Off The Grid Cooking, by Chino

I have seen numerous articles dealing with the type and quantity of food that one should have for long term survival, but I have yet to see anyone address survival cooking.

I have been prepping for a few years and I have a pretty good supply of “stuff” including a Svea backpacking stove, a Coleman stove & fuel, camping grill & 1 lb. propane bottles, a butane stove with butane canisters and a wood stove that could double for a cook stove for cooking beans in the winter time.  I thought I was pretty well set to go it alone for an extended period if Schumer came calling.

Recently I decided to cook a pot of pinto beans.  It took all day to cook them to the point where they were edible (not perfect, but edible…  They were perfect the next day after being in the frig over night and then another hour of cooking)  It occurred to me that the fuel that I have stored might not last very long if I have to burn fuel all day just to cook one pot of beans (about 7 cups dry).

Stop and think about your store of food and your store of cooking fuel.  Do you have enough fuel to cook all of the food you have stored?  Some items like canned food just require heating up where others like beans, rice, lentils and pasta require time to cook properly.  And what about tea, coffee and hot chocolate?

We have become so accustomed to popping something into the microwave for a couple of minutes or in a pan on the stove or in the coffee maker, that we don’t give any thought to the amount of energy required to prepare our food.

If the infrastructure goes down for a couple of years or more and you are not fortunate enough to have a propane stove and a full tank of propane when it happens, you may find that you are out of cooking fuel after a few weeks.

With that in mind, I began researching other means of emergency cooking.  This is what I’ve found:


There are a number of commercial alcohol stoves on the market, but I found a homemade version that is easy to make and works just like the commercial models.  The concept of a pressurized alcohol stove is fairly simple.  One can be made in a few minutes from two soda or beer cans.  It is a matter of cutting the bottom out of two aluminum cans of the same type, pressing them together to form a container, punching or drilling small holes around the top edge of one can to form the jets and drilling a larger hole in the center of the top can for a fuel hole.

The alcohol used in these stoves is available at Lowe’s or Home Depot.  The brand is KLEAN STRIP SLX Denatured Alcohol and it is designed for use in stoves/ You can also use HEET Gas-Line Antifreeze which comes in a yellow plastic bottle containing 12 oz.  Do not use the HEET in the red bottle.  HEET is more expensive per ounce than SLX but the small bottle is handier to use than a gallon can.  HEET can be found at hardware stores, auto parts stores and Wal-Mart (lowest price).

The design that I like the best is  called a “Penny Stove” because a penny is used to cover the filler hole after the alcohol is poured into the stove.  Information on the construction and use of these stoves can be found on the internet.  Search for “Penny Alcohol Backpacking Stove” of see this site. I have made several versions of these stoves and they all work well.  They will boil 2 cups of water in about 10 minutes on one ounce of alcohol.  A gallon of alcohol at Lowe’s  is about $16.  These stoves do require a pot stand to hold the pot above the stove and a fire/heat proof base to set them on.  Like most backpacking stoves, these require a few seconds of pre-heating before they pressurize.  

One solution I found for both a pot stand and fire proof base is to use a large food can such as a 29 oz. can of Yams, use tin snips or Dremel tool to cut the can off about an inch taller than the height of the stove and drill or punch holes around the base to allow air to feed the stove and a similar row of holes just below the top of the can to allow the heat to flow up around the pot.  The holes should be about 1/2″ in diameter to allow the air to flow easily.   Place the stove in the center of the base/pot holder and pour alcohol into the filler hole.  Do not fill the stove completely or it will not pressurize until some of the fuel burns off.  Pour a little alcohol on the base around the stove and put the penny over the filler hole.  When the alcohol is lit it will heat the stove causing it to pressurize.  The jets will then begin to burn.  The alcohol burns with a blue flame like a gas range and is difficult to see in bright light.  When the jets light, put the pot on the pot stand.  Be sure to use a copper penny (pre-1982) to cover the filler hole.  A zinc penny will deteriorate over time and the fumes given off from it being heated could be a health hazard to breathe. 

Alcohol stoves are so cheap and easy to make that you can have several on hand for back-ups or to trade or give away.  Also, it is likely that you may need several stoves going at one time to prepare a meal and have it all ready at the same time.

If you prefer to buy an alcohol stove rather than make one, you might want to check out the web site.  They have what appears to be a good design for $20. plus S&H.  A review of this stove can be seen on YouTube.


Since the alcohol stoves still require commercially make fuel and you still have to guess how much alcohol you are going to need, I began researching wood stoves. 

