Survival Food Basics Part 2: Cooking Food and Purifying Water

A guide to cooking food and purifying water in case of an apocalypse or other emergency situation.

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This is a continuation of Part 1, which focused on collecting, finding, and growing food during an apocalypse or other emergency situation.

Today we’ll learn about how to cook that food you’ve collected, and how to purify water so that it’s safe to drink.

Cooking Food

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a barbecue and/or a lighter to make this easier on you.  But if not, you can still cook your food with a little bit more effort.


If you have access to a barbecue, you’ll likely still need something to get it going.  For gas grills you’ll need gas, which may be in short supply.  For charcoal barbecues, you’ll of course need the charcoal as well as something to light the charcoal.  Lighter fluid helps as well!

Building a Fire Pit

You an also build a fire pit.  I’ve actually done this back home, and it’s really easy.

  1. Find a spot that’s away from trees, grass, or anything else that might catch fire, and is on top of sand, gravel, or bare soil.  If you can’t find a good spot, you can always make one by digging and clearing away any plant material.
  2. Clear away any flammable debris that is within 10 feet of the fire pit area, such as twigs or leaves.
  3. Surround the fire pit with stones or bricks to prevent the fire from spreading outside of the pit.
  4. Fill the center of the pit with dirt or sand if you are not already located on sand, gravel, or soil.


Now the hard part: actually creating fire.  If you’ve ever gone to summer camp or joined the Scouts, you may already know how to do this.

There are three types of materials needed to create a fire: tinder, kindling, and fuel wood.  Below is a list of what they include.  Make sure everything is dry!  Wet or damp materials won’t catch fire.

  • Tinder: anything that catches fire really easily.  This includes paper, dry leaves, dry grass, birch bark, etc.
  • Kindling: small twigs and sticks.  The tinder will burn out quickly, so you’ll need kindling to keep the fire going.  If the tinder burns out before the kindling catches fire, then it’s time to find more tinder and start over again.
  • Fuel Wood: these are the larger logs that keep the fire going for the long haul.  You’ll probably want to start with smaller branches and work your way up to the bigger logs once the smaller branches are burning steadily.

fire-flame-embers-glow-68552.jpegMy personal favorite fire structure is the teepee.  It’s the way I learned to create fires at camp, and it’s always worked well for me.  Just put your tinder in the middle, form a teepee around it with some kindling, and then another teepee around that with the fuel wood.  Then light the tinder in the middle.  At some point the teepee will fall, but at that point the fire should be well on its way and you can simply add fuel wood as needed.

Another way is the “cabin.”  It starts off the same as the teepee, but instead of putting the fuel wood in another teepee formation, you form a cabin-shape around the teepee.  So once you have the kindling teepee formed, put your two largest pieces of fuel wood on opposite sides of the teepee.  Parallel to these, lay slightly smaller fuel wood on top of the large ones so they form a square around the teepee.  Continue layering with slightly smaller pieces each time.

Lighting the Fire

If you have matches or a lighter, this step is easy.  Simply set the tinder on fire with the matches or lighter.Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 5.13.24 PM

If you have a flint and some steel, you can hit or rub them together to create a spark.  You just need a spark to catch the tinder and it should go up pretty easily after that.

If you have a magnifying glass, eyeglasses, or binoculars, you can use the lens to angle sunlight toward the tinder and help it catch fire.  This will obviously not work at night time.

If you have a soda can and a bar of chocolate (or toothpaste), you can use the bottom of the coke can to direct sunlight toward the tinder.  Just polish the bottom of the can with the bar of chocolate or toothpaste so that it shines like a mirror, and then angle it toward the sunlight.  The tinder should be about 1 inch from the can in order to catch fire.  Again, this won’t work at night time.

If you have batteries and steel wool, simply rub the battery on the steel wool to catch the wool on fire.  Blow gently on the wool to make sure it’s nice and hot, and then transfer to your tinder immediately.

pexels-photo-164168.jpegFinally, if you have absolutely nothing with you that can help get a fire started, you can try doing what you’ve seen in the movies: rubbing sticks together to create heat or a spark.  This is NOT easy, and it could take a long time.  I’ve done this, and it’s exhausting.  First, cut a small v-shaped notch in a wooden board…you may need to carve yourself a board if there isn’t already a flat piece of wood.  Second, put a piece of bark or other tinder underneath the notch.  Third, put a thin stick that fits just inside of your notch into that notch and start rolling it back and forth between your palms very quickly.  Make sure you’re pushing it firmly into the wooden board.  Keep going until an ember is finally formed.  Transfer that ember to the tinder.

And there you have it!  Don’t forget that fires do require oxygen to burn nicely, so you may need to blow into the fire to make it bigger, even though that sounds counter-productive.

Purifying Water

The last thing I want to talk about was purifying water.  There are water purifying tablets that you can buy, and now there’s even “survival straws” that allow you to drink water straight out of the lake or other fresh water source, but even if you don’t have these items you can still make sure you have drinkable water.

pexels-photo-221441.jpegThe most well-known method is to boil the water.  It will evaporate some of the water you collected, but it will also kill off any parasites or bacteria that were in there.  This is probably the safest method of purifying your water.

You can also create your own water filter.  You’ll need a plastic bottle, something to catch the fresh water in (i.e. a cup or can), and something to filter the water through (coffee filter, cotton balls, or fabric).  The rest of the items can be found outdoors: gravel, sand or charcoal, and small rocks.

  1. Cut the bottom off to create a large opening, and then cut a small hole into the center of the bottle cap.  Make sure the cap is screwed on really tight.
  2. Holding the bottle upside down (the cap is facing the ground), put the filter in first, pushing it all the way down so it’s sitting right by the cap.  You may need to cut it to fit in the bottle.
  3. On top of the filter, layer 2 inches of sand or crushed charcoal, 2 inches of gravel, and then 1-2 inches of small rocks (or larger gravel).pexels-photo-66090
  4. Put the filled bottle over top of the collection container and pour the water into the bottle so that it filters through each layer and out the little hole in the cap.

That’s it!  Not quite as safe as boiling the water, but better than nothing.

And of course, you can always resort to drinking water out of the back of toilets like the gang does in Season 5 of The Walking Dead.

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