Off-the-Grid Solutions for Home or Bug-Out Locations
In a crisis, we know that getting enough food is critical. Higher energy demands and stress only make us hungrier. But the electric power may be out or natural gas lines shut/cut off.
So when it comes time to eat, the back-up cooking methods you have prepared and stored up will also be critical.
These cooking methods also need to be beneficial in an emergency – features that go beyond our everyday cooking at home.
We need something easy and efficient. We also need a cooking method that will not attract thieves or unwanted guests. These are just a couple examples of features we will consider.
Below is our breakdown of the most common emergency cooking methods, separated into shelter-at-home methods and portable, “bug-out" methods.
Off-the-Grid Cooking Solutions for Home or Bug-Out Location
In a grid-down scenario or other long-term crisis, dependable and sustainable emergency cooking solutions are critical. Whether you plan to shelter in place or retreat to a bug-out location, you have many options, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.
Propane, Gas or Diesel Tank
A large tank of fuel on your property will not only supply fuel for cooking but home heating as well. Buying the biggest tank possible will allow you to shelter in place for the longest time, granted you keep the tank at least half full at all times. Ideally, this tank is buried or obscured from view to prevent making your retreat a target to others without fuel.
- Gives you fuel for heat, bathing, laundry, and cooking
- Can be used every day, not just during a crisis
- Independent of utility gas providers
- Can be shared with like-minded neighbors to mitigate the cost
- Will eventually run out, with low probability you’ll be able to refill the tank
- Tank must be topped off frequently to be crisis-ready
- Considerable upfront cost, especially if you are not sharing investment with neighbors
- Can make you a target for thieves if not hidden from prying eyes
Propane, Charcoal Grill or Wood Smoker
What’s more American than a cookout over the grill? Chances are, you’ll find one in 9/10 homes. This fact means you probably already have this cooking tool on hand to fall back on. Grills and smokers are great for cooking meats, most veggies, and some fruits. However, tasks like boiling water can be more inefficient on a grill.
- Commonly available – grills and fuel can be shared, bartered or scavenged from abandoned homes
- Most people are already familiar with how to use – no practice necessary
- One of the most delicious ways to cook meat and many veggies
- In temperate weather and fair conditions, fuel is long-lasting
- Can be inefficient for boiling water, pressure cooking and canning
- Require more energy and focus to regulate heat
- Must be used outdoors.
- Smoke and cooking smells could attract unwanted guests or thieves
- Fuel will eventually run out – even for scavengers
Solar ovens have come a long way in recent years. They used to be prohibitively expensive and bulky – or you had to build your own.
Solar ovens are typically constructed of glass and metal. Together, these two materials trap and reflect sunlight to produce heat.
The major drawback is that solar ovens work best in full sun. In fact, many manufacturers do not recommend cooking raw meat in anything less than full sun. Also, many available units with tube-style cooking inserts are unable to boil water.
- Most abundant heating fuel on Earth – nothing to gather or store
- Relative ease of use – given that you practice
- No smoke produced and cooking smells are minimal as the unit is enclosed
- Smaller units are affordable and/or relatively easy to build
- Requires full sun for maximum efficiency – not ideal in colder climates away from the equator
- Must be used outdoors – not practical if avoiding radioactive fallout, biological agents, or pandemic
- Large-scale units are expensive and bulky
- Many units are incapable of boiling water
- Cooking times are much longer than all other methods
Electric Stove or Hot Plate
If you are able to produce electricity off-grid consistently, then this is an extremely viable option for you. Like the on-property gas option above, you can also use this every day.
- Can be used indoors
- With the right appliances, can be extremely efficient
- One of the safest options on this list
- Sustainable if your power is renewable
- Must be able to generate sufficient electricity to power
- If powering your whole home or retreat with power, you may attract unwanted guests or thieves. Just avoid broadcasting you have power
- Working knowledge of appliance repair may be required if stove or hotplate breaks down over time
Wood-burning stove, hearth or campfire
Before electrification, this is how the majority of Americans prepared all their meals. In fact, the majority of the world, particularly in developing nations, still cook this way.
There are many variations of large-scale wood-fueled cooking. From cast-iron stoves to pits to the open hearth to the campfire ring, all will get the job done and keep you warm. There’s also something intrinsically calming about gathering around a fire with the people you love. It’s in our DNA.