I found that there are some really neat designs for wood stoves.  There are various designs of what are referred to as wood gas stoves or wood gasification stoves.  The stove consists of an inner shell (can) and an outer shell (can).  The inner shell, which contains the fire, has holes in the bottom and around the side of the bottom to allow air flow to the bottom of the wood and another row of holes about 1/2″ below the top of the can which are the gas jet holes.  The outer shell has large holes around the bottom to allow air flow to the inner shell.  There is an air space between the inner and the outer shell.  When the fire begins to burn, it heats up the wood which releases gas.  The gas is partially burned by the flame on the wood.  It also heats up the air between the two shells.  As the hot air flows up and through the gas jets holes, it facilitates a re-burning of the wood gas (smoke) which maximizes the efficiency and also reduces the smoke for a nearly smoke-free fire.

One commercially made wood gas stove that is sold for backpacking/camping is called the “Bush Buddy.”  Videos of it in operation can be seen on Youtube. Since the Bush Buddy is rather pricey, I pursued the possibility of making one.  I soon found that numerous other people had already done that and some of the designs were quite good.  The designs that I like the best can be seen on Youtube.  Here he describes four models that he has made and the tools and techniques that he uses.  The one design that I like best is the last (and largest) one that he describes.  To see one of his stoves in action see this video.

I made my stove in the same configuration as his but I used a large juice can (about 49-50 oz.) for the outer can, a 26 oz. pasta sauce can for the inner can and a 28 oz. crushed tomato or 29 oz. yam can (cut down to about 2 3/4″ tall) for the pot stand.  (Both ends of the pot stand should be removed)  He recommends using a step-bit to drill the holes and I concur completely.  It is much easier and cleaner to drill holes with a step-bit than a regular bit.  [I bought a set of three from Amazon for about $15.]  Be sure to use a side-cutting can opener since you will re-use the lid of the large can to hold the inner can.

After I finished all of the drilling, cutting and sanding the sharp edges, I used a propane torch to burn the lacquer off the cans before testing the stove.  Otherwise, it will gradually burn off while you are cooking.  The fumes from the lacquer are not pleasant and could be harmful.

The beauty of these stoves is the design.  Because of the air flow up through the bottom, they are very easy to start.  You fill the stove with small chunks of wood up to just below the jet holes at the top of the inner can and start the fire on the top of the pile using small twigs or some type of fire starter.

Because of the design of the wood gas stove, you can cook a meal on nothing more than a handful of twigs, small branches or even chips and chunks typically found around a wood pile.  The stove is so efficient that it can be loaded with sticks of wood about 3 1/2″ long and 1/2″ in diameter standing up lengthwise in the stove and it will burn them completely.

If you cut an opening in the side of the pot stand can about 1 1/8″x 2 1/8″ this will enable you to continue to feed the fire periodically to keep it burning as long as you need it.

Cooking over an open fire is a tremendous waste of fuel.  These stoves will do the job with a fraction of the wood and with much less smoke too.  These stoves were designed primarily for backpacking since they are light weight and compact.  The smaller versions work well for that since backpackers primarily use a stove to heat water for tea, coffee or Ramen.  But for serious cooking, the larger stoves are a better option.


Rocket stoves were designed for use in developing countries where they have no electricity or gas to cook with.  They burn wood and they were designed to be as energy efficient as possible since many places around the world are rapidly using up their supply of wood.  These stoves are generally larger than the wood gas stoves and therefore they may produce more heat.  

The design is basically a flu or stove pipe with a 90 degree elbow and a short section of pipe that serves as the fire chamber.  The “L” shaped pipe is enclosed in another container that is considerably larger than the pipe.  Insulation is placed between the pipe and the outer container to hold the heat of the fire in the pipe and therefore increase the combustion and facilitate a cleaner, more efficient burn.  Many rocket stoves are built in-place using fire bricks and are permanent cooking fixtures.  Others can be made using 5 gallon buckets or barrels  and are more portable.  Because of the size and design of the rocket stove, they are probably more suitable for cooking for a greater number of people than the wood gas stoves are since they will accommodate a larger pot or even a griddle.

