How to Cook a Meal When the Power Goes Out

Our survival instinct when the power goes out is at first the diabolical twins of FEAR and PANIC.  Within seconds of seeing all of our electronic devices go dim, a terrible sense of dread and anxiety creeps into our body.  We are attached to the power grid like my dog Buddy is to his bone.

What are the first things you think about when your power goes out?  Ask each member of your family and you are bound to get different answers.

I know when I asked my teenage daughter this question there was no hesitation….”My phone!”  When I asked my husband the same question…..”I have to get some wood cut.”  When I asked myself the same question…..”How do we eat?” “The food is going to perish in the fridge!” “There’s no way to cook!” “Where are we going to get clean water?” (O.K., If I am completely honest I might throw in, “How am I going to get my Merlot?” but thank goodness, I have a bath tub recipe on file for that situation).  The dog? Not a flinch.

The fear and panic we feel is in direct relationship to our overall responsibilities in our family unit.  So I am not sure if this article is directed more to the cooks and caretakers in the group, but I am thinking that eventually everyone in your family is going to get parched and hungry, so do share with all and have fun practicing with different methods BEFORE the electricity goes out.

And please, always be safe with any method that uses fire (outside only of course) or you will be dealing with more than just the soup that boiled over on the stove.

How to Cook a Meal When the Power Goes Out

Conventional Methods

1. Natural Gas Stoves (and Natural Gas Fireplaces too)

Lucky you! Your house is on natural gas.  Here’s what the Natural Gas companies say (always check with your gas company first for their safety recommendations.  Any type of gas mixed with flame can be very dangerous).  By overriding the electronic ignition on the surface burners (NOT THE OVEN) and instead lighting them with a kitchen match or long handled butane lighter,  you can use your gas stove.  You may also have a hooked up natural gas backyard grill or even a gas fireplace (double lucky you). Both can be lit the same way as long as you know how to control the input of the gas itself.   A natural gas generator can also keep your furnace, fridge and other devices going. Do not under any circumstances try to directly ignite a natural gas furnace like the burners on a stove.  As long as the natural gas keeps flowing (no guarantee, so always have more than one option available) natural gas is a top choice for black out panic control.

2. Barbecue Grill.

Probably the most common form of cooking today, other than the stove, is with a basic grill. Most people have one for cooking the occasional steak or chicken. These work best as replacement stoves in a grid-down situation. You can even put pots on the grill top, although it may blacken them on the outside. While most grills today work off of propane, you can still use them with charcoal or wood. This may damage the gas burner in the grill, but that really isn’t much of an issue, as it is replaceable.

3. Fire Pit.

If you have a fire pit on your patio, you can cook quite well on them. The only thing you might need that you don’t currently have is the metal grill to put over it. These are readily available in the same places that sell fire pits. To cook over a fire pit, like cooking over any wood fire, you have to allow the wood to burn down to the coals, which will be hotter but much less likely to burn the food that you put on the grill.

4. Wood Burning Fireplace and Wood Burning Stove

For over a century after the United States was first colonized, the most common method of cooking was in a fireplace. Pots were either placed directly in the coals or suspended over the fire on a metal frame. Meats were broiled by putting them on a spit, much like we cook rotisserie chicken today. The wood burning stove eventually replaced the fireplace as the most common cooking location and was still in use in the West even when most people in the East had stoves. The top of the stove is flat, intended for cooking on. If you have a wood burning stove for emergency heating of your home, you have a ready cooking method for anytime the grid goes down.

5. Camp Stove

By definition, camp stoves are intended for use where there is no electricity. There are three basic types, defined by the type of fuel they use:

a. Wood burning is basically just a portable box for you to put wood in and a pot on top.

b. Propane will be a problem when the sources run out. You also can’t use it effectively with wood.

c. Dual fuel are the old style camp stoves which use either special fuel or gasoline. While gasoline may become scarce, this will probably be easier to find than the little propane tanks.

6. Dutch oven.

So far, a lot of the conventional cooking methods I wrote about is for pots and roasting meats and veggies. However, you can use just about all of the methods I’ve mentioned for baking as well. The Dutch oven was the way that colonists and pioneers baked. They would take their bread or pie and put it in the oven, which was cast iron, and place it in the coals of their fire. More coals would be piled on top. Surrounded by heat, the contents would then cook. This is also a good method for one-pot, casserole meals.

A Really Cool Unconventional Method

Sun Oven

Why not have a conventional method of cooking and an unconventional method of cooking ready at all times.

Different methods will produce different tasting food, kind of like the difference between chicken on the grill and chicken in the oven.  You may find that you love food cooked with an unconventional method, like a Sun Oven! 

The Sun Oven works in any outdoor temperature (even below zero).  What a great emergency alternative, and not too bad on the pocket either. Here are some of the benefits. Check out the valuable coupon at the bottom of this post before you buy or this post on the SUN OVEN.

Here’s an over view on Solar Cooking.
Especially in the summer,  when you don’t want to heat up your home with your oven, Solar Cooking is a great unconventional cooking method. The only drawback to it is that it cooks slowly, like a Crockpot. However, with a little practice, solar ovens are easy to use and effective. There are three different types:

a. Reflective Box is the most common. You can make your own or buy one commercially. The oven consists of a box with flaps. The inside of all surfaces is coated with something highly reflective so that sunlight can be reflected onto the pot when it’s placed inside the oven. You can increase the efficiency of these ovens by putting the pot in an oven bag, like those that are used for cooking a turkey.

b. Parabolic Reflectors can be used, and the bigger, the better. Usually, these are made out of the old large satellite TV antennas, which are now obsolete. The inside surface of the antenna is coated with something reflective. When the pot is placed at the point of the antenna’s receiver, all of the sunlight is focused right on it. You will need to devise something to hold the pot in the right place.

c. Fresnel Lens is the most powerful type of solar oven you can make. These are flat plastic magnifying glasses. Large Fresnel lenses were used behind the screen for older big-screen TVs, and can harvest one out of a discarded set and build a frame for it. The focal point will be about two feet behind the lens. These are powerful enough that you can actually melt pennies with them.

The Bottom Line

It’s a good idea to have more than one alternative cooking method available because anything can happen to render your primary method impossible to use. Remember the old survival slogan,  “One is None and Two is One.”  You should have more than alternative for your most important survival needs.  I would say food is probably at the top beside water and shelter.  You never know what extremes may come your way  in an emergency situation.

Don’t think for a minute that your Gas Company won’t turn off the gas to your home if there is even a hint of wildfire in your area or other extreme conditions. They absolutely will.

Be sure to prepare beforehand, both to make sure you have a workable system and to practice cooking with it. The last thing you need is to ruin a bunch of food when supplies are short! Better to make your mistakes when foodstuffs are in abundant supply.

BTW, If you have an interest in the Sun Oven, here’s a coupon for $70 off that the company put together for me and you. It is a limited time offer!

Also, if you have an interest in Survival Kits and Tools, Check out the Survival Tools & Equipment Page.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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