As most preppers are well aware, a well-stocked food supply is one of the most important preps you can have in your inventory. However, many preppers put far less importance on how they plan to cook that food in a grid-down situation. Many have the simple idea of firing up the outdoor grill and thinking that will be sufficient for however long they need. Unfortunately this isn’t the case, and in some serious off—grid situations, you could easily end up having more than enough food, but end up depleting your fuel to cook that food much more quickly than previously thought.
In this article we will discuss several ways of off-grid cooking, fuels and what you need to do to make sure that you not only have enough food to feed yourself and your family in an off-grid scenario, but that you have the knowledge and supplies stored to be able to cook that food indefinitely.
Cooking with Fire
Fire has been used to cook food since the dawn of time. When camping, a fire is the center of every properly set up campsite and serves several purposes including heat, cooking, and even trash disposal (depending on local regulations). There are several ways to use fire as a cooking method, many of which are preferable to the standard campfire, indoor fireplace or outdoor grill.
Outdoor campfire – Using an outdoor campfire to cook is fairly straight-forward, which is probably why it’s the oldest of the cooking methods. There are many methods of using campfires to cook including using a spit, tripods and Dutch ovens. There are definite pros and cons to using an open fire to cook with.
High heat – doesn’t take long to cook food or boil water
Fuel – Wood and tinder is readily available in most areas
Dual purpose – Fire can be used not only to cook but for heat as well
Inefficient – A decent sized fire will use a significant amount of wood. Much of the heat generated from a fire does not go into the cooking vessel or meat that it is cooking. Much of it is lost because it is not directed.
Outdoor use only – Unless you have a fireplace, you can’t build a fire indoors
Dangerous – Unless you’re using an established fire pit, starting a ground fire can be extremely dangerous.
Cooking with Fuel
Now that we’ve explored the more primitive ways of cooking, let’s move on to more modern technology, cooking with fuel. There are several options you can pick from when looking at fuel stoves and burners. Fuel cooking also has several advantages and disadvantages, which include:
More efficient – Using fuel as a heat source is more efficient that wood simply because you can control the amount of heat. The flame is also directed to the cooking surface which means you aren’t losing nearly as much energy when cooking with wood.
Space – Fuel-based stoves and burners are typically much smaller than your average campfire. This makes it much easier to transport a very simple, yet effective way to cook food.
Can be used indoors….if you’re careful – Fuel burners can be used indoors as long as there is proper ventilation. Burning any kind of fuel will build up carbon monoxide, which will need to be vented out a window or other opening.
Fuel is toxic – With a wood fire, you can easily cook directly on coal or flame. The heat can directly contact the food with very little or no contamination of the food. With fuel cooking, a cooking surface is necessary. Cooking food directly on a fuel burner will contaminate your food with harmful chemicals.
Here are some excellent videos discussing cooking with fuel-based stoves and burners.
Solar cooking is becoming very popular in the self-reliant and off-grid communities. Using a solar cooker is one of the most convenient and efficient ways you can cook food. However, as with any energy source, there are some drawbacks:
No fuel – Solar cooking requires no external fuel (unless you count the sun) this means that as long as your solar cooker is intact, you have an immediate source of energy for cooking.
Safe – Solar cooking is one of, if not THE safest way to cook food in an off-grid scenario. There is no flame with a solar cooker so you do not have to be worried about continually monitoring a fire to ensure it doesn’t get out of hand.
Efficiency – Using solar for cooking has a lot of upsides buts major downside is time. It does take a lot of time to cook a meal using a solar oven. Since there is no burner or fuel source there is no way to “turn up the gas” to increase the temperature. The temperature inside the oven will be directly correlated to the amount of direct sunlight that the oven is getting. If it is a gloomy day outside, you’re not going to be cooking much in your solar oven, and obviously solar ovens are of no use after the sun has gone down.
Indirect cooking – Smoking, Curing and Pickling
When most people think of “cooking” they usually think that some sort of high heat source is required. This isn’t the case. There are many foods that can be “cooked” with low or even no heat at all. Smoking, Curing and Pickling are not only good for preserving food, but for cooking as well. Just like any other cooking method though, there are some pros and cons.
No heat required – Although you do need heat to make smoke, you are not cooking using direct heat with smoking. Curing and Pickling use no heat whatsoever, which is great for fuel conservation.
Time – These indirect cooking techniques, while very effective take time. Some of these techniques could require several days or even weeks to finish what you are “cooking”. Even the term “cooking” could be used loosely here, as you aren’t necessarily cooking these foods, but rather preserving them so that they can be eaten without being cooked at a later time.
Generators – Give me my stove back!!
Although the techniques talked about above are great ways to prepare food when no electricity is available, there is obviously something to be said about the convenience of your own stove or microwave. Using a generator is probably your best bet for temporary power outages. However, just like any other cooking technique it does have its ups and downs.
Efficient – There’s a reason why most people use electrical stoves and burners these days. Electric stoves and burners are the most efficient ways from a resource standpoint for cooking food. Depending on your stove or microwave, these could easily be run by a small generator for as long as your fuel supplies hold out.
Fuel is finite – Although generators are the next best thing to grid power, the obvious drawback is the fuel consumption. Each type of generator is going to have different loads it can handle and have a different efficiency as far as fuel consumption. Storing fuel can be problematic, as it takes up space, leaves an odor and cannot be stored indoors. A generator also cannot be used indoors, and in a real SHTF scenario, you may not want to advertise that you have power when the rest of the neighborhood is going without.
As we have shown, there are several ways that you can cook food in an off-grid situation. However, each method has its own pros and cons to deal with. Your best bet is to not be stuck to one method of cooking. Learning about all these methods is a great way to guarantee that no matter what happens, you WILL have a way to cook up all those food preps you’ve been storing up if and when the time comes.