The rocket stoves utilize longer sticks and small diameter branches that are fed into the short pipe.  A piece of metal separates the pipe into an upper chamber and a lower chamber.  The wood is fed into the upper chamber and the lower chamber allows the air to flow under the wood.  Only the ends of the sticks burn so the sticks have to be fed into the chamber as they burn.  An advantage to these stoves is that they are easy to keep burning until the cooking is done by simply continuing to feed sticks into them.  When you are finished cooking, pull the sticks out and the fire will immediately begin to go out, although it will continue to give off heat for simmering.  Once the stove gets hot, it burns efficiently and with very little smoke.  As with the wood gas stove, the rocket stove uses very little fuel.  Another advantage of the portable rocket stove is that they can be rotated so that any breeze or air movement will blow into the feed pipe giving the rocket a super charge.

The advantage of wood stoves is that wood is available almost everywhere.  You may not have access to actual firewood, but almost everybody has access to dry tree limbs or other sources of scrap wood with which to fuel a wood cook stove.  And if you do have firewood for heating your house, you can use the debris for cooking and save the larger wood for heating.

A commercial rocket stove is available a for $135.

Numerous homemade designs of rocket stoves can be found on Youtube.  One word of caution: If you make you own rocket stove, be cautions about using a galvanized stove pipe since the galvanization is zinc and it could contaminate you food and the fumes could be harmful to breathe.


As usual, if we want to find out how to do things efficiently we have to learn from our elders.  In the “old days” people had “hay boxes” or cooking boxes sitting in their kitchen.  These boxes contained hay or blankest or other material to assist in cooking things such as my pot of beans.  This method is also used in Africa where they have limited fuel for cooking.

The concept of retained heat cooking is that you bring a pot of food to a boil and keep it boiling for about 15-20 minutes until the pot and the contents are at a boiling temperature.  The pot and contents are then placed in a container and covered with anything that will insulate the pot from the surrounding air.  If properly insulated, the pot and contents will retain enough heat to continue cooking for several hours.  The length of time required depends upon the type of food you are cooking.   Obviously, beans will require the most time to cook.

Any container can be used as long as it’s considerably larger than the pot being used i.e. laundry basket, cardboard box, wooden box, foot locker, large wicker basket etc.  A blanket or sleeping bag is laid over the container and pushed down into the container.  A trivet is placed on the bottom to protect the blanket from the heat of the pot.  Set the pot on the trivet and cover it with the blanket.  Then pack other blankets around and over the pot so that it is well insulated.

I have only tried this method one time so far.  I used four turkey size cooking bags and filled each about half full of vermiculite (a nonflammable material used in gardening).  I folded the end of the bags over twice and stapled the bag shut.  I then taped the fold to the bag for a tight seal so that none of the vermiculite could get out.  I used a laundry hamper and a wool army blanket over the hamper.  I put a trivet in the bottom of the hamper and a mylar space blanket over the trivet.  I put the pot on the space blanket and wrapped the space blanket around the pot.  I then packed the bags of vermiculite around and over the pot and wrapped the army blanket around everything.

I was cooking pinto beans (again) so I let the pot set in the basket for about 4 hours.  When I took them out, the pot was still too hot to handle without pot holders. The beans were still not done, but they had definitely cooked.  Another 2-3 hours might have finished them.  I think it is a viable method of cooking.  Even if you had to leave them in the hamper for 8 hours, bring them back to a boil for 10 minutes and put them back in the hamper for another few hours it’s still better than using a quart of fuel to cook them.

For a visual on retained heat cooking, see the video on Youtube.

A side note:  when I cook beans on the kitchen stove, I invariably have to add water before they get fully cooked.  When I used the retained heat method, I didn’t.

And that brings up another point worth mentioning…


Everybody talks about how much water to have for each person per day.  Stop and think about how much water it takes to cook with, not to mention food preparation and washing dishes and utensils.  When I cooked my beans, I sorted them for rocks and dirt clods and then I used about two gallons of water to wash them.  Then I used about a gallon to soak them overnight (which reduces cooking time).  Then I used another gallon to cook them. In all, four gallons of water for one pot of beans…  Of course, you could soak them in the same water you washed them in and save a little water usage.  But that gives you an idea of how much water we use just in cooking, not to mention food preparation and dish washing.  Something to be aware of…

Since we have no way of knowing how long we might be without electricity, it’s a good idea to have numerous methods for cooking and a good supply of the various types of fuel on hand.  It’s also a good idea to make several stoves now.  They would be much harder to make without electricity for drills and Dremel tools, even if you have the necessary cans.  [Dremel tools are perfect for cutting cans off and for cutting windows in the cans for fuel feed holes.  Be sure to wear eye protection.] You will have more important things to do when TSHTF than to make cook stoves