7 Primitive Cooking Methods You Still Need to Know Today

Claude Nelson
By Claude Nelson September 26, 2015 16:57

7 Primitive Cooking Methods You Still Need to Know Today

by C. Nelson

Long before we had pots and pans, men and women knelt over fires and used what nature provided to put food on their table (or on the large rock serving as their table that evening).

Today, we have knives, pots, spoons, and even large appliances like food processors. But that doesn’t mean you won’t ever need to know how to cook without them.

Whether you’re camping or in an actual emergency situation, there are 7 common primitive cooking methods that you still would better know even today.

Ash Cooking

burdock ash cookingThis is pretty similar to what we call tin-foil cooking. The difference is that you’ll use leaves instead of aluminium foil.

First you need to make a fire slowly let it die while flattening the surface with coals of a fire. The coals should be hot but no longer burning (with flames).

While the coals are getting hot, find some very large leaves that you can use to cook the food in. Remember that the leaves need to be large enough so that they can be wrapped around the food, but they also have to be non-poisonous so that you don’t ingest toxins.

Related: 8 Deadly Plants in the U.S. – That You Need To Avoid

Bonus points if you find leaves that are also edible. Also, try to find leaves or plants that have vines attached to them. These work well for wrapping around the food and turning it into a little bundle.

A very common and very good example are burdock leaves (see picture above). These leaves are really big and they’ll produce a delicious juicy meal.

Once the food is wrapped and the coals are hot, place the food onto the coals. Using a stick, move some of the hot coals over top of the food so that it can cook on both sides.


wood grill primitiveBroiling over a fire isn’t that much different than broiling in your oven.

The only difference is that, over a fire, you might not have a pan to lay the food in, so you’ll need to set something up that can hold the food over the fire without it falling in.

River birch and willow are great woods you can use for broiling over an open fire because they are flexible, and flexibility is key when trying to find the right kind of wood for this type of cooking. You might also need a couple of pieces of the same type of wood; the more you have, the more effective your cooking device will be.

Start constructing your “broiler” by bending one piece of wood into an oval, and crossing the bottom of the oval with another straight stick (think of an upper case D). Use small twigs or vine to tie the oval-shaped wood onto the straight stick, but you can stretch the top piece so that it reaches down the entire straight piece of wood. Then, if you wish to make the wood even more stable, add smaller pieces of wood across the two pieces of wood. This will give support to the food and if you’re handy enough, will also allow you to move the wood up and down to fit specific pieces of food.

Once you have your “broiler” set up, you just need to attach the food to it. When cooking fish, you can do this just by piercing the skin onto some of the wood, and for larger pieces, you can simply lay it across. Then just hold the broiler several inches from the flame to keep it from burning, and keep it flat to keep your food from falling in.

Hot Stone Cooking

Hot Stone Cooking primitiveCooking on a hot stone is really no different than cooking in a frying pan. Using a flat surface such as a rock, you just have to heat it up, place your food on, and then heat it up a little more. Be sure that the rock is dry, so it will heat up faster, and that it has at least one flat side so your food doesn’t fall off.

Give it a quick clean by dusting it off with a cloth and make sure it’s thicker than one inch, so that it doesn’t crack when heated to extreme temperatures.

You can cook with stone one of two ways. You can either use a small stone for a single serving, or you can place many stones over a low and wide fire, using them to cook larger quantities or larger pieces of food. For a larger area you’ll need to let the stones heat up for at least an hour, whereas you can probably get away with fifteen minutes or so for just a single stone.

Once the stone is hot, place your food on it and just wait for it to cook through – the time it will take will depend on what you’re cooking and your own taste preferences. Remember to remove the stone entirely once the food has finished cooking and to keep the food on it, using it as a platter or plate. The stone will take at least half an hour to cool down, so it will keep your food nice and hot for you.

Related: 30 Lost Ways of Survival from 1880 We Should all Learn

Plank Cooking

Plank CookingUnless you can find a smooth, even piece of wood in the forest (which is likely to prove difficult), you’ll need an axe or a saw to create planks suitable for cooking. First, know the type of wood you’re looking for. Don’t use anything poisonous, and don’t use wood such as conifers, which can have a strong tasting resin that can seep into your food. Some of the best woods for making planks are poplar, cedar, and oak.

Find a piece of wood that you think would make a nice plank. If you find a small log, cut it in half and then, placing it on its flattest side, cut planks from it about nine inches in diameter. You can also use two planks at once, letting one hold the food while the other holds the other up, away from the fire and from getting burned. Some people choose to place pegs onto their board, wedging them into holes cut with a knife. However, this extra step isn’t necessary, as you can just leave the board lying flat and the food should remain in place.

Related: 24 Lost Survival Tips from 100 Years Ago – with Illustrations

Steam Pit Cooking

Steam Pit Cooking primitive

Steam pit cooking is a form of survival cooking that has been used for centuries. You must start by wrapping the food in large leaves, just as you do when ash cooking, and then you need a place where you can build a pit large enough to hold coals and the food.

