Cooking When the Power Is Out

If SHTF, you’re likely not going to be able to use your electric or gas stove to cook with. Don’t worry, though – there are many different ways to cook without power. Some methods are great to use inside but others aren’t.

You need to be sure that regardless of what method you use, you do it safely. You don’t just have to worry about fire, but about fumes as well. Carbon monoxide poisoning will kill you much faster than starvation!

Make sure that if you’re cooking inside, you use proper ventilation and safety techniques.

Wood Fire

This is probably the most popular method of cooking without power but it does require a steady supply of wood. Using a wood fire, you can use your Dutch ovens, kettles, or iron skillets to prepare just about anything in a timely manner, just as if you had a stove and an oven.

You can cook with wood over an open fire, in a fireplace or BBQ grill, or in a wood-burning stove.

BBQ Grill

Your BBQ grill is a great tool to use to cook food without power. You can use wood or charcoal and can cook just about anything on it that you can cook on a stove. Some of them are even small enough to take with you if you need to bug out, so you can cook on the fly.

There are also propane grills that would be great for short-term emergencies but you’d need to store a lot of fuel to use it long-term.

rocket_stove_action_shotRocket Stove

A rocket stove uses a small wood fire to heat a combustion chamber so that your fuel is used efficiently.

There are four parts to it including the fuel magazine, the chimney, the combustion chamber and the heat exchanger, which transfers the heat to the bottom of the cooking vessel.

It’s a good tool to use at home but it’s not particularly portable.

Volcano Stove

These little stoves are great because they collapse into an easily-portable size and shape and can burn wood, charcoal or propane. They’re extremely efficient, too.

You can cook an entire meal with just a dozen charcoal briquettes. You don’t have much of a surface area though so you can’t cook a lot at one time.

Camp Stoves

These handy-dandy little stoves have been around forever and are easy to carry with you if you use the smaller ones.

Though the use propane, one little 16.4 ounce bottle will burn for about an hour – plenty long enough to cook a meal on. We wouldn’t recommend this as a long-term solution because you’d have to stockpile the propane bottles but it would be great if you’re prepping for a short-term SHTF scenario.

Solar OvensSolar-Oven-on-the-Beach

These operate exactly as you’d think from the name: they use solar panels to cook the food without power.

You don’t need any other source of fuel so you’re not burning through finite resources but it does take a bit longer. The way that it works is that the solar panel traps heat inside your pot, causing it to heat up and cook the food inside of it.

Fondant Sets

Don’t laugh – it works! If you have a fondant set that operates on the little cans of gas, you can effectively heat a meal up with it. You don’t have to worry about fumes and the heat source is small.

Just make sure that you don’t use it near anything that will catch on fire. Of course, this is definitely not a long-term solution for cooking but it will do in a pinch for a meal or two.

There are many different ways to cook food without power if you get creative – these are just a few of the most common ideas. Basically, if it gets hot, you can use it to prepare food. Just remember to properly ventilate the area where you’re cooking.

If you’re using an open flame, be sure that the fire is either out, banked, or watched closely when you’re finished cooking. To reserve resources, use as little fuel as possible.

If you have other ideas about how to cook without power in a SHTF situation, tell us about it in the comments section below!

This article has been written by Theresa Crouse for Survivopedia.

Photo sources: 1, 2, 3.

Written by

Theresa Crouse is a full-time writer currently living in central Florida. She was born and raised in the hills of West Virginia, where she learned to farm, hunt, fish, and live off the land from an early age. She prefers to live off the grid as much as possible and does her best to follow the “leave nothing behind but footprints” philosophy. For fun, she enjoys shooting, kayaking, tinkering on her car and motorcycle, and just about anything else that involves water, going fast, or the outdoors.

Latest comments
  • Wood burning fire pits are also ideal for cooking. Pick up limbs and small twigs from around your yard and put in a reasonably dry place in case of emergency. Every little bit of fuel comes in handy.

  • Another good method for cooking is a butane stove. The best part about them is that you can use them indoors safely. The hospital where I work even uses them in the cafeteria for their speciality items. You do have to stock up on butane cannisters, but these stoves come with a study carrying case and are a great backup item.

  • Here is my favorite: take an empty tuna can, loosely fill it with cotton rags, dryer lint, or coiled-up strips of cardboard or newspaper, then pour hot paraffin in it and let it cool. Don’t completely cover the material inside with paraffin; leave a little of it sticking out for a wick. It makes a very handy, cheap, compact and lightweight emergency burner. It does leave soot on your cooking pot; but that can be minimized by rubbing a little dish soap over the outside of the pot before cooking, and you can also use the ashes from a wood fire to scrub it.

