Alternative and Backup Cooking Methods

Recently, I discussed preparations for major infrastructure failures. Cooking our meals is one of the key elements of our daily lives that requires functioning electric or gas systems. Too be properly prepared for grid down situations, it is essential to have backup cooking methods available for your family in a short or long-term emergency.

It’s also important to know how and where you can safely use some cooking methods. During the 2021 Texas deep freeze, we saw the tragic results of people cooking with a propane grill indoors. Carbon Monoxide is a silent yet deadly killer.

Some methods are more practical for single people and couples, while others work better for families and group situations. Having multiple backup methods for different situations is a wise move. For example, in your car, get home bag or bug-out out bag, you might want a fuel tab or small white gas stove, whereas, at home, you need something that can reliably provide hot meals for three or more people.

Wood Stove

During the year’s colder months, you can heat canned soups and stews easily on a very basic wood stove. If you have some patience and don’t mind getting dinner started early in the day, you can use a pot and make a soup or stew that is ready to feed a crowd. This is a good use of the heat you are producing and the fuel you are burning. We like to use a smaller cast iron dutch oven without feet to make our winter soups and stews.

Camp Chef Propane Outdoor Oven

I am a big fan of Camp Chef products. My husband and I use Camp Chef products a lot over the years. The outdoor oven offers a lot of space for cooking large meals. The oven itself holds a 13"x9" casserole pan. I do want to point out that you have to use a very plain pan to fit that size in the oven. For example, my ceramic 13"x9" lasagna pan will not fit because the handles are too large. The pizza oven is great for baking bread too.

The top stove eyes provide space for two 10-inch skillets or a couple of soup pots.

Matt and I were given one of these ovens in exchange for an honest review. Over the course of summer and fall, his parents used it for all their cooking needs while their house was being remodeled.

Although the oven comes set up for 1 lb. propane canisters, you can get an adaptor that allows you to use 20 lb. propane grill tanks.

Camp Chef Camp Stove System

We have a two-propane burner Camp Chef stove and some accessories. After you purchase a stove, you can buy a one or two burner griddle or grill box. There is a pizza oven accessory too. We have the one burner griddle, one burner grill box, and a large two-burner artisan pizza oven. This system allows us to cook a lot of different foods. We use the Camp Chef a lot during the summer because it keeps the heat from cooking outside.

This system is only suitable for outdoor use, but it is great if you need to cook for a crowd or if you need an outdoor stove to make a one-pot meal.

Note: Camp Chef products are often less expensive on retail sites like Amazon than by shopping directly on their website. Other outdoor product suppliers may have similar low prices, so it pays to look around a bit.

Solar Oven

There are many different styles and sizes of solar ovens available. The classic Sun Oven doubles as a food dehydrator. This is the solar oven that many of you have seen in homesteading and small farm magazines for decades.

There are tube-style solar oven cookers that cost substantially less than the Classic Sun Oven for those that want something smaller.

Cook times for solar ovens vary a lot. I was surprised to learn that even if you are experiencing some cloudiness, you may still be able to cook a meal with a solar oven, but it takes longer.

Tripod and Cast-Iron Pot

When my husband and I were working on building our small house, we did a lot of cooking outside. Purchasing a large cast iron Dutch oven and a heavy-duty iron tripod was a good investment. Although we had a small gas range and oven in the camper, cooking outside made a lot more sense sometimes because it would get so hot in the camper with no air conditioning. Using a wood fire to cook allowed us to make use of wood we picked up around the property that would have just laid on the ground and rotted or possibly just burned up fast when we were trying to get our land cleared and some areas fenced.

Wood Coal Cooking

A good wood fire burned down to “coals” can be used to cook foods wrapped up in aluminum foil or even clay. When my husband was a kid, his mother waited until the campfire was down to coals, and then she would toss whole potatoes wrapped in several layers of aluminum foil onto the fire. The next morning the potatoes were cooked and ready to be made into hash browns or home fries.

Native Americans used to wrap fish in clay and toss that into fires. After the fish was cooked, you just cracked open the clay shell and ate the fish.

Three Rock Fire

When Matt and I were in college, we used to backpack a bit. There were many times where we just used a few rocks to support a pot over a small fire. Although it takes some time to get a good fire and coals going, it is a cooking method that requires a pot to cook in and a way to light a fire. Of course, if you are in an area where there is not much to burn, it would not be easy.


Propane or charcoal grills can work well if you have enough fuel on hand. Just remember to use your grill outside. We have neighbors that were without electricity for a week last winter, and they survived just fine by bundling up in layers and cooking meals outside.

