7 things to remember about cooking in SHTF scenario
Just about every prepper has stored some food and water in case of a major disaster. That’s one of the first things you began to stockpile right? But did you ever stop to consider ways and means of cooking your food in a serious SHTF scenario? Unless you have a month’s (or more) worth of MREs, food preparation is going to become a very important part of your survival.
In a long-term, grid down situation, your ability to cook will be restricted. No more microwaves or electric stoves. Even with something like a gas grill, your fuel source won’t be infinite. And as such, you might need to consider what you would do in that type of situation.
So when making your contingency cooking plans, here are some things you might want to consider:
Be careful what you burn as a heat source
I think that if we experience a long-term, grid down situation there are going to be A LOT of people who are going to have all kinds of problems because they do not know what they can and cannot burn for fuel. There is a long list of things you absolutely should NOT burn. (This is even more important if you are using something like a fireplace or wood stove inside your home.)
Treated wood should not be burned. Doing so will release chemicals like chromium and arsenic into the air that you breath and into the food you are cooking. Treated wood is typically green, though as it ages it turns grey. But wooden structures such as decks, exterior trim, siding, railings, etc are almost always treated. So don’t use them!
Things like particle board and plywood are also no good. The chemicals used to make these produces can be very toxic when burned. Other things in it like glues can cause the fire to burn a lot hotter…which might exceed the temperature setting of your wood stove or fireplace.
Don’t burn wood that has been painted or stained. Until the late 1970s, paint contained lead. And until 1990, most paints contained mercury. ‘Nuff said! Even with paint or stain from today, burning this wood will release toxic chemicals into the air. This is of course NO BUENO!
Burning things like colored paper can also be dangerous. The same goes for items that have colored ink on them. Things like magazines, empty pizza boxes, styrofoam cups etc can release harmful carcinogens.
A majority of wood pallets today have been treated with a flame retardant chemical. Burning this will release these chemicals, and could cause problems. So I’d skip wooden pallets as well.
Essentially, the best wood I would burn is aged hard wood (at least 6 months). This wood should be dry, as wet wood can produce more smoke than heat, and can also cause you problems with your chimney or wood stove.
Be aware of potential problems with chimneys and wood stoves
As I said, all of the above items doubly apply to indoor fire places and wood stoves. But chimneys and fire places have additional dangers that an outdoor fire pit does not. The first danger is called wood-tar creosote. According to Wikipedia, wood-tar creosote is:
Wood-tar creosote is a colourless to yellowish greasy liquid with a smoky odor, produces a sooty flame when burned, and has a burned taste. It is non-buoyant in water, with a specific gravity of 1.037 to 1.087, retains fluidity at a very low temperature, and boils at 205-225 °C.
The reason many people prefer their hamburgers, steaks, etc cooked on a charcoal grill as opposed to a gas grill is because the charcoal releases wood-tar creosote. This gives the meat it’s “smokey flavor”.
For grilling meat, creosote is a good thing. But in chimneys and wood stoves, creosote can be a huge hazard that can cause chimney/house fires. While a long-term SHTF event is bad enough, a house fire during one is even worse! So if you have a chimney or wood stove, pay attention! (More from Wikipedia:)
Burning wood and fossil fuels in the absence of adequate airflow (such as in an enclosed furnace or stove), causes incomplete combustion of the oils in the wood, which are off-gassed as volatiles in the smoke. As the smoke rises through the chimney it cools, causing water, carbon, and volatiles to condense on the interior surfaces of the chimney flue. The black oily residue that builds up is referred to as creosote, which is similar in composition to the commercial products by the same name, but with a higher content of carbon black.
Over the course of a season creosote deposits can become several inches thick. This creates a compounding problem, because the creosote deposits reduce the draft (airflow through the chimney) which increases the chance that the wood fire is not getting enough air for complete combustion. Since creosote is highly combustible, a thick accumulation creates a fire hazard. If a hot fire is built in the stove or fireplace, and the air control left wide open, this may allow hot oxygen into the chimney where it comes in contact with the creosote which then ignites—causing a chimney fire.
Chimney fires often spread to the main building because the chimney gets so hot that it ignites any combustible material in direct contact with it, such as wood. The fire can also spread to the main building from sparks emitting from the chimney and landing on combustible roof surfaces. In order to properly maintain chimneys and heaters that burn wood or carbon-based fuels, the creosote buildup must be removed. Chimney sweeps perform this service for a fee.
Between 2002 and 2004, 73% of heating fires and 27% of all residential fires in the United States were found to be caused by failure to clean out creosote buildup.
This means you need to keep your chimney and/or wooden stove pipe clean! There is a creosote powder out there that helps to reduce the build up of creosote. I’ll be honest….I don’t have a fireplace and so I have never used this powder. But I have heard good things about it and it has received some high reviews.
In addition to avoiding wet wood, I’d also skip woods like cypress, pines, or firs in your chimneys. These soft woods have a lot more oils in them that cause creosote. In a TEOTWAWKI event, you may not have much choice. Just be aware of the potential problems these types of woods could cause.
The other thing to be aware of is not burning things like coal or charcoal in your chimney/wood stove. These materials burn hotter than hard wood, and could cause the temperature to exceed the safe limits of your chimney/wood stove.
