Not being able to cook can be a big problem during power outages. Fortunately, there are several off-grid cooking methods that you can use that are inexpensive and, in many cases, can be used indoors.
The Best Ways to Cook Indoors Without Electricity Are:
- Candles and Oil Lamps
- Alcohol Stoves
- Butane Stoves
- Gas Stoves
- Wood-Burning Fireplaces
- Wood-Burning Stoves
This article will go over each of these methods, along with their advantages and disadvantages. I have also included a video below so that you can see how each of these methods work.
A Word About Safety
One thing that you may have noticed about the list above is that everything uses an open flame. Because of this, you must exercise caution when using all of them. Fires and carbon monoxide poisoning can result if you don’t use them properly.
Placing anything with an open flame near flammable materials, such as curtains or paper, can result in a house fire. No matter how careful you are, you must have a good-quality fire extinguisher. I strongly recommend picking up a larger one, such as this one, to give you as good of a chance as possible of putting out the fire. Small “bottle-style” fire extinguishers may not be able to put out larger fires.
Carbon monoxide poisoning happens when fuel doesn’t burn completely and carbon monoxide is released into the air. It is odorless and colorless and can be fatal if you breathe in too much of it. Having a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector, such as this one, is an absolute must. It is the one that I use and also has an LCD display. Since it runs on battery power, it will still work during a power outage.
If you are wanting to cook larger meals without electricity, then a butane stove is probably your best option. You will be able to boil water easily and will also be able to perform other tasks, such as browning meat.
Butane stoves are very similar to propane camp stoves but indoor-safe variants are easier to find. They usually come with a storage case and are fairly lightweight. Butane stoves use 8-ounce cans of fuel, which should last between 2 and 4 hours, depending on how high you have the flame.
The main drawback to butane stoves is that, since they burn quite a bit of fuel, they are more likely to produce carbon monoxide. Because of this, you need to make sure that you use them in a well-ventilated area and have a carbon monoxide detector nearby.
Butane cans can also be more difficult to find than 1-pound propane bottles. They aren’t used as often, so stores stock fewer of them. Because of this, you want to make sure that you stock up on them ahead of time. You can find 8-ounce butane canisters by clicking here. Butane also doesn’t burn in temperatures below freezing, which could be a problem during cold-weather power outages.
One of my favorite indoor cooking methods is an alcohol burner. They are common among hikers and are an excellent option whether you are at home during a power outage or bugging out.
One of the best things about alcohol burners is that they can run on several types of fuel, all of which are very easy to find. They include denatured alcohol, yellow HEET, isopropyl alcohol, and Everclear.
Denatured alcohol is available at hardware stores since it can also be used as a solvent. Yellow HEET is available in the automotive section, while isopropyl alcohol is found with bandages and other first aid items.
Alcohol burners are also very small and lightweight, which is why they are popular among hikers and some bush crafters. However, you will need some way to suspend a pot over the top of it. Coghlan’s makes a folding stove that only costs around $15-$20 from most retailers. You can find it by clicking here. You could also use a bottle or canteen stove, which is what I use.
One of the oldest and most trusted alcohol burners is the Trangia Spirit Burner. They have been around for many years and allow you to store fuel inside of the stove when not in use. Solo also produces an alcohol burner which is essentially a clone of the one made by Trangia. It is the one that I have, since finding the Trangia burners can be a challenge at times. You can find the Solo Alcohol Burner by clicking here.
Sterno cans are another type of alcohol burner. You have probably seen them used by caterers to keep food warm while it is being served at parties. Sterno and other brands of “canned heat” use a type of gelled alcohol to produce a low flame. They are easy and safe to store and can last a few years unopened.
Between the two, a traditional alcohol burner such as the Trangia or Solo will be able to generate more heat and cook faster than Sterno cans. Sterno can boil water but will take much longer to do so. Both traditional alcohol burners and Sterno cans work best to cook small meals or boil water to reconstitute freeze-dried meals. Cooking larger items will still be a challenge since the burner is relatively small.
Candles and Oil Lamps
Almost everyone has candles or oil lamps in their homes. They have several uses as decorations and can provide light during emergency situations. Candles and oil lamps can also be used to cook indoors without electricity.
The basic premise of using a candle or oil lamp to cook with is that you find a way to (safely) suspend a metal container above one or more candles or oil lamps. They will heat whatever is in the container the same way as a burner on a camp stove.