Sometimes a simple metal grill by itself is perfect for cooking over a fire. No cans of fuel required.

Sterno or Fuel Tablet Stoves

There are quality fuel tab stoves that are lightweight and easy to store. The downside is that fuel tabs have to be ordered or stockpiled, and you can only do that so much. You could utilize a smaller can of Sterno fuel if you don’t have the fuel tablets. This backup method is suitable for 1-2 people who don’t mind many one-pot-style meals or those that usually stick to convenience foods that need to be heated during short emergencies.

The Esbit is a decent addition for a get-home bag or those that want a bug-out bag designed to get them to another location where there are further supplies.

White Gas Stoves

MSR makes some excellent lightweight white gas stoves for camping and backpacking. These are designed for use by 1-2 people. Although you have to keep fuel on hand, you can cook a lot of meals with a single 8 or 16 oz canister of white gas.

If you’re not familiar with he term “white gas” it is a mix of kerosene, gasoline, canister and white gas fuel. A good name-brand white gas stove will last and last. Typically, what starts to go bad in the stove is the seals. You can purchase kits to refurbish an older stove and get it running like new again.

Over the last decade, I have seen many off-brand white gas stoves come on the market. I would not trust a cheap stove for use during an emergency.

Alcohol Stove

An alcohol stove typically runs on 91% rubbing alcohol. They are inexpensive, and the fuel is typically easy to find. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this was not the case. It was practically impossible to find any rubbing alcohol.

Of course, any other high percentage clear alcohol will also work as fuel for this stove. You could produce your alcohol for a stove during a long emergency. At the moment, it is illegal, of course, unless you at least have an ethanol permit.

MRE Heaters or Chemical Heaters

I have personally never been impressed by the heaters supplied with MREs.

They are designed to take the cold edge off of meals, not making them as piping hot as a lot of people are accustomed to when setting down for a meal. If your emergency food plan involves MREs, they can be nice to have, but I cannot see using them otherwise.

Perhaps there is a brand out there that is more impressive? If any of the PP tribe know of any, please share in the comments below.

Store adequate supplies of fuel for alternative cooking

At the moment, massive transportation issues leading to items not getting to retail outlets fast enough to meet demand. It seems like you never know what will be impacted, so plan ahead. Sometimes overwhelming demand is a factor too.

Propane grill tanks, for example, were in short supply in my area over the winter due to so many restaurants using them in patio heaters for outdoor diners. Larger tanks were available at home improvement stores, but you had to take them to a propane dealer to get them filled and be able to deal with moving around a lot of weight.

During emergencies, even well-stocked stores can run low on smaller 1 lb. propane cylinders or Sterno fuel. At the bare minimum, try to have enough fuel on hand to cook all your meals for two weeks if possible. This will also help you avoid the danger and hassle of trying to get supplies when crowds are jostling over what remains on the shelf.

Dish soap, sponges, and wash rags save lives

Germs and infections kill more people during long emergencies than anything else. We make a habit of keeping a lot of dish soap on hand.

Big packs of non-scratch washing sponges are inexpensive, and they can be easily sanitized with vinegar, oxygen cleaner, or bleach.

The items necessary for good hygiene and household cleaning can be hard to find during longer events. It is hard to forget how empty the cleaning product aisles were during COVID-19.

Stock up on paper plates, bowls, and utensils

While I know you can only store so many disposable items, I also know that even just a 300-pack of paper plates can save a lot of hassle during a natural disaster or emergency.

I have washed a lot of dishes without indoor plumbing and hot running water. It is not pleasant, and I did it for years. If I wanted hot water, I had to heat it on a stove or outside in a barrel with fire around it.

If you have to make do with your backup cooking method during an emergency and cook for a family of four, you will be thankful to have some disposable items on hand.

Practice with your cooking gear before an emergency

If you can avoid using something for the first time during an emergency, it is often for the best. You don’t want to get your cooking equipment set up only to realize it is damaged, you are missing something, or that you are stressed and moving a little slow.

Keep meals simple

Simple yet delicious meals are the key to making the most out of your backup cooking methods.

One-pot meals that feed the whole family are always good, and they reduce the number of dishes used for food preparation.

  • Soup
  • Chili
  • Stews
  • Roasts with Vegetables
  • Casseroles
Keep at least a few weeks worth of long-lasting items on hand to prepare quick and nutritious meals. Here is a shortlist of canned for dehydrated foods to consider:
  • Meat
  • Beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Stews
  • Mixed Vegetables
  • Pasta
  • Dried Cheese Powder
  • Dried Milk or Yogurt
  • Spices
  • Beans (Since beans take forever to cook when preparing from a dried state, I only recommend them for short emergencies with a heating method that acts as a slow cooker.)
  • Rice
  • Beverage mixes
Do you have a backup cooking method that is not in this article? Any good recipes to share with the PP tribe?

