Want to cook outdoors but you don’t have a grill? That’s fine – the nature around you is all you need to set up a nice cooking area on your camping trips. In this guide to cooking outdoors, I’ll cover all things you can find in nature to create a proper cooking setup!
From digging a hole in the ground to cooking the perfect steak on a rock – all our tips will help you become a pro at cooking over a fire without a grill. Read on to see which items you’ll need to pack from home, what you’ll need to look for to make that perfect outdoor grill, and how to get by even if it’s windy or raining!
You don’t need a grill to prepare food out in nature, but you will need some sort of pot. Alternatively, you can get by with just tin foil, but in that case, you’ll have fewer options when it comes to cooking setups.
If you want to make a crane or a tripod, you’ll need a pot that you can hang on a tree branch or hook. Also, with these methods, it’s best to use thinner pots, unless you want the food to cook for half a day. Tin foil will do for most other methods, whether we’re talking about a fire pit or a grill made from rocks.
Other things you’ll want to pack are food (obviously), and lots of spices! Check out our guide on making your own camping spice kit, if you’re not sure which ingredients to put in your backpack.
Naturally, weather plays a big part in how you’re going to cook your food outdoors. If it’s a nice sunny day, you can use any method listed below. But if it’s extremely windy, rainy, or snowy, you’ll need to get a bit creative in order to ensure that the fire stays lit long enough for the food to cook.
One of the best methods for cooking outdoors in wet and windy weather is to just dig a hole, put a truckload of burning coal embers in it, and cook the food in there. There are dozens of different variations on the method, but the main premise is the same. This is a great method for cooking in wet and windy weather since you can easily shield the fire from the elements, but it does take quite a while for the food to cook.
You can also use rocks to shield the fire from the wind and even rain, and I’ll talk you through that in a later section.
Dig a hole in the ground, light a fire in the hole, put your food on the fire, and then cover your food with rocks or dirt. Sounds simple enough, right?
Fire pits are the best method for cooking in unpredictable weather. If it’s raining heavily and you can’t get your fire to stay lit, or if it’s so windy that the flames are all over the place, this is the best and quickest way to cook food.
Some people wrap their food in tin foil to ensure it gets cooked evenly, but you can even use something simple like cabbage. You just need to protect the things that you’ll be eating from dirt and bugs. This method works best with coal embers because they will continue burning even if you cut off the oxygen supply. That’s because coal contains oxygen – a simple wood fire will not continue burning if you smother it with dirt.
The exact size and width of the hole depending on what you’re cooking. In general, you want something about two feet deep and wide for cooking large chunks of meat. Also, you’ll want to cover the bottom of the pit with a really thick layer of embers – the bigger the portion, the more embers you need.
Then, season your food generously, wrap it in tin foil, and place it on the embers. It’s a good idea to put some burning embers on top of the food as well, just to ensure everything gets cooked evenly on all sides. Then cover the pit with dirt or rocks, and leave it be for at least a couple of hours. This is a slow-cooking method, and it takes a while for your food to cook properly. The main issue is that you can’t use a thermometer, and you can’t check on the food, so you better be 101% sure it’s thoroughly cooked before you take it out of the pit.
When in doubt, let it cook a bit longer. It’s very hard to burn food with this method, so if you prefer meat that’s well done instead of rare, an extra 20 minutes can’t hurt.
Another popular method for cooking outdoors is creating a crane or a tripod near the fire. This works best with pots that have big thin handles, so you can hang them above the fire.
For a crane, you’ll need some thick, long wooden branches and some big rocks. Make it look like it does in the photo and you’re good to go! Just make sure that the branch is thick enough to hold the pot without snapping, and that you’ve elevated it enough so that it doesn’t burn. You’ll want to pay attention to the branch that’s holding the pot while the food is cooking – if it starts looking ashy, you’ll need to replace it quickly before the whole thing collapses.
If you can find several long and thick branches, you can make a tripod around the fire. You’ll need a hook for this method, so you can hang the pot directly over the fire. And just like with the crane method, make sure that the branches are away from the heat so that they don’t burn up.
