Emergency Cooking – 10 Options to Have on Hand

Long-term survival is kind of a funny thing. Even though you’re living in the aftermath of a major calamity or even a societal collapse, normal daily activities will continue.

assembled twig stove
My twig stove assembled that I use while in the bush.

Society might look very different if you can recognize it at all, but you’ll still have to eat, for example.

If you decided to bug in for the duration it necessarily implies that your kitchen will remain one of the most important rooms in your home.

Unfortunately, just because your house is still standing does not imply your kitchen will be operational.

Power outages go hand in hand with any major event, natural disaster, or otherwise. Whether you have an electric or gas stove this probably spells the end of all or nearly all of your normal cooking activities.

But you still have to eat, and so meal prep is either going to get radically simpler or much, much harder.

Considering the nutritional and morale benefits of properly prepared meals it is a good idea that everyone has at least one or two emergency cooking options on hand for just such an occasion. This article contains 10 such options for preppers of every lifestyle and requirement.

Emergency Cooking – 10 Options to Have on Hand

1. Camp Stove

A small, lightweight stove that burns wood, charcoal, or other liquid or solid fuels is an ideal option for emergency cooking.

Popular and in use with hikers, mountaineers, and other explorers, they are highly efficient and easy to use compared to other options on this list.

Camp stoves come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but all work on the same basic principle.

The fuel is ignited and the stove is placed over the desired cooking vessel. The flame is then regulated by adjusting the regulator.

Camp stoves do have a few limitations. One is that they can be difficult to use in windy conditions. In addition, camp stoves can be dangerous if not used correctly.

They should only be used outdoors in well-ventilated areas. Finally, camp stoves can be expensive compared to some other cooking options on this list. In the end, a highly convenient and portable option if you are only cooking for a few people.

2. Kerosene Heater

A kerosene heater can be a lifesaver in a power outage. This highly refined variation of fuel burns hot and cleanly compared to others, and though it is falling out of fashion in most parts of North America it is still a popular choice for both heating and cooking all around the rest of the globe.

Kerosene heaters work on an interesting principle: The fuel is heated in a small tank until it becomes a gas.

The gas is then ignited and the heat is directed to a solid metal plate that warms the room like a radiant heater. Because of this, many kerosene heaters also have the ability to cook food.

This is what makes kerosene heaters so attractive as an emergency cooking option: it can do double-duty as a light-duty cooktop.

Add a wok or skillet to the top and you can cook almost anything you would on a regular stovetop, though your total heat output and control is somewhat reduced.

Like all liquid fuels, kerosene heaters can be dangerous if not used correctly. Ventilation is as always an issue, though far less than some other types.

Finally, kerosene heaters and kerosene are expensive compared to some other cooking options on this list. Still, for a do-all solution for those living far from other services kerosene still reigns supreme!

3. Portable Butane Burner

Butane burners are little more than small gas stoves that run on small tanks of butane fuel. They are very portable and perfect for emergency cooking situations.

Butane burners are also great for camping, as they can be used to cook food over an open flame.

Butane is a popular choice for portable camping stoves and burners because it is relatively clean-burning and efficient.

It also comes in small, lightweight tanks that are reasonably affordable and easy to transport. This makes it a great choice for emergency cooking situations.

Butane does have some drawbacks. It is often difficult to get a truly hot flame from a butane stove and this can make some heat-intensive cooking operations difficult and wasteful.

But on the plus side butane has a good record for safe indoor use so long as adequate ventilation is provided. It has long been a popular choice throughout much of SE Asia for exactly this reason.

Additionally, butane can be dangerous if not used correctly. It should only be used outdoors in well-ventilated areas.

4. Sterno

Sterno is a brand of gel fuel that was originally developed for the U.S military during WWII.

It is used primarily today as a source of portable heat with limited cooking capabilities, generally targeted at campers who want light, fast, and easy to use cooking without ozone-depleting substances or large and bulky tanks of fuel.

It is also commonly employed in the catering industry to keep food warm on buffet tables.

The advantages of sterno for cooking are that it is a relatively clean-burning fuel that produces very little in the way of carbon monoxide, particularly the variation intended for full-time indoor use.

It is also quite easy to use: simply pull the lid open and light it with a match or long lighter. Adjust the flame by adjusting the lid. That’s it! For a self-contained solution, these are hard to beat.

The disadvantages of sterno for cooking are that it is difficult to get a high heat output from the flame without using multiple cans, and it can be dangerous if not handled with care.

The cans themselves get screaming hot, and the gelled fuel remains lit for quite a while even when spilled, meaning that secondary fire hazards are significant.

Still, sterno cans are small, portable, self-contained burners full of reliable liquid fuel that produce enough heat for cooking.

They are perfect for situations where you don’t have the logistical capability to make other options worthwhile or when you need heat right away.

5. Dutch Oven

A Dutch oven is a cast iron pot with a tight-fitting lid. It can be used over direct or indirect heat to cook a variety of dishes.

Famously adaptable, the Dutch oven is capable of baking, frying, braising and more. An essential piece of gear for any outdoor adventurer or prepared citizen. And this is one option that you’ll still have cause to use throughout the week!

The sheer versatility of the Dutch oven is what makes it so commendable both as a piece of cookware for weeknight dinners as well as an emergency prep.

You can use a Dutch oven on your stovetop, in your oven, over a fire pit, on a campfire, in your fireplace, and with pretty much any other source of heat that one might conceivably cook on and expect to maintain control and turn out a good dish so long as you know what you’re doing. This is a capability that no one should go without in an emergency situation.

