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Cooking when Primary Energy Fails

A friend recently sent an email asking about a particular grill that he had found online. It caused me to think about “what are the issues with certain types of food-cooking platforms. You already know that I am trying to build a community that can prosper if we lose electricity and natural gas. If this happens, your preferred methods for cooking are probably no longer available. So what do we do it that happens. Having food but not being able to boing water, much less cook a meal, still means we are very hungry.

So how do we cook?

To start this discussion, we assume that electricity and natural gas are not available. This leads to the need to prepare in advance so you can cook in this situation.

What do you choose for a fuel source? There are at least four possible sources to consider: propane, charcoal, wood, and solar. I have chosen to prepare to use any one of these sources depending upon availability. Propane storage is a concern but if you live in a place where you can have a large propane tank it may make sense. Charcoal stores easily and provides flexibility. Wood is also relatively easy to store and may be available on a need basis in an emergency depending upon your unique circumstance and location. There are also options to use raw wood or to use wood pellets. A wood pellet grill is a great cooking appliance, but it requires electricity. However, with some advance planning you may be able to generate enough electricity to power a grill using a solar panel, battery, and small inverter.

Choose and prioritize your fuel source then you can start looking at appliances that match your fuel decisions.

There are many available cooking technologies on the market now. Available types and features grow almost daily. I will try to provide several cooking options for you to consider along with my comments and experience with some of the available options.

Dutch ovens are a flexible cooking method. They are well-suited to different fuel sources and cooking conditions. There are many different types of dutch ovens but I strongly prefer and recommend the camp style designs. This design has legs cast onto the bottom of the pot. The lid has a lip that surrounds the lid. The design accommodates cooking with charcoal, with a fire, or over a propane burner. These are not fancy or pretty, but they are durable and work in a variety of situations.

Dutch-oven cooking produces amazing food, but this is not just a cooking method, it is a skill. Like all preparedness methods, it is wise to use the methods and tools you choose from time to time so they are not foreign to you when you need them.

Cast-iron cookware was the go-to cooking method during pioneer days. In those days, the most common use was over a fire, using a tripod or some other support. I have cooked stew over a campfire using a dutch oven and tripod. It works really well. Using a chain, hanging from the tripod, enables temperature adjustment by raising and lowering the dutch oven in response to fire conditions.

The more common use of dutch ovens today seems to center on using charcoal as the fuel source. My preferred dutch oven design is well suited to charcoal as the heat source. Using charcoal you can limit fuel use based on oven size. Take the oven diameter times 1.5. Put 1/3 of the briquets on the bottom and the remainder on the lid. As you can see, this design is the only way to use charcoal effectively. The ovens are not fancy but they cook really well with just the right amount of heat.

If you plan to use charcoal as the fuel source, by sure to get a charcoal starter. With a starter, getting charcoal ready is simple and quick; without it, charcoal is a pain.

For information on dutch ovens and accessories check out Lodge Cast Iron.

The wood cookstove is as old as the dutch oven. Historically, it was difficult to transport a wood cookstove but that has changed. There are lots of manufacturers of camp wood stove. An Internet search for “camp wood stove” will bring a long list of options. One that I find particularly attractive is produced by Winnerwell. The made several different models and different sizes. A particularly nice feature for their stoves is portability. The stove is designed to hold all the required parts inside during transport or storage. This makes it particularly easy to store and move the stove but provides a nice-sized cooking surface that is suitable for outdoor or camping environments. I have not used this stove but reviews I have read and watched so far are very complimentary. I hope to get my hands on one of these in the next few months and will update the blog after I have tested it.

For a wood-fired grill, I love my Velocity grill. This little grill is not very transport friendly because it is 16 inches high and does not change shape at all. It cooks with wood blocks. You can use whatever wood you have but it needs to be in blocks up to 3 inches square. The unit has a fan that provides combustion air to the firepot. The air speed controls the temperature. The manufacture has an option for a battery and a solar charger so the unit is self-contained and will operate on its own. It creates a great fire with lots of concentrated heat without a lot of wood. The heat dispersion plate does a great job of diffusing the heat over the entire grill area. A little bulky to transport but a great cooking tool that does not require anything but wood and a rechargeable battery. Incidentally, the battery and solar cell use USB plugs so they are a universal power source.

There are a few vendors of flat-pack grills. Otzi Adventure Gear has released a really interesting, portable wood grill. This seems like a great little portable grill. It breaks down into a collection of flat panels, so it is easy to store and transport and is lightweight. They offer two sizes, but the emphasis is on “little”. This seems like a cook surface for backpackers and for that it looks great. The small size unit has a grill surface about the size of half a sheet of paper. The large size unit grill is about the size of one sheet of paper. The large size costs $100.

Another vendor is Ucogear. They make a small grill that folds flat and small. The large Uco grill has a 13” x 10” grill surface so it is going to be easier to use. But the grill surface is not adjustable so it is always the same distance from the fire. The design does not allow you to easily remove the grill during cooking. You will need pliers to move the grill to manage the fire while cooking. The large grill costs $50.

The Flatpit grill is larger and constructed of heavier material. The prior two grills are small and lightweight. The Firepit is heavier. Total weight is in the range of 25 pounds so don’t expect to put it in your backpack. But the cooking surface is 12” x 18”. It seems to be well thought out. They have some options that add to price and function. This grill has a grilling surface but it is designed in shape and strength to accommodate cast iron grills and dutch ovens. You can easily move the grill during cooking or even position it to allow fire management during cooking. So as a cooking surface is it more versatile. The basic grill costs $250; the fully accessorized version is $450.

The rocket stove is specifically designed to use small wood, up to 1.5” diameter. This is a unique device because it is built to use any available wood and to burn very efficiently. So total wood use with this stove will be less than other cook stoves. It requires constant attention because of the fuel size. Wood must be fed into the burn chamber to maintain heat; you can’t just light the fire and go do something else. But it is an efficient burner so it is idea when you don’t have large wood or very much wood. I have used this stove and it works well. The overall design keeps the heat in a small space and concentrates it to the cooking surface. This unit costs $100.

Last but not least is the solar option. There are multiple vendors of solar ovens. I have a Sun Oven and like it. It is not a cooktop, it is a oven. It will cook nicely at 350 degrees on a sunny day. You don’t have to watch it continuously but you do need to monitor it so it is always pointed at the sun throughout the day. I have used this oven and it will produce and maintain temperature easily. You need a dark-colored pot or cooking pans to help with heat capture and retention but it is easy to find pans that work well in the oven. Small dutch ovens will fit and work well in this oven. If it is sunny you have an oven but in winter you may want to add some insulation around the base to reduce convention losses. The Sun Oven costs $390.

So there you have it or at least yo have several cooking options. Do you own research; links are provided and with the information in this blog you have plenty of resources to do additional web searches. There are lots of options available to provide you with cooking resources if the primary energy sources fail. Pick some ideas you like and study them out. Let me know what you think and what your experience is. Start thinking about how you will cook if you have to be self-reliant. Do your research, study, make a plan and execute the plan. Be ready to cook the food you have.

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