Posts Tagged With: camp cooking

Campfire Cookery: How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire

by Todd Walker

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Prepping a cook fire depends on what type of cookin’ you’ll be doing and the fuel available. In my area of Georgia, we have an abundance of hardwood to choose from. I’ll describe my experience with wood we burn. Not every area is as fortunate. That doesn’t mean you can’t cook up goodness over a campfire. Use the resources available in your woods.

The problem with campfires is they don’t have a knob to dial the heat up or down like a kitchen stove. Learning to managing your cook fire for what you’re cooking is key. If all you’re having is ramen noodles and hot cocoa, a hot burning twig fire will get the job done. Cast iron cooking needs a whole new arrangement of hot coals. Baking biscuits in a reflector oven requires radiant heat from flames.

This is not a comprehensive guide to open-fire cookery. I’ll give you basic guidelines that have worked for me when baking and cooking at fixed camp. If you cook in your kitchen, you can cook over a campfire.

Cooking at a permanent or semi-permanent fixed camp is different than when sauntering from one camp location to the next. This article won’t apply to the ultralight hiker cooking freeze-dried meals with a cup of boiling water. Weight is not as big of an issue if you’re canoe or car camping. So load the equipment you need to whip up stick-to-your-ribs food and take to the woods and streams.

Wood Processing Tools

Charcoal briquette don’t grow on trees. You’ll have to collect wood and make your own coals. An ax and saw are tools you’ll find useful. We have two pages on our blog if you need to hone your ax skills: Ax Cordwood Challenge and The Ax-Manship Series. Our YouTube channel also has instructional videos in a few playlists you may find helpful: The Axe Cordwood Challenge and Ax-Manship.

You need dry/seasoned wood for your cook fire. Look for standing dead trees since you don’t want to wait six to nine months to season your wood. Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is a good choice for dry kindling in my area. Red cedar works as well. Both burn fast and hot but won’t produce the hot bed of coals you’ll need for grilling. Add hardwoods like oak, hickory, and beech for long burning coals. Can’t always be choosy so use what you have available.

Campfire Cookware

Improvising in the woods is often what happens to get food cooked. No need to if you bring the cookware needed for meals. Keep in mind that we’ve got a way to tote this stuff; car, canoe, mule, etc., etc.

My load of cooking stuff is in a constant state of evolution. But I think I’ve settled on a system. Tim Smith of Jack Mountain Bushcraft introduced me to stainless steel milk pails a few years ago in his book, The Woods Cook. As a Master Maine Guide, Tim has been feeding folks professionally over an open fire since 1999.

Below are a few items I use to cook at fixed camp and our outdoor classroom at RISE Academy…

  • Cast Iron skillet
  • Steel Fry Pan: Lighter than cast but doesn’t cook as evenly
  • Stainless Steel Pails: 2 quart with six-inch rim (6 inch pie tin for lids), and a 9 quart with a nine-inch rim (9 inch pie tin for lid)
  • Pot/Lid Lifter makes it easy to handle pails and lids when hot
  • Cast Iron Dutch Oven: 10.5 inch with a flanged lid and three legs
  • Improvised Reflector Oven: Stainless steel drywall mud pan is large enough to bake a few muffins/biscuits/cookies at a time
  • Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil: Great for hobo meals
Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Top row left to right: 9 quart SS pail with pie pan lid, 2-two quart pails with pie pan lids, coffee tin. 2nd Row: cold handle steel skillet, square cast iron skillet, dry wall mud pan. Bottom: 10.5 inch dutch oven in a box with lid lifter.

Most folks I know take only one pot to save pack space when camping on foot. Having two or more pots is a game changer around the campfire. The beauty of these milk pails is that they nest together decreasing the footprint when compared to the several cylindrical cook pots. This is a space-saving advantage if you’re traveling on foot or any other means of transportation. The pie pan lids also double as plates when you’re ready to eat.

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Both 2 quart pails nest inside each other and fit in the 9 quart pail with room for other items if necessary.

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The end result of nesting.

