How to Build a Green-Wood Grill for Camp Cooking

And 11 tips for using one effectively

For a real wilderness feast, the green-wood grill is a great approach. This cooking method consists of a rack of fresh live sticks or branches, set up with a fire underneath. This grill acts very much like a metal cooking grill, and you may be able to get several uses out of your sticks before they begin to burn.

These sticks can be supported in different ways, and you can build the grill in any size or shape that you like. Square, rectangular, and triangular shapes are popular, and these can range in size from tiny to huge. I have built several massive grills over the years, the largest of which held enough food to feed 70 people. To build your own, an easily adaptable construction method involves stakes or small posts that are driven into the ground to hold the rack.

Cut four stakes, 1 yard long, each with a side branch at the end. Whittle a point on the end that doesn’t fork, and drive these into the ground about 8-10 inches. Set two stout green wood poles in the forks, and lay a rack of green sticks perpendicular to the poles.

Maintain a nice bed of coals and low flames to grill your meats and vegetables to perfection. I love roasting sweet corn this way, just as people have for centuries.

And if you’re looking for a grill with greater stability, try a tripod grill. Lash three crosspieces to the outside of a large tripod and then lay your greenwood rack on top of the cross members. Use vines, rawhide strips or leather thongs to lash the crosspieces since there will be a fire nearby. Synthetic rope may melt and natural fiber rope may burn this close to the flames. If either one yields to the fire, your rack and your food will drop into the flames.

a green grill for meat
Turn a campfire into a camp feast with a green-wood grill.Tim MacWelch

I’ve learned a lot about greenwood grills over the years, mostly from accidents and mistakes. Now you can take advantage of that experience and save yourself some trouble. When cooking with this grill, it’s best to:

  1. Have a good bed of coals fed with hardwoods if possible.

  2. Watch where the smoke goes, this shows you where your heat is going too, and place your food accordingly. Place it in the smoke for more heat, near the smoke for less heat.

  3. Prop up flat stones against the legs of your grill to keep them from burning.

  4. Make a small smoky fire to slow cook and smoke your food, giving it a great flavor.

  5. Use only green non-toxic wood for the grill sticks.

  6. Leave the bark on the green sticks to keep the pieces from drying out and catching fire.

  7. Avoid grill sticks that are sticky or crusted with pitch or resin, like pine, spruce and fir.

  8. Skewer several pieces together, when cooking small items, so that nothing falls through the grill.

  9. Don't panic when your grill sticks start to burn (not "if" they start to burn). Move the food away from a burning stick and try to blow out the flames. If that doesn't work, carefully pull the burning stick out and toss it in the fire. Replace with a new fresh-cut stick.

  10. Support a sagging grill with an extra forked stick or stake propping it up underneath.

  11. Don't let the flames get tall enough to reach the underside of the grill sticks. This is a sure way to light the whole rack on fire.

Ever cooked your dinner this way? Please let us know by leaving a comment.