Power outages are inevitable. While most grid failures are temporary, long-term outages can devastate entire regions, leaving people hungry and exposed to the elements. As such, researching and preparing alternative methods of cooking is essential for any survivalist.
Read on to learn more about how to cook without electricity and ensure your family never goes hungry when the grid fails.
How to Cook Without Electricity When the Power Goes Out
Any prepper will tell you that the most important aspect of cooking without electricity is preparation. You must be prepared with adequate equipment before the power goes out. Storing bulk bags of rice and beans simply won’t cut it if you don’t have a way to cook them.
Fortunately, there are numerous alternative cooking methods available, so you’re sure to find one that suits your home and family. Please note, however, that certain cooking methods should only be done outdoors, so we’ve divided this How to Cook Without Electricity Guide into two sections: cooking indoors and outside.
How to Cook Without Electricity Indoors
When cooking indoors, be mindful of your fuel source. Whenever your alternative cooking method burns fuel in a confined space, you risk carbon monoxide poisoning. Be sure to have a fire extinguisher, smoke alarm, and carbon monoxide detector — and keep your cooking space well ventilated, even in the colder months.
Now, when you’re wondering how to cook without electricity indoors, these are some of our favorite and most reliable methods:
1. Wood Stove
If you’re fortunate enough to have a wood stove in your home, cooking off the grid is easy. You will need appropriate cookware like cast iron because it absorbs heat from the wood stove evenly. Wood-burning stoves are versatile enough to accommodate cast iron skillets, Dutch ovens, kettles, and other types of cast iron pots and pans.
Cooking indoors on a wood stove is a lot like cooking on a campfire — it requires patience. You’ll need to build a fire and get enough coals to sustain a steady temperature before trying to cook anything. Preheating your cast iron cookware will also help ensure even cooking.
If you’re planning to build or renovate a home and you’re worried about how to cook without electricity, adding a wood stove is a great investment.
What if you have a wood-burning fireplace instead of a wood stove? Cooking is a bit trickier, but you can still cook over a well-maintained fire! Just don’t attempt to cook in a gas fireplace as it’s crucial that gas logs remain unobstructed and clean.
There are a few ways you can cook in a wood fireplace. Using a Dutch oven is one of the easiest methods. Simply get enough hot embers built up and place the Dutch oven directly on the embers. A flat-lidded Dutch oven works best so you can top the closed lid with more embers to better distribute the heat.
Other fireplace cooking methods include holding food to the flames with a skewer and hanging food over the coals with strings and hooks (à la Ficelle).
3. Camping Stove
Camping stoves are great options for indoor cooking without electricity, but you’ll need to be mindful of the fuel source and maintain adequate ventilation. Propane, alcohol, kerosene, isobutane-propane, and wood-burning camping stoves can all be used indoors with the proper precautions.
Propane camping stoves, for example, are popular options because they don’t put off the strong odor of kerosene. They’re also affordable and burn cleanly, but they do produce carbon monoxide, so use them mindfully.
4. Alcohol Stove
When researching how to cook without electricity indoors, alcohol stoves may not be your first thought, but they’re a great option for preppers because they’re compact, lightweight, and inexpensive.
Alcohol stoves are frequently used by overnight hikers and backpackers because they’re easy to store and carry. To use an alcohol stove, simply add denatured alcohol or Everclear and ignite. Place your pot directly on the stove and boil water or cook simple foods until you’ve used up the fuel.
5. Canned Heat
Canned heat is an inexpensive indoor option for cooking without electricity made from jellied denatured alcohol. Otherwise known as gelled fuel or gel chafing fuel, canned heat is utilized a lot in the catering industry to keep buffet food hot.
One benefit of canned heat over alcohol stoves is that the jellied alcohol in canned heat won’t evaporate, so you can store it over a long period of time. For the best results, use canned heat in a Sterno folding stove and stir food frequently for even cooking.
6. Tuna Can Stove
Unfortunately, many people who search how to cook without electricity have failed to prepare for a power outage. If this is the case, you can build a DIY stove out of a tuna can.
