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11 Ways to Cook Outdoors – Without a Grill

Lake in the background, foreground is a campfire with two pots suspended from a log on top of sev

With summertime fun comes both the heat and the sun.

And if cooking inside has you rethinking turning the oven on, get outside in the early morning or later in the evening and skip overheating your home.

Related reading: 25 Clever Ways to Cool Your Home Without AC

After all, summer is for spending as much time outside as possible. By the pool, near the patio and where the trees are filtering the soothing breezes.

From the beginning of time, we have been cooking outdoors.

It just makes practical sense. Okay, it’s difficult when it rains if you don’t have the right setup. But for the most part, preparing and cooking delicious meals outside is part of our primal past, come rain, wind or sunshine.

And it isn’t something that we’re willing to give up.

Are you creating fond memories of cooking outside with your family, children and close friends?

I’ve been cooking outside ever since I can remember. At home in the backyard, at camp, by a lake, out in the forest, on a mountain in Oregon, in the southeastern plains of Hungary and beyond.

When you cook outside, every meal is memorable.

It’s not just about the food, rather the entire experience which is more often than not shared with others.

If you are into making meaningful memories this summer in a digital-free way, take some inspiration from these ten ways to cook outside without a grill.

Why not use a grill?

A grill is the most ubiquitous way of cooking outdoors and there are plenty of websites dedicated to the subject.

While grilling is perhaps the best way to cook a steak or to make a burger, it’s not the only way.

So, let’s go back to before the grill was born and look at some alternative options for cooking outside.

I’ll link to some mouthwatering recipes to give you further direction.

Who knows, maybe it will even inspire you to make your own cob oven?!

Cooking Over an Open Fire

It may take some practice to light a fire if you haven’t started many. With practice, you can even do it with your eyes closed. (Though I can’t recommend that.)

You need to choose the right wood, you need to know when to add it at the right time to get the right heat to cook whatever it is that you’re cooking.

To bring something to a quick boil, use a fast, hot flame.

For stewing, use a low flame with plenty of coals.

And for frying, you’ll want no flames at all. Frying is best done over a glowing bed of coals. Depending on the dryness of your wood, it could be about an hour before the fire is heated and the embers ready to go.

In the meantime, you can cool yourself down with a switchel or a hard apple cider.

First, a few campfire cooking rules:

Someone is wearing thick leather gloves and they are holding wood spoons and stirring a pot of chili being cooked over an open campfire.
  • Always make sure it is safe to build a fire – check the wind direction, have a bucket or other source of water nearby, don’t build a bonfire for cooking.
  • Use cast iron pans and pots or other heavy cookware that can withstand the heat without cracking.
  • Never use plastic utensils or pans that have plastic handles as they can melt as the fire changes direction.
  • Be sure to use wooden or metal spoons for stirring, and have thick leather gloves handy for removing pots from the fire.
  • Use extra care around a fire, especially if children are around.
  • Never leave a campfire unattended.

Of course, you can always opt for a camp stove if you’re in an area where building a fire is not permitted.

1. Grate

A large castiron dutch over sits on an iron grate over a fire pit. There is a a fire in the pit. There is a lake in the distance.

Cooking over a grate is akin to cooking on a grill.

The only thing is, that a fire is more unpredictable. Heat intensity will fluctuate, the wind will whip the flames and smoke around. It’s wild and needs to be honored.

Use a long pair of tongs for flipping meat and vegetables that are grilled directly on the grate.

Just be sure not to grill something too fatty, like bacon, which will sizzle and burn.

A grate is also great for setting pots on, for example if you’d like to make a soup. You can also use it to boil down your apricots for homemade jam.

2. Tripod

Cast iron tripod holding a dutch oven over a fire. There is food in the dutch oven.

I was first introduced to the fine art of using a cast iron camping tripod for outdoor cooking when my husband and I moved to Hungary.

A bogrács (kettle) is used for magicking up pörkölt (beef stew), paprikás krumpli (potato stew) and the traditional Hungarian gulyás (goulash).

There is no easier way to cook for a crowd than this.

3. Rotisserie Grill and Spit

Three chickens on a spit being roasted over an open fire outdoors.

While hunting for wild game is one thing, bringing your own chicken to the feast is another.

Either way, they are going to taste wonderful when roasted over the fire.

4. Sticks

Close up of a sausage skewered on a stick being roasted over an open fire.

Toasted marshmallows come immediately to mind, don’t they?

Let’s stick to some healthier options, ones that don’t require pots and pans, grills or kettles. No washing of dishes after the meal is necessary.

All you need to do is head to the woods for the right sticks.

Which sticks are safe to cook on?

Those that are not toxic are the ones to harvest from the wild: willow, hazel, cherry, plum, pear, beech, birch, maple and so on. Be sure to know how to identify trees before you get hungry if you want to cook with sticks.

5. Pie Irons

Two metal pie irons are resting in a bed of coals outside.

I can’t tell you how many pie-iron pizzas and cherry pies I’ve eaten, simply because there have been too many.

Take a slice of bread, slather one side with butter and place it on the inside of one iron. Do the same with the other. Then place your toppings on one slice of bread, not too close to the edges.

Close it up and set in the embers until the bottom side turns a golden brown. Toast the other side, then slide it onto a plate. Blow on it fiercely, because it is too hard to wait for it to chill.

Embracing the Heat of Coals

It’s not just flickering flames that cook your food. In fact, the embers do a far greater job, provided you have the right tools.

