An internet search for alternative cooking methods returns several articles that list 8 – 10 options. The biggest factor to consider when using off grid cooking techniques is fuel. What works and where do you get it? Can you store it for a long time and how much will you need to acquire? Having a couple of alternatives will take away the panic of an electrical outage.
Wood – is the first alternative most people think of. It can be used indoors in a wood-burning stove or open fireplace. Many of us may have grandparents whose sole cooking source was a wood cook stove. It can also be used outdoors in campfires as wood or charcoal. Wood can be foraged from forested areas or purchased. It will keep a very long time if covered and kept dry. Hardwood is the best because it burns longer. You will need a large storage space to keep it. Use heavy-duty pots that can absorb and distribute heat evenly and long handled utensils. Keep CO monitor and an A/B/C fire extinguisher handy.
Coal – There is roughly 250 billion tons of it in the United States. Anthracite coal has the highest carbon content and gives the most heat. More than 90% of that is found in the state of Pennsylvania. Coal stoves require less maintenance than wood burning stoves and can be more efficient. Proper ventilation is required. Anthracite coal will keep indefinitely if stored dry. You will need to store a large amount and have a large storage place for it, too. In the early 20th century, coal furnaces were built into the basements of homes along with a “coal chute” thru which the coal was delivered.
Natural Gas – stoves and fireplaces combine the looks of a wood fire with the convenience of gas if you have access to it in your community. Natural gas is not often interrupted during situations when the electricity might be. Just keep paying your gas bill and it will keep flowing to your home.
Propane – can be used in converted gas ranges for stove top cooking and baking. It can also be used outside in portable camp stoves, grills and generators to enable the use of other home appliances. It has an indefinite shelf life but there are legal limits on the amount you can store. The cylinders must always be stored outside the home.
Sterno – Whether you’re out in the woods or just out in the backyard, Sterno Cooking Fuel can be used. It’s ideal for both cooking meals and keeping food hot, by providing odorless and smokeless intense heat. Each Sterno fuel can burns for up to 45 minutes, giving you plenty of party time or the capability of cooking multiple dishes with just on can. It ignites instantly and burns steadily with almost no temperature degradation. The camp stove fuel will not spill if it’s accidentally tipped over, so it’s safe to use even in drought-stricken dry areas, and it’s also made with smart technology that alerts you when it is too hot to handle. The eco-friendly Sterno Cooking Fuel cans contain a biodegradable liquid, and the cans are made from completely recycled metals.
Charcoal – Should never be used indoors. The carbon monoxide by-product of burning is deadly. Outdoors, charcoal can be used in grills, with Dutch Ovens, volcano/pyramid stoves or in an Applebox reflector oven. Charcoal starts out with some kind of wood, heated in an oxygen-poor environment. Without oxygen, the wood can’t actually catch on fire. Everything in the wood besides the carbon melts away into liquid or gas. Hardwood lump charcoal is the fuel used for most cooking in developing countries. Charcoal briquettes are a combination of charcoal and other ingredients that make them burn better. Hardwood makes less ash and burns hotter but faster. Some un-burned wood in this provides the smoke flavor. A large quantity is required for outdoor only cooking.
Kerosene – Cookers and heaters can be used for one pot cooking. Proper ventilation is required. It can be stored up to three years if it’s high quality 1K and is stored out of sunlight. Check your local government for the legal limit on amounts you can store. Store it in garage or shed.
Gasoline – Should never be used for cooking. Use it to run an outside generator that can operate other home appliances, like the microwave! It can be stored for several years in OSHA approved containers with double Stabil. Never store this in your home.
Sun – Of course, our number one off grid cooking alternative is a Sun Oven®. Harnessing the energy of the sun is an inexpensive fuel source (it’s FREE!) and you don’t need to have a storage place either. If there is enough sun to cast a shadow, you can cook in a solar oven. It only takes about 15 seconds to set up and can preheat in the time it takes you to get the ingredients together to cook. Keep it focused on the sun, checking every 30 minutes, and it will cook a meal in nearly the same amount of time as a conventional oven. Set it up and point it to the south sky and leave it all day for a slow cooked meal. There is no air movement inside the Sun Oven, so food doesn’t dry out – it just tastes GREAT!