October 16, 2012

Shelter: Off-Grid Cooking

Even preppers who buy and store large quantities of pre-prepared food eventually may get tired of eating it at room temperature, and those who grow their own crops and raise animals for meat will need a way to cook what they produce. Properly cooking food is an important way of preventing food-borne illnesses, as this U.S. government food safety web page details. Additionally, as Practical Preppers consultant Scott Hunt notes, being able to enjoy a good-tasting, well-prepared and varied diet is an important factor in maintaining morale in difficult circumstances.

In order to eat well and stay healthy, you’re going to need the means to cook your food. But you’re also going to have to learn to cook without using some of the conveniences to which many of us have become accustomed. Without a utility company hookup, your standard gas-fired or electric oven and range isn’t going to be of much use. And depending upon your electricity-generating abilities, you may have to reconsider your use of appliances such as microwave and toaster ovens. (From Consumer Energy Center, here’s a chart of how much electricity various home appliances use.) Instead, you’ll probably find yourself having to rely more upon renewable sources of heat, such as wood, for your kitchen.

Here are some key points for setting up a sustainable kitchen in your shelter.

  • Get a Wood Stove: According to Hunt, a wood cook stove probably is your best option for several reasons. If your property is in or near a wooded area, you’ve got a reliable, sustainable source of fuel. According to a 1991 Mother Earth News article on the subject, preppers who cook with wood as a heat source may need to learn different culinary techniques. The surface of the stovetop may not become hot enough to fry foods in a skillet, but it’s perfect for simmering and slow cooking, and the oven inside the stove can be used in a fashion similar to an outdoor charcoal grill to cook vegetables or meat. And in addition to providing a means to cook your food, a wood stove also can provide heat for your shelter during the cold months—a typical stove that generates 35,000 BTUs of heat will keep a 2,000 square-foot home warm, Hunt says. (For efficiency, the stove needs to be centrally located in the home, so that the heat radiates throughout.) To get a high quality stove that is versatile enough to be used for baking, broiling and stove-top cooking and also can provide home heat, you’ll probably need to spend upwards of $4,000. Wiseheat.com offers reviews of different brands and styles of wood stoves. Woodheat.org offers this Q&A about wood stove cooking.
  • Learn About Wood as a Fuel: For your stove to work properly, you need the right wood in the right amount, and you need to prepare it properly for burning and use good fire-building techniques. The Environmental Protection Agency offers this best burn practices page, which covers the key points. Ideally, you want to use hardwoods, and wood should be seasoned outdoors for six months before burning it. You’ll be able to tell, because it will be darker and have more cracks in the grain than freshly cut wood, and will make a hollow sound when you smack it against another piece. Additionally, according to the EPA, you should purchase a moisture meter, a device that allows you to test wood to make sure that the moisture content is less than 20 percent. You also need to regularly remove ashes from your stove to maintain proper airflow.
  • Propane: If you prefer cooking with gas, a propane-fueled stove is an option—though Hunt cautions that you’ll want to cook outdoors, to prevent the possibility of carbon monoxide buildup, which can kill you. “A large 100 gallon tank hidden in crawl space or basement can supply for months depending on outside temperature,” Hunt explains. You’ll also need equipment to transfer your fuel from the big storage tank to smaller tanks that you can attach to your stove or grill. From the Modern Survival Blog, here’s an article on proper storage of propane.

If You Only Do Three Things:

  • Get a wood stove. It’ll double for cooking and as a heat source.
  • Stock up on cooking supplies and equipment. A cast-iron griddle like this one will enable you to cook everything from steaks to pancakes on your wood stove top. Be sure also to stock up on supplies such as aluminum foil and matches.
  • Be wary of carbon monoxide. Hunt cautions that any sort of open flame—from candles to camp stoves—can cause a fatal buildup of this deadly gas. So never cook over an open flame indoors.

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