The Rock Boil


A guest post by CE Harris


If you were a Boy Scout in the 1960s you may have read the story in Boy’s Life about how Canadian Mounties learned to boil water and brew tea in a paper bag.  If not, you need to learn one of the greatest improvised cooking methods ever used by primitive man, called the “rock boil.”

Scrape a depression in the ground. Line it, flesh-up, with the hide of an animal you have snared and plan to eat. Put your stew ingredients in the hide with enough water to cover. Carefully add one or two hot rocks you have heated in your camp fire. As one rock cools down and stops simmering, fork it out with a stick, put it back in the fire to re-heat, then quickly replace the one in your boiling skin with another hot rock. Primitive peoples in Africa, New Guinea and South America who do this a lot keep a dozen or so chicken egg-sized rocks for this purpose and use them in continuous rotation.

To poach small fish or boned fillets takes three to four egg or lemon-sized rocks to a pint of water in mild shirt-sleeve weather. Most edible wild plants are great steamed in this way. Double cooking time for chilly weather and for red meats. Cut game meat into bite-sized pieces no larger than a grape to speed cooking time. Smash the bones and marrow into a paste and put that into your cooking skin too.  Carrying a bit of salt, pepper and curry in your kit makes field expedient cooking a lot more palatable and is highly recommended.

A hide that has had cordage added so that it can be carried closed

Punch holes at 2 inch intervals around the edges of the cooking skin, and thread with cordage, so that you can gather up the leftovers into the bag and hoist them high enough into a tree to protect your stash from predators. If on the move this enables you to carry your food with you.

An empty steel tackle box, food can, foil bowl or auto hub cap can also be used instead of digging a hole in the ground for your rock boil. Put your food in center of a loose-woven cloth such as the triangular cravat bandage in your first aid kit, or if you have nothing else, your sock or bush hat. Lower the cloth-wrapped food into the rock boil. As the water stops sputtering, lift the food cloth from the hot water to change hot rocks, repeating as needed. The cloth bag method transfers fewer ashes into the food.

3 thoughts on “The Rock Boil”

  1. Matt in Oklahoma

    Just be careful in where you get your rocks. the most common mistake is to use the ones from the water source like a streambed where the rocks are waterlogged and will blow out when heated rapidly in the fire. Rocks are more porus than most think and while “exploding” rocks usually don’t frag everyone to death like many campfire stories will tell you it is a waste of energy and time that you dont need while in a situation where you are having to use this method for water.

  2. Boiling water in a waxed paper cup is an old Boy Scout trick. You can hardboil an egg by placing it in a paper cup (not styrofoam), fill the cup with water, and place the cup directly on the hot coals… or directly into the fire. The cup will not burn as long as the water stays in the cup. If too much water evaporates, add more water to the cup.

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