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You may not think of it this way, but the vast majority of the food we eat is cooked. Oh, it may not actually be cooked in your kitchen, but it was cooked somewhere. Frozen foods, breakfast cereal, cookies, bread, potato chips, dry-roasted peanuts, candy, spaghetti sauce, lunchmeat and even some canned goods are all cooked somewhere — probably in a factory.
Of course, those factories save us from having to cook all of those things ourselves.
But what if you couldn’t get all of that food anymore? What would you do? Could you come up with enough food to eat if you had to bake your own bread and can your own vegetables? Even worse than that, what if you had to do it without electrical power?
The sad reality is that our infrastructure is very fragile. As long as it works, it’s great. But it doesn’t take a whole lot to take it down.
That’s why it’s important to have alternate ways of cooking your food. Fortunately, there are a wide range of options that we can choose from … if we take the time to be prepared to use them.
1. Wood fire
Mankind’s oldest means of cooking was over an open fire. For much of human history, this was the only way that people could cook. Even today, there are places in the world where cooking over wood is the norm.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Mexico. While the cities can be quite modern, once you get out in the sticks, it’s not surprising to find people doing things much as they have been done for centuries. The country is in transition and because of that, you’ll see the old ways and the new ways in use side by side, even within the same household.
When we talk about cooking with a wood fire, we’re actually talking about several different cooking methods. The common factor is the wood, but how that wood is used and how the food is cooked can vary extensively. Some possibilities include:
- A fireplace.
- A wood-burning stove.
- A fire pit.
- A clay oven.
- An open fire.
2. Dutch oven
The Dutch oven is often used in a wood fire, but it still deserves special mention. Originally, Dutch ovens were cast-iron affairs, with feet to hold them level in the coals. The lid looked inverted, with a lip, so that coals could be piled on top, too. This gave the ability to bake foods, long before our modern ovens were invented.
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Most of what’s called Dutch ovens today wouldn’t survive use in this manner. They’re typically thin, stamped metal, with an enamel coating on the outside and Teflon on the inside. If you tried to set them down in the coals of a fire, the enamel would burn and the thin metal would probably be weakened.
3. Barbecue grill
One alternate means of cooking that almost everyone has is a barbecue grill. While we normally only use it for cooking steaks and hamburgers, you can cook just about anything on a grill, with a little practice. Pots and pans can be placed on the grill, although once again, you’d be better off with cast-iron ones.
If you have a gas grill, you should keep at least one spare tank of gas on hand at all times. That way, you’ll have a ready means of cooking, when and if the power goes out. For charcoal grills, you can use wood, although you’ll have to allow it to burn down to coals to get the best results.
Learn to start a fire in your charcoal grill without lighter fluid. That way, you can always have the ability to cook your food, as long as you have fuel for the grill.
4. Camping stove
Those who like to go camping probably already have a camping stove. This makes a good alternative when you can’t use your regular stove. However, most camping stoves today work off of those little bottles of propane gas. Unless you’re going to stockpile a whole lot of little bottles, you’re going to be somewhat limited.
One solution to this problem is getting an adapter which will allow you to refill those little propane bottles from a regular propane tank, such as the ones used for barbecue grilles. That’s also a great way to save money, as the little bottles are quite expensive.
If you can find it, Coleman still makes a camp stove that doesn’t use propane. Called their “dual-fuel stove,” it’s the same model that I remember using as a kid. You put the fuel in a tank and pump it up to pressurize it. They named it “dual-fuel” because you can use it with both the canned Coleman fuel and regular gasoline.
That adds a lot to the utility of the stove, as the one fuel which will be easiest to find during an emergency is gasoline. You might have to siphon it out of a car’s gas tank, but at least you’ll have fuel.
5. Solar oven
If you’ve never used a solar oven, you should try it. But unless you know what you’re doing, I’d really recommend buying one rather than making your own. The commercially manufactured ones are much better than just a box covered with aluminum foil.
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The idea behind a solar oven is that the sunlight is converted to heat by striking a black surface inside the oven. Reflectors increase the amount of sunlight that comes into the solar oven, helping to augment the temperature. Most are covered with a glass or plastic cover, which helps to hold in the heat.
Cooking with a solar oven is much like cooking in a crockpot. It takes a little time. But beware: It is possible to overcook with a solar oven. I’ve burned roasts and potatoes in mine.
6. Solar Fresnel cooker
If you’ve ever used a magnifying lens to torture ants or light a leaf on fire as a kid, you already know how to use a Fresnel cooker. Fresnel lenses are the flat plastic magnifying glasses, which look like they have fine concentric circles molded into the backside. You can find them at dollar stores and other places, usually marketed for reading small type.
The old big screen televisions, prior to the flat screen TVs we now have, all had a Fresnel lens inside, just behind the screen. You can salvage one right out of one of those televisions, or if you can’t find one, try checking eBay. They usually have them.
Your Fresnel lens will need to be mounted in an adjustable frame, both to hold it and to adjust the angle. The food you want to cook is placed at the focal point of the lens, which is usually about two feet below it. So, you’ll need a stand of some sort to hold the frying pan or pot you’re going to put the food in.
I’ve seen Fresnel cookers generate enough heat to fry an egg in one minute or actually melt pennies. If you want to cook something quickly, this will do it. As long as you’ve got clear skies, you can cook just about anything you can think of. Just be careful not to burn your food.
What off-grid cooking methods would you add? Share your tips in the section below:
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