by Andrew Skousen –

Thanks to a reliable power grid Americans aren’t used to the “lights going out” often, but when they do many are surprised to also lose their cooking means—stovetop elements, ovens, microwaves, toasters, and coffeemakers. Everything Americans use on a daily basis for food preparation needs a plug. Even gas stoves rely on power to light the burners (a few gas ranges have battery-powered igniters). In the coming hard times power will be down for at least several months and possibly several years depending on your area.

Worse, the best retreat sites are in rural areas which won’t merit priority for restoring power. Even natural gas, which relies on electric power to operate its pipelines and distribution, will fail—unless your service is one of the few that use natural gas generators to keep pumps going.

A 1000 gallon propane tank is the easiest way to store a lot of cooking fuel: it is cheap, lasts indefinitely and is easy to put in and have filled. Propane is cheapest in the summer so get enough propane on-site that you can go a whole year without having to dip into your reserves—preferably several hundred gallons.

If you need to get another tank as backup now is a good time—propane prices have been so cheap recently, you can install another tank for 1/3 the cost. Connect both tanks together with an isolation valve between them so a leak in one doesn’t empty both tanks.

Even if you have natural gas, it is worth getting propane as a backup. You can buy replacement jet nozzles for all your natural gas appliances like the stove, oven, dryer and water heater and convert to run on propane. Many modern gas appliances already also have an “LP” (liquid propane) attachment point and have two sizes of jets inside, so switching over is easy.

Furnaces, however, require more technical knowledge to switch over to propane. It is sometimes easier to simply install a few propane radiant wall heaters, which don’t require outside venting. Put them in the living spaces, as you can make up for cold bedrooms with more blankets on the beds.

Whatever fuel you use, you will want to stretch it as far as possible—budget yourself to 100 gallons per year. Fortunately this is enough for cooking and topping off the water heater (preheat the tank with solar or wood heat). The furnace uses the most fuel so prepare backup heating options to reduce this load (a wood stove is the best alternatives). The clothes dryer and water heater use the second-most fuel so get a clothesline and a solar water heater. Also avoid ovens that keep a pilot light burning. Home Power magazine recommends specific stoves that ignite a pilot light only when needed with a battery-powered spark.

You can also save cooking fuel by just putting a lid on every pot—it will come to a boil much faster. But nothing saves fuel better than a “hay box” or thermal cooker. These insulated containers were used back in WWII to save on gas by keeping the heat in the food so you didn’t have to leave it simmering for hours.

Cooking with food storage involves a lot of simmering—hydrating dried food, and cooking grains, rice and beans takes a lot of time. With an insulated “thermal cooker” you just have to get your pot boiling and then put it in the insulated box. It takes a little more time to finish cooking but it doesn’t take any more fuel.

The best part is it will never burn. Meat dishes left in all day come out falling off the bone. Just be careful not to let it sit so long it cools below 140 deg. F. where bacteria can flourish. If it does, just heat it back up before eating.

There are many options and variations of thermal cookers: the slightly bulky Wonderbag ($60), the vacuum insulated Thermo Pot ($185) or the cheaper insulated Sunpentown thermal cooker ($60). Of course you can make one with a big box, newspaper (or hay), and an old blanket. Pile at least 2″ of insulation all around the hot pot (which is wrapped in the blanket) and let it cook itself tender. I’ll cover more options for cooking without electricity next week.


  1. Since we are so grid dependent, we are always looking for alternatives.

    • A lot of good information but… I may be wrong but, don’t furnaces use an electric blower for forcing the heated air up the duct work? And don’t dryers require an electric motor to turn the drum?

      • Yup. Most of ’em do.

      • What you want is a gravity feed furnace which means you also need a basement/cellar plus a safety thermal-coupling that generates a tiny electrical charge to operate the thermostat.

        You won’t be using a dryer so you will need to do what the Amish do and hang clothes in the wintertime in the attic or a clothes line in the yard. (Your clothes actually freeze on the line)

        • I remember clothes lines in the bedroom where we kids slept and sheets hanging sheets above my head. Not so good old days.

        • Yes, clothes will freeze on the line, but water, even in the solid state (ice) will evaporate and the clothes will dry. Will take a little longer, but they will dry. Wow! I think I’m telling my age because I remember this from my teen years.

      • I have wall furnaces with pilot lights instead of electronic ignition. The blowers don’t work so the heat is less efficient but they still work. We have been without power for 4 and 5 days in past years in the winter. We stayed warm. Gas hot water heaters usually have pilot lights so we also had hot water. Should the natural gas system go down then we will have to go to the fireplace and wood. I have practiced baking bread and cakes in the fireplace in a Dutch oven.
        I have one of those small Honda 1,000 watt generators and 3 100 watt solar panels. We can get along off grid. Our standard of living will go down but we will get along just fine.