Managing Cooking Fires

You’d best process or collect enough kindling-size wood to keep your heat steady. Once lit, keep adding kindling sticks to maintain a robust fire that eats through the top of your fire lay. Take advantage of these hot flames by hanging a pot of water from a cooking tripod for coffee, tea, or cocoa. A second pot can be added to disinfect drinking water.

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Cowboy coffee on.

Once your fuel has burned long enough to produce a nice bed of coals, drag or scoop a pile of hot coals from main fire. When grilling meat at fixed camp, I’ll use two green wrist-size sticks (if I can’t find my metal pipe) to support a grill grate over the coals. Adjust the height of your grate up or down for temperature control. No grate available? Lay the steak directly on the hot coals. Sounds unsanitary but I end up eating a little ash in most of my camp meals anyway.

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I keep a grill grate at fixed camp for times such as these. Bacon wrapped filets!

For a camp dutch oven with three legs on the bottom, sprinkle coals on top of the flanged lid and around the perimeter at the bottom of the oven. With experience, you’ll learn to adjust the amount of coals to control the temperature of whatever you’re cooking. You can’t count wild coals like store-bought briquettes.

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

At a recent Georgia Bushcraft work weekend, Jeff and Melonie cooked two delicious dutch oven cobblers and shared with the cold, hungry crew!

To bake small servings of baked goods, I found that a stainless steel drywall mud pan does the trick. Place the reflector oven on the ground level with your fire. The drywall pan isn’t really large enough for a baking rack. You need radiant heat from flames for baking. Stoke the fire with your driest kindling sticks so that the flames cover the opening of your reflector oven throughout the baking process.

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

DRG and I baking cookies on our date night in the woods.

To gauge the heat entering your reflector oven, place you palm just in front of the oven and count to 5 quickly. If you reach 5 before nerves in the back of your hand tell your brain to jerk out of the heat, you’re at a good baking temperature (around 350 F). Any lower in the 5-count and the temperature in your oven is above baking temperature.

I fill cupcake liners with cornbread mix and place them directly on the bottom of the pan. Rotate the muffin tins as needed to brown and cook evenly. This diy oven has no handles so be careful when lifting it from the fire’s edge. Thick leather gloves or a pot/lid lifter, described above, are recommended.

Hanging Pots

At my fixed camp, I prefer a bipod system instead of a tripod for hanging pots over the fire. Two sturdy poles are lashed together with a long pole (waugan stick) laid in the top of the crotch. The other end of the waugan is lashed (loosely) to a tree opposite my fire pit. Minor height adjustments can be made to the waugan by spreading or closing the bipod. You can also swing the entire system off the fire safely by lifting and moving the bipod while the opposite end of the waugan pivots around the tree.

Of course, if you don’t have a tree near your fire pit, a tripod system may be your best option. Add a crossbar to the tripod to suspend more pots.

If you favor traditional woodcraft style, here’s our article on carving several useful pot hooks. I use carved pot hooks and modern chain to hang pots from my pot suspension system. Carving your own pot hooks boosts your knife skills considerably. Use whatever suits you.

Plate and Enjoy

The entire experience of cooking over an open fire, collecting firewood, starting your fire, managing the flames, and timing the meal is a celebration of sorts. Everything doesn’t always go as planned, but that happens in the kitchen, too. I’ve had some major flops in camp cooking. In the end though, and you’ve probably heard it said, food tastes better flavored with woodsmoke from campfires.

Campfire Cookery - How to Cook Tasty Meals Over an Open Fire ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Hobo packet of potatoes and onions with filets.

Serve your food up on warm plates. I lay my 9 inch pie tins on coals or propped up near flickering flames just before the last recipe is done. Nothing disappoints like what used to be hot cheese eggs on a cold plate. My daddy always said, “It just ain’t right! Ya gotta eat ’em hot.”

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +YouTubeInstagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Real Food, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

My Top 4 Most Useful Basecamp Builds

by Todd Walker

My Top 4 Most Useful Basecamp Builds ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

One of the hallmarks of the veteran woodsman is the way he contrives to make himself comfortable in camp.  ~ Warren H. Miller, 1915

Over years of wild camping I’ve learned just how little one needs to be happy in the woods. But a permanent campsite… oh the comforts to be contrived!