However, the only shortcoming of the Dutch oven is that it is incapable of cooking food on its own and the fact that, being made from cast iron, it is tremendously heavy and bulky, so not something you want to be toting with you if you are moving on foot.

6. Grill Grate and Campfire

If you have the ability to build a campfire, you are halfway towards a charming and tasty meal cooked under the open sky.

All you’ll need is something to cook on, and for our backyard barbecuers a grill grate, mounted to a stand or posts, is just the accessory to spruce up your next get-together and also provide vital capability in a disaster.

A good campfire grilled great setup will be adjustable to take advantage of a larger or smaller fire while providing heat control and also capable of holding enough food or cookware to handle lunch or dinner for your family or a larger group.

Being a dedicated outdoor option, this is generally safer with less risk of mishap compared to indoor or indoor-outdoor Solutions, but understandably you’ll be at the mercy of the weather, too.

If you live in a harsh climate or already dealing with a lack of shelter this might not be the option you want to lean on.

That being said, the affordability, versatility and ease of implementation of a campfire grill grate make it an attractive option for just about everyone, so long as you know how to tend a campfire.

7. Solar oven

A solar oven uses the power of the sun to cook food using only the bountiful, limitless power of the sun.

Little more than a large box with a transparent lid and an interior polished to a mirror shine, UV rays that enter the solar oven heat up the interior and directly cook the food in a surprisingly efficient process.

Far from a novelty or science fair project, a good solar oven when combined with clear skies and plenty of sunshine can bake bread, roast large cuts of meat and genuinely do everything you could do with your conventional electric or gas oven in your kitchen.

Incredibly safe, completely clean burning and available in highly portable formats, this can be a great option for people who are bugging in or bugging out.

There are a number of commercially available solar ovens on the market or you can easily make your own if you are a seasoned DIY person or fabricator.

As you might expect, the chief limitations of the solar oven are that these are another time and weather-dependent option.

They can work well enough in cold weather, but you must have an unobstructed view of clear sky and full value sun to get the most out of these.

8. Haybox cooker

A haybox cooker is a simple way to cook food using the power of insulation. It essentially traps the heat generated by bringing food to a near boiling point temperature and uses the accumulated heat of the food to finish cooking the food placed inside.

This is an archaic method of cooking that was predominantly popular throughout Europe and is still used in some places today as an option for austere environments.

The magic of the haybox cooker is it is capable of cooking food completely using far less fuel overall compared to more traditional methods.

Whether you were heating the food with electricity, gas, wood or some other form of heat you’ll get the best return on your fuel investment by using a haybox cooker, and this can make it quite attractive for people who want to make the most of what supplies they have on hand.

The disadvantage of a haybox cooker is that they take far longer to completely cook the food than the aforementioned methods, anywhere from several hours longer to an entire day!

This logistical trade-off might not be worthwhile for everyone, but if you really want to stretch your energy budget you cannot overlook the advantages of the haybox cooker.

9. Earth Oven

An earth oven is among mankind’s oldest and longest-lasting cooking methods. Created by digging a hole in the ground and lining it with stones, a fire is built inside and allowed to burn down to hot coals.

The food is then placed on top of the coals and covered with more hot coals and dirt to trap the heat. In essence, it is an oven by any other name, only one that is created from the very Earth.

Earth ovens can prove to be quite versatile, capable of steaming or baking depending on the construction of the oven.

In various parts of the world, foods would be steamed by adding live, green vegetation that still contained plenty of moisture, but the resulting steam cooked the food.

Similarly, coals could be banked or arranged in specific patterns in order to create zones of varying heat for different cooking purposes.

an earth oven next to a wooden barrel
an earth oven next to a wooden barrel

As one might expect, utilizing an earth oven can be a labor-intensive process, both from the necessity to dig the pit and then move appropriate stones to line it with all the way through the cooking process because one must work literally at ground level the entire time.

The biggest advantage of an earth oven, though, is its sheer adaptability.

Anywhere that you can dig a small pit in the ground and procure stones along with some wood or other fuel to make a fire, you can make an earth oven work for you. In the backyard or in the backcountry, this is one method that can get it done.

10. Wood Stove

One of the best all-around options, and likely the option you’re great grandparents used, is the humble wood stove.

Like the kerosene heater above, the wood stove can do double duty as a heat source and a cook top, or at least, most variations can.

But like the kerosene heater, you’ll have to fuel your wood stove whenever you want to use it, and that means you’ll need an ample supply of firewood and more importantly you must have at your wood stove properly ventilated if you don’t want yourself and your loved ones to die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Probably the best attribute of the modern wood stove is how efficient and controllable they are. Dampers and louvers can easily adjust the amount of heat generated by the wood stove and you might be surprised to see how far even a little bit of wood will go.

As a dedicated whole-house heating option with some backup cooking capability, a wood stove is hard to beat.

No Stove, No Microwave, No Problem

There you have it, 10 emergency cooking options to help you get by in a power outage or during some other major disaster when your kitchen is out of action.

None of them are perfect, but they all beat going hungry. Choose the option that best suits your needs and be sure to test it out before you need it. A little practice now will go a long way in a real emergency.

emergency cooking pinterest

1 thought on “Emergency Cooking – 10 Options to Have on Hand”

  1. More modern/up to date kerosene heaters have metal diffusers to reflect heat out so the tops don’t get as hot. We used to keep a pot of water on top of ours to add humidity to the room. We had to buy a new one last year and it doesn’t heat the top like the old one.


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