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It’s not always easy deciding on the best alternative cooking device. There is a lot that needs to be considered, such as whether portability is important to your circumstances, and if cooking odors need to be considered if you live in an urban location. There’s always the issue of fuel, and as discussed in an earlier post, Why You Can’t Depend Upon Natural Gas To Heat Or Cook With.
So, today we’re going to hit the problem from both angles…and give you ideas on both “stuff” you might want to have on hand for cooking after the lights go out as well as some high leverage TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures) from David that you can use, regardless of what gear you’ve got.
Let’s start with gear.
Many alternative cooking devices such as camp stoves are dependent upon a fuel source, so although they’re handy, easy to operate and affordable, it can leave people preparing for a potential disaster with a nagging feeling that a crisis could outlast fuel reserves.
The same nagging question applies when running a generator to power an electric range. . . will the fuel last?
(David’s note: Please, please, PLEASE don’t even consider cooking with an electric range if you’re running on anything other than grid power. I can’t definitively say the numbers, but am quite confident in saying that you’d be better off putting fuel in an alcohol burner or a multi-fuel stove than putting it in a generator and using the generator to power an electric burner.)
Let’s start with the “master of the obvious” option. An outdoor fire pit is one solution, but if you live in a dense population where firing up a pot of beans could easily draw unwelcome visitors, this approach may not be the best solution.
Luckily, the first three cooking alternatives listed below are affordable and reliable and will see you through a protracted crisis, no matter how long it may last.
Rocket Stoves will burn wood, biomass or charcoal and are extremely efficient. My favorite is the EcoZoom Versa. It’s rugged, and it emits very little smoke (and you won’t be announcing mealtime to strangers), and as long as you have good ventilation, you will be able to use it indoors. This is a serious stove that uses refractory metal and incorporates a cast iron top in its design. The cost is around $130 and Amazon offers free shipping.
Eco Zoom isn’t the only maker of rocket stoves. Perhaps you have a particular favorite rocket stove you’d like to recommend? The important thing about a wood/biomass burning rocket stove is not having to worry about your fuel supply should an emergency be long-lasting. Plus, a rocket stove can heat a small area of a home or cabin (cordon off an area with floor-to-ceiling blankets to contain the heat).
If you like do-it-yourself projects check out How To Make A Rocket Stove that’s made from a metal coffee can.
Hobo Stoves are designed to burn charcoal, wood, or wood scraps. They are not quite as fuel efficient as a rocket stove, but they are designed to be lightweight and portable–which makes them ideal for stowing in a backpack for emergency use.
To make one yourself, check out Mother Earth News, How to Make a Hobo Stove by Russ Mohney.
Solar Ovens are portable and can reach temperatures of up to 400 degrees. Provided you live in an location that gets plenty of sunshine, they solve the problem of fuel. Another benefit of a solar oven is that they don’t generate high-level cooking odors that some other alternative cooking devices do. Their drawback is the obvious need need for sunlight, meaning during cloudy or darker times, an alternative cooking method must be planned for. Their temperature is not easily controlled, so cooking with them takes practice and may require modifying recipes.
You can build your own DIY solar oven. Visit Ivan’s Place article, Making A Solar Oven.
Camp Stoves can be as simple as a one-burner model, or as fancy as a Camp Chef with dual burners with a small oven– but they’re not cheap at around $176.00
Some camp stoves run on gel alcohol or hex blocks, some models use methanol, while other models are pressurized and run on Coleman fuel, paraffin or even gasoline. What camp stoves have in common is the need for a good supply of fuel, which in a short-term emergency does not pose a problem. But if a crisis lasts for months, you’ll thank yourself if you plan ahead with a hobo stove, rocket stove or a solar oven backup.
Propane Stoves are popular with homesteaders and cabin owners who aren’t hooked up to the grid. A large 300 to 500 gallon propane tank will last for months, a year, or more, depending on whether propane will also be used for heating and refrigeration.
Wood-Burning Cook Stoves are popular with preppers who have a ready supply of trees nearby and they are often the choice of preppers who plan to survive in place. Some models of wood-burning cook stoves come with a water reservoir that will provide hot water for bathing and general cleanup. A wood cook stove will heat a cabin or a portion of a larger home when a living/sleeping area is cordoned off with floor to ceiling blankets to keep in the heat they generate. With a wood cook stove, it is also possible to do canning, but it will take practice.