Walking through the beech trees and white oaks, I hop rocks across the creek. Then it happens. My soul smiles with every arrival at base camp. My home away from home is a laboratory for adventure and self-reliance skills. More importantly, it’s my place of comfort in the woods!

A few items I find essential for comfort are listed below…

Top Base Camp Comforts

1.) Shelter

Instead of pitching a tent or hanging a hammock, a semi-permanent shelter was needed. Constructed from natural materials (except for the repurposed billboard roof and bank line), it’s large enough to sleep in with room for storage. At both ends of my raised canvas cot, there’s ample room for laying in a good supply of firewood, tools, and gear.

My Top 5 Most Useful Items at Permanent Camp ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The foot of my raised canvas cot

Speaking of firewood…

2.) Sawbuck

Using a plumber’s vise is effective for sawing wrist-size saplings in the field. My daddy taught me this technique when cutting pipe in his plumbing business. For right-handers, place the stick of wood in the bend of your left knee. Kneel on your right knee so the stock rests on your right thigh. This posture holds the wood in place firmly freeing both hands for sawing to the side of your body.

However, when processing larger rounds, a sturdy base camp sawbuck is indispensable.

How to Build a Sturdy Sawbuck with Logs and Rope - www.TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Sawing firewood on this camp sawbuck

Here’s an interesting factoid about why the ten-dollar bill became known as a “sawbuck” in slang terminology. The Roman numeral for 10 being “X”, this reminded old timers of the two X’s used at the ends of saw horses.

3.) Camp Kitchen

“A fellow who cannot throw a flapjack is sadly lacking in the skill one expects to find in a real woodcrafter.” ~ Daniel Carter Beard

A seasoned woods cook will have an open fire lit in short order. Flapjack batter turns golden brown as the smell of freshly brewed coffee and salt cured bacon mingle.

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Time to eat!

The plywood camp house situated near the dam of our family lake is long gone. The memories and the aroma of Uncle Otha cooking over an open fire with heirloom cast iron is as vivid today as they were 45 years ago. Truer words can not be found than in one of Mr. Kephart’s quotes, “A good cook makes a contented crew.”

A permanent camp kitchen, like modern ovens and ranges at home, becomes the center piece of camp life. The cooking fire is that hub. I personally find a raised horizontal surface indispensable. My camp countertop, a split cedar log resting on two cedar rails lashed between trees, keeps cooking utensils and ingredients off the ground.

My Top 5 Most Useful Items at Permanent Camp ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Cooking rice, grilling steak, and baking muffins on one campfire

A few carved pot hooks hung from a horizontal sapling (waugan) allows heat regulation when cooking coffee or simmering stew over an open fire. A solid tripod is another option for hanging pots over a fire.

4.) Paring Ladder

This simple device adds a “third hand” when using a draw knife to shape wood or remove bark.

How to Build a Paring Ladder (Shaving Horse) in the Woods - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The paring ladder in action

While I use it for its intended purpose, it also makes a fine camp chair. Secure a wool blanket or cargo net to a rung and loop the blanket around another pole near the bottom for lounging.

My Top 5 Most Useful Items at Permanent Camp ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Camp comfort!

It also makes a great drying rack for wet gear and clothing. The ladder is lightweight and easy to move from one tree to the next.

The beauty of building these camp comforts is that few tools are required. A knife, ax/hatchet, saw, and cordage are about all you’ll need to contrive ways to make yourself comfortable in the woods.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Real Food, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on One Fire Pit

by Todd Walker

Good food makes outdoor adventures worthwhile. Long days in the woods end with boiling water over a propane burner which is poured into a mylar bag of freeze-dried food for some outdoor enthusiasts. Those add-water-meals have their place. But for a traditional woodsman’s basecamp, that simply won’t do. Nope. Up your cooking game with what Steve Watts called “honest grub cooked over an open fire.”

Campfire Cooking- Grill, Cook, and Bake on One Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

There are many campfire cooking arrangements in old journals from the days of Classic Camping. Today, I want to share with you one I came across in an old Scout handbook. The time and energy needed to build one is best reserved for a permanent basecamp or your backyard.

