Sizzling Solutions: Cooking Without Electricity

They say spring comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. There’s plenty of truth to that. Temperatures in many parts of the country are still quite chilly in early spring. But later in the season, they’ve risen considerably.

There is one constant throughout spring, however. And that’s the potential for wet and wild conditions. 

Spring often features snow and wind at the start and violent storms throughout. Including tornadoes. And as we all know, the common denominator is blackouts.

Cooking food never takes a holiday. So, as we approach spring, it’s important to bone up on different ways to cook during inevitable power outages.

So far, 2024 has brought powerful storms and blackouts across the entire nation. From west coast atmospheric rivers to nor’easter snow storms. 

And it’s not just forceful storms that can leave you without power for hours, days, and even weeks… 

27 million degrees 

You need to be able to heat water if you’re home in a blackout. The same is true if you’re in the woods camping or hiking. Or if you have to evacuate due to a crisis. 

If you’re prepared, it won’t be a problem. On most days the sun will help you accomplish the task at hand. 

Not all by itself, though. The sun is 27 million degrees Fahrenheit at its core. But its rays are not hot enough to cook food or boil water by the time they reach Earth.

Fortunately, those electromagnetic rays contain a great deal of energy. They cause molecules in whatever they strike to vibrate. That’s what generates heat. And solar cookers are capable of harnessing that heat. 

Sun-powered ovens

There are a number of different types of solar cookers. They include solar ovens/box cookers and panel cookers. Plus evacuated tubes and parabolic solar cookers. 

The solar oven or box cooker is usually about three to five feet across. It’s basically a sun-powered oven. It heats up and seals in the heat. The open-topped box is black on the inside with glass or transparent plastic on the top. 

It usually has several reflectors featuring flat, metallic, or mirrored surfaces outside the box. They collect and direct sunlight onto the glass.   

A pot of food sits on the black bottom of the box. Sunlight enters the box through the glass top. When light waves strike the bottom, the box heats up and the food cooks.

Methods of cooking

Panel cookers incorporate different elements of box cookers and parabolic solar cookers. They use parabolic reflectors above a box-type oven.

Evacuated tube solar cookers use a double-wall glass tube for the cooking chamber. The space between the glass is created as a vacuum. 

Many people prefer parabolic solar cookers due to their ability to achieve higher temperatures. And their portability.

A parabolic solar cooker uses curved, reflective surfaces to focus sunlight into a small area. The evacuated tempered glass tube traps every bit of heat-producing light that hits it.

No noise. No smoke. No fuel. 

Temperatures inside a parabolic solar cooker can get very hot. But it’s cool to the touch on the outside. So, you can safely handle it with your bare hands when it’s at full temperature.

The sides fold out to reveal two parabolic mirrors. These “wings” grab every bit of sun and focus it on the glass tube.

A parabolic solar cooker does not need batteries or electricity. Because it boils water, it protects you from parasites such as giardia.

It doesn’t need any flames or fuel. You don’t have to be concerned with gathering wood or sticks. And it doesn’t produce smoke or make noise. So, it allows you to keep your location covert.

A hotdog in your kettle? Top foods to cook 

What can you cook with a parabolic solar cooker? Hard-boiled eggs and hot dogs come to mind immediately.

But you could also cook an omelet or vegetarian couscous. Or oatmeal and a wide variety of soups.

As well as mashed potato flakes and instant rice. Plus stovetop stuffing, ramen noodles, and bulgar wheat.

Not to mention pastas that cook in less than four minutes. Such as artisan pastas and instant grits.  

When to use it 

When are the best times to use a parabolic solar cooker? They’re great for camping, boating, and hiking.

As well as picnics, your job site, or tailgating. Or just sitting on the sidelines while your kids or grandchildren play.

Cooking food such as hotdogs, eggs and freeze-dried meals is one way to use a parabolic solar cooker. But there are many others. Including…

  • Heating water for hygiene needs
  • Keeping liquid hot for hours for coffee, tea, cocoa, gelatin, or baby formula
  • Melting snow for drinking or other usages
  • Pasteurizing water 
  • Killing giardia, cryptosporidium, and other waterborne bacteria 

More ways to cook in an outage

Now, a solar cooker may be the best way to heat water during a blackout. But it’s not the only way. Here are a few others.

Candles & Camp Stoves

If the only item you have available as a heat source is a candle, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to boil water. But you should be able to at least heat it.

Just place a lit candle under a small pan of water and patiently wait for the water to warm. If you can add more candles to the mix, you’ll have a better chance of raising your water’s temperature.

You’d be much better off with a camp stove. All you need for a camp stove is kindling. Such as twigs, leaves, or grasses.

Camp stoves are lightweight and easily portable. Made of stainless steel, they produce only a small amount of smoke. And they’re easy to clean.

Portable gas stoves

These are best used as an outdoor cooking method. The two best options with portable gas stoves are butane and propane.

Butane stoves are portable and can generate enough heat to do most cooking. However, butane canisters can be pricey and hold a limited amount of fuel.

Propane is a highly dependable fuel at freezing temperatures and high altitudes. The tanks, however, are thick-walled. They’re too heavy to easily carry.

Smaller stoves in this genre are single-burner stoves. But there are also two-burner stoves. If portability is not an issue, larger camper stoves with legs are effective.

Wood and coal-burning stoves

Wood-burning and coal-burning stoves are convenient for use in the winter when you can cook and heat your home simultaneously. But they’re also great in warmer months.

If it is flat enough, you can cook on top of it. The fire should be going strong before you start cooking. It’s best to use cast-iron cookware. It conducts heat, but does not retain it.

Frying time is similar to using a conventional gas or electric stove. But cooking time is longer.

If your food is cooking too quickly, turn down the drafts. Transfer food to a cooler part of the stovetop. If it’s cooking too slowly, open the drafts and add wood to the fire.

Grills and open-fire cooking

If you’re able to hunker down at home – or you have one of these grills at your bug-out location – it will come in handy. They use gas or charcoal.

This is a great way to grill various meats and fish. As well as large vegetables. Grills have an advantage over open-fire cooking because their lids trap more heat.

Open-fire cooking is a simple outdoor solution during a crisis. Set a barbeque grill plate over an open fire and cook.

Another option is using a large, flat rock. Place the rock over the fire. Once the rock is hot, put your pan or pot on top. The harder the rock, the less likely it is to crack.

Fireplace and fondue pot 

If you’re hunkering down, a fireplace is not a bad choice. Use logs rather than charcoal, which can produce carbon monoxide.

Add a little vegetable oil, salt, and pepper to your food before wrapping it in aluminum foil. Then cook it over the flame. Use tongs and rotate the food often. Use a meat thermometer to make sure the inside is at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can use a fondue pot to cook a small meal. Make sure your fuel is approved for indoor use.

Stainless steel is the way to go here. Both for cooking and for cleaning up afterwards. Make sure the handles are strong and the base is wide.

Power outages are inevitable this spring. Some will be short-lived, but others could go on for a while.

Knowing in advance how to cook during those blackouts will come in handy. I hope you’ll be able to utilize one or more of the ways listed above.

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