Many of you are familiar with the nearly famous books “Where There Is No Doctor” and “Where There Is No Dentist” that are the most widely used health education books in tropical and sub-tropical developing countries. These are great references that you can download from our Resources page that cover basic medicine and dental care from a perspective of a people who aren’t able to drive to the doctor or see the dentist whenever they have a tooth ache.
The concept of “Where there is no” popped into my mind as I was preparing to write this post. In a grid-down scenario we may not have the easy access to our kitchen tools that we have relied on in the past. Most kitchen appliances are powered by electricity or gas and if those both go out due to an emergency you could find yourself living “where there is no kitchen”.
Not having access to your microwave shouldn’t cause you any panic though, because people have been living pretty well without these conveniences for a very long time. Even if you have stored 30 days worth of dehydrated food and water, chances are you will want to eat something warm before it is all over. Even in the military we only ate MRE’s once a day when we were out in the field. MRE’s will keep you alive but eventually you get tired of that and want something hot and delicious. I know that MRE’s can be heated up too, but the contents of a regular bag of MRE’s can’t hold a candle to a nice venison stew that has been cooking slowly over a fire all day.
With some simple planning and preparation you can cook just about anything you need to keep you alive and healthy through any disruption. There are a few considerations and lots of options for cooking that we will discuss below.
We are going to assume that any cooking that you will be doing is outside in this grid-down scenario. No cooking with open flame should be done indoors and that includes using your big stainless steel propane grill. Fumes are toxic and can hurt you so keep it outside for safety.
Wood stoves – These are about the closest you can come to the power and convenience of a range or oven inside your house or retreat location. Yes I know that I just said to cook outside, but your stove is vented outside already. This is a winter solution though because you won’t likely want to fire up the big wood-stove in the living room in the middle of August. In much older homes, the kitchen was in a different part of the house because the heat would stifle everyone else. During the winter a wood stove is a perfect solution for cooking and you can easily fit a couple of pans on the top and regulate the heat easily. You can cook on a wood-stove with your regular pans without any problem.
Backyard Grill – This is my personal first line of defense if the power goes out. It is simple to use and already set up outside. The main drawback is the need for propane but I keep an extra 50lb. canister of propane at all times so that if my main source runs out I still have a spare. This spare propane would be on my list of basic household items that you need to stock up on also. Some people use charcoal so an extra bag or two would be wise. It won’t last as long as a can of propane but having the ability to cook for a few days is always a smart idea. Optionally, if your house is heated with propane, you can purchase an adapter to run your grill but you probably are already using your oven in the house. It’s nice to have options.
Campfire – Since the dawn of time people have been cooking over an open fire on the ground. This would be my fallback option after the propane was gone or if I had something that was larger and needed to cook for a long time. Campfires don’t need to be fancy but having a pit surrounded with rocks to contain the fire is preferred. To cook on a campfire, you will want to invest in at least one piece of cast iron cookware. Two would be the best giving you the option to fry or cook a big stew. You will also want to have a method to suspend your cookware over the flames. This is where a great tripod like the one on the left here or a grate you can set on the ground over the coals. I prefer the tripod, but the grate is much simpler when you are using a skillet.
Camping stoves – These are a great solution too and use the same type of Coleman propane cylinders your lanterns take. They do have the drawback that the grill does though, and once your fuel is gone, they are worthless. You can use the grill grating itself over a regular campfire so don’t throw that away. We will talk about that more later. Backpacker stoves also come in handy in a pinch, but that would not be ideal for cooking larger meals. It will heat up single portions nicely though, and there are a lot of fuel options for the short-term emergency.
Rocket Stove – Rocket stoves are simple to build using materials you may have lying around or in the shed. These can be fueled with sticks and twigs and make a great surface that produces a lot of heat without a big footprint. There is an article about how to make a rocket stove out of a few cans that you should check out also.
Lanterns – Anything that produces heat can warm your food and some lanterns give you the ability to use the heat escaping from the top to boil water or heat soup. This is yet another good option that may work for some people. Candles can also be used but this would be my last resort. They take forever but you are already using your candle so this is a way to get two uses out of your preparations.
Solar – I saved this one for last but solar cooking shouldn’t be discounted at all. If you have sun and dry weather this is a great way to heat up and cook meals if you have time to wait. You will want to build your own solar oven which is fairly simple or there are several you can buy online. If you just need to warm up a can of soup you can sit that in the sun on the driveway for 30 minutes and voila!
Solar ovens can be made in numerous ways with lots of material.
The first place we look is to our cooking containers, or what we are going to hold over our source of heat to contain this wonderful food you are getting ready to cook. Cast iron is my personal favorite but that isn’t practical if you are on the move. You can also cook with #10 cans if needed, just be sure that the plastic coating on the interior melts out first.
Aluminum foil is not only useful for creating a solar oven, but you can form bowls out of this to cook with or boil water in a pinch. Aluminum foil is a second cousin to Duct tape I believe, because it has so many uses and should be on your list of supplies for your household. Can and bottle openers are nice. They aren’t necessary because if you are hungry enough, you will get that can open, but they are very convenient and do not cost anything at all. You will also want to have plenty of capacity for making fire in the first place. Lighters are simple and cheap, but flint and strikers should be in your survival kits also.
Other tools you could use are oven mitt or pot holders to handle the pots on these cooking surfaces. Wooden spoons and spatulas won’t melt like plastic and you can even make these yourself if you have plenty of time on your hands and a sharp knife.
Now that the group has been fed how do you clean up? Sanitation is something that becomes more important with the severity and duration of the emergency. Germs are easily passed so cleaning your food utensils is an important consideration for the health of your survival group. Assuming you have some water on hand for cooking, we can look back at how the pioneers cleaned their dishes.
The rare 1881 Iowa settlers manual has a tip for washing dishes when you’ve run out of soap. It’s in the cleaning chapter of the book and was written for some of the first people moving into Iowa to homestead in the 1880′s.
“To wash dishes without soap, have your dishwater hot and add a very little milk, as this softens the water, gives the dishes a nice gloss and preserves the hands. It removes the grease, even that from beef, and yet no grease is ever found floating on the water as when soap is used.“
For the most part, hot water and a sponge with abrasive on one side will do the trick. Boiling dishwater before doing dishes would be the safest way to make sure you’re not scrubbing your pots with Giardia. But as for me, 99% of the time, I’m content with just getting it hot enough to cut the grease. Your call. After scrubbing, strain your dishwater through a fine mesh strainer (or a bandana) and broadcast the waste-water. In other words, fling it far and wide. You can use the rest of whats left for compost.