- Fuel is abundant, available locally throughout most of the country and sustainable
- Can be very effective for a wide variety of cooking tasks
- Also warms you up
- Can be used indoors with sufficient ventilation
- Smoke and cooking smells could attract unwanted guests or thieves
- Fuel can be hard to get if crisis prevents you from going outdoors
- Regulation of heat can be hard to master – requires practice
These types of stoves are popular with backpackers (like the Solo Stove Lite Portable Emergency Stove). For good reason: they’re lightweight and extremely efficient.
There are many different models and designs, but all use closed-fuel canisters that contain isobutane and propane. You screw the valve portion of the stove into the canister, open the valve and ignite. Very similar to a gas grill, many also include piezo-igniters. However, these igniters are prone to failure, so a back-up lighting option (matches and lighters) is a must.
- Ultralight weight
- Stove without fuel can be very compact
- Quick to light, no priming necessary
- Extremely efficient, especially for boiling water fast
- Piezo-igniters in some models make lighting even easier
- Most units are far too small to be used with large cookware
- In cold weather, canisters can depressurize and produce weak flame
- Cannot be used with a windscreen in on-canister stoves due to risk of explosion
- Fuel cost is high, finite and less commonly found in the average home
Biomass stoves are the portable sibling of the wood-fueled stoves above (like the Instafire Inferno Stove). Design and technology have enabled us to make these stoves smaller, more efficient and easily regulated.
Biomass, in this context, means any organic matter that can be burned for fuel. This includes wood, twigs, pinecones, peat moss, leaves, charcoal and more.
- Fuel is widely available and easy to collect – very little is needed to generate sufficient heat
- Fuel is sustainable
- Many models can regulate heat. (The Inferno uses a USB-powered fan.)
- Can reach very high temperatures
- Boils water quickest of all portable options
- Produce minimal smoke
- In cold and wet conditions, freely available fuel will not be efficient. We recommend keeping a fire starter bucket on hand in case of this scenario
- Must be used outdoors – cooking smells could attract unwanted attention
Denatured Alcohol and Solid-Fuel Tablet Stoves
These kinds of stoves are often very primitive and simple. That’s a good thing, especially in the immediate aftermath of a crisis. They’re also quiet, smokeless and give off very little light.
- Compact, lightweight and durable (both stove and fuel), this is one of the best options for keeping weight down for bugging out. Our Folding Camp Stove is slightly larger than wallet-sized when flat and in storage. But it can hold heavy and large pots.
- Can be used indoors with stealth
- Easy to store a lot of extra fuel due to its compact nature
- Few parts that require maintenance or are subject to failure
- Fuel is inexpensive and easy to find
- One of the least-efficient and slowest ways to cook, especially for boiling water
- Some fuels may have an odor and be toxic if consumed
Before our ancestors harnessed fire, all food was eaten raw. Being able to eat without cooking is essential in a crisis for many reasons.
You may need to “go dark” to avoid people finding your retreat. You may be without any of the above solutions (God forbid). You may not have time to stop and cook a meal as you bug out.
You may also want to get the most out the food you’ve grown in your survival garden. Also, our freeze-dried fruits and veggies are delicious right out of the pouch!
- Ensures the highest nutritional value when eating fresh produce
- Requires no energy that would be devoted to cooking
- Can be done on the move
- Stealthiest of all methods
- Fresh, raw products spoil fast
- Restricts diet to a certain extent
- Our taste buds tend to prefer cooked food
Parting Shot: Redundancy is Key
This article is not about choosing a “winner” amongst the options I’ve laid out for you.
The emergency cooking methods you prefer will be based on your needs, locations and potential scenarios faced.
Further, it would be disastrous to recommend a single cooking method above any other.
You need to build cooking solutions redundancy in your planning. What that means is you have a backup if one method fails or is no longer ideal. If you only have one method, you have none. Two? You have one. And so on. You always want to have a backup, preferably several.
One more final piece of advice: PRACTICE USING YOUR EMERGENCY STOVES. Don’t skimp on this. You want your cooking to be second nature when the anxiety of a crisis strikes.
I hope today’s information finds you well. Have a great weekend friends. Remember, stay alert and vigilant and always practice your plans.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply
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