Related: This Common Driveway Weed is One of Nature’s Most Powerful Survival Plants

When digging the pit, make sure you dig it at least a foot to two feet deep. This will be large enough to not only hold the food, but also make sure no steam escapes while cooking. Once the pit has been dug, line the bottom of it with charcoal. Light the coal, again just like you did when ash cooking, and wait for it to get very hot and then die down. Then, place your food over top of the coals and then cover it with the earth you dug up. Allow it to sit for at least a couple of hours (even small food will take a while to cook this way), and then dig it up, and dig in!

Spit Cooking

Spit Cooking primitiveIf you’ve ever checked out a whole chicken spinning slowly on a rotisserie, you’ve already seen spit cooking firsthand. There are both horizontal and vertical spits and if you want the metal rods equipped with teeth that help hold the meat, you’ll likely have to already be carrying this as you won’t find anything like it in nature. But, you can create your own spit just by finding a strong, long, and sturdy piece of wood.

While tying a piece of meat onto a piece of wood and turning it over an open fire sounds easy, spit cooking does come with its own unique set of issues. To begin with, any meat that can be tied to the spit must be tied to the spit. This will keep the meat sturdy on the spit and will keep it from bouncing around. Also, it’s important to remember that meat shrinks when it cooks, so even if you think you’ve tied the meat closely to the spit, it still might not be close enough. Use wire, vines, or twine to really secure the meat onto the spit. If you’re roasting a whole animal, also be sure to tie up the limbs. If you don’t the center of gravity will be thrown off and the meat will once again bounce around the spit instead of clinging to it.

wyoming professor mic

Remember too that if you don’t turn the spit, you’re broiling, not spit cooking. Out in the wilderness, and especially in survival situations, you likely won’t have a spit that automatically turns for you, so you’ll have to sit by the fire and manually rotate it yourself.

Clay Cooking

Clay Cooking primitiveSome think that our earliest ancestors cooked in clay, but that’s just not the case. By the time clay tools were introduced, humans had already been cooking for generations. But you don’t need to carry around a clay pot that’s prone to breaking while backpacking – dig far enough and you’ll find it. Just make sure that the area you dig for the clay wasn’t once the place of toxic chemicals – such as being the former site of a gas station.

Once you’ve found your clay, you can add a bit of water to mold it into shapes such as bowls and pots, although these will take hours to dry. You can also simply pat the clay onto and around the wrapped piece of food. Be sure when doing it this way that the clay is in an even layer, to promote even cooking. Then, just simply lay the clay-covered package over hot coals and allow it to cook. The time of cooking will depend on not only the size of the food being cooked, but also the thickness of the clay.

Serving food that’s been cooked in clay is one of the most exciting parts of clay cooking. Because the heat will harden the clay around the food, use a small hammer or rock to break open the clay. It will crack and fall apart, and make meal time that much more enticing.

You may also like:

How to Clean Cooking Gear with Wood Ash

An Insanely Effective Way to Build a 5 Year Food Stockpile (Video)

How to Prepare For the Coming Food Crisis

25 Skills You Can Trade After SHTF

This Can Be the End of America as We Know It (Video)

Claude Nelson
By Claude Nelson September 26, 2015 16:57
Write a comment


  1. Aaron October 2, 21:21

    Nice methods. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply to this comment
  2. bob October 4, 02:42

    the clay method also is like a low tech tupperwear

    Reply to this comment
    • OldOutdoorsGuy July 8, 21:46

      I would say just the opposite Bob, clay cooking is pretty high tech when you are cooking over an open fire or on coals compared to using Tupperware on the same heat producing media. If you are talking about the same Tupperware I am remembering, it seems like that was a form of plastic and would readily melt and encase your food in a plastic “shell” that would require much more than a rock to remove it from the wrapped food. I have cooked on rocks and also used clay in different styles depending on what I needed and how clean the clay was, but I wouldn’t even give Tupperware any consideration if you meant to actually USE it on hot coals to cook in? That wouldn’t fly on any of the fires I have built in the last 65 or so years of outdoors travels.

      Reply to this comment
      • Gear Guy March 20, 18:02

        I used to do fish this way, ( Wrapped in Clay) as kid in rural New York state…The clay wrap became a holder and was recycled in the steam when done…Thanks again.

        Reply to this comment
  3. Softballumpire January 21, 14:21

    Fine job of covering so many options. There was much information which I appreciate having in my quiver as it were.

    Reply to this comment
  4. left coast chuck March 26, 16:58

    Good article. Thanks for posting.

    Reply to this comment
  5. left coast chuck March 26, 17:03

    There is another method of cooking. You have a vessel that won’t leak but isn’t fireproof such as a glass jarnor tupperware. You fill it with water and add hot stones to it to slowly heat the water and your food inside the jar. It will cook your food. Indians who made woven baskets but didn’t have access to pottery clay used this method to cook food. It’s slower than the methods outlined in the article but will get the job done. When the SHTF resist the urge to throw away the can the soup came in

    Reply to this comment
    • Old prepper March 31, 06:17

      left coast Chuck, Ok. Where do you get the hot stones? Then are you talking about using a can, like any canned good comes in? If one has the hot stones, why not cook on that, heat source? What food would you put in, and how much water? Sounds like making soup. Boiled beef?
      I admit it. Not understanding all of your post. And is this like
      crock pot cooking?

