188978_432588126822509_1380234160_n 428314_584324531582558_1945616131_n 971834_491574407591462_1466758924_n

How to cook food when the grid goes down

by Frank Bates

Because it’s unlikely that the electrical grid will be functioning properly following a major crisis, knowing how to cook without power is essential. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to prepare food without electricity. Here are six of them:

Solar-oven cooking

This is a great option in warmer, sunnier climates. This outdoor emergency cooking method works by converting sunlight to heat. The trapped heat is used to cook food.

Solar ovens range from DIY ovens made out of a tire tube with a piece of Plexiglas over the top to heavy-duty commercial ovens for purchase. You can bake, boil, steam, stew and dehydrate food — giving you the ability to cook just about anything. This is a safe option without flames and is 100 percent sustainable because no fossil fuels are required and no air pollution is produced.

This method is very portable and incredibly low maintenance, as food almost never sticks or burns. Most meals don’t require much stirring during cooking. No special kitchen equipment is required with this emergency food prep strategy. Just be sure to have a covered baking dish, mixing bowl and spoon on hand.

If you’re new to solar-oven cooking, choose recipes that do well with slow cooking such as stews and casseroles. This emergency cooking approach won’t include the browning that takes place in a conventional oven, but a simple sprinkling of herbs on the top of dishes will provide an extra visual appeal.

This method will require a bit of patience, so try to wait until you’re certain the meal is done before checking. Each time you open the oven heat will escape and you’ll need to add an additional 10-15 minutes of cooking time to regain that higher temperature.

Portable gas stoves

These are best used as an outdoor emergency cooking method. There are ways to maintain safely indoors (open windows, carbon monoxide detectors, etc.), but it’s always better to stay on the safe side and keep this emergency cooking technique outdoors. The two best options in this category are powered by propane and butane.

Butane stoves are very portable and can generate enough heat to do most cooking. However, the butane canisters can be pricey and hold a limited amount of fuel. This arrangement is best for short-term emergency cooking. Butane does burn cleaner, so it’s a little safer to use indoors, but we still recommend outdoor cooking with this method if at all possible.

Propane is a highly dependable fuel at freezing temperatures and high altitudes. The tanks, however, are thick-walled and therefore too heavy to easily carry. This tactic is best for home-emergency cooking during disasters that don’t involve home evacuation.

Canned-heat cooking

This is a safe, inexpensive and easy indoor emergency cooking procedure. You’ve probably seen this flaming canister used by caterers to keep food warm at events. The no-spill, gel-like fuel is simple to use and can burn for several hours. The canisters are safe to store indoors, take up little space and have a long storage life. Make sure to always store upright and away from heat sources.

Canned heat can be used with a chafing dish, fondue pot or certain stoves and grills. When cooking, make sure the heat is under the center of your pan or dish. Be sure to cover with a lid to help achieve a higher temperature and conserve fuel. Use caution as the flame may be difficult to see, depending on lighting. When you’re finished cooking, don’t blow on the flame to extinguish it. Always smother the flame with the lid and be sure to let the can cool before replacing the lid.

Open-fire cooking

This is a simple outdoor solution for cooking during a disaster. Set a barbecue-grill plate over an open fire and cook. If you don’t have a grill, you’ll need to find branches (ideally two inches thick) and carefully secure three of them over the fire.

Set your pan or pot on top of the branches and watch very closely. As the branches burn away you’ll need to carefully slip in replacement branches. Plan ahead with how many branches you’ll need based on required cook time. This isn’t an easy method and should be practiced often in non-disaster circumstances.

Another option with this open-fire cooking approach is using a large, flat rock. Place the rock over the fire. Once the rock is hot, put your pan or pot on top. The harder the rock, the less likely it is to crack with high temperatures. If possible, use granite, marble or slate rocks, and make sure they are dry. Adding a few flat rocks to your landscaping is a great way to beautify your yard while simultaneously preparing for an emergency.

Meals that heat themselves and portable cooking bags

One of the simplest methods of emergency cooking is food that has built-in heating elements within the packaging. Many MREs (also referred to as self-heating food packaging) include this option in their packaging and have the ability to heat food contents without external heat sources or power. A similar variation is a portable cooking bag, which is often used for camping. This strategy allows you to heat food in a chemically-heated pouch.

Engine cooking

This outdoor emergency cooking method uses excess heat from your car or truck engine. It’s a last-resort cooking tactic because most preppers have multiple emergency cooking plans in place. If you have enough gasoline, engine cooking will feed you in a crisis and is relatively simple.

Identify a hot spot such as the exhaust manifold. Wrap your prepared food in several layers of tin foil, which will act as a heat conductor and protect your food from possible contaminants present in the engine compartment. Secure the food with a steel wire and make sure it’s not touching any moving parts. Close the hood and let your food cook. Check the temperature of your food with a thermometer before you eat it.


You don’t have to wait for a tragedy to experiment with cooking without electricity. It can be a fun activity to practice in the meantime. Why not give it a try, save some money on your energy bills and become well-versed in cooking without power. You’ll be happy you did.


Comments are closed