Backwoods cooking

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The term Backwoods denotes skills and experience in matters relating to living and thriving in the wild, such as hunting, fishing, and camping (whether on a short- or long-term basis). Backwoods cooking is like survival cooking - generally using open fire with limited instruments.


It is very important to ensure that a high standard of hygiene is maintained throughout the preparation and cooking of the food. Just because you are working in a slightly primitive fashion, it does not mean that your hygiene precautions should be primitive too!

Before you start the preparation and cooking of the food, make sure that everything you need is at hand:

  • Food
  • Knives, spoons, and dishes for cooking and preparation
  • Foil, grease-proof paper (as required)
  • Bowl of water and a dishcloth (useful for cooking and treating burnt fingers)

Backwoods cooking hints

Bear in mind the following when preparing any backwoods feast:

  • Always use heavy-duty foil.
  • Keep everything in the cooking area clean.
  • Keep the embers hot at all times by adding small amounts of fuel at regular intervals.
  • Have tongs or oven gloves ready to handle hot food.
  • Fold the foil packages so that they can easily be checked but so that the juices cannot escape.
  • Keep a clean place to store the food when it is ready.
  • Test new recipes at home in the oven before trying to cook them.


The best fire for cooking is one that consists of glowing embers. This means that you will need to light the fire and keep it well stoked quite a while before actually organising the meal. Charcoal, lit and left for about 20 minutes is probably one of the better fuels.

Using foil

Aluminium foil has many uses in a Backwoods situation besides cooking:

  • Disposable wash bowl
  • Folded Drinking cups
  • Makeshift oven gloves

Types of food


  • Meat is best cut into small cubes and boiled. Put excessively tough meat in a solution of juice from citrus fruits, or milk, for 24 hours. This marinating helps to make it tender. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender.
  • Easily grilled, skewered or done on a spit.


Some can be cooked in their jackets (onions, potatoes, and brinjals) or threaded on a skewer to make a kebab.


Boiled in half an orange, onions, scooped out potatoes or skewered (very tricky).


  • Usually germ free if caught in fresh water.
  • Fish takes very little time to cook and are best steamed or wrapped in leaves and placed on hot embers.
  • Before cooking fresh fish, it is important to clean the fish well.
  • Remove all scales by scraping from the tail towards the head.
  • Cut behind the gills and remove the head.
  • Slice the belly and remove its innards.
  • Finally, cut off the tail and fins if desired.
  • Wrapped in wet newspaper and placed directly on embers, tied to a green stick by the tail and stood up in the embers or done in a reflector oven.


  • Best gutted and then cooked in their skins which are rough and leathery.
  • Place in hot embers and turn continually.
  • When the skin splits, the meat can be removed and boiled.
  • A few snakes have poisonous secretions on the skin and others may have venom glands on the head, so cut it off before cooking. If you are not sure if they are safe, take care when handling them. Skin frogs before cooking (many frogs have poisonous skin). Roast them on a stick.


  • Crabs, lobsters, shrimps, crayfish, prawns and mussels are best boiled or steamed as they may contain harmful organisms.
  • All seafood spoils quickly and must be cooked as soon as possible.
  • Drop into salted water and boil for approximately 8 – 10 minutes, or until done.
  • You will have to remove the alimentary canal from the crayfish (found in the tail) as well as from prawns.
  • Be careful of all shellfish when there is a red tied.
  • After cooking mussels, if any of them have not opened, do not eat them as they are probably dead and can make you very ill.

Insects and worms

  • Best boiled. Cook and mince them by crushing them in a can.
  • They can be made also be dried on hot rocks and ground into a powder to enrich soups and stews.


Boil all carrion. Old crows are best boiled. Young specimens can be roasted – stuff with herbs and fruit. Guinea fowl is very tasty!!!

Methods of cooking

Boiling water in a paper bag

It is possible to use a paper bag to boil water. The water inside will prevent the bag from burning. The trick is to ensure that the heat only touches that part of the bag that the liquid is in contact with so it can absorb the heat.


You will need some form of pan or grill base, usually a flat stone which is placed in the fire to heat it up. The stone is then cleaned off and food fried on it. It may be necessary to place small pieces of twigs around such things as eggs to stop them from rolling off the stone. Do not use rocks that are found in river beds as the water that they have absorb may cause them to explode when heated up.


For this method you will need to make a grid or mesh out of green sticks and grill your food over a hot bed of embers. Remember that some types of wood are poisonous and should not be used.

Pit Oven / Fiji Oven

  1. Dig a pit, or use a natural depression in the ground.
  2. Light a fire in this and build it up, including as many rocks as you can find. DO NOT use flint or rocks from a river bed, as the heat can cause them to explode from the water expanding inside them.
  3. When you have a good bed of embers, wrap your food up in leaves, or on a bed of grass and cover the top of the hole over with sticks. Over this lay sacking or mats and then cover this over with earth. Make sure you seal in around the edges.
  4. Leave for 2 hours and then uncover and enjoy.
  5. If you are cooking for a larger number of people, then put more embers over the top of the food to ensure it cooks.

Damper breads

main article on Dampers
Dough can be cooked on a flat rock in the fire. With some imagination you can make chapattis or mix in some baking powder or bicarbonate of soda to make soda bread.

See also