Galvanized steel pails make for a great cook stove

As I sit in front of glowing coals of a nice winter’s campfire, I remember how many times this fine fire would have been perfect for cooking a meal on. 

Why would I think of eating, I don’t know! Working with the Scouts was an exciting time, especially when you dealt with fellow adult leaders that knew their stuff and didn’t mind sharing. 

One of our adults had been camping all his life, like me, but he had 40-plus years on me. Another leader got his training in Germany around WWII, and he said that the German army wanted their youth to be ready for the vigors of the out-of-doors and would give the youth any equipment they needed for their Scouting (youth) activities.

Our Scouts were trained how to use wood and charcoal fires for all the preparation of meals. Some of our cooking fires were on grills, some were on tripods, some were in aluminum foil, but cooking on the embers of Missouri hardwoods gathered before each meal brings back memories.

Excuse me, I must get up and throw a few more logs on the fire, it’s getting a bit low. —- There!

Most of our meals were cooked with large cast iron pans, the ones that you needed two hands to pick up and move. 

We also had formed steel fry pans with pressed steel handles. We had cast iron Dutch Ovens for baking biscuits, cobblers and stews. 

Everything was packed away in that Boy Scout trailer that must have weighed a ton or more. We did have training in cooking on an open fire without utensils like pots, pans or foil, and that was interesting — not real tasty, but interesting.

While attending my first summer camp at Lion’s Den Scout camp in Jefferson County, we had a dining hall where we ate all our meals.

Of the 14 or more summer camps I attended while in Scouting, as a kid and an adult, most of the meals were cooked on an open fire using the patrol method. 

The St. Louis Boy Scout Council I believe was unique in that all the summer camps for years supplied the Scouts with the equipment, food, fuel, menu and recipes. 

Since we had a lot of acreage to spread out at S-F Scout Camp and plenty of hardwood for fuel, this was a good choice. 

Some parts of our country didn’t have all those advantages we had so different fuels like gas, propane or oil was used for cooking or the mess hall was the norm. 

The outdoor fire cooking was the most advantageous for the Scouts because at the end of the week of summer camp, each Scout who wanted could sign up to get their cooking merit badge. 

Since our council had the wood fuel method of cooking, our troop did most of the cooking the same way so the Scouts could get used to it for summer camp. 

The Scouts in our troop did all their cooking by the patrol method. There was a patrol leader and each person had a job to do to get the meal done. 

If one person didn’t get their part done, the meal would be late, bad, or not at all. 

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Each pail had a door cut out of the side at the bottom, large enough to feed fuel such as paper and sticks into it. There was a disc of expanded metal that sat inside the top of the pail and would not slide down into the pail because of its larger diameter. 

That’s it, a cooking stove that would nest with 10 to 15 other pails and take up little room. The expanded metal just stacked on top of one another.

These cooking stoves were very easy to use, especially with charcoal, which we used most of the time unless there was an easy supply of hardwood sticks smaller than 4 inches. 

The way the stove was charged was using newspaper first stuffed into the bottom, and there was a best way to put the paper into the stove. 

The newspaper was preferably ripped into long pieces, not wadded tightly into a ball. The more surface area of edges and the more spaces for oxygen the better. 

The next item that went over the paper was kindling. Now, kindling is another hard concept for young Scouts. 

Wood fuel is just wood to them, size did not matter. The easier the better and the faster you could fill up the bucket the better. 

We tried to explain that the smaller the sticks, the better the fire would start. There were many buckets dumped and started over by using too large pieces of wood.

After the small sticks were covering the paper, the larger pieces of fuel wood could be used. 

When we used charcoal it was not the necessity to have a lot of larger sticks, just enough to get the charcoal burning.

We had many contests of skill to see which patrol could boil a gallon of water first. One of our leaders, Mr. Huigh, was always checking the stoves to see how the fire starting was going. 

He would even challenge each patrol in the morning to see which patrol could get their fire going before him. He would promise chocolate bars to the winners getting their fire ready for cooking before him. 

Needless to say, very few chocolate bars were given out. By the way, charcoal lighter was never allowed in the camp! 

Not only did the stoves provide heat for cooking, the bucket raised the cooking surface off the ground comfortably. 

You could also grill meat, bread and anything else you needed to heat up. The fire buckets worked in areas that would not allow ground fires that would kill the grass. 

We just needed to cut out a patch of sod a few inches larger than the bucket and place the sod to the side and replace when we left. 

A perfect cooking solution!

(Bob Brennecke lives in Ballwin, Mo., and can be reached at

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