Functional Friday: 10 Ways to Cook (or just heat food ) Without Utilities

A power outage can be a fun time (or at least tolerable), if you're prepared.  Make a plan for three back-up ways to cook.  Shop and store some easy and delicious shelf-stable food.  Then wait for the fun to begin.  (As soon as the power goes out, light the tiki torches in the back yard, go knock on the neighbors door and make it a party.)  I know it may not be a party every time, but we're planning for the best in every situation, right?  These solutions will work if it's freezing cold, pouring rain, or otherwise unpleasant.

Gas Grill - Keep an (extra) full tank of propane. It simplifies switching in the middle of grilling those steaks on Sunday, and it ensures you can eat a great meal if the power goes out.  A gas grill can bake and boil as well.

Charcoal Grill - You should keep an extra bag of charcoal around, just in case.  Remember to keep stored charcoal dry.  Use precautions to stay safe, remember you're 'playing with' fire.

Wood Fire - If you don't routinely enjoy a recreational fire at home, this might not be the best solution for you. Although it might be a good excuse to go buy a fire pit and start "practicing" your emergency plan.  Use precautions to stay safe, especially in dry and windy seasons.

Sterno -Especially if you already own a chafing dish, this can be a great way to serve hot food.  Heating the food (or water) from a cold start can take a while, make sure you practice starting from cold food and that you understand the time and temperature requirements for keeping food safe to eat.

Camping or Backpacking Stove (propane, white fuel, butane, pellet fuel, etc.) - I have two camping stoves, and I've used both in an emergency. I have a Coleman Dual Fuel that runs on white fuel or gasoline (although I've never used gasoline in it). I also a have a single burner stove that uses one pound cans of propane. If a camp stove is your back up plan, make sure you keep extra fuel on hand.

Candle/Fondue Pot - A better solution for heating (not cooking) food. My family has had some really memorable and entertaining meals in the dark. Keep the foods you need on hand to make this possible (cheese, chocolate, oil) and have fun.

Self-heating meals - MREs and Heater Meals are two types of self-heating meals I have made and enjoyed. If you have the money and the space to buy and store these meals, they really are pretty good and super easy. Read the nutrition information is you have dietary restrictions (especially calories and sodium).

Solar Power (solar cooker, pizza box oven, hot car in the sun, eggs on a sidewalk, hot tin roof) - You must practice this in advance.  And you need to understand the minimum and maximum times and temperatures for food safety.  The last thing you want in an emergency is a case (or a family) of food poisoning.

Portable Generator (microwave, crock pot, Foreman grill, etc.) - If you plan to use a portable generator in a power outage, consult an expert (an electrician) to know how much power your small appliances require to cook your food.  Also remember to perform routine maintenance, to do frequent test runs, and to keep plenty of fuel on hand.

Eating Out - For a very localized emergency (just your neighborhood) there will be restaurants close by that will be able to take care of you.  People need to be taken care of during an emergency, and a few indulgences are good for your emotions in a stressful time.  If you've planned ahead and saved (and stashed) some cash at home, this would be a great time to enjoy some good food that someone else made.  (We often pick things we would never make at home like: Thai, smoked ribs, or fried chicken.)

Other Notes: Never cook indoors or in a garage with an outdoor grill (gas, charcoal, wood, or other).  Raw foods must meet a minimum temperature before being consumed.  The food also needs to meet that temperature quickly, or you might be growing a colony of bacteria.  (Yuck!) Heating up food (soup) will be simpler than actually cooking.  Boiled and one pot meals are also easier and more fuel efficient.  (Smaller pasta takes less time, thus less fuel.  Try angel hair.)  Watch your sanitation and nutrition in an emergency.  An upset routine and a far jump from your normal diet may cause unpleasant complications you don't want during an emergency.

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