  2. We have a contract for LP @ 1000 gallons for a low fixed price until we have used all 1000 gallons. Most LP providers use contracts, I believe. After we receive 1,000 gallons at the negotiated price, we’ll have to negotiate a new contract or fuhgetaboutit. Our tank is 500 gallons, which actually holds 400 gallons. It is currently full. We also have a 120-gallon tank which holds 100 gallons, and it’s connected to my “canning stove” in another part of the house (the laundry room: so, yes, I “can” in the laundry room! I have a really big laundry room, and it accommodated a large gas stove. I can run multiple canners on top at one time and they all fit. The kitchen stove is electric & I don’t like canning on electric – I do a lot of canning). But I have 8 burners and 2 ovens, which comes in handy. We went through 1 and 1/2 tanks of LP last winter (it was a very cold winter) and the house is 2-story. We live in both stories, as our adult kids live with us (we keep them in the basement; bahahahahahaha!).

    Our LP furnace requires electricity to run, unfortunately. So, we just bought a U.S. made wood burning stove big enough to do the job (Summers Heat 2400), which just arrived, which awaits installation. Plan to use it as a primary heat source on upper level. Did you know that in order to comply with EPA regulations, you can’t really cook on the new woodstoves? Or, so I’m told, anyway.

    Lower level is LP heater that is not electronic ignition, so, it stays on w/out electric. We have acres of wood; just need to get it cut up. Some of it we felled last year, so, it’s ready. I think we’re good.

    Found some great stuff at yard sales today: old refrigerator racks will become oven racks for our outdoor barrel oven we’re building. Can bake enough for a family reunion with only a litttle wood for fuel in one of these. See: “Build Your Own Barrel Oven” by Max and Eva Edleson.

    I believe I’d prefer solar cooking to thermal straw, but we live in an area with abundant sunshine, too.

    Plenty of cast iron and outdoor wood fire tripods, etc. Gas grills and plenty of gas. We use them. Outdoor cooking covered.

    • Chuck Findlay says:

      Just don’t use those old refrigerator racks to cook burgers over a fire. They can have bad chemicals in them that heat releases. They use to put cadmium on them, but considering how dangerous it is, it’s probably not used any more.

      • Huh! I did not know that. Thank you! I’m planning on using them inside the baking barrel as standard oven racks. Do you foresee a problem with that approach?

    • Hi Pat, sounds like your basis are covered. We have a propane tank, 1,000 gal. I believe. We are not on contract anywhere, as we only fill about every 2 or 3 years. We just call when we need some. We heat with wood, and have for many years. One day the gas company driver stopped by, to check our percentage rate left in the tank, to fill it, as he was in the neighborhood. My hubs happened to be out there when he stopped by. He looked at my husband and said, what do you people live off of, love??? LOL He couldn’t believe we used so little propane. 🙂 One suggestion for wood for some of you, if you can find a tree removal business in your area, sometimes if you haul the wood away, you can get it for free, as they sometimes have to pay to dump it. Just a suggestion. 🙂

      • Hi, Suez! Yep. Sounds like you are even better covered. But we have lots of woods (we own), so, we’re blessed! If you live in an area with lots of trees (as we do), many homeowners may have only one or two trees they want removed, but they’ll give them away if you take them down. Never hurts to ask when you see a tree down or one that should be, does it?!

        • Last year we had a tree guy drop off several loads of wood. He was just glad to have a free place to dump it. We didn’t have to go cut, they brought it to us cut, we just have to split it. 🙂 We gave away the less desirable kind, and kept the rest for us. We probably have over 50 pickup loads of firewood to the back of our property. LOL

  3. I have a propane cook stove that uses approximately 6 of the 5 gallon cans per year (depends on how much canning I do). Occasionally the electronic starters don’t work and I just use a match to light them (using extreme care as this could be dangerous). The only thing I don’t think I’ll be able to manually start when the lights go out is the oven so I’ll have to learn to bake bread on top of the stove or on the woodstove (cookies I have done in an electric skillet so I should be able to do those on top of the stove without too much trouble).

    • I should have included that I have about 1/2 of what I would need for a year and that it doesn’t include extra for heating water in emergencies so it is something I have to continue to work on.

  4. Chuck Findlay says:

    I have a Butterfly cook stove that runs on kerosene. It’s a 2-burner stove that will run a burner for 12 hours on a 1.8 qt fuel bottle.

    Here is what it looks like.

    I read someplace that up to 20% of the people on the planet uses this kind of stove.

    Kerosene is nice in that it does not generate explosive gas or fumes and it stores for 8+ years.

    I have a few camp stove ovens made to sit on top of the camp stove burner so I can also bake with it.

    I also recently got a propane range I salvaged out of an old (mid 1970’s ) travel trailer. I plan on cleaning it up and maybe making an outdoor summer kitchen with it. It’s got 3 stove top burners and an oven.

