It’s hard enough to get meat in the wild (since few animals have a death wish), so you certainly don’t want to lose any of your meat into the ravenous campfire. Luckily for us, cooking with spits and skewers is one of the easiest ways to make animal food safe for human consumption. As a bonus, this survival food is satisfying and tasty, when carefully prepared.
Quite probably, this is the way that most of our forebears cooked their meat since antiquity.The process of skewering wild game meat on a piece of wood seems simple enough – but there are a few things that can go wrong.Set up your sticks carefully, never turn your back on the cooking fire, and you too will enjoy the taste of fire-kissed meat prepared over the crackling campfire.Just remember that tasty doesn’t happen by accident, so pay attention to your meat!
Try A Skewer
For those who have roasted a hotdog or marshmallow on a stick over the fire, you already know something about using skewers.These simple pointy sticks can allow you to cook many different kinds of food, without a container – or the burnt char and ashy taste you’d get by baking your food directly on a bed of coals.
Improvised wooden skewers are so easily to make, just carve or break a point onto the end of non-toxic stick. Ideally, it should be live (green) wood, so it’s less likely to burn, but it’s also possible to use dead sticks – as long as they don’t get too close to the flames. Using dead wood is certainly more conservative of materials, and you can burn the evidence when you are done cooking. If you do decide to use dead sticks, keep them away from the flames once the grease starts running down the stick.
For small food items, use a slender stick to impale your item (or several items, like a shish-kabob). The sharper you have carved the end, the easier this will be. Then simply hold the skewer over the flames by hand. For larger foods, you can increase the diameter of the skewer so that it has more strength. If the pole is long and heavy enough, you can prop it up against a convenient hearth rock. And if you get tired of holding it, try the next technique.
Hands-Free Cooking With Just One Stick
Whether you are in a survival setting or just hanging out in the woods with your friends, you’ll still want to know some quick, simple and efficient primitive cooking techniques.One of my most frequently used techniques is to set up a cooking stick so that it is hands-free.
This single cook stick goes by different names (sometimes called a dingle stick), but whatever the name – I’ve used it to cook so many meals I can’t count them. It’s quick to set up and secure enough for most cooking uses (when you don’t overload it).You’ll need a straight stick or small pole that is 2 to 4 feet long. Carve a point on both ends. The point on the thicker end can be blunt (you’ll be sticking this into the ground), while the point on the thin end should be finer (as it will stab your food).
Once pointed, it’s ready to use. Poke your meat or other food onto the thin end of the stick. Stab the thick pointed end of the stick into the ground on an angle, somewhere near the edge of your fire. Place a chunk of rock or a small log under the leaning stick to prop it up. For support and security, place another rock over the bottom end of the stick in the ground.
This keeps the stick from flipping out of the dirt in loose or sandy soil. Once you have your stick leaning out over the fire at the desired angle and height – let it cook. For a simple and handy variation, carve a shallow notch in the thin end of your stick to hang a small cook pot on the end. Now you can roast meat or boil your water over the flames.
Cook With A Spit
When it comes to cooking big hunks of meat or entire animals, another great technique is to roast the food on a spit over a large bed of hardwood coals. This is the most practical way to cook large whole items (when you don’t have a cauldron to stew them in) and it can be a feast for the senses. The look, aroma and taste of a spit cooked animal are unsurpassed when the beast has been well prepared and slowly cooked.
Who said survival cooking has to be awful? Not me. This is one of the original forms of barbeque and it’s still going strong today. To make a spit, cut a stout green sapling from non-toxic wood. It could also be dead wood, if you promise not to get the grease soaked stick near any flames. But using live cut wood is your best practice, since the moisture filled poles resist burning. Wrist thick poles can be used as spits for smaller game species and roasts.
And you’ll want to go with a larger setup to roast medium or larger sized animals, as a whole carcass. As you’ll learn from working with splits, some foods are easy to impale and balance and other things aren’t so easy to balance. You’ll have two main choices to help you secure the food. When you have an item that is heavy on one side (like a chicken or similar bird), make your spit so thick that you can barely shove the bird onto it. This will allow the spit and the bird to turn in unison (rather than the bird always turning heavy side down, no matter how much you turn the spit).
The other way to secure food is use some kind of spike. You could choose a pole with a side branch and whittle the branch into a spike that can impale your roast. Or you can drill or split a hole in the spit and insert a hardwood spike through the meat and into the hole (like you’re nailing in place). Whatever you do, just make sure you have stabilized the food so that it turns as the spit turns. Once your food is loaded onto the spit, you can hold it over the fire by resting on any convenient structure.
Drive a forked green wood stake on each side of your fire to hold the spit, or set up a pair of tripods to hold the meat laden spit. You could even take advantage of natural supports, by building your cook fire in a place with stumps, boulders or other supports in close proximity. It’s all up to you. But if you decide to use wooden supports near the fire, prop up a flat stone at the base of each one, to block the heat of the fire and prevent your supports from catching fire.
Tips For Cooking With Sticks
Any time you are cooking with sticks over flames or a bed of coals, remember these tips with wooden skewers and spits:
- Don’t rush! Your food will burn if you hold it too close to a bed of coals. It will also burn if your flames are too fierce or too close to the food. Your meal will taste much better if you take your time and suspend the food in a cooler spot (but still close enough to the heat to cook).
- Maintain a good bed of coals in your fire, burning flavorful hardwoods when possible. Avoid woods with resinous, harsh or unpleasant tasting smoke. Never burn woods from toxic species.
- You’ll have the best luck with wooden skewers and spits that are cut from green, non-toxic wood. Dead wood is more likely to catch fire, especially when grease soaks into it.
- Don’t use spindly support pieces. It’s better for your green wood pieces to be a little too thick than too thin. Since heat can cause moist wood to bend and sag, consider the weight you’ll place on it and choose pieces that are thick enough to be strong.