One thing to note here is that it takes a really long time for wet wood to catch on fire. If you can find wet branches, it’s less likely that the structure of your crane/tripod will burn.
Tin foil is a great alternative if you don’t have a nice big pot on your camping trip. It’s versatile, easy to use, and takes up very little space in your camping bag. Also, the tin foil does a great job at transferring heat and ensuring everything gets cooked evenly, and you rarely ever have to worry about food sticking to it. Plus, aluminum foil cools down rather quickly, so it’s easy to handle.
With a little creativity, you can even make deeper pots with tin foil and use them to cook soup. I’m not saying it will turn out perfectly, but it is a possibility.
Tin foil is particularly great for cooking food in fire pits because it’s thin and a great heat conductor. It helps the food cook quicker and more evenly than it would in a thick metal pot.
Rocks are essential for any cooking setup outdoors. Before I talk you through all the different things you can do with them to create a grill of your own, we need to talk about what type of rocks you should try to find.
Always look for smooth and even rocks. These are much more stable, and you’ll need less of them, especially if you just want to elevate a pot above the fire with rocks. If you can find rocks that are as smooth as bricks, you’ll be able to cook anything with ease. Actual cinder blocks will work best, and if you can find any of those, you’ll definitely want to use them for your makeshift grill.
Also, in case you want to cook a steak or other meat without covering it, you’ll need a long, smooth rock. The thinner it is the better – thin rocks heat up quicker, so it will take less time for the food to cook. But you’ll be good with whatever you can find – as long as you can make the structure stable enough, you’ll be fine.
You can light a fire and create walls around it with smooth rocks. Then put your pot on the edges of the rock, so that the bottom of the pot is over the exposed fire. This has the same effect as cooking on a grill, and it’s one of the quickest setups out of the bunch since you just need to light a fire and put some rocks near it.
On a windy day, you can make a wall of rocks around the fire to protect it from the wind. Just avoid smothering the fire – if you were to create a perfect circle around the fire and then cover it entirely with the pot, it would go out rather quickly due to lack of oxygen. So, leave some breathing space for the fire and let it do its thing.
One thing to note here is that this method works best with thinner pots. You could also use a cast iron pan, but you would need to cover it, to help the food cook evenly.
The trickiest thing with this method is making sure the rocks are stable and that the pot/pan is positioned properly. It should be above an open fire, but at the same time, you don’t want to place it right on the edges. It needs to be stable enough so that a strong wind won’t knock it over, but still exposed enough that the fire can heat the bottom of the pot/pan evenly.
If you can find a long thin rock and big and bulky rocks, you can easily make a grill of your own. It will take longer for the food to cook, and you will need to flip it to make sure it gets cooked evenly. This method is best for cooking food in tin foil, and it doesn’t work very well with pots.
Use big rocks to make walls on either side of the fire, then place the large thin rock over those walls. Make sure that it’s stable – the last thing you want is your makeshift grill collapsing while the potatoes are still raw. You’ll want to wait for the rock to get hot, and then place the food wrapped in tin foil on it.
This method is good for cooking in the rain since the large thin rock effectively shields the campfire from the rain. Also, you can check on your food while it’s cooking, so it’s pretty easy to cook it perfectly. The main issue with this method is that you won’t always be able to find just the right rocks you need.
You can always roast food over an open fire. For this method you’ll need some fire-resistant string, so you can tie up the meat and hang it above the fire. The trick here is to find just the right height for the meat – if it’s too low, the edges will burn before the insides get cooked. But put it too high, and it will take forever for the edges to get slightly cooked.
For this method, it’s best to make a tripod above an open fire. Tie a string around the chunk of meat, set it up on the hook, and let it roast! Every once in a while you’ll want to spin the meat, to ensure it gets cooked evenly throughout.
What about the veggies? You’ll still need some tin foil for those. But you can just get a potato, make some holes in it with a fork, wrap it in aluminum foil, and put it directly in the fire. This works for other vegetables as well, and it’s one of the quickest ways of cooking veggies. The great thing about this method is that you can always take the veggies out of the fire and check how they’re doing – if they’re not cooked perfectly, you can always put them back in the fire.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.