      Reply to this comment
      • LuminousGreenGirl October 25, 21:05

        You would need to find stones, heat them in your fire and move them to the container with the water and food (this also works to make water for tea or coffee). As the stones begin to cool, you can remove them from the container and replace them with other hot stones, until you have the temp you desire. Tongs for handling the hot stones can be made from flexible branches or using two sticks.

        Reply to this comment
        • Right Coast Rhetta May 21, 12:26

          You’re exactly right! They also used to use the stomach of an animal to cook in in this manner. Heating stones and putting them inside. That information can be found by looking up “cooking stones” and will make it much easier to understand.

          Reply to this comment
  6. Moose July 5, 10:49

    I enjoyed reading your tips. The instructions were easy to understand. I taught my son variations of a couple of these on camping trips when he was growing up. When cooking on a flat rock above the fire pit we had dug, the rock cracked. It was about 3 inches thick but it started out damp due to rain. I think that played a part. We leaned damp firewood against it spaced several inches apart to dry them out. Whenever we checked our food we would turn the wood to help it dry evenly.

    Reply to this comment
    • Tschmut August 26, 02:26

      Be careful about using slate rock. It has air pockets that heat and starts shooting small shards of rock all directions

      Reply to this comment
  7. Flo August 2, 16:00

    Great ideas. Hope to use them on vacation.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Paul October 14, 15:00

    As one who did cooking-without-utensils demo for Scout exhibitions, the clay cooking method works great, but just plain old dirt mud works well also. Wrap a full potato, small meat, or individual vegetables in soaked leaves (we used to cheat a bit & use store-bought grape leaves) but avoid toxic leaves. Coat all around with about one inch of mud. Put it in the coals. Generally, when the mud cracks open, it’s done. The mud becomes a sealed ceramic cooker. Particularly great for baked potatoes.

    Reply to this comment
  9. jolj December 16, 04:36

    Cedar or Cedrus is a conifer, one of 11 subgroups that inculde pine & firs.
    Have you done this for yourself or is this another copy & paste list. Survival knowledge of trees,herbal plants & animals is a must & much more important then how to cook things. Fire & fire starting are important, but plank cooking is the hardest to do in the wild, the least likely to work. Still one should know what wood they are listing to use.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Pat January 30, 21:17

    The Lord told Kimclement.com He is taking America back to its roots. Farming and gardening. He will do it His way of course. Black out could happen. Just praise the Lord and remind yourself this is God’s way of getting us away from hoarding, covetousness, materialsm, lust for things. It is taking us away from God and God is a jealous God. Jesus is His name.
    Like it or not. Check the archives for kimclement.com or call 18665464366. check if that phone number isn’t quite right. Yes, God told Oral Roberts, anything that wakes them up. Anything that gets their attention. Anything. God wants us with Him forever. He doesn’t want to do things this way but folks won’t repent of sin.

    Reply to this comment
  11. tim February 6, 05:56

    small smokeless single-stick Vortex or HELIXTOVE that had air pre-heating & after-burning
    amazing short design file FREE, Please, Thanks, Tim

    Reply to this comment
  12. Don March 15, 21:47

    I’ll bite–please send info

    Reply to this comment
  13. don March 15, 21:51

    Please send info

    Reply to this comment
  14. Sally June 28, 17:30

    Please send the info on Helixtove

    Reply to this comment
  15. Sappo July 10, 04:05

    please email design thanks

    Reply to this comment
  16. JR July 12, 18:53

    Info on stove please

    Reply to this comment
  17. old Stumps July 23, 14:48

    hell no you will have to harvest email address’s some other way.

    Reply to this comment
  18. Roharne November 9, 20:35

    Am impressed & could I respond ‘re., the results, after making same, if I succeed
    Thank you

    PS: if no objection, I suggest you visit my FB page: Blackddragon Protection 1: we are Agente’ for the most unique from different countries & recommend nothing that’s the best in the world (as best we can)

    Reply to this comment
  19. Tschmut August 26, 02:14

    Who has seen that method of cooking mussels with pine needles?! Look it up it’s pretty cool

    Reply to this comment
  20. edmond vodochodsky February 2, 14:22

    The article mentions NOT to cook with coniferous wood, as the resins will taint the meat,…… yet later mentions CEDAR (a CONIFER) as a good choice,…… careful what you read folks,… it doesn’t always make sense,…..

    Reply to this comment
  21. TRAP G April 3, 05:02

    Where can i find a very large stone to cook on largeR than 8 x 12? i been seaching but i cant find any

    Reply to this comment
View comments

Write a comment