    • Yep this works great! It’s an old girl scout cooking method for back packers. We used it along with the cut out (lots of cut outs for good Oxygen feed) #10 metal can on top (cuts out wind disturbance and gives a place to set the cooking pot). It especially got a work out while we were walking the Appalachian trail during days of rain with no other dry kindling. Each can lasted about 3 days using it an hour a day. Was a good heat sourse too during that cold, rainy week. Plus–they are easy to replace.

    • During the Winter in Illinois, I always keep a back up heat source in my truck.
      Take a 1 quart tomato juice can, and cut it just a little higher than a roll of toilet paper. File the edges so you don’t get cut. Put a roll of toilet paper inside the can (make it fit as tight as possible). Buy 2 small containers of 91% Isopropyl Alcohol. You will also need a lid to put the fire out.
      When needed, dump 1 container of the alcohol directly on to the toilet paper in the can. Strike a match; don’t worry………it won’t explode. It will make a nice clean burning short flame fire.

  • I once ran out of butane in the middle of cooking a meal so I set 5 candle stubs in a circle on top of the burner, under the grill and finished the dish. Worked fine.

  • Oh boy, I know I’m going to get a lot of thumbs down for this but I have to share the experiences of my group in this area. Most if not all of you reading this think it’s easier than it is because it looks and sounds easy. Well, it is easy as long as you have a BBQ grill with lots charcoal or a camper stove with lots of propane. Even with a nice BBQ grill, when your charcoal runs out, you’ll find there is a huge learning curve when you transition to wood. It’s not the same at all. But we have actually spent weekends drilling every aspect of a grid down scenario including cooking and baking on an open, outdoor wood fire. Yes we could survive on what we were able to accomplish but I have to tell you all, it wasn’t pretty. Cooking is so much more difficult than you can imagine much less trying to bake bread in a dutch oven over an open flame. Two VERY important pieces of gear you will want to have on hand that are indispensable is an instant read thermometer and one of those iron cooking set ups that hang the food over a fire. Without them your chances of baking a decent loaf of bread is all but impossible and don’t expect wild game meats to be succulent and juicy. Trying to adjust the temperature of the fire by moving, adding and subtracting wood is an art and not easy to learn; nor are the fine adjustments you have to constantly make in the distance from the flame your pots, pans and Dutch ovens. Then there is the seasonal changes in outside air temperature which changes everything and boy does the wind play havoc too. And don’t even ask about trying to cook over an open fire while it’s raining! I’m not saying it can’t be done but anyone depending on outdoor wood cooking had better start practicing because it is very very difficult. What we learned from actual practice for 3 years now in all seasons is get a stove, any stove mentioned in the article; unless you have put a lot of time into learning this art form, don’t even think an open fire pit is your best answer. I have a sneaky suspicion that the men of old pictured in Hollywood movies eating well by cooking and baking over an outdoor open fire pit didn’t eat as well they were pictured. Either that or they had a lifetime to learn the art form. OK, now all you mountain men and pioneer women who have not actually lived this way day to day but had 1 or 2 successes can go ahead and blast me and tell everyone how easy and simple it really is. Just remember that some people read these blogs to learn and may depend on your advice so please don’t sugar coat this like Hollywood has. Lives may hang in the balance. My humble advice; do not take this subject lightly folks.

    • I agree with you completely about the difficulty of cooking anything more complex than a hotdog over an open fire. The cattle drives of the old west were a classic example of the point you are making. The cowboys needed to eat well to be able to endure the hardships on the trail, So despite the expense and trouble of hauling a stove, that’s what they did. A chuck wagon not only carried the food, it had a stove built into it so the cowboys could eat hearty meals each evening.

      • Yep, an an experienced cook as well!