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Long Term Cooking In The Rough

Good article Samantha! I would like to suggest a large dutch oven needs to have a “coal” wall around the perimeter of the lid to enable the large pot to be used as an oven by placing on a bed of coals and then placing coals on the lid. Caution… cooks faster than you might imagine. Thanks, keep up the great work.


Base Layer Cooking Backups

We added this biolite firepit to our 2ndary cooking preps last fall. It’s still in the box, waiting for the deck to clear of snow before we test it out. It’s our 2nd biolite stove. We have been impressed with the first, a Base Camp, which cooks very efficiently. It boils water fast - which means it’s good for boiling water and cooking one pot Dutch oven meals, of which we eat a lot anyhow - and it can cook a couple steaks in short order. Plus, because it has rocket stove tech it uses up all kinds of yard carbon debris: twigs, pine cones, wood splitting shavings, etc. (It will even burn dried dung, although we haven’t tried that.)
We’ve kitted our new biolite with the optional grill and cover. They will allow us to cook more for more people, if needed. An added feature: both of our biolites generate electricity and have UCB outlets to charge phones, cameras, and computers. More significantly to us, they will run strings of LED lights and can charge LED lanterns and head lamps that are also sold by biolite.
These are efficient wood burners. Less efficient will be the outdoor kitchen we’re going to construct in a couple phases, starting this summer. It will have propane features, and then added wood-fired features. We want to be able to process food in that kitchen from field to table, and from field to shelf-stable (smoked, dehydrated, or canned), whether vegetable or animal.


This is where Dutch ovens with legs are handy. They were (perhaps still are) very common in the South African countryside when I was a boy. I’ve seen them at Pioneer Days re-enactment camps here in the States, too.


Survival Is Being Outlawed

You could produce your alcohol for a stove during a long emergency. At the moment, it is illegal, of course, unless you at least have an ethanol permit.
what do people do when TPTB make all methods of self-sufficiency and survival illegal? they're now using "bird flu" to stop people raising their own poultry (they're using the same fraudulent PCR test), and they want to use other excuses to restrict seed distribution, even between friends. I think m/ethanol from home-grown potatoes/corn might become a regular thing.

Sun Oven Works

Sun Oven works very well. We have had one for several years. All you need is sunshine. Best for on pot meals.
Down side is you need sunshine, like solar panels. Also, high winds can tip it over.



No thermometer for your solar, wood/coal dutch or gas oven? Throw a small piece of paper in and check how long it takes to turn toasty. News print is good for more than fire starter and toilet paper, it can be a thermometer as well.


Sun Oven And More…

I hate that we go right to the buying of equipment rather than learning how to make these things ourselves and I would encourage people to try DIYs. But in truth, I find that I no longer have the time I used to devote to making my own and continually tweaking the designs.
With that in mind-- I just bought an EcoZoom rocket stove and am having a blast using it. (Snow on the deck and all!) I have made portable rocket stoves but this is just plain better and more durable. I have propane camping stoves but like to reserve those for bad weather when I want to mimic cooking indoors and well, camping. That fuel gets expensive and hard to find in a crisis. (Although you can use an adapter and fill small tanks from larger.)
Same with the solar oven, I made three before I gave in and bought my Sun Oven–their reflectors are superior in so many ways. I couldn’t get the same high temperature no matter what I used on my DIYs. In the spirit of full disclosure, many of my creations are still in use–just used differently (my best diy solar oven is used as a slow cooker/dehydrator).
So here are my tips for the SunOven:
Anchor it to a small rolling cart or table with some heft to it. I live by a mountain range and the winds can be wild-yet since I set it up that way a few years back I haven’t had an issue. (The first year though it went flying–repeatedly!)
Then get in the habit of setting it up (as well as closing it down) almost every sunny day that you or someone else will be around. When closed, I leave it outside much of the time with a waterproof cover. Set up, it costs nothing to have it heated and you’ll be amazed what you will think to put in it during the course of the day. It acts as a slow cooker if you don’t face it full on to the sun so dry beans are an easy first act. When I am home and can engage fully, I have made full meals–including rolls. I have hard cooked eggs for a meal as well as pasteurized egg shells for the calcium addition to homemade fertilizer. Rice and lentil casserole makes a no brainer meal on those days you’re not sure what will happen come dinner time. If something better comes up, I just pop it into the refrigerator for another night. Oh, and beets–I hate to cook beets on the stove–so much fuel wasted. Into the solar cooker with a little H2O. You get the idea.
Thinking out loud–in most people’s eyes I have way too many tools or “toys”, but I use them all and each one is one more option available when troubled times hit. (We lose power regularly and were without power once for two weeks, I was mostly prepared but took serious note of our weaknesses.)
Pay close attention to anything producing enough heat to cook food as fire can cook more than just dinner. But most of all, have fun becoming less dependent on gas and electric.


