Letter Re: Cooking Aromas and Post-Collapse OPSEC

Greetings All,
SurvivalBlog has, and is, providing great practical information as well a thoughts on just about every aspect overcoming adversity and disastrous conditions. This brain trust provides information on retaining as much privacy as possible in this era of electronic monitoring of everything we purchase, and how to camouflage just about every type of inanimate object. I have noticed one issue that hasn’t been addressed. (Don’t faint!).

During a long term situation in particular this one issue can impact any family or group’s safety. So here is the question. How can we best ‘camouflage’ or limit the smell of food cooking? In a short term situation, as after hurricane, this would be a less dangerous situation provided relief was available and the aftermath limited in locale. During a hurricane most of us in our neighborhood had huge cookouts to use up frozen foods before they spoiled, or shared prepared food. We knew the limits of the damage and even with a week or more without power, while ‘bothersome’, wasn’t creating any real dangerous situation. Our family gathered a large percentage of our frozen food as well as some of our neighbor’s food and took our freezer and it’s contents to a relative within traveling distance who had power. And through that week we made trips to pick up food for that day and put it into ice chests.

If anyone has been down wind of a neighbor grilling out during the Spring, Summer or even Fall; you know how that affects you. When I was growing up and spending Summers on her farm, or visiting every week or so, I remember the aroma of my Grandmother’s cooking whenever I was outside and down wind of the farm house. During a long term situation, where people are desperate or crime more widespread, as the example Argentina provides us, that one element has the potential negate all the ‘movement, light and sound discipline’ one may initiate in order to maintain a low profile of having a stock of foodstuffs. It could even attract unwanted attention from any government agencies who are ‘here to help us’. How can this danger be mitigated?
Keep your powder dry, – The Rabid One

JWR Replies: You’ve raised a valid observation that should be included on retreat planning OPSEC “signatures” planning. Aside from minimizing the use of cooking herbs and spices, and minimizing outdoor venting, there is not a lot that can be done to reduce cooking smells. Obviously, in a famine situation, preserving meat by salting or brine jerking would be far superior to using a meat smoker!

For some background on various habitation “signatures”, see my December, 2007 discussion of being holed up in an apartment. In such demanding circumstances–with neighbors in close proximity—it would be advisable to cook only the most bland foods and to primarily use the Thermos bottle cooking method–like the one described by SurvivalBlog reader KBF.

Cooking odor signature is yet another reason to buy a house on acreage. The farther that your house is away from public thoroughfares, the better. The inverse square law (which you’ll recall I’ve mentioned regarding topics like sound attenuation and even Golden Horde attenuation) applies to the olfactory sense, too. (Your local wind speed and direction may vary.)

Perhaps some SurvivalBlog readers have some other suggestions on minimizing the “signature” of cooking aromas. OBTW, another odor that needs to be controlled is the smell of burning tobacco, which can carry a surprising distance. (I’ve heard this mentioned by several infantry combat veterans.)


  1. Dear James,
    I believe you know this. A while ago I was listening on the web someone talking about prepping and cooking with some cooking item to be able to cook without odors. I forgot what it was and of course I am still looking for it. I am not sure, but I think it was a container inside a container, so there is no fume and no odors, and the idea is to cook without attracting attention. It can even be used to cook without electricity, so they say. If you can find this you would help the whole prepper community. People near you can look for it for you. Poor James. I will keep you busy with that Survival Blog of yours.


    1. @Michelle, what you probably heard about is called a thermal cooker. There are a variety of commercial units like this one from Nissan or this one from Sarasota Jacks. There are also a number of articles on SurvivalBlog that show you how to make them like these:

      You can also rehydrate freeze dried or dehydrated foods in a Mason jar and as long as the lid is screwed on while it’s rehydrating, there will be no odor. Just eat fast when you open it up to consume it.
      Cold food also produces much less odor than hot foods so for the fist couple of weeks (or months depending on the severity of the situation) you may want to focus on foods that can be eaten cold.
      Hope this helps.

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