    • Glad to see people who have been there and discovered what you discovered are reading and writing.
      1- comment to main article Fondue set one can cook on/with. Fondant is usually used to coat cakes when frosting them.
      2- Have a stove any stove– but know your altitude and remember that at higher altitude it make get more difficult to get your liquid fuel do the phase shift to a gas. If you want to boil water that may cost more time and energy. Temp will be lower. If you are going to do dutch oven baking you can practice with quick breads and rapidly bakable items. Saw demo done with packaged cake mix since a shallow layer in a dutch over can be done in 20 odd minutes. Biscuits from scratch can be baked in 10-14 minutes with your dutch over (or covered cast iron casserole) nestled into the coals. with lid upside down holding coals baking can be rapid as can burning. I was given a nice bread recipe which required 36 hours or so before it was ready to bake in a cast iron casserole with a lid on. And then it needed about an hour to bake in a conventional oven. Bad choice.
      -Smaller items will bake through faster.
      – Yeast recipes take longer to bake generally although pizza dough can be done in 10-12 minutes.
      -if you have a lot fo experience cooking and baking in everyday life, baking outside is easier. Use a recipe which does not have to be evenly browned by using a colored dough: chocolate cake, gingerbread, bran muffins, anything which starts brown won’t look pale and unappetizing. Go for short baking times.
      -From WWII in Europe I learned about hay baskets and feather beds and cooking.
      For RICE get the water to a boil once and then remove from heat and wrap in your conforter in bed or place in a crate lined with hay or straw –I did it first in a bath towel and then in quit or straw container.
      -It is possibe to get a full rolling boil on a fire but if you don’t have limitless fuel use a different technique. The pilav technique is a rapid way to get a warm meal ready within 20 minutes without a lot of high temp cooing.
      -sate in coconut oil or other fat onions and any other vegetables or nuts and your grain (ie. peas, carrots, garlic, almonds, you Bulgar Wheat, Rice, Red Wheat, Buckwheat, etc) add hot water, broth, water and bullion cube, stir once with fork, cover and give it about 15-20 minutes to absorb the liquid, Stir and fluff and serve 1-4 or more. You cna also fake rice a roni by browning broken spaghetti or vermicelli in your fat. then add your rice and contiue cookiing with top on the frying pan for next 15-20 minutes.
      Things like oatmeal cook rapidly so don’t eat junk instant oatmeal with all kinds of additives. Boil water adn add 1/3 cup oats to 1 cup boiling water adn it can be eaten within 3-5 minutes. Give pinch of salt. Can do savory with pat of butter or sweet with cinnamon, stevia and milk.
      -Want a quick bread thing? Make pancakes. From flour and milk and eggs but also with cornmeal, buckwheat flour, cereal grains for cooked cereal. Again, practice makes perfect. Get your pan hot enough! Silver dollar pancakes are fastest to cook but pan filling crepes cook rapidly as well. If you can’t make a decent pancake in a kitchen do not expect to make better ones out in the open. Hot rocks which are level in or next to an open fire can really help cooking things like pancakes.
      -meat? How long do you need to cook it. Fast proteins include FISH–trout cooks rapidly and is wonderful over a fire! In a frying pan but also in a wire fish cooker or on a piece of green wood.
      Let us work towards cooperation and not just towards the SHTF .
      best wishes 2014
      -One can also cook under the hood of your car by making a kind of girl scout meal package in aluminum foil with veggies and potato, meat or fish, some butter or oil, salt and pepper and wrap well, place on a level place under the hood and allow to cook from the heat of the motor while you drive.
      –the heat tab stove my mother had from before WWII was the size of a package of cigarettes. The thing folded out to look ike an H with the cross bar having a place that one or two heat tabs from the box stored inside could be placed and lit. IT would heat a can of beans in a few minutes. BUT I later bought the identical stove with bars of fuel that looked a bit like clay (C-4?) I used it in the Grand Canyon in an inclosed area and in the open air but surrounded by large rocks I got really sick from the fumes!!

      • I’m wondering why you would choose stevia, when what you want the caloric intake for the energy you need.

        • Sugar contains empty calories. Study sugar. Sugar is the main reason so many of us are sick. It makes a type of yeast called candida, called America’s parasite. It attacks you GI tract and kills all the good bacteria in your gut. You immune system is 70% in the gut. The immune system is knocked out by candida. Serotonin for the brain is also produced in the gut. One reason for so much depression. The gut can’t produce enough of it when this parasite takes over and then it goes all over the body. Then you become very ill. Artificial sweeteners are so bad for you and actually cause you to gain weight, not lose. Splenda when added to a cake recipe becomes toxic when it is baked. Aspartame was banned by the FDA at one time, and in the future will be again. It kills bugs. Sugar is addictive to the brain. Sugar is also the food cancer wants. It is the only food cancer wants. So she is right, but not all Stevia is pure. Look on the labels on all of your food for the added ingredients. Costco sells a Pure Stevia and it has artificial sweeteners in it. Search on Amazon for it and get the real natural thing. Processed sugar is our enemy.