There are a few different ways to create a tuna can stove. The easiest method is to use a hole puncher to punch two rows of holes all the way around the can. Place the can on a fireproof surface and fill it with one-percent alcohol. When ignited, you can use the tuna can stove like you would a gas burner.
Another option is to fill a tuna can with cardboard. Coil cardboard strips around each other and stuff them in the can. Set the can on a makeshift hearth, such as a sturdy row of bricks, and pour melted beeswax over the cardboard. You want there to be a little bit of cardboard poking out of the wax, much like a candle wick.
When you’re ready to use the wax tuna can stove, simply light the cardboard.
7. Hay Box Oven
If you have an airtight wooden box such as an old tool chest or toy box, you can easily create a hay box oven. You can also purchase a new flat-pack wooden crate for this cooking method. The idea is to add enough insulation in the form of hay, newspaper, pillowcases, and other materials until you’ve created a nest inside the airtight box.
To use a hay box oven, you’ll need to bring your food up to a boil using another cooking method. Once it’s boiling, wrap your cookware in a towel and place it in the hay box oven. Top it with a hay-filled pillowcase for extra insulation and close the lid.
Over time, the food will finish cooking, which makes this an ideal method for stews and soups.
8. Portable Power Station
Knowing how to cook without electricity is a good skill to have in a survival situation, but a portable power station is a smart investment if you prefer familiar methods of cooking.
Portable power stations are small, battery-powered generators that are typically equipped with USB charging ports, DC carports, and AC outlets. Since they don’t use diesel or gas, portable power stations are safe to use indoors. Simply plug an electric griddle, crockpot, toaster, or other small, electric appliance into the power station and cook!
How to Cook Without Electricity Outdoors
9. Open Fire
Humans have been cooking over open fires for hundreds of thousands of years. Open fires are ideal for one-pot cooking, grill grates, rotisserie spits, and skewers. Just be sure your cookware is designed for open-fire cooking and that you create your fire pit in a safe outdoor space.
In addition to cast iron cookware, you should invest in a grill utensil set, steel tongs, a long-handled spoon, grill gloves, a steel log grabber, a grill brush, and a meat thermometer. Also, be sure you have a stockpile of firewood on hand.
10. Dutch Oven
Once your open fire has burned down to smoldering embers, it’s time to cook outside with a Dutch oven! Cast iron Dutch ovens are versatile pieces of cookware for any survivalist. Camping Dutch ovens feature flat lids and support legs, so they’re perfect for setting over wood embers and hot charcoal.
To cook stews, soups, and beans, place your Dutch oven directly on embers or on a grate over a campfire. Add extra embers on top of the flat lid for better heat distribution. If you’re baking bread, you can bury the Dutch oven in a shallow hole with embers to create an oven-like effect.
11. Earth Oven
If you have the resources and a DIY spirit, consider building an earth oven. There are many ways to construct an earth oven, but the basic principle is to create a supportive plinth with bricks and mortar and an insulated cob or clay dome on top.
Earth ovens work like a pizza oven. You build a small fire inside the oven and allow it to go out naturally after feeding it for a few hours. The coals left inside the oven should be hot enough to cook any foods you place inside.
12. Solar Cooker
Knowing how to cook without electricity is all about understanding and utilizing natural power sources. Portable solar cookers come in a variety of sizes and price points, ensuring there’s one for every need and budget. Depending on which model you choose, you can cook frozen vegetables, biscuits, baked potatoes, frittatas, and other recipes right in your backyard.
The downside to using solar-powered cookers, however, is that they don’t work in cloudy weather or at night.
13. Reflector Oven
The reflector oven is a traditional campsite cooking method that’s lightweight and convenient. Made from aluminum, reflector ovens use radiant energy from a campfire to bake food evenly. Since they use radiant heat, you’ll need to build a roaring wood fire for best results.
Now You Know How to Cook Without Electricity
Whether you prefer to cook indoors or outside, knowing how to cook without electricity is key to surviving when the power fails. With so many options available, both store-bought and DIY, there’s bound to be a solution that fits your prepper needs.
Now that you know how to cook without electricity, it’s time to stock up on filling, nutrient-dense foods. Head on over to our Complete Guide to Long Term Food Storage to learn which shelf-stable, bulk items your family needs to survive the unthinkable.