Open Fire Primitive Cooking, by M.M.

In part because I like to eat well, and in part because of my curiosity to learn and apply new skills, I taught myself to cook.  In recent years, I became passingly familiar with Central and South American cooking styles, and couldn’t help but connect some of these methods to the self-reliant folks among you.  Each method can be done over an open fire, can be scaled to feed a multitude, makes delicious food, and has a certain “wow factor” when you feed your friends.  I’ve used all these methods extensively for several years and they have been a great addition to my outdoor cooking gatherings with friends.  

An exceptional Chef, Francis Mallmann, has a number of outstanding books available on the subject of South American cooking and they are worth a read (I have no relation to Mr. Mallmann).  In addition, I’d point the reader to innumerable Youtube and web-based resources on these topics.  Many great images are available online for each of these items, and a picture is worth a thousand words.  

At any rate, if you like to eat, enjoy great food, might want to feed a whole troop of folks, and like to cook when the power is out, then read on.

Discada –  The discada is a primitive cooking implement which I suspect originated when Central American field workers bent a disc harrow blade into a shallow wok-type pan.  These pans are available for sale cheaply online and can also easily be made.  Essentially, one puts the discada over a hot fire, adds some fat (often in the form of bacon), followed by onions, peppers, garlic, and any variety of meats that you may have on hand.  Add some liquid, such as beer, and cook to a desired thickness.  Serve with tortillas.  Some such pans can be 30 inches in diameter.

Parilla – The parilla is a type of grill table, with a grate and four legs.  Typically, one shovels hot coals under the parilla and grills various meats for service.  If you search online for images of “Argentinian asado” you’ll get the picture.  Again, the parilla can be rigged using an old grill, can be easily fabricated, and can be scaled to the size of your party.  When cooking for a large group, a bigger parilla is a wonderful item to have.

Chapa –  The chapa is essentially a griddle table, with four short legs and a flat plate to cook on.  Cooking on a chapa is great for breakfast, for cooking bread (chapa bread), or frying anything you might wish.  The chapa cooks quickly, and is also easily scaled to the size of your party.

Rescaldo –  The term rescaldo refers to “cooking in ashes”.  Many cultures around the world figured out long ago that one might bury squash, potatoes, or other items in hot ashes and allow them to cook.  A variant of this also includes pit cooking where people from around the world have lined holes in the ground with hot rocks and green vegetation, buried entire pigs or fish, and covered with hot coals – only to return hours later to a fabulous steamed meal.

Asador –  Asador is a method of cooking entire animals butterflied and fastened to a cross made of steel or iron.  This method of cooking likely originated in Argentina with the Gauchos (cowboys) who needed an expedient method to cook animals while in the wilderness. This can be done small scale with a chicken, or with animals as large as an entire cow.  I have had great success with an entire goat and lamb.    You can easily make the cross out of rebar.

Caldero –  The caldero is simply a large cauldron.  I’ve purchased large stew pots from AgriSupply which have been great.  An African Potje pot is even better, as it can be set directly in the fire, has legs, and a lid.  These allow you to deep fry, cook soups and stews, and slow cook beans and other tougher items.

While there are other methods of cooking outdoors such as spitting an animal, cooking on a chain, or roasting in an improvised oven, I sought to introduce a few less common methods of cooking that might be both applicable to preppers, but also fun.

I would encourage SurvivalBlog readers to search for images of these terms, which will give a great flavor (pun intended) of the variety of cooking methods you could employ in a grid down scenario, or at your next backyard party.  Also, do look up Francis Mallmann recipes online, as they are worth a look.  When the grid collapses you can have a feast.


    1. Several years ago I was camping with my husband and a friend in the mountain wilderness and, while I had packed all the food we needed I had forgotten to pack the grill. I was mulling how to cook the chicken when we were out walking around taking in the sites from the mountain top. I looked down and noticed a lot of large, flat rocks. I picked out an appropriate size and we took it back to camp and set it up on other rocks over the fire and had a wonderful meal cooked on a hot, flat rock. It made a great grill and I learned that you can often improvise about anything when you have to.

  1. Great article. Timely too! In supplementation to other cooking options like gas stoves, charcoal grills, a smoker, and a solar oven, we have been working on ideas for a “fire pit” area for this very purpose. The Potjie pot is an excellent recommendation!

    Here’s a title that may be worth consideration… Cooking with Fire: From Roasting on a Spit to Baking in a Tannur, Rediscovered Techniques and Recipes That Capture the Flavors of Wood-Fired Cooking by Paula Marcoux

  2. Years ago, when I was a teenager, a rancher watching us grille some quail commented rather than opening the birds from the front, we should cut through the back bone from top of shoulder to hip so that the bird would lay flat on the grill. Removing the entrails that way was a bit more difficult, but he was right – the meat was more thoroughly cooked.

  3. Look for a show called Man,Fire,Food with chef Roger Mooking. He travels around the U.S. discovering the traditional cooking methods of all the crazy cultures that make this the best place in the world to live. The episode where he goes fishing for Salmon with a NW tribe and helps them cook the catch on wood racks over an alder fire is delicious…

  4. We have a fire pit at home and regurly cook meals outside. The African potjie or cast iron pot is really just another version of the Dutch oven and is hugely popular in South Africa. Lately we have had power outages again and then I am happy to make my food over an open fire. It is the most satisfying way to cook!

  5. Jas Townsend and son, an art historian, has programs on YouTube about 18th century cooking. He is well established in the reenactment community for the revolutionary war period.

    His shows depict life in the 1700s. So there’s often cooking on open fires, hearth fire cooking, I even seen a complete period German stile indoor kitchen. This program is a wellspring of period information.

    Once again there’s the disclaimer, that I am not in any way afilliated with JasTownsend and Son. I’m only passing on his youtube channel as information.

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