If you are using small tea light candles, you can place several of them inside of a roasting pan and place a rack over the top of them. If using this method, make sure to use as many candles as you can. Also be sure to place a pad underneath the pan to prevent damage to tables or countertops.
You can also use an oil lamp in a similar way by using cinder blocks to suspend a rack over the top of the flame. Be sure to remove the glass top so the flame is as close to the cooking container as possible. You could also do this in your oven, although you need to make sure there isn’t any grease in there that could catch fire. Also be sure to cover your container and don’t let the flame get so tall that it produces smoke.
There are a couple of downsides to using candles and oil lamps. The first is that they can be dangerous to use. Both have open flames and can be a fire hazard if they are knocked over or placed near flammable items such as curtains or paper. Candles and oil lamps also tend to be tall and have narrow bases, making them much easier to knock over than other methods in this article. Because of this, you must be extremely careful when using them.
Another problem with using candles and oil lamps to cook is that they don’t generate a whole lot of heat. The methods listed above are a decent choice if you need to heat up water or soup. However, you may not be able to do things like boil water or brown meat in a skillet.
If you have a gas stovetop, then you still may be able to use it, even when the power is out. While some stoves use electric ignition, you can still likely use a match to light them if necessary.
The main advantage to having a gas stove is that you will be able to cook like normal, even without electricity. As long as it has gas running to it, you will still be able to cook anything that you could before, whether it is a can of soup or a full-size lasagna.
The main problem with relying on a gas stove is that they rely on gas utilities to operate. While natural gas systems are more robust than the electric grid, there are still situations where they can break down. This could be the result of physical damage to gas delivery lines or a widespread problem with the power grid.
While most power outages don’t result in households losing gas utilities, widespread issues with the grid could cause a chain reaction that results in exactly that. Other utilities, including gas and water, rely on the power grid to operate. If a large portion of the grid becomes damaged or stops working, then water and gas may follow shortly after.
Even if you rely on a large propane tank on your property, there could be a situation where propane deliveries stop. Because of this, it is a good idea to have a couple of the methods mentioned above as a backup.
Wood-Burning Fireplaces and Stoves
If you have a wood-burning fireplace you can also use it to cook. People have been cooking in fireplaces for thousands of years, and you can too if you have the right tools.
Cast-iron cookware is the best way to cook in a fireplace. You can use skillets to cook things like steaks and eggs and Dutch ovens to cook soups and even bread. You’ll also need a way to suspend your pots and skillets over the coals. You can install a crane inside of your fireplace that can hold a Dutch oven as well as a grate to hold skillets.
If you plan on using a fireplace to cook, make sure that it is a wood-burning fireplace. Cooking in a gas fireplace presents a couple of problems. The first problem comes from food and grease dripping into the gas system in the fireplace and damaging the gas system. Some sources also warn that dangerous chemicals may find their way into your food.
Wood-burning stoves are another good option for cooking indoors. The top surface is a great place to set a skillet or pot. Both wood-burning stoves and fireplaces can also be good ways to heat your home as well.
If you are depending on a wood-burning fireplace or stove, be sure that you have a couple of backup methods as well. This is especially true if you live on your own. There may be a situation where you are injured and cannot procure more firewood. Having something like a butane or alcohol stove would allow you to still cook while you heal.
Having enough wood on hand is another important consideration if you are planning on using a wood-burning fireplace or stove. If you are planning on using them for a long-term emergency you will need to be able to source wood from your own property.
Being able to source wood means more than just having plenty of trees nearby. You will need the tools and skills needed to harvest wood safely.
Why Cook Indoors?
I firmly believe that a good preparedness plan should include both indoor and outdoor cooking methods. While off-grid cooking outdoors can be easier, there are times when cooking indoors may be a better option.
If you live in a more populated area, cooking outdoors during a long-term disaster could be a big security risk. Cooking food produces smells that could draw unwanted attention to you and your family. The last thing that you want is to be seen as a comfy fat cat when everyone else around you is starving.
Inclement weather is another reason why you should have indoor cooking methods. Rainstorms, snow, and extreme cold weather can all make cooking outdoors difficult, and in some cases, nearly impossible.
Having the ability to cook indoors makes you more well-rounded as a prepper and gives you the flexibility to deal with whatever type of disaster you find yourself in.