Emergency Cooking

 Getting emergency food and other long-term food storage is essential to survival. However, what are your options for emergency cooking?


Some emergency food doesn’t require cooking or other preparation. But most long-term storage food requires some kind of preparation, even it’s just adding water.

If your gas or electric stove isn’t working (no electricity) how will you boil the water for your oatmeal or meal that requires you to “just add hot water”?

There are a number of options, too many to discuss, but they can be summarized into three broad categories: home, camping, and backpacking. In this article we'll look at general emergency cooking options.

Emergency Cooking Options

Assuming you don't have alternate electrical power for an electric range, or working natural gas for a gas stove, there are some options for emergency cooking at home. Keep in mind the camping and backpacking cooking options are completely viable for at use at home. The home options are generally those which can't be transported, or which wouldn't be practical to take from the home in an emergency.

Some of the more popular considerations for at-home emergency cooking are propane or charcoal bar-b-que grills. Propane tanks are fairly safe to use and, as long as they remain undamaged, can last for years.

Some homes have fireplaces, wood stoves, or an outdoor fire pit. These options are generally not portable, but they should not be neglected in being prepared at home.

One of the options we have is charcoal. If you have a charcoal stove (or fire pit) you can easily store bags of charcoal—just make sure the charcoal stays dry. The great thing about charcoal is, as long as it's dry, it has a very long shelf-life.

If you have an alternate cooking source at home, such as a wood stove, make sure you have plenty of fuel for it.

Don't rely on a single source for emergency cooking

Large camping stoves often attach to a 20-pound propane tank. There are smaller camp stoves, with smaller fuel tanks. And propane isn't the only fuel option. There are stoves that use liquid and gas fuel. Some stoves use mixes or have dual or tri-fuel options.

The main feature of these stoves are they can be easily packed into a vehicle, but they are too bulky to take with you if you’re on foot. These camping stoves are great options for home preparedness, and if you need something to take in a vehicle with you during an evacuation. 

The backpacking category are all the smaller, lightweight stoves than can be easily packed into a backpack.

Other alternative cooking options that can be used in an emergency include:

  • Candle warmers
  • Chafing dishes
  • Fondue pots

Consider Multiple Emergency Cooking Options

A strong caution. Unless a stove is rated for indoor use—most are not—do not use it inside a building or in an enclosed environment. People have died, usually from fire or carbon monoxide poisoning, by mis-using camp stoves.

Of course, making a camp fire may be a possibility. Although in the middle of an urban environment it may not be an easy option. And the smoke from a campfire may draw unwanted attention to your cooking.

As you plan your options for cooking, keep in mind some of the previously discussed earthquake scenarios. It may be a month or more before your electricity or gas is restored.

Besides fuel-based stoves and ovens, there are alternative fuel stoves/ovens. One popular variety are solar ovens.

Remember, my intent of this article is not to analyze the pros and cons of a bunch of different stoves and ovens. That would likely be several articles.

Here's my recommendation: Don't rely on a single source for emergency cooking. And, I would advise at least three different cooking options.

For us, we have a large two-burner propane camp stove, a multi-fuel stove/oven (it’s like a portable fire pit that can use wood, charcoal, and has propane tank attachments), and a smaller two-burner propane camp stove. Additionally, I have a variety of options for starting a camp fire, should the need arise.

Regarding the use of a camp fire, I’ve read articles about how cooking over a fire will likely be a common practice in the aftermath of a major emergency. However, unless you are in a rural environment, if everyone is trying to make a fire to cook with, how long will the fuel supply last? And, when readily available wood is gone, what burns next? If you expect to use your wood stove or fire pit, make sure you have plenty of fire wood or charcoal.

Another potential problem with using a cooking fire, which was mentioned earlier,  is it may draw unwanted attention to you. The smell of smoke, not to mention the smoke itself, can bring unwelcome guests. Not that we should uncharitable towards others, but there are unsavory sorts who might come around. A camp stove is less likely to draw the same attention. 

If you have a generator you will need fuel. My ideal generator (which I have yet to purchase) is a dual fuel generator—one that can run on gasoline or propane. For now, we have a gasoline powered generator.

Our camp stoves use propane. 

Between the two items we need to store gasoline and propane.

Before you start storing any fuel, you need to become aware of any legal fuel storage limitations your city and/or country have. For example, the city I live in has the following regulations:

• Up to 5-gallons of gasoline (flammable liquids) may be stored in an attached garage. Up to 10 gallons may be stored outside in an unattached building.

• Empty fuel containers are considered fuel when calculating total fuel capacity. That means legally I cannot have a full 5-gallon gas container and an empty 5-gallon container in my attached garage. But I could have a 5-gallon container in the garage and two 5-gallon containers of gas (full or empty) in a detached building.

• At least one 2A2BC rated fire extinguisher is to be within 50 feet of the containers, but not closer than 10 feet.

• Diesel, kerosene, lamp oil  and other combustible liquids are limited to a maximum of 25 gallons in an attached garage, and up to 60 gallons in an outside building.

• Propane is limited to a total capacity of 25 gallons. This is five 20-pound cylinders.

• Propane is to be stored separate from flammable and combustible liquids.

• It’s best to store fuels in an unattached garage, building, or shed.

The advantage of propane is it stores really well, meaning it doesn’t go bad. As long as there are no leaks it has a long shelf life. Essentially, its only limitation is the container it’s stored in.

Gasoline, on the other hand, doesn’t store well. Unless you are going to use it quickly, it should have a stabilizer added to it. A good stabilizer should keep the gasoline usable for up to one year. Without the stabilizer, the gasoline should be used within three months as its octane will substantially decrease (making it less combustible) and it can start leaving sludge-like deposits, which can clog small openings in the engine.

Water is the enemy of gasoline. Even as little as a single tablespoon of water can contaminate a gallon of gasoline making it unusable.

Of particular note is ethanol blend gasolines. The ethanol, which is a type of alcohol, has an affinity for water, meaning it likes water and wants to blend with it. Under ideal circumstances ethanol blend fuels (E10) may last 90 days. Most of the time conditions are less than ideal, meaning less than 90 day shelf life without the use of a stabilizer.

Gasoline blends without ethanol have a longer shelf life.

With these limitations of gasoline, you can better understand why propane is the better fuel for long term storage.
Heating Food in the Can

Unless stated otherwise on the can, commercially canned foods may be eaten straight out of the can. It may not taste as good, but you can warm it up in the can.

    Remove the label from the can. This is more so it doesn't catch fire and it makes it easier for the next step.
    Thorough wash and disinfect the can. The disinfection can be done using a diluted solution of 1-part bleach to 10-parts water.
    Open the can BEFORE heating. Heating the can without opening can cause pressure to build up inside, and the can could explode.

Food Safety

Having food stored and emergency cooking options will help you and your loved ones survive. But a big part is making sure the food you eat is safe and won't make you sick, or kill you.


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