      • HollyT – I agree with you on the Fondue Set. Fondant is a type of Frosting/Icing. Might not hurt to revise the article. Some people might not know the difference. I appreciate all of the hard work that goes into the articles that have been posted and the information they contain.

      • A fondue pot is a pot that you set on a frame over a heat source, usually Sterno. You can melt cheese or chocolate in it to dip either fruit or bread in it. It can also be used to heat oil to cook meat. Fondant has nothing to do do with a fondue pot unless you want to melt the fondant in it and use the forks that come with the set to dip cake in the melted fondant.

  • Another method of rough cooking is one I have used for over thirty years. As an avid offroader and Jeep owner my family has cooked many a meal on the engine of whatever we are driving. Simply wrap what ever you want to cook ( steak, chicken.beans or leftovers ) in tinfoil and place it securely on your engine. Cooking times vary a lot so trial and error is neede to get it right. I would this in a bug out situation to provide hot food without stoping to cook. Also it might work on a genset or tractor but I have not tried it myself. Good luck

  • The antique kerosene heaters (Precision, etc.) can be used for cooking, especially if you are planning on using one as a supplemental heat source.

  • Wow, too bad most of you were never Boy or Girl Scouts and learned to cook over/on a campfire or under a rain fly/shelter. And Aluminum foil dinners cooked over the bed of coals remaining from a camp fire? I was a Scoutmaster for 12 years and in the Army National Guard for 23 years.

  • Thanks for the great info! (as a side note, I think you mean “fondue”.)

  • I use a sterno stove, easily portable even on foot, sets up in seconds, and a small can of reusable fuel lasts for hours. You only have the one burner but you dont need more than that when roughing it. I used one of these for 9 years in the Army and still use it when camping.

  • What do you guys think about “instafire”?

  • Fondue set. Fondant is cake icing.

  • I have an old Coleman camping stove that uses liquid fuel; been using regular unleaded gas for years. Just have to soak the pump plunger in oil once every few years.

  • Can someone tell me anything about the stove in the picture above that looks like it was made from a couple different sizes of tin cans? Directions would be great!

    SULPHUR springs texas has a cooking school for dutch oven cooking every year E mail me I’ll get info for when it will be
    Check in your area for A dutch oven cooking school

  • Used by us as kids fishing – on the side of the creek or river close to the water , dig a hole into the hill maybe 24 inch. in then above it another 24 inch, dig a smaller whole slightly more vertical and connect it ,dig all the way down to the first one .This is your chimney . You use the bottom one for your fire and cooking ,line it up with rocks ,round for the side of the oven ,flat for the bottom ,couple of layers if you like. Can be used for weeks at the time depending on type of a soil ,whether and the quality of building. You can also adapt your chimney to serve as a smoker or to dry your wet socks . But not you buddy’s dirty socks ,please.

  • Several of my friends have told me of success in cooking foil wrapped meals on dash of closed car in hot, sunny weather. Go to work and come out to parked car for hot lunch, nicely slow-cooked.

    I suppose the procedure could be enhanced in marginal circumstances by devising foil sun reflector panels to direct more sunlight onto the foil pack.

    Protect dash from potential spills.

  • Reflector oven beside open fire or coals can be very effective.
    When we were a Cub Scouts, my brother and I, and several fellow Cubs, each made portable, folding reflector ovens from the flat panels made from cutting up square tin cans used commonly then to sell honey in sixty pound lots. That is about five gallons.

    Panels were joined piano hinge style by cutting tabs along panel edge, and bending tabs around coat hanger wire as hinge pin. At age eleven and ten, we made them ourselves using tinsnips and pliers.

    Resulting folding oven had a cooking shelf with large reflector panels angled above and below the shelf. We used them successfully at Scout camps for years beside open fires of wood or coals.