Finally, don’t burn trash or clothing in your fireplace/wood stove either. In addition to the chemical dangers, both can cause a lot more soot buildup…which in turn leads to chimney fires.
Don’t cook in galvanized metal containers
Galvanized metal is steel or iron dipped into melted zinc. Galvanizing is simply a coating of zinc over steel. Like paint, zinc protects the steel from rusting by forming a barrier between the steel and the environment. It also provides an electrochemical protection of the steel.
Even if scratched, the oxidized zinc protects the steel surface. Zinc melts at @950 F. and vaporizes @1650 F. When zinc vaporizes it reacts with the air to form zinc oxide. Zinc oxide is the substance that causes welders to experience metal fume fever. This is very similar to having flu like symptoms.
Metal fume fever is not fatal, and will usually go away after a few days. However, in a really bad SHTF situation, the last thing you want to do is come down with metal fume fever. As such, a lot of your everyday pots and pans that you use in your oven and on your stove may not be what you want to use on an open flame.
Don’t cook with open flame or gas grill in enclosed areas
Unless you have something like a well ventilated stove, don’t use things like open flame or gas grills in an enclosed area. Well, I guess you can if you don’t care about the increased risk of starting a fire and the buildup of carbon monoxide. (Both of which can be fatal.) But I’m guessing that as a prepper, avoiding fatal things is your number 1 priority. Hence you will avoid doing this.
In a group setting, have one person be the cook and server
The reason is simple. It seriously reduces the risk of cross contamination.
In a serious, long-term SHTF situation, airborne and blood borne pathogens are going to be a lot more rampant than they are now. So protecting against them will become an absolute must! Having a single person prepare AND serve the meal will help to reduce the chances of cross-contamination.
Cleaning, preparation, and serving areas are important. And cleaning up afterwards with soap and then bleach are also things that you need prioritize.
We take these sorts of things for granted now. But if the grid is down for a long time, you cannot take them for granted then!
Give serious consideration to solar/thermal cooking
As I mentioned before, things like propane are a finite resource. So is lumber to a certain extent. You might live in a giant forest, but having to cut down and season wood for cooking is going to take up a lot of time, and burn A LOT of calories. In a long-term grid down event, you may not want to be excreting that much energy. Especially if food stores are limited.
This is where solar cooking could be a HUGE boon for you and your family/group.
Solar cookers use the sun to cook/heat your food and/or water. This means that it requires no fuel on your part. Even on cloudy days, you can still use a solar cooker to cook your food or boil your water. (It will take longer though.)
The picture on the left is a solar oven that I store out on my homestead. It is 24 x 15.5 x 20.5 inches, so there is a lot of room for cooking.
With the GoSun, you do not need a bright, sunny day to use it. It worked in cold and overcast conditions, albeit kinda slow. You could also use it indoors, putting it in a window that gets sunlight. This could be VERY important if you are trying to remain discreet in times of a WROL (Without Rule of Law) situation.
If you are a DIY type of person and want to build your own, here is a great link with lots of building options!
Thermal cooking is the use of a cooking device that uses thermal insulation to retain heat and cook food without the continuous use of fuel or other heat source. I go into a lot more detail on this in my article Off-grid cooking method – Here is one I recommend. Click the link to read it.
Be aware of tell tale signs of food preparation
For a majority of the population (especially in urban settings) our senses have been dulled. With our eyes glued to our cell phones and headphones on our ears, we miss quite a lot going on around us. But a week into TEOTWAWKI (the End Of The World As We Know It) event, human senses will be on full alert.
Science has proven that when we are hungry, our brain boosts the body’s ability to smell. The more the body starves, the more sensitive the senses become. So today you may not smell the fresh bread in the bakery until you open the bakery door. But after 3 or 4 days without anything to eat, you could smell the baking bread up to a half mile away!
Things like solar ovens and thermal cookers help to reduce or even eliminate cooking odors. You can use solar ovens and thermal cookers inside of buildings, which further reduce odor.
Cooking bags and aluminum foil also can reduce the odor that escapes into the air from cooking food. Freeze dried food (where you simply add hot water) can also reduce the odor some. This is because you don’t actually have to cook the food.
Odor is not the only giveaway. Smoke can be seen for miles. (Smoke also has a distinctive scent as well.) So you might consider cooking only at night. A Dakota fire hole helps to seriously reduce the visibility of your fire. The video below shows you how to do this. Even with chimney or wooden stove, the smoke can still be seen for long distances.
Also keep in mind that unless your windows are completely blacked out, light from a chimney or wood stove could still be visible outside of your home. And to a hungry person during SHTF, a light on inside of a home means only one thing, DINNER TIME!
Trash and other food type debris is a dead giveaway that you have food. So while you might go through the trouble of blacking out your windows and only cooking at night, rolling your trash down to the curb will most likely make you a target.
Burning your trash probably is not a wise choice, both for the problems I mentioned above, and also for the attention it will attract. In a truly desperate situation, I would recommend burying it. It is not eco-friendly obviously, but in a SHTF disaster, that will be the least of your worries.
Bury it away from any gardens you have, and WELL away from water sources. You will also want it deep enough that hungry animals don’t break out their shoves to try and get themselves a meal!
I also recommend keeping your meals small. It cooks faster requiring less fuel, it reduces waste, and you don’t have to worry about your leftovers going bad.
If you have other prepper cooking tips, leave them in the comments section below.
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