Slow Cooking & Alcohol Stove Multi-use Fuel

Excellent article, Samantha. I’ll throw in a few other tricks I’ve picked up over the years.
Wide mouth steel liner thermos bottles make decent slow cookers. Pre-measure water and rice, boil the water, dump it all in a thermos, and a couple of hours later it’s ready. It’s kind of the old “hay box” slow cooker idea, but it’s more convenient. Mobile too, if you’re having to drive or hike somewhere. Boiling the water doesn’t take much fuel, and is pretty fast. After that it’s just a matter of waiting.
With dried beans, it’s best to pre-soak them overnight before thermos cooking them. Figure on about four hours total. Pour out the cooled water half-way through and refill with fresh boiling water. It’s good to have two thermoses when cooking beans & rice.
I like Everclear for alcohol stove fuel. It’s relatively expensive, but it’s legal right now and it can be used for other things that denatured or methyl alcohols can’t. Cut 1:1 with water, it’s rubbing alcohol for disinfecting wounds. It’s literally dehydrated vodka, so use your imagination there. (Trail Margarita: everclear and lemon-lime gatorade, over ice if you’ve got it.) If you’re going into areas where drinking alcohol is prohibited, re-package it into stove fuel bottles and fly under the radar.
Anyway, thanks for the article. It shook off a few mental cobwebs around cooking, and gave me some new ideas.


I cook using a cast iron pot on an open fire, it’s simple and effective. Key is to dig a small hole and put the coals from the fire into the hole and sprinkle some coals on the lid for even heat. I use this type of fire (coals) as the cooking fire, then the main fire becomes about warmth and lighting. I have baked bread, cooked roasts and stews, all sorts. It is really simple and inexpensive and portable. And for breads you just let the dough rise near to the main fire before using the coal fire to bake.



We found canned butter and cheese labeled red feather…good thing to have.

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Googled Biolite and it says the firepit has been discontinued ?

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Olive Oil

Olive oil can be used as lamp oil fuel so if it goes rancid it has a second use.So you can’t lose with having too much of it. good skin lotion too.


Camping Cooking

Amazing timing. We were just going through a knapsack we bought in case we have to bug out. I am not a camper and the thought of making meals without appliances terrifies me. We have a number of things that were on lists but without knowing how to use them they are useless as pockets in underwear. So this summer we are going to learn. We are going to camp in the backyard one day, then a weekend, then at the end of the summer a week in Algonquin Park.
So for camp cooking, if we make a fire (which at this point looks like a miraculous event), put a raised metal platform on it, and our very cool collapsible pot. Would that work? My platform is the tripod trivet from my instant pot (4" high).

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Can I add hay box cooking?
Old crate or large sturdy bag, I lined mine with a silver emergency blanket.
Old duvet, blankets or pillows, basically anything that will keep the heat in.
Large saucepan that fits in the middle.
Cook whatever it is for 10 minutes then wang in the bag and snuggle it in well.
Works well for things that like long slow cooking.
I make stew in the morning and it’s done for evening meal.
I like rice pudding done overnight ?
You can buy a wonder bag which is the same principle but why spend money when you don’t have to!


Don’t wait until summer if you are new to these things. I personally do not feel like we have a whole lot of time to spare going forward - there is no time like the present! Starting now will also help you get used to having to live in colder & more adverse weather. Learning how to keep a fire going in the snow or rain is a must have skill!
Most of all though, try to have fun with learning these new skills - it can be a lot of fun as opposed to a lot of stress once you get more comfortable with it. Then you will truly be able to enjoy places like Algonquin Park!

I lined mine with a silver emergency blanket.
Awesome tip! Thank you!

suggest rancid cooking oil be used in free-wick lamps and not in lamps make for coal oil/kerosene lamps. These great tips and recommendations are giving me hope.

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Second that Jan. Hurry JR!

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Cooking Options

Don’t forget amish cook stoves, rocket stoves and brick ovens. We have an amish cookstove and even though we use wood it can’t be taken away since it is our cooking source. that’s a plus plus win …heat. food and no bills. just hard work cutting wood.