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13 Ways to Cook without Electricity When the Grid Fails

Last Updated: February 26, 2021

When I was in my 20s, I moved into an apartment. Little did I know that the landlord hadn’t turned on the electricity yet, so I had 3 days of cooking without power.

Luckily, I had a grill, so my roommates and I had fun grilling out in our tiny yard.

Did I mention that it was winter, and we were grilling in our parkas and boots?

If the grid were to go out, I don’t imagine myself using this as my emergency cooking method!

First off, I’m not in my 20s anymore, so I doubt I’d find it fun to grill out in two feet of snow. I also wouldn’t like the cold air, which gets blasted through the house each time the door gets opened (the grid’s out, so the heating is out too).

So, how would I handle the problem of cooking without power today? How would I handle it if I lived in an apartment without a yard? These are things that all preppers should be thinking about.

This article is divided into two parts:

  1. Cooking without Power Indoors
  2. Cooking without Power Outdoors

Because cooking without power is a lot different if you can’t just go outside and light a big fire.

Cooking without Power Indoors

Camping Stove

There are all sorts of camping stoves that can be used indoors safely. If you live in an apartment and are serious about prepping for emergencies, I’d recommend getting a good camp stove suitable for the indoors and stocking up on fuel.

Solar Powered Oven/Oven

Got solar power? Then set up your stove/oven to work on solar. Or you can get a special solar oven, but I guess you’d have to jerry-rig it out of your window to get enough sunlight.

Tuna Can + Toilet Paper Stove

This one I learned while hiking with a former Israeli Special Forces guy. Apparently, the Israeli army gets fed a lot of canned tuna. Here is how it works.

  1. Open a can of tuna in oil. It would work with something else oily too.
  2. Take 3 pieces of toilet paper and place them over the tuna. They will absorb the oil. The toilet paper should create an air-tight seal around the lid of the can.
  3. Set the toilet paper on fire.
  4. It will burn for a LONG time (up to 25 minutes)! Not only does it cook the tuna, but you can put something over the flame to cook it too.
  5. Remove the toilet paper and enjoy your tuna.

This also works as a great emergency light source and emergency heat source!

Hay Box Oven

A hay box oven uses thermal power to cook your food. It is a lot like a Crockpot. The only big problem is that you’ve got to get the food hot before putting it in. If you have limited fuel, this might be a wise option.

To make a hay box oven, you get a big sturdy box. You can even use a cardboard box lined with aluminum foil, but a wood box will be better for retaining the heat. An old cooler also works great.

You put your food in a big pot and boil/bake the entire thing (the pot must be hot). Line the bottom of the box with hay, then put it in your pot. Surround the pot with more hay. Now close it up. You can also use other linings, such as sweaters or blankets.

Cover the hay box with a lid. Come back about 8-12 hours later, and you’ve got yourself a meal. Works great for stews.

Tea Light Oven

More properly known as the Home Emergency Radiant Cooking oven, a tea light oven works on (you guessed it!) tea lights. You can buy one, or you can easily build one yourself out of an old toaster oven.

Cooking without Power Outdoors

BBQ Grill

This is the most obvious solution. If you want this to be your emergency cooking method, choose a coal-powered BBQ and not a gas-powered one!

Open Fire

This is the simplest solution. You can just set a BBQ grill plate over the open fire and cook.

If you don’t have a grill, then things get a bit more complicated.

You will have to put two or three branches (about 2in thick) over the fire and set your pan/pot on top of these. As the branches start to burn away, you will have to slip a new branch in their place. Good luck not spilling the food while you do this!

Or you can create an A-frame out of branches and suspend a soup pot from it.

Another option for cooking over an open fire is to use a big rock. Just prop a wide, flat rock over the fire. It will get hot, and you can put your pot or pan right on it.

cooking over open fire

Ember Roasting

Make a fire and get some serious embers going on. Then let the fire burn out (or keep the fire to one side of your pit only). Put some food on the embers. Go ahead and bury it in the embers. The embers will cook the food.

Since the outside of the food will get covered with ash, this method is best for foods like corn on the cob and potatoes. But you can cook almost anything like this if you put it in tinfoil first.

cooking in embers

Solar Cooking

I don’t mean a solar-powered cooker. I mean that you can literally cook your food in the sun.

Here are instructions on how to make your own solar cooker.

Dutch Oven

Dutch ovens are big, heavy cooking pots made from cast iron. You set them right on top of the fire and/or cover them up with coals. These are especially great for making stews.

Earth Oven

In simple terms, an earth oven is just a pit with a fire built inside of it. But there are a lot of different ways to make an earth oven.

Native Americans used a cool method where they’d dig a pit, put hot stones at the bottom, and then cover it with branches. On top of this would go the meat and veggies. It would be covered by something moist, which would create steam. Then would come a layer of soil to retain the heat.

earth oven

Reflector Oven

A reflector oven is a box with metal inside of it. There is a shelf in the middle for supporting the food. It works by using radiant energy from camp fire to bake food inside of it. You will need to make a big fire to bake in a reflector oven, and the heat source will need to be consistent.

The US Scouting Service site has a good article on how to bake with a reflector oven.

Hobo Stove

A very basic and straightforward stove made from tin cans and fueled by sticks, twigs, etc. Whist, not the most efficient cooker, this design can be made from supplies that most people have to hand.

The basic design can also be modified; see this post for more hobo stove plans.

How do you plan on cooking when the grid goes down?  Get the conversation going in the comments area below!

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  1. I spend at least one long weekend each month cooking on a camp stove, with a Dutch oven wrapped in an insulated blanket, and on the outdoor grill when we are at our other house. We have been remodeling the kitchen for the past year since we can only work on it over the long weekends that we have off. It is 700 miles away so our time is limited. (We also have a portable potty set up so when we get to the bathroom we will be covered.)

    When you already have everything in place it makes it sooo much easier to deal with problems.

  2. I bought a single hot plate that runs on butane and/or small bottle s of propane. I live in apartment and have experienced loss of power a few times. Works great. Look on amazon, read reviews before purchasing.

  3. We frequently practice cooking without power or gas (we use a gas stove). My children know how to cook over open fire and we frequently use a very simple grill, as well.

  4. I have used a kerosene wick stove to practice cooking in the enclosed back porch. Need to use a wind screen for outdoor to use. A gallon of kerosene will last a long time if I’m going to need it to just cook/heat. I have an assortment of cast iron cookware so no worries there. Also have the oven from St. Paul Merchantile but need to start practice using it…LOL. Nice article.

  5. Using a hydrocarbon fuel camp stove (butane, propane, etc.) indoors is NOT recommended by the manufacturers and can be highly dangerous because these fuels always emit carbon monoxide as they burn. Carbon monoxide is odorless and tasteless but can kill quickly. If you want to use one of these stoves you should have the following nearby:
    – fire extinguisher (butane etc are highly flammable and the flames spread fast. Never use water to put out one of these fires!)
    – battery powered carbon monoxide detector – NOT one that plugs in to the wall.
    These stoves should only be used in a well ventilated area, near a window if possible. Remember they are intended to be used outdoors.

    In any case, while using open flames including candles or tealights indoors for cooking, you should always have a fire extinguisher handy.


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