20 Ways to Heat Food Without Electricity: A Guide on How To Cook Food Without Power

July 07, 2022 8 min read

20 Ways to Heat Food Without Electricity: A Guide on How To Cook Food Without Power

We are no strangers to power outages. Hurricanes, winter storms, tornados, and other types of emergencies consistently knock out our power and create food shortages. But you do not have to go hungry just because there is a power outage. Instead, you can cook nutritious meals without relying on electricity just like when you experience going to the best states for off grid living.  

Safely cooking without electricity is a crucial survival skill. In this article, we will share 20 helpful tips for how to cook without electricity. Keep reading to learn how to keep your family fed with no power.

Solar Oven: A Cheap Way to Cook Food Without Power

Learning to operate off the grid is essential to surviving emergencies. Over the years, we’ve learned how to harness the sun to power our devices and charge our batteries. Nowadays, this is true for cooking also. Solar ovens are a fantastic way to cook without electricity. 

Most solar ovens are lightweight and portable. Therefore, they can be used for camping and emergencies when you might lose power. Obviously, one downside of solar cookers is that they are only helpful in sunny weather. So if you lose power and the weather is dreary, you will need a backup to replace the solar oven. However, most modern solar ovens can reach temperatures ranging from 250 to 300 degrees on sunny days!

Portable Gas Stoves: Easy and Convenient Ways to Cook Food Without Electricity

Over the years, portable gas stoves have come a long way. However, depending on the type of food you like to cook and your style of cooking, you may prefer one over the other. So take your time to research so you can purchase the best stove for your needs.

Butane Stoves

Butane gas stoves are one of the most popular portable gas stoves out there. They are lightweight, compact, and incredibly efficient—not to mention the fuel is affordable. They are typically utilized in the camping context. However, they also double as the perfect cooking tool during power outages when you can no longer rely on your electric cooking equipment.

Propane Stoves

When it comes to gas stoves, propane is by far the most widely available, reliable, and affordable fuel type. In addition, propane stoves come in a variety of sizes and styles. The most classic portable propane stove is the two-burner camp stove. It’s lightweight and can be easily stowed away for transport. 

It’s important to note that there are different propane tank sizes. First, of course, there’s the classic 20-pounder. However, if you want something more compact, you can purchase empty tanks in the one- to five-pound range.

Alcohol Stoves

Alcohol is a fantastic fuel source. Most types of alcohol are easily accessible and affordable. Plus, alcohol stoves burn hot and cleanly. Cooking with alcohol stoves can be tricky at first, though; but over time, you’ll get the hang of it. You may even learn to prefer alcohol stoves over other types of portable gas stoves.

The best alcohol fuel types are:

  • Denatured alcohol
  • Pure methanol alcohol
  • Pure ethanol
  • Pure alcohol (i.e., Everclear)

White Gas Stoves

The last type of portable gas stove we’d like to talk about is a white gas stove. White gas is a popular fuel source because it burns quickly and is very hot. You will be surprised by how fast you can boil water with a white gas stove. 

Compared to other portable gas stoves, white gas stoves are somewhat less user-friendly. In addition, they can be a tad fussy and require practice. So if you plan to incorporate a white gas stove into your emergency kit, we recommend you practice with the stove ahead of time.

Wood-Burning Stoves: Safe Indoor Cooking Without Electricity

Before electric stove-tops and cooking with gas became popularized, cooking with wood-burning stoves was the go-to strategy for cooking food without electricity. Wood-burning stoves are fantastic because they are dual-purpose: You can use them for cooking your food and heating your home. 

The drawback of wood-burning stoves is that they require some additional prep. Besides the oven itself, you’ll need to install a flue and chimney and have ample wood chopped and ready to go. 

Barbecue Grills: An Outdoor Cooker You Probably Already Have

Barbecue grills are another great way to prepare survival food without relying on electricity. Most barbecue grills use propane or charcoal as fuel. However, some grills can also be connected directly to your home's natural gas fuel line. 

Barbecue grills are more versatile than you might think—they aren't just for grilling meat. With the proper tools, you can use barbecues for cooking pizza, grilling vegetables, frying bacon, and baking bread.

Open-Fire: The Most Ancient Way to Heat Food

Cooking over an open fire is one of the most reliable ways to cook without electricity. If you have the proper supplies and open fires are allowed in your area, this no-electricity cooking method may be the most practical. Plus, the smoke from the fire adds delicious flavor to your food.

Essential items to have when building a fire for cooking:

  • Tinder, kindling, and larger pieces of dry wood
  • Flint
  • Matches or a lighter
  • Cooking utensils such as cast-iron skillets, pots, and pans
  • Spit, gridiron, or trivet 

Even if you don’t have matches, there are ways to start a fire without matches.

Fireplace: If You Already Have One, It’s a Great Option

Cooking in a fireplace is similar to cooking over an open fire. Many of the same cooking supplies and techniques are transferable. The main difference is that typically you’re indoors if you are cooking with a fireplace, and you will have the luxury of the chimney to dispose of the smoke the fire produces.

Unique Ways to Cook Without Electricity:

Engine Cooking

In extreme scenarios, cooking food using the heat from your vehicle’s engine is feasible. However, we would like to note that cooking food this way should only occur when you have exhausted all other options.  