  • I have been deeply into natural health, life extension/anti-ageing, and survival for most of my life of 76 years. You may want to copy and paste the information below into a Word file:
    As for cooking, one must make a distiction between survival/susistance cooking, and powerless cooking (which may be recreational or cooking without modern conveniences due to temporary emergency. I am preparred for the worst case scenario. I carry a light weight solar stove made of flexible folding foam panels covered with aluminized mylar (you can also imporvise one out of a “space” survival blanket backed by waterproofed corrugated cardboard) for sunny days, and my good old reliable Sierra Zip Stove. that uses rechargeable batteries. The Zip Stove burns wood chips, dead twigs snapped off of the trunks of trees, pine cone fragments, charcoal scavenged from old burned trees, of campfires, etc. A battery powered 2 speed fan creates a draft through the burning chamber like a blacksmith’s forge. I can boil a pint of water in about 3 minutes if I am on the go, or slowly stew wild meat or foul that I have snared or trapped If I have time to slow cook. I carry extra fully charged rechargeable batteries along with my backpackable solar recharger (just in case I run into several consecutive days of dark overcast. A charged battery will serve the demands of a Sierra Zip Stove for several days. including hot meals and sterilizing water. My main reason for cooking is not just to kill pathogens in the food and water but to supply hot liquids which help prevent hypothermia. I have no need to carry fuel because the solar stove needs none, and the Zip Stove needs so little that enough can be scavenged as needed (even in all but the most barren deserts, and that would not be my choice of a bug-out refuge anyway). When I was in Special Forces during the mid 50s to the mid 60s, I learned a lot of ways to use fire or the sun for heat, with and without smoke. It is impossible to get truely restful sleep if you are uncomfortably cold. So, befor sleeping dring plenty of hot liquid (even just hot water if that is all you have. If you have learned how to build a heated sleeping foundation by burying hot rocks in a trench and then covering the top layer of dirt with dry reeds or conifer bows and covered by a poncho, your sleeping bag will feel much warmer. If there is wind. There are many types of shelter you can improvise. The main thing in survival is first to maintain normal body temperature, and hydration. Nutrition is next in importance, first because you need strenth, and also because you need calories to maintain metabolism which is needed to keep your body warm. As you can see, I’m talking about actual survival cooking and maintaining a low profile without showing flame after dark or smoke during the day. If you are bugging out on foot or on an off-road mountain bike, you won’t be lugging dutch ovens, hibachis, or BBQs. Those things are okay for short term in-place emergencies, but won’t suffice for long term emergency use, especially on the move where there is no access to camp stove fuel, or hexamine fuel. Keep storm-proof matches, magnesium fire starters, a BlastMatch, or at least three different reliable and easy devices for starting a fire in high wind and rain. Have a container for melting snow and boiling water. A stainless steel canteen cup will do. At high altitudes you’ll need a titanium pot with a snug fitting lid that you can hold down with a heavy rock. Otherwise, your water may boil half way down and evaporate before it gets hot enough to cook your food or sterilize your water. By the way never cook in aluminum and never use antipersperspirant deodorant that has aluminum hydroxide in it. It has been found during post-mortems that much of the amyloid plaque and tangles in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease victims is made up of aluminum and other toxic metals. The military quit issuing aluminum canteens and aluminum canteen cups many years ago. Also never put wine or hard liquor in an aluminum container. Sorry about any misspelling or typos. This page has no spell checker.

    • I had a zip stove in the 70s. Best survival device I ever owned. BTW, don’t discount dried dung as a fuel for ANY method. I used cow chips in my zip a few times. After it dries, there’s very little odor. Really! Someone who, apparently, needed my backpack containing the zip stove more than I did, made off with it one day while I was bathing in the river and I never found another.
      If you could tell us where to get one, you would be doing a great service to us all.
      Thanks for the great (REAL) tips and story.

      • By the way, burning cow dung tends to keep mosquitos away too. I live across the road from a cattle ranch. I have an endless supply. 🙂

  • Mirrors instead of ‘solar panels’ for solar cooking.

  • Just hang a chicken (or some other meat) from the mantel of a fireplace by a string. Twist it so that it spins back and forth over a pot to collect the fat that drips off. When it is done, eat the chicken and use the rendered fat in the pot for what ever you want to use it for.


  • The “rocket stove” (pictured above) is a kind of “stove” that creates “wood gas” (AND charcoal) from “twigs”, limbs, leaves or other “debris” (pinecones) etc. You can cook on it. In the 17- 1800’s the street lamps were fueled by “wood gas”. During WWII, “wood gas” was used to power vehicles.

  • Look up on Google “wood gasification”. During WWII many people used “wood gasification” to power their vehicles because they could NOT buy gasoline which went into the war effort. “Wood gasification” can be used to power your home if SHTF!


  • Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your further post thanks once again.