Pit Construction

The T-shaped configuration of this pit allows you to grill, boil, and bake. Add a waugan stick, carved pot hangers, and a bipod suspension system to create a very functional and classic cook system. Here’s what you’ll need to build your own…

Tools and Material

  • Shovel or Trenching Tool
  • Reflector Oven – I used an old metal pan used for applying drywall joint compound
  • Saplings – I covered the construction of a waugan stick and pot suspension system in a previous post you may want to reference
  • Rocks – do NOT use river rocks as they tend to expand and explode during heating
  • Water – stay hydrated!

Dig It

You’ll dig two holes. Dig the first hole about 18 inches square and 5-6 inches deep. My preferred digging tool is my military trenching tool. Adjust the shovel end to a 90 degree angle and swing it like a pickax. You’ll encounter rocks and roots. This tool will sever roots and split rocks.

As you excavate the hole, pile the dirt past where the next hole will be dug. Dirt from both holes will be removed to form an angled earthen berm.

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Dirt from both pits formed the berm in the lower portion of the photo

Outline the deeper hole as a rectangle 12 inches by 24 inches. Dig this hole to approximately 12 inches deep. As you pile dirt on the berm, tamp it periodically with your trenching tool or boot.

Rock It

With the multi-level pit dugout, it’s time to add flat stones to the bottom of the deeper pit. The rocks will add thermal mass which translates to more radiant heat. Do NOT use rocks soaked in water. If no dry stones are available, go without. The pit will still be functional. Hot river rocks can explode and send sharp shards flying.

If you have plenty of rocks, line the outer rim of the upper cooking surface. Again, this isn’t necessary. If stones are limited, cut two logs and lay them parallel to one another on the outside edges of the pit. Green saplings can be laid over the logs/rocks to form a grilling grate. If you have a metal grill grate at your basecamp, use it. Cut one sapling to support one end of your grate while the other end rests on the rocks.

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A cheap metal grill grate is handy for basecamp

Fire It

Use your fire craft skills and build a fire in the upper hole. You want good seasoned (dead standing) hardwood for your fire to produce abundant coals for cooking. In my location, hardwood is abundant. However, folks have cooked over lesser wood and even brush when that was the only thing available. In other words, use what you have available.

A blown over Red Oak near my shelter has provided firewood at basecamp for over two years. I cut two limbs about 5 foot long and 6 inches in diameter and hauled them back to camp. My experience has been that splitting the long logs into quarters first saves me energy and sawing time. Place the full-length quartered wood on your camp sawbuck and cut to your desired length. I simply saw them in half and split them down further to kindling size with my hatchet. Learn to safely handle axes, saws, and knives if you cook much over an open fire.

Campfire Cooking- Grill, Cook, and Bake on One Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Fire it, Evan! ~ Photo courtesy of Mike Newsom

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

I had the pleasure of having Evan, a local Boy Scout, and his dad, Mike get in some dirt time at basecamp. Evan started this fire with a ferro rod and cedar bark. Nicely done, bud!

Unless you’ve burned a good amount of wood in the upper pit, you won’t have enough coals to rake into the lower pit for baking. We pulled some coals into the lower pit and fed it to make a separate fire below. As the top fire  began to burn down, we kept feeding the lower fire. Timing is important if you plan to cook several items.

Cook It

Our menu included various cook times: Steak (10 min.), corn muffins (20 min.), and rice (25 minutes).

We dipped water from the creek in the basecamp bush pot and suspended it from a pot hook over the lower fire. Once boiling, we added rice. Somehow I had left my Old Bay seasoning at home. This meant bland rice unless we sopped it in the steak juice, which happened.

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Next up… corn muffins. In my canteen cup, I added water and the dry ingredients and mixed them together well. It appeared a bit soupy, but we poured the mix into foil cupcake sleeves anyway. The three-quarters full sleeves were placed into the make-shift reflector oven – a used, but clean, all stainless steel drywall finishing pan. The reflector oven was then placed on a level spot at the end of the lower pit near the radiant fire.