    • I too have a single burner Butterfly with a burner top oven. I bought it in a second hand store in Leaky TX for $75. It looks brand new. The biggest problem is finding Kero. It is not sold in bulk form anymore, at least not that I can find. It used to be sold at every little gas station on the road. Now the only place I can find it is in Walmart and it’s $6 a quart! Any suggestions?

      Also, I have lived in the sticks for over thirty years. We use Propane to head (forced air) and to cook. When we first moved out here our power was off a lot, we could still cook though. Heating is not a big deal most winters in South Texas. However, when we moved in to our house in December of 1983, that week just happened to be the second coldest winter in history. It got down to 9 degrees and stayed below freezing for over 10 days. This was a drafty old (1907) farm house with only three space heaters and a wall heater in each bathroom. We installed a 500 gallon propane tank and filled it up. We went through it in SEVEN DAYS. No, there was not a leak.

      It’s better now, we have added insulation and siding and central heat. We go through about 300 gallons a winter now. If we just used it for cooking, it would last years.


      • Seasoned_Citizen says:

        Try your truck stops for bulk K-1. It’s where I go here in the vast Midwest fly-over land.

        God Bless Texas! Been there a while along the Red River, but had to work up North, amongst the heathens!

    • Thanks for the info Chuck. Those are nifty stoves. Not badly priced either.

      • Chuck Findlay says:

        Izzy I wanted a stove I could can things on that would work off-grid. The stove I linked to above will run 1 burner for 12.5 hours or 2 burners for 6 hours. that’s more then enough to pressure can things.

        TexasScout kerosene is at many (almost all of them) gas stations here (Toledo Ohio) and at every truck stop.

        People that are poor and have had their gas shut off heat with kerosene. It’s not unusual to see someone buying it every few days. I asked a guy once and he said he used $5.00 of it a day to heat his house. At that price I would think you could heat a home with gas, but I guess if you run up a big bill, get shut off that kero is how you so it.

  5. We use propane for heating and cooking. Our stove/ oven have standing pilot lights, same for the wall heaters. The pilots burn very little fuel, of course the heater pilots are totally valved off in the warmer months.

  6. when i was on duty in bosnia i watched the little old ladies leave town every morning, on foot, to gather sticks and twigs in the country. sticks and twigs because that was all that was left, and even that was scarce. every evening they came trudging by with what i would consider a backbreaking load of wood bits on their back. the houses had one 12×12 chimney with a tiny door thru which they fed the fire twigs one at a time to make the most of every one. though they sometimes had 3 story homes, everybody lived in one central room for warmth. they cooked on the same little fire. in the bigger cities they burned all the furniture, sign posts, even electric poles, then the siding and framing of abandoned houses. don’t be like those ladies. plan now.

      • I jest went on E-Bay and YouTube and looked up the “duff” stoves. They are not called “duff” stoves here. They are called bio mass stoves or rocket stoves. There are hundreds of ideas. Some of the ones on E-Bay look like the ones I saw in India. Several YouTube videos have easy to make designs that you can make out of empty soup cans etc. Some are quite complex and look professionally manufactured.

        • There are youtubes and instructionals online out the wazoo on how to build your own rocket or biomass stoves, from #10 can size to much larger.

          • I love this site. It opened my eyes to the whole rocket / bio mass stove thing. After my last post I went on line and checked out some of the YouTube videos. I purchased a Core M4 Rocket stove.
            I spent a lot of time overseas in some very poor countries. Cooking fuel is around but the very poor can not afford it. They burn dung, trash and bits and pieces of wood. There are some real clever stove designs that poor people use. They need to be clever to cook on such low quality fuel.
            I will try the M4 next time I go backpacking.

    • In India and most of the third world people use “duff” stoves. They burn bits and pieces of twigs and ground duff. Many variations of the stoves are manufactured by small craftsmen throughout India. They work by introducing air into the top part of the stove and getting the hot gasses to burn again. More and more they use small solar panels or batteries to run an electric blower. They can also be used to burn cow dung mixed with straw and dried.
      You can make one too. YouTube has several videos on how to make them out of soup cans. Look under “jet stove” on YouTube.

  7. Cooking with out power is not something I am worried about. I have barbque’s 2 colman stoves,a zoom versa, a homemade rocket stove and a hobo stove if the stove in the house wont work. It runs on propane and all I have to do without power is to light the burner by hand. (Works for the stove top not the oven) Cooking certain things like bread or biscuits will be a learning experience and one I should practice now but I haven’t yet. Cooking on any of the other sources with my cast iron I have done multiple times so I am not concerned there.

  8. Well that didn’t tall me much. 20 years off grid with a wood cookstove (used year around ) . Yes I have some propane ,kerosene , wax and alcohol fuel but wood does 99% of my cooking and canning and heating.

  9. I am learning more and more new stuff on this site. One of the YouTube videos I watched regarding Rocket Stoves featured a stove that used red bricks without grout. I have a bunch of red bricks. It took me about 10 minutes to build a red brick rocket stove. It goes like crazy. It did not use much fuel at all. I had to