The drawback to wood-burning cook stoves is the need to gather, haul and chop firewood and the smoke and cooking odors they generate. Wood cook stoves must be vented outdoors and installed to code for insurance purposes. Unless you are comfortable with the idea of firing up a wood cook stove on a hundred degree summer day, you will want to have a cooking alternative in the summer months!
Wood-Burning Heat Stoves can be used as an alternative cooking method with the use of a cast iron dutch oven when placed over hot coals. The top of the stove can be used to heat water and meals, and if you are interested in generating hot water, some wood-burning heat stoves come with water reservoirs. The negative of wood-burning cook stoves is no different than with wood-burning cook stoves; cooking or heating with wood requires the hard work of tree-feeling, hauling the wood, and chopping it, which is physically demanding. As already mentioned, store firewood out of sight. A wood-burning heat stove is not your friend on hot days! Have a work-around for days when the mercury climbs.
Fireplaces are not the most efficient way to heat a home, but if you add a wood-burning fireplace insert, they suddenly become powerhouses. To cook in a fireplace, it’s easiest to use cast iron cookware placed over hot coals. The negatives have already been mentioned; the physical demands of gathering and chopping wood, the need for a reliable source of seasoned wood, the heat a fireplace generates on hot days, and the smoke and cooking odors that a fireplace generates. Firewood storage should be kept out of sight of passersby to avoid its being “liberated.”
BBQ’s can be used as an alternative cooking method provided they aren’t used indoors! BBQ’s emit high levels of CO even when indoor spaces are properly ventilated. If you live in a rural location where the cooking smells and smoke coming from an outdoor BBQ isn’t an issue, they can be used in a pinch. Be sure to set aside several filled back-up propane tanks.
A higher leverage approach to grid-down cooking (from David).
As we’ve talked about before, skills trump gear. Gear’s great, and the recommendations given above are great, but skills based on solid tactics, techniques, and procedures will win out every time. I’ve written in depth about the following techniques in the Journal Of Tactics And Preparedness, so I’m just going to touch on them here.
1. For solar cooking, purpose built solar ovens are good, but satellite dishes covered in mylar or aluminum duct tape or a fresnel lens from a big screen TV will concentrate the sun’s energy and boil water INCREDIBLY fast. As a bonus, there’s no smoke. Get a roll of aluminum or mylar duct tape off of Amazon now so you’ve got it if you need it.
2. I’ve written about enhanced Dakota Firepits in the Journal, but a regular Dakota firepit is a great stealth method of heating and cooking.
The hotter (and dryer) a fire is, the less visible smoke you’ll get. This design traps the radiant heat from the fire and some of it reflects back, making the fire chamber quite hot. As the smoke exits up through the throat, it sucks fresh air down the snorkel tube. This air comes in with a certain amount of velocity which creates turbulence and gets O2 throughout the fire chamber. The end result is hotter and more complete combustion and less visible smoke.
Want to increase the efficiency? Line the pit with flat rocks. Want to increase the efficiency exponentially? Use the enhanced firepit design that I originally got from Ox that I shared with Journal subscribers >HERE<.
3. Boil water instead of “cooking food” When possible, boil water, take the water off your heat source, and heat your food in the water in a covered container. You won’t get a “grilled” or “fried” taste, but you will limit your smell signature. If you’re cooking meat this way, the smaller the pieces and the more surface area, the faster they’ll cook.
4. Get Stoned. Hot stoned, that is. If you need to cook stuff longer than your pot of boiling water stays hot, one thing you can do instead of putting the pot back on the stove is to heat up stones and put them in the water to raise the temperature back up.
5. Pressure. If you’re at home and have a pressure cooker, use it. The increased pressure will reduce cooking times and reduce your smell signature.
6. Bury it. Whether you’re cooking a pig for a luau, hobo cooking (cooking in enclosed aluminum foil), or Dutch oven cooking, if you’re trying to do it in stealth mode, do it underground and let the dirt and other coverings absorb the smell and smoke. In simplest terms, make your fire in a pit, get hot coals, put your food in, cover it up and let it cook.
For more information on smoking, check out our previous post, Smoking and Curing Wild Game, Fish and Fowl .
Have you decided which cooking alternative fits best with your needs, and did concerns over fuel supplies play a part in your decision? What other alternative gear and TTPs do you have for cooking after the lights go out? Please post your comments below.
God bless and stay safe,
David Morris and Survival Diva