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The muffins browned on the side away from the flames first

After 5 minutes or so after setting the oven, two juicy rib eye steaks were pulled from the cooling water of the creek and placed on the grill top. I like my steak medium-rare. Evan prefers well-done. Mike said he just likes steak. And, yes, we cook to order at basecamp!

Manage It

To my surprise, the soupy corn muffin mix firmed up and began to rise within 5 minutes or so of being in the pit. This was due to fire management. To keep the fire hot we added wood before it needed wood. To better explain, adding wood to a low burning fire means you’re playing catch-up with the temperature aspect of baking. Even seasoned wood takes some time to drive moisture out and reach combustion temperature. However, that’s where creating surface area (kindling) with your ax can fix the situation. The wetter the wood, the longer it will take to reach that critical temperature and produce the desired radiant heat towards the reflector oven.

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The muffins browned on the side away from the flames

To gauge the heat entering your reflector oven, place you palm just in front of the oven and count to 5 quickly. If you reach 5 before nerves in the back of your hand tell your brain to jerk out of the heat, you’re at a good baking temperature (around 350 F). Any lower in the 5-count and the temperature in your oven goes up.

If you need to break camp, put out the fire in both pits. I use a 5 gallon bucket of water to throughly soak the fire until all smoke stops. Check under fire ring rocks for hidden embers that may still be alive. Be aware that pouring water on hot stones in the bottom pit will create steam and actually boil the water. There’s always the chance of flying shards of rock when cold water hits hot stone. Take precautions.

Eat It

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Honest grub!

Campfire Cooking: Grill, Cook, and Bake on a Multi-level Fire Pit - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Mike and Evan improvising with a cedar stump as a dining table

Nothing tastes so satisfying as sharing honest grub cooked over a campfire with friends.

Here’s a video tutorial of the build if you prefer this medium…

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

 

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Real Food, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How to Carve 7 Pot Hooks for Classic Camp Cooking

by Todd Walker

How to Carve 7 Pot Hooks for Classic Camp Cooking - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

You’ve probably heard the adage, “Practice makes perfect.” This statement is misleading. The truth is…

Practice makes permanent!

In other words, the more you use your knife, correctly or incorrectly, the more permanent your skill becomes. Use poor technique long enough and you’ll be a danger to yourself and others.

 

If you’re new to camping and outdoor self-reliance, learning to safely handle a knife is essential. Even old-timers like myself can learn new tricks. I covered some basic knife safety issues in our recent article if you’d like a refresher.

Today we’ll covering a few basic notches which not only hone knife skills but create functional camp comforts… mainly for your camp kitchen.

Knife Selection

For an all-around camp carving knife, look for one that has the following features.

  • Simple ~ Gadgets look cool but aren’t practical. The only true way to build knife skills is to practice with a simple blade.
  • Grind ~ For carving tasks, I prefer a blade with a Scandinavian grind. Here’s a link with diagrams comparing multiple grinds from L.T. Wright Handcrafted Knives. There is not one perfect grind for all camp/woodcraft tasks. It’s hard to beat a Scandi grind for carving, though.
  • Length ~ My dedicated carving knife (Mora 120) at home measures 2.5 inches. In the woods, my Mora knives, either the Companion (4″) or Classic 2/0 (2-7/8″), are excellent for fine carving tasks. These knifes are inexpensive yet build to last. A blade length of 3 to 4 inches is ideal for fine carving in the field.
  • Handle ~ After hours of carving, you’ll find a smooth, round handle which fits in your hand to be more comfortable than fancy textured handles.
L to R: LT Wright Genesis, Mora Companion, Opinel No. 8, and Mora Classic 2/0

L to R: LT Wright Genesis, Mora Companion, Opinel No. 8, and Mora Classic 2/0

My main belt knife (pictured at far left above) is larger and more robust than the knives previously mentioned. However, it too can be, and has been, employed in fine carving tasks. Skills learned with smaller knives are easily transferred to a larger blade.

The Pot Hook Notch

Eating a hardy breakfast and dinner cooked over a campfire requires proper tools. With these basic notches, your camp kitchen will be well-equipped for cooking.

