5 Easy Steps to Grill on Riverbanks

An easy way to mix up your canoe trip is to create a make-shift, charcoal grill on the river.

As much as I love a good trail mix, sometimes it’s fun to jazz up a trip with an entrée. While canoeing, Nick and I like to bring hot dogs and asparagus to grill on the river banks.

To Pack

  • 5 Gallon bucket (with lid) fill with charcoal, lighter fluid, matches
  • Small grate
  • Tongs
  • Nalgene filled with asparagus
  • Grass-fed beef hot dogs
  • Buns
  • Condiments

1. Use Rocks to Build a Grill

Rocks and grill on the river. Charcoal in the middle

Once you’ve pulled your canoe over for a meal, start collecting rocks to build a grilling area. Look for flat-topped rocks that are no bigger than your head and no smaller than your hand.

First, pile the rocks together with a hole in the middle. Although, be careful to create a flat area to rest your grate, otherwise you might loose some food to the charcoal (although Luna likes when that happens!)

2. Add Charcoal and Lighter Fluid

After building the grill on the river, dump charcoal into the middle and douse with lighter fluid. While waiting for the coals, it’s a great time to search the area. Last time Nick and I grilled on the Le Sueur River, we wandered off into the woods nearby and located a few morel mushrooms!

Other times, it’s fun to simply look in small pools of water for mussels, or search around for fossils.

3. Cook the Hot Dogs

Hot dogs on the grate on the river

Once the coals are ready, set the grate on the rocks. The grate we use is something Nick purchased as a kid from the Army Surplus store. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy, one suggestion is to borrow a grate from a charcoal grill you already own.

The hot dogs hit the grill first, grass-fed beef raised on our farm. They were frozen at the beginning of the trip, but thawed through the day in an icy cooler. Of course, hot dogs aren’t the only option, bring whatever you think tastes best for an afternoon on the river!

4. Cook Asparagus

Nick puts asparagus on the grill on the river.

In the spirit of adding more green to our diet, we stole some asparagus stalks from my mother-in-law. Before leaving, throw the asparagus in an old Nalgene bottle with Italian dressing. It’s a quick and easy way to add flavor to the asparagus.

If you’re looking for ways to grow your own, asparagus is a great plant to add to a home garden because of it’s long harvest season. Originally brought to the U.S. from Europe, the asparagus plant is a perennial that requires full sun. It is easiest to buy asparagus from a nursery and plant after the last frost. It might not produce in the first year, but the following year it can grow stalks up to 8 weeks!

Rather start asparagus from seed? Goodhousekeeping.com has more information.

5. Eat Up and Clean Up

Luna looks at the hot dog longing for a bite.

And finally, the food is ready! It’s time to slather on ketch-up and try to keep the dog from your food. Once you’ve enjoyed your meal, be sure to look around for any trash left behind (pack it in, pack it out, you know the drill!) Use a stick or rock to push out the charcoal and undo the make-shift grill on the river. Then, it’s time to forage on and enjoy the rest of your float!


Select a rocky/sandy spot on the river to stop and explore.

Collect large, flat rocks to build a make-shift grill.

Put charcoal between rocks and lite.

Set small grate on top of rocks, above charcoal.

Grill food and enjoy!

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This post was written by Annie Schmitz, July 2020.

Annie standing at the Lincoln Waterfowl Production area during a gravel bike ride.

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