Cooking Without Power
July 3, 2023
The first thing you should think about while planning for a disaster or emergency is water. You might not make it through even three days without a supply of clean water to drink. The majority of people save a stock of food that can be kept for a long time as their second action.
Now that you've completed the first two essential steps in emergency planning, you should consider how you'll prepare that food if you lose power. In the event of an power outage, appliances such as your microwave, electric oven, and even the gas stove's ignitors will not function. Of course, you may consume canned food and MREs (meals ready to eat) cold to fill your stomach, but even these are considerably more satisfying when heated.
There are two possible types of emergency scenarios and we recommend that you plan for both. The first is a survive in place scenario and the second is an emergency evacuation. If you are able to survive in place all of the options listed below will be available. However, if you are forced to evacuate, you'll want to consider portability.
Here are eight options for powerless cooking:
1. We'll start with the most primitive, fire. You can build a fire in a fire pit, steel barrel or similar enclosure. If you use this method, BE CAREFUL! You don't want to add to your emergency by starting a house, tree or grass fire. Avoid fuels that produce toxic chemicals such as rubber tires or plastics. Use a stick to roast your food or make a grate from small steel bars or heavy steel wire. You can also pull a rack from your oven or use the grate from a barbeque. Cook your food in heavy pans or skillets directly over the fire. Cast iron works best just like camping out.
Here's what you'll need to make it work: A safe place to start a fire, fuel to burn, and matches, lighter or other fire starter.
2. Wood or coal burning stove. This is an ideal method if you're surviving in place and has the added benefit of heating your home in winter or cool nights. Many wood burning stoves are designed with a flat top for cooking and they are much more fuel efficient than an open fire. By installing a wood burning stove in your home now, not only will you be ready for an emergency but you'll be able to cut down on heating costs year round. These are often equipped with a mounted water tank that will provide hot water for hot drinks or cleaning.
Here's what you'll need to make it work: Prior installation of a wood or coal stove in your home or bug out location, fuel (coal or wood), matches, lighter or other fire starter.
3. Quick Stove. These little stoves burn easy-to-find biomass fuel such as wood or charcoal, but are much more fuel efficient than an open fire.A portable stove option is the QuickStovewhich folds to 4" x 4" x 2.75" and can use any type of fuel including, wood, charcoal, Sterno cans, Eco Bricks, QuickStove Discs or whatever you have available.
Here's what you'll need to make it work: QuickStove Stove, fuel, matches, lighter or other fire starter.
4. A barbeque grill. This one is a no-brainer as most Americans already have one on their patio. An outdoor barbeque grill, gas or charcoal, is an easy powerless cooking option. You can grill meat, large vegetables, fish, etc. If you're cooking something small enough to fall through the grate, you can use foil or a pan.
Here's what you'll need to make it work: A grill, a full propane bottle or charcoal, matches, lighter or other fire starter depending on your grill style.
5. Camping stove. Most campers are familiar with portable camp stoves such as the Coleman your grandpa used when he went camping. Today you'll find many varieties available from super light weight backpacking stoves to small but stable single burner and larger two burner stoves. there’s sure to be one that will fit your preparedness needs as well as your seasonal camping needs. Each type of stove uses a specific fuel, so be sure to stock up on the correct fuel for your stove.
Here's what you'll need to make it work: Camping or backpacking stove, fuel specific to the stove you chose, matches, lighter or the electronic ignition available on some stoves.
6. Large camping stove. Many companies such as Camp Chef, offer larger camp stoves but they're more cumbersome than the ones built for backpacking, and won’t work as well for quick evacuation. However, they are great for surviving in place or when evacuation by car is possible. They usually require large bottles of propane and come with legs allowing you to cook standing up rather than bent over a small stove on the ground.
Here's what you'll need to make it work: A stove, full propane tank, matches, lighter or the electronic ignition available on some stoves.
7. Your home gas range. If you have a gas range in your kitchen and the gas lines are not damaged, you can use the stove top in your home. You'll have to light it with a match or other fire starter as the electronic ignition won’t work without power. Cook as you normally would after you get it lit.
Here's what you'll need to make it work: Gas stove already installed, matches, lighter or other fire starter to light the burners.
8. Solar oven. You can make a solar oven with any kind of reflective surface or purchase one like the Global Sun Oven. Your kids will enjoy building one from a Pringles can. Solar ovens are very effective on hot sunny days, but also work well on cold sunny days! A solar oven will cook anything you’d normally cook in a regular oven and can also be used to dehydrate foods.
Here's what you'll need to make it work: Solar oven, sunny day.
Each of these emergency, powerless cooking methods will require specific pots or pans to be effective. Therefore, it's wise to practice using it before a real emergency to ensure that you are familiar with it and have the necessary tools on hand.
Always exercise caution when cooking food with heat. Avoid escalating an emergency scenario by igniting a fire inside your house. Carbon monoxide poisoning can result in serious injury or even death, hence it is best to avoid using heat sources indoors that require ventilation.
To ensure that you're really prepared for an emergency, and as an interesting challenge, try using a powerless cooking source to cook a family meal this week. You might even make it a family game to try one every week. After all, the more methods you feel comfortable using, the more likely you'll be to eat well during the next disaster or emergency.
Please share your experience with the Food Storage Guys. We'd love to hear how it goes and might even feature your experience in an upcoming newsletter. Happy Cooking!