There are several ways to craft a pot hook. This article illustrates techniques using both straight and forked sticks.

Straight Stick Pot Hook

Find a straight stick measuring elbow to finger tip just larger than thumb diameter. Seasoned (dry) or green wood works, with greenwood carving easiest. A soft hardwood like Tulip Poplar, Basswood, or any sapling fortune sends will work.

The location of your pot hook notch should be a few inches (3 to 4 fingers width) from the end of the stick. Any closer to the end and you risk breaking the notch while hot dinner dangles over the fire.

The quickest method is to baton an “X” pattern on the stick using your knife. The blade should penetrate the wood at least half to two-thirds deep. Carve out the upper half of the X-pattern where the two lines of the X intersect. You’ll also carve out the wood next to the bottom, outside portion of the X. This will create a raised V pattern resembling a bird beak as you look down the stick. Hence the name, Beak Notch.

How to Carve 7 Pot Hooks for Classic Camp Cooking - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The Pot Hook or Beak Notch

Carve out the wood under the point of the beak where the bail of your bush pot will rest. Test the fit by placing your empty pot on the hook and give the stick a sudden twist. If the pot doesn’t fly off, your notch is deep enough.

Care should be taken in stick selection when hanging cast iron cookware. Use a robust stick and only carve the notch to the pith (halfway) for added pot hook strength.

Hanging the Straight Pot Hook

There are a few options for hanging your newly carved pot hook. Since you’ve got the pot hook notch technique down, carve another notch at the other end of the stick so that the beaks are pointing towards each other. However, for balance, carve the additional notch on the opposite side of the stick at 180 degrees from the first notch on the other end of the stick.

The Speygelia is a long stick used to suspend pots over a fire.

The Speygelia is a long stick used to suspend pots over a fire.

Depending on stick length, you’ll want to carve 3 or 4 additional notches to adjust pot height over the fire. These notches will rest on a longer stick (Speygelia) with a chiseled tip propped over the fire. This longer stick is anchored in the ground by an inverted Y-stake or simply wedged under a rock or log.

My basecamp pot hanging from a tripod.

My basecamp pot hanging from a tripod.

A tripod also works well for straight pot hooks with a hole notch on the end.

The Hole Notch

Mors Kochanski teaches a method of carving a hole in the end of the pot hook for hanging. This notch is also helpful with camp construction projects.

The steps to carving a hole in a stick are:

  1. A few inches from the hanging end, remove stock from both sides until one third of the original is left in the center.
  2. Score a line an inch from the end of the 1/3rd piece with your knife. Score another line 1/2 inch up the stick. Between these lines is where the hole will be carved.
  3. With the butt/pommel of your knife in the palm of your hand, cut a quarter inch section across the grain on the score mark. This is done best by rocking the point of your knife perpendicularly across the wood grain. Repeat this cut on both score marks and make matching cuts on the opposite side of the stock.
  4. Make a rectangle by scoring a line which connects the crosscuts. Repeat on opposite side.
  5. Insert the point of your knife in the middle of one long side of the rectangle you created in step 4. Pry the wood up and out. Repeat on the opposite side. The thickness of your stock may require more prying and crosscutting but the rectangle should pop out to create a hole.
  6. Clean up the inside edges of the hole with your knife point. Insert cordage or wire for hanging the pot hook. I like this application for my camp tripod.
Hole notches in both straight and forked pot hooks.

Hole notches in both straight and forked sticks.

Toggle Method

A down-n-dirty method Dave Canterbury teaches for hanging a bush pot over a fire is to use a simple wooden toggle. Cut a shallow V notch in the middle of a finger-size stick about hand length. Tie a piece of cordage to the middle and hang from a tripod. Slip the toggle through the bail of your bush pot and your ready to cook.

How to Build a Bushcraft Tripod for Your Outdoor Kitchen

Toggle holding a cast iron squirrel pot

Forked Stick Pot Hooks

The Pot-Claw

The most expedient pot hook may be what Daniel Carter Beard called the Pot-claw in The Book of Camp-lore and Woodcraft (1920). The Pot-claw requires only one beak notch to be functional. However, more beak notches may be added for raising or lowering pots over the fire. Crave a pot lifter for removing the pot from the fire (details at the end of this article). And remember, we’re practicing knife craft so add more notches.

