Cooking without Electricity

electric grid
Just like the conspicuous increase in plane tragedies, the electrical grid seems to be acting up more frequently. On February 26, 2015 - someone cut the internet cables for northern Arizona, the power went out for more than half of the country of Turkey on March 31, 2015, and the electricity went out for the D.C. area on April 7th.

None of these were storm related incidents.

Sometimes, things happen in series out of pure chance, and sometimes they don't. Regardless of whether these incidents (and likely others) are coincidence or a planned event, you don't want to be unprepared if a major electrical outage hits your area.

Electricity is essential for heating/cooling, medical/hygiene, and for cooking. Since a real emergency strips us all down to the basic necessities, I thought I'd give you some ideas for cooking without electricity.

You can practice these now so you're ready in the event of a real emergency, or  you can work this into your regular routine as a way to conserve energy.

#1 - Cooking with wood or gas. Obviously, these two options require outside materials - either gas or wood. In a true emergency, you either have these stocked or you don't. But if you do happen to have them, you want to conserve them as much as possible so you don't find yourself eating raw rats in an effort to survive!

If you cook with wood - I recommend you make or buy a small rocket stove. There are many diy videos on youtube for making small rocket stoves and they might be all you need to get through a situation.

Rocket stoves are great because they only use small amounts of twigs and brush. You could boil an entire pot of water in under 20 minutes using just a handful of twigs. You could use it to quickly boil water or make an entire stew.

Personally, I bought a Stovetec rocket stove and it arrived at my home broken inside! I am still on the lookout for long lasting, efficient, and large enough to hold my big 8 quart cast iron dutch oven.

You could also build a mud oven or build a Dakota fire pit to make your fire more efficient and increase the options of food you can cook. Investing in a solid cast iron dutch oven will allow you to use the coals from a fire to cook long after the fire has gone out.

#2 Cooking with the sun. You can create an inexpensive (and inefficient) solar oven out of cardboard and tinfoil. It could be all you need if you live in a sunny warm area. In the northern climates, you will need a better insulated system and I recommend you start working on one now.

A parabolic shape harnesses more heat but can also burn things down, so experiment now while the grid is functional.

You can also sterilize water by placing it in clear plastic bottles and letting it sit in full sun for 6 hours to 2 days depending on cloudiness of the sky.

The sun is also useful for drying and curing foods.

I have built two solar ovens and made cookies in one of them and smores in the other. They both had issues that I am currently correcting.

I have the materials and plans in place for a solar dehydrator. This is going to be a multi-year work in process and when I get the designs perfected, I will post them on this site. The goal is to make them out of throw-away materials or items everyone has on hand - so they are able to be made in an emergency and cost very little.

#3 Cooking with a Thermos. If you own an electric yogurt maker - give it away. All you need is a thermos. A good thermos.

I have these two:

The Thermos brand is 40 oz and keeps food hot or cold pretty much all day. It rocks. I use it for yogurt exclusively. I say exclusively because it sucks for everything else. The top is soooooo small and it's hard to get yogurt out! It's also really hard to clean. I found a really long bottle brush that does a fairly good job but it's still a pain.

The Stanley brand is 32 oz and keeps food hot for 15 hours. I use it for making steel cut oats and in an emergency I would use it to make rice, oats, pasta, beans, and rehydrating vegetables and soups.

Steel cut oats take forever to make, but in a thermos they only require the energy necessary to boil a few cups of water. Right now, that's 4 minutes in the microwave, but in an emergency that could be 15 minutes and a handful of twigs in a rocket stove.

Quick recipe: The night before you want to oatmeal for breakfast, put 1 cup of steel cut oats in the thermos. Add cinnamon  or whatever spices/sweeteners you typically add and mix it up (it will not mix well later so do it all first.) Heat your water to boiling. Add 3 cups of water to the thermos, close the cap, give it a shake and lay it on it's side. Go to bed and wake up in the morning to perfectly cooked and still HOT oatmeal.

**If you have the Stanley thermos - it can not hold the entire volume. I just add 1 cup oats and then fill the thermos to the fill line (somewhere around 2 1/2 cups) and it still turns out fine. If you use one like the Thermos brand, you will have to fight the oats out of the skinny top with the longest spoon or ruler you can find! I don't recommend it!

**You can cook quick oats or old fashioned rolled oats in the thermos too, but if you let them go all night they will be mushy like gruel in the morning. Entirely edible and still healthy in an emergency but steel cut oats hold up much better and store for a longer period of time in the pantry.

You would follow this same procedure for pasta, rice, and beans. I have read that people cook chicken and full soups in their thermos. I have not done that, but it is an energy efficient way to cook and I would not be opposed to trying.

For yogurt, just follow your standard yogurt recipe. Instead of  putting it in a water bath device or crockpot that you plug into the wall. Just put it in the thermos when your milk is at the right temperature and close the lid. Come back 10-15 hours later and your milk will be yogurt. No extra electricity!

You can not cook with a junky thermos. You need a good double wall insulated one. Mine were in the $20-$30 range. There are pros and cons to both but they are still really good  for the price.

#4 Build a solar array, connect a battery, inverter, and crockpot. Google this one because there is a guy on youtube that has done just that. I have most of the parts necessary for this set up but not quite yet. This is a way to have electricity (sun permitting) to use like normal. Small solar generators can not handle appliances that take big electric draws (microwaves, refrigerators, dishwashers...) but they can usually handle toaster ovens and crock pots.

Any other tips for cooking without electricity or using minimal electricity?


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