And in the case of outdoor cooking, a Dutch oven can’t be beat.

6. Dutch Oven

A dutch oven is sitting directly in the coals of a hot fire outdoors.

There are few things that can’t be cooked in a Dutch oven. This makes it one of the best camping investments you’ll ever make. It’s even a possession that can put your backyard grill to shame.

So, what can you cook in a Dutch oven?

  • chili and cornbread
  • vegetable stew
  • red beans and rice
  • chicken and potatoes
  • lasagna
  • enchiladas
  • pizza
  • garlic bread
  • banana bread
  • apple pie/cobbler
  • bisquits
  • cinnamon rolls and so on

It’s easy to see how it makes breakfast, lunch and dinner so much fun.

But, that’s not the end of it. Here are 29 Dutch oven recipes to try out with your next campfire.

7. Foil Dinners

Several foil packet dinners are cooking in a fire in a fire pit.

If you don’t want to carry around a heavy pot, you can always make do with a roll of heavy-duty foil for cooking your campfire meals.

While I’m not convinced this is the healthiest way to cook a meal, there are worse ways (consider microwaves).

Looking on the bright side, cooking in foil is cheap, portable and mess-free. At the same time, it gives you so many options to choose from.

If you are looking for a no-fuss meal by the fire, here are 30 foil-pack recipes you can make outside.

8. Building an Earth Oven

A large earth oven sitting on a wood support under a roof outside.

Having an earth oven in your backyard assumes that you have plenty of outdoor space. And that you like to bake. Or that you want to start baking.

Right from the start, I highly recommend that you participate in a workshop related to the subject, so you get the hands-on experience before building your own.

Then read this book by Kiko Denzer: Build Your Own Earth Oven: A Low-Cost Wood-Fired Mud Oven, Simple Sourdough Bread, Perfect Loaves

It is a fabulous guide that shouldn’t be passed by.

Gather some excitement by reading about how to make and bake with an earth oven.

9. Digging a Pit Oven

Overhead view of a traditional pit oven lined with small stones, dug into the earth.

How about an oven in the ground?

Long ago (some ovens are dated to about 29,000 BC to be more accurate), pit ovens were used to cook large amounts of meat for several people.

Now, you won’t be baking mammoth thighs for dinner, but you may want to roast several chickens at once.

Here is how you can make your own pit oven in the backyard.

10. Using a Solar Oven

A small rectangular solar oven set up on a flagstone patio outside.

With the strong appearance of the sun these days, combined with higher than normal temperatures, it only makes sense to utilize what is there. Not to fight it in any way. Just be aware and help to offset the changing climate by planting more and more trees.

A note of caution: out of all the ways to cook outdoors, using a solar oven has the least predictable outcome. If temperatures don’t get high enough, the food won’t be thoroughly cooked. Depending on what you are cooking, it may be destined for the compost.

Or it could turn out to be the best meal cooked under the sun.

The advantages of using a solar oven to cook lunch and dinner override the note from above.

Solar ovens have no flame, they don’t consume fossil fuels, they don’t contribute to air pollution, they don’t take up all your time (the opposite of carefully tending to a fire) and you can bake while you play.

When using a solar oven, you’ll first want to experiment with easy stuff:

  • vegetables
  • rice
  • quinoa
  • lentils
  • canned beans

As far as solar ovens go, you can choose the DIY route, or purchase a portable solar oven online.

Then harness the heat of the sun on a hot day as you try out some easy recipes:

11. Cooking Outdoors With a Rocket Stove

A handmade rocket stove is used to cook a bowl of chili.

No gas nor electricity? No problem. A small and powerful portable stove is here to save the day, at least the next meal.

If you are a prepper, someone who lives off the grid, or who gets a kick out of trying something new, a rocket stove will knock your socks off. No, not literally.

A rocket stove will have your dinner ready in no time at all. If time is a concern, have trust that you can put this ahead of a trusty Dutch oven.

There you have it, 11 ways to cook outside so you don’t need to overheat the house. It’s not magic, but it’s darn near close.

As it happens here in Romania, in the summertime, the wood-fired stoves come out into the yard or the covered porch. Feed is boiled for pigs, plums are turned into jam and the aroma of slănină wafts among the haystacks.

Cooking outside is a wonderful memory that lasts a lifetime.

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Cheryl Magyar

Well, hello, szia and bună ziua!

My name is Cheryl Magyar and I am a homesteader, organic no-dig gardener and preserver of fruits, vegetables, herbs and life in general. I'm also a forager and a rewilder, rewilding myself and our land in Breb, Romania, along with my husband and our teenage daughter.

Since 2001 I have been living a simple life, going on 15+ years without running water inside our home, heating with firewood cut with a two-wo/man crosscut saw and enjoying the quiet solitude of the countryside where haystacks outnumber the people.

What you wouldn't guess about me, is that I was born and raised in a suburb of Chicago. If I can do this, you can too! It's a life you get to choose, so choose wisely. Because I know you're curious, I've spent 8 years homesteading (raising mangalica pigs, goats and ducks) and gardening on our tanya in Ópusztaszer, Hungary. This lifestyle is going on 8 years in Romania. I wouldn't change it for the world.

To discover more about me, and about us:

you can follow on Instagram
read into our website at Forest Creek Meadows
stop by for a visit and/or a (re)workshop
or shop our growing Etsy store Earth Gratitude Studio

Hope to see you around!