A variety of pot hooks hanging on a waugan stick. L to R: Straight pot hook with hole notch, Pot-claw, and Gallow-crook.

A variety of pot hooks hanging on a waugan stick. L to R: Straight pot hook with hole notch, Pot-claw, and Gallow-crook.

Select a sapling or tree limb with a Y-branch with similar diameters mentioned previously. Trim the smaller Y-hook to four-finger length. Carve a pot hook notch a the end of the stick so that it is pointing up on the opposite side from the Y-hook.

The Gallow-Crook

This pot hook in classic camping literature is basically a pot-claw with a twist. Cut a sturdy sapling which has a small, flexible Y-branch attached. Bend this branch to form a loop and lash it to the larger sapling to form a loop. Carve a series of beak notches opposite the loop. Place the loop through your waugan stick for a secure pot hook.

A Gallow-crook hanging from a waugan-stick with a bipod, which is adustable both horizontally and verically.

A Gallow-crook hanging from a waugan stick with a bipod which is adjustable both horizontally and vertically.

The Gib

One other pot hook used in the Classic Camping era was called the Gib. This hook requires two forked sticks spliced together. It’s not a slight on your woodsman prowess if you use two nails to make the Gib. Old timers often carried a few nails when camping. No beak notches are needed when using metal fasteners. You pot hangs from the nail.

Using a beak notch to splice two forked sticks together

Using a beak notch and V-notch to splice two forked sticks together

Cordage is another option for joining the two forked sticks. With either fastener, carve away half of the stock from the ends of both sticks the length of your hand. The flat parts are located on the opposite sides of the forked branches so the hooks are on opposite sides of the Gib.

Carve a beak notch on the rounded part of one stick opposite the flat area on one end and a V-notch on the other end of the other stick. Mate the flat surfaces together and lash with cordage. I’ve found tarred mariner’s line works well even over a fire.

Start with a timber hitch or clove hitch over the beak notch. Wrap the remaining cordage and tightening as you go. Wrap to the V-notch and terminate the lash with a clove hitch.

The Gib is useful at a more permanent basecamp when you have more time to set up your kitchen. On the fly, simply drive a nail in the end of a forked stick… no notching required.

Hanging Forked Pot Hooks

Traditional woodcrafters and classic campers used a Waugan stick atop two Y-sticks driven in the ground. On frozen ground, two tripods or a tree and a bipod can be employed to support the waugan cross stick. The bipod can be lifted and moved so the waugan stick and pot hooks are completely away from the fire if the need arises. Maneuverability of this setup offers a drying rack for wet camp clothing and gear near the fire when the meal is done.

Your pot-claw and all other forked pot holders are hung on the waugan stick over the fire. For versatility, several hooks can be employed when cooking camp dishes when more company is expected.

Pot Lifter and Pourer

I first saw these last two ideas employed by Chris Noble from Master Woodsman. Hot bush pots can be safely carried and poured using a forked stick. Cut the tops of the Y so they fit through the bail of your pot. Carve a beak notch just above the Y with the beak pointing toward the handle. Flatten the two ends of the Y-stick with your knife for added stability when pouring the pot.

Lift the pot bail in the beak notch. To pour, tilt the pot slowly until the Y makes contact with the pot rim for safe pouring of hot soup or beverage.

 

IMG_5031

Lantern Hook

One last idea for the pot hook notch comes from Chris Noble who made and installed one like this on our Georgia Bushcraft shelter. Cut a Y-stick and shave the back flat. Carve a beak on one end and a V-notch on the other. Lash the piece to a tree or post at basecamp for a lantern hook.

Coat hook or lantern stand using a pot hook notch.

Coat hook or lantern stand using a pot hook notch.

Developing competence with a knife can only be achieved through practice. And the best part is you can practice these skills in your own backyard or anywhere sticks grow.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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