the previous paragraph. A small amount of water is added to the dry mixture and kneaded until the consistency is a thick paste that holds together when drawn out into a long roll. A green stick, approximately 4’ or longer, from a maple, beech, birch or other edible tree is stripped of it’s bark to the inner layer. The dough is wrapped around the inner bark and roasted over the heat of a fire. Hold it above the heat but not over direct flame unless you like char. The stick can be propped up on a rock or simply held in place by hand. The bread will start to separate from the stick but remain intact when it is fully baked. It can be used to thicken stews, be topped with peanut butter or drizzled with honey or sugar. On many of my trips, the guys have taken the condiment packets from their MRE’s and used the sauces on their breads. This manner of bread making eliminates the need for an oven and a baking dish and the leftover baking stick can be taken and used as a walking stick or carved into a digging stick minimizing the sign left behind. All the remnants can be burned right in the fire. Much like the presentation of the rock cooked meat, the idea of eating warm bread is a tremendous boost to morale and can help the survivor endure hardship a little easier.
Eating well doesn’t have to stop just because you are in the field. Using traditional skills and backwoods ingenuity, creature comforts like hot meals and comfort foods are absolutely possible. Even in the most inhospitable places and harshest environments, being able to cook food and control at least one aspect of your scenario proves you have some say in the outcome of your scenario. Without a modern cooking vessel as a luxury item, the survivor can harness resources from the environment and fall back on his training to adapt and overcome.
About the Author
Kevin Estela is the Founder and Head Instructor of Estela Wilderness Education. He conducts private and semi-private wilderness and urban/suburban survival courses, tests and evaluates knives and equipment for various companies, is a Mountain Khakis Professional Ambassador, and is a life-long outdoors enthusiast with additional pastimes in canoeing/kayaking, fishing and cooking. Kevin's work has taken him from Los Angeles, CA to the United Kingdom and many points in between. Kevin is ranked in both Sayoc Kali and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is a shooting enthusiast. Kevin is formerly the Lead Instructor for the Wilderness Learning Center. When not teaching outdoor skills, he is a full-time High School History Teacher and Track and Field Coach who lives in Connecticut.