Cooking by fuel sources
Wood – outdoor
Of course, a fire pit or outdoor fireplace would be ideal, but that may not be practical. One great idea get a charcoal barbecue or convert an old propane model. To do this simply remove all the old burners and use just like a charcoal unit. For direct cooking, like grilling, use only untreated lumber or hardwood. Smaller pieces will work better than larger logs like heating wood. For indirect cooking, almost any wood can be used, within reason. Try not to use pressure treated lumber, as some of the chemicals in the wood are hazardous when burned.
Another option for indirect cooking is a unit like the rocket stove. These stoves use little wood and are compact and convenient. Always make sure your fire is well away from the house and any combustible materials. Be cautious when using liquid fire starters and NEVER use gasoline to start a fire.
Charcoal is easy to get and stores well if kept dry. However, it can get expensive to stock up on large quantities. You can make charcoal by “cooking” wood pieces. Start with hardwood pieces in a burn barrel and get a good flame going. Cover the barrel to suffocate the flame and when cool, in a few days, you will be left with pretty much the same thing as you buy in the grocery store.
Wood is readily available in most areas for heating. Simply cut & chop it into smaller pieces, and store under cover from the elements. In emergency situations, wood from pallets, construction scrap, or discarded furniture can be used, but I recommend indirect cooking only, as you don’t know what may be in that wood that could transfer into your food.
As for cooking tools, camping cook kits are inexpensive and come in a variety of sizes from individual sets to family size pots & pans, however, cast iron cook wear is durable, and distributes heat well. You should also have a set of long handled barbecue tools on hand as well as an iron fire poker. Remember to make sure your fire is dead out before leaving it unattended.
Wood – indoor
Only use wood for cooking indoors with a fireplace or wood stove. DO NOT attempt to convert the laundry tub into an indoor cook stove. Stoves & fireplaces must be properly installed with safe clearances to combustibles and be properly vented outdoors.
For fireplaces and wood stoves, avoid direct cooking altogether. The grease dripping into an open fire can spread sparks several feet, and the smoke can easily fill a room. This is where cast iron dutch ovens will work wonders. Use them on coals to cook soups, stews, roasts, or even bake bread or brownies.
Wood stoves are better suited to setting pots & pans on top of. If you have or are considering a wood kitchen stove, this is ideal as they will have an oven built in.
If you use wood to heat either as a primary source or as backup, you will need little more than what you usually have on hand, as you can use your stove or fireplace for dual purposes.
Propane – outdoors
Most of us already have a propane grill in the back yard. These are great for direct cooking, and some have a small stove type burner on the side. As convenient as these are, what always seems to happen is that you run out of propane mid meal. Barbecues are inherently inefficient beasts, requiring lots of preheat time and consume copious amounts of gas. Also, tanks can be difficult at best to refill during an emergency situation. In addition, the side burner units can easily tip if the pot is too heavy. I suggest buying and storing extra tanks of propane to keep on hand just in case. Propane does store virtually forever. Another bonus to propane is that is can be used for a variety of appliances from barbecues to lanterns & heaters. Adapters can be bought to run smaller, 1lb appliances from the 20lb bulk tanks. Distribution trees are also available to rum multiple appliances at once, or individually without changing hoses back & forth. Keep in mind that propane barbecues should only be used outdoors, away from combustibles, like your house.
Propane – indoors
Small two or three burner camp stoves are compact, efficient, and great for disaster use. Although they consume much less oxygen than a large outdoor grill, remember to vent the room when using and never leave a stove unattended. The best place to set a camp stove is on your regular cook stove. You can buy a square sheet of aluminum or sheet metal from your local renovation center, set it on the range top and then place your stove on top of that. This will give you a level, flat, non combustible surface for the stove. Single burner units that simply screw on top of a 1 lb tank are available and work in a pinch, but they are easily tipped over. Also, these units cannot be used with a 20lb bulk tank like the larger 2 or 3 burner units.
As I mentioned, stoves that usually take a 1 lb tank can be used on the 20 lb bulk tank with the use of an adapter, but if you only have 1 lb tanks, plan for about 4 – 6 hours of cooking per tank. Each meal will probably take about a half hour or so to cook, so base your storage requirements on this. A better idea is to take your stove camping and see for yourself just how many meals you can get from a tank. As I mentioned, propane stores indefinitely, making it the ideal prepper fuel. Several 20lb tanks and a distribution tree & adapter would be ideal to keep on hand.
Naptha – indoors
Naptha, also known as white gas or camping gas shares one major advantage with propane in that it can be used in a variety of appliances. On the downside, it does not store forever and can be hazardous due to it’s liquid state. Refuelling appliances can be tricky and messy, and should be done outdoors. Naptha appliances also require you to pressurize them with a manually operated pump. This means more moving parts in te appliance which leads to a bigger chance of malfunction. I would recommend staying away from naptha, but if this is all you have, then store it in the same quantities as you figured out for propane. Trying it out on the trail is the best method.
There are two ways to use electricity for disaster cooking. First, the AC power. You can run small appliances, like electric fry pans or slow cookers from a generator or solar setup with a properly sized inverter. This is, however, a grossly inefficient idea. For lager items, like your kitchen stove, a generator capable of running it can get expensive and can be difficult to wire up. Also, I would recommend saving your generator fuel for refrigeration and other essential applications
Many camping stores or even your local Canadian Tire sell a variety of 12v appliances such as coffee makers and mini grills. These can be run from your car battery, solar setup, or backup power box. A small solar or wind charger can be used to recharge the batteries. As an example, a 12v coffee maker can be used to heat water to rehydrate freeze dried meals or to make soups and of course, coffee.
Sometimes handy for very short term outages, but inconvenient for longer terms unless you are generating a large amount of power on your own.
Natural and other resources –
Solar ovens have become quite popular in recent history. Available manufactured from a variety of online sources, or home made, these ovens use absolutely no fuel. Of course limited to use on clear, sunny days, they are great for heating, baking and roasting. Many commercial models boast a temperature of up to 450 deg.F.
Another great cooing method is a hot box. Simply prepare your roast, soup or stew in a pot as normal, heat over a fire or cook stove, then place the covered pot in a cardboard box. Stuff the entire box with anything insulating...sleeping bags, spare blankets or winter coats, etc. Close up the box and let the captured heat slowly cook for you. In a few hours, you will have a beautifully cooked meal.