To get your engine hot enough to cook food, start the vehicle and let it idle. You can wrap your food in aluminum foil or cook it in a pan. As you might expect, this strategy for cooking without electricity may not be the most efficient. It also assumes you have spare gasoline to power your vehicle. Just make sure you don’t run out and become stranded! 

Portable Cooking Bags

Portable cooking bags are not just for backpacking and camping trips; they can also be kept and stored as emergency food. We love portable cooking bags because all you have to do is add hot water, and voila. 

The dehydrated food in portable cooking bags or food buckets has come a long way. Nowadays, the recipes are much more delicious and nutritious. One of our favorite things about portable cooking bags is that there is little to no clean-up. Just wipe off your spoon or fork, and chuck the bag into the trash.

Tea Light Slow Cooker

Tea light ovens, also known as home emergency radiant heat cooking (HERC) ovens, are a tool that every survivalist and homesteader should know how to use. The idea is simple. A singular tea light won’t cook much of anything. But multiple tea lights heating up one pot will. 

As you probably noticed in the name, the tea light ovens cook slowly. But slow-cooked food is better than no food at all. HERC ovens can be bought in stores. Or you can make your own.

Supplies you will need to make your own tea light slow cooker are:

  • Tea lights
  • Pot
  • Thermometer
  • Scrap wood for the frame
  • Wood glue or nails
  • Matches or a lighter 

Earth Oven

Earth ovens have been used for cooking food for millennia. The idea is relatively simple. All you have to do is dig a hole big enough to accommodate the food you want to cook and line the bottom of the hole with piping hot stones (heated up separately, probably in a fire). Cover the rocks with tree branches and then layer in your food. 

Earth ovens do an exceptional job at retaining heat and slow-cooking food. Where putting your food on the fire directly will result in quick cooking, burying it with hot stones results in a slower cook that keeps in the food’s moisture. For a pro tip, we recommend using fresh, green branches so that they do not burn. Instead, the moisture from the branches will help create steam and cook the food.

Hay Box Oven

Hay box ovens are another safe indoor method of cooking without electricity. Hay box ovens rely on thermal heat to cook food over time slowly. That is why this cooking method is ideal for foods that like to simmer, like soups, stews, and beans. 

Essentially, a hay box oven is a box packed with, you guessed it, hay! All you have to do is place your preheated food into the container and surround it with hay. Over time, the insulated pot of food will stay warm and continue to cook slowly. 

And if you don’t have any hay lying around, no worries. You can make your hay box oven in a cardboard box packed with old sweaters instead of hay.

Tuna Can Stove

In a survival situation, improvisation is critical. That is why we think the tuna can stove is so unique—it’s simple and effective. Plus, tuna is a common food item in most emergency caches of food. However, when it comes to storing food, typically, we prefer to keep food that lasts 25 years. 

Here’s how it works.

  1. Open a can of tuna. Do not drain the oil.
  2. Place a thin layer of toilet paper over the tuna fish. Press down on the tuna to allow the toilet paper to absorb the oil and to create a seal.
  3. Once it has been properly soaked, ignite the oily toilet paper.
  4. You can then use the open flame for cooking food. It can burn for upwards of 25 minutes.
  5. Once you’re done, don’t forget to remove the toilet paper and enjoy the hot tuna, too! 

Canned Heat: Another Indoor Safe Cooking Option

Canned heat, also known as Sterno or gelled fuel, is alcohol that is transformed into a jelly-like consistency. Typically you see canned heat warming up catered food at significant events. However, you can incorporate canned heat into your emergency kit as well.  Canned heat operates much like an alcohol stove. Simply ignite the gelled fuel and use the flame to heat your food. 

Canned heat is great because, unlike alcohol, it will not evaporate over time. This makes gelled heat ideal for long-term storage. However, one drawback of gelled heat is that you cannot control the flame. Therefore, cooking with canned heat is best for recipes that don’t call for delicate simmering.

Ember Roasting: Slow, Traditional Cooking Without Power

It's not all about flames when cooking over an open fire or fireplace. Sometimes, it’s best to cook over the embers or coals instead. For example, ember roasting is our go-to method for roasting marshmallows. Sure, roasting food over the embers of your fire may take longer, but you won’t risk burning your food or only charring the outside without cooking the inside.

Dutch Oven

We believe cast iron Dutch ovens are the best tools for ember roasting. You can fill them up with your ingredients and let the embers do the rest of the work. Cooking without electricity doesn’t have to be boring, though. Oven-roasted chicken, pot pies, fresh-baked bread, and apple strudels are all delicious ideas that are relatively easy to make. 

Final Thoughts About Cooking Without Electricity

There may come a time when you have to cook without electricity. When that time comes, you will be glad you took the time to prepare a backup plan and equipment necessary to feed you and your family. 

Nevertheless, before that time comes, we strongly recommend that you include practice in your preparation. Take the time upfront to acquaint yourself with your new improvised cooking equipment and techniques, so that when an emergency occurs and power outages throw us back into the dark ages, you’ll be prepared and you and your family will not go hungry. 

Please visit our website for advice on long-term food and water storage or to speak with an expert. We are here to help!