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Letter Re: Charcoal for Disaster Cooking?

Mr. Rawles,
I am now reading your book “How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It“ for the third time. I am wondering why you did not mention the use of charcoal barbecues for cooking. I envision using a small one [such as a hibachi [1]] for small meals, and a larger one for larger meals. Charcoal is storable. I am wondering if one can get a barbecue going by starting with wood, building up a hot base, then adding charcoal? (That’s for when you run out of starter fluid.) Has anybody done this? Love the book. Regards, – Eric C.

JWR Replies:  A charcoal fire can indeed be started by using paper and kindling sticks.  It just takes a bit of patience and practice. It is also a safer method than charcoal lighting fluid [2].

You are correct that charcoal briquettes will store for many years, and long as they are kept dry. I recommend buying a couple of extra 40 gallon galvanized steel trash cans for storing charcoal briquettes, to keep them dry. I do not recommend buying the more expensive “self-igniting” charcoal that is saturated with a starter.  Not only will the briquette starter gradually evaporate to the point where they won’t light, but but they also emit fumes that are noxious.

Over the past decade, many preppers have switched to using propane ranges, in part because 20 pound propane cylinders have become ubiquitous in the U.S. and Canada. The low cost of propane makes it more cost effective than charcoal.  (It costs roughly $1.50 less per meal, to barbecue a dinner with propane.) 

As previously mentioned in SurvivalBlog, portable propane tanks and even torch cylinders can be repeatedly refilled from a larger home storage tank, if it is equipped with a “wet leg.” (Ask your local propane deliveryman for details.)  And of course propane has an unlimited storage life. 

However, in a really long term societal collapse consider that propane may not be available, whereas charcoal may again be produced locally, using the traditional heaped earth or pit methods [3].

So if you have sufficient storage space, then the best solution is probably to have both types of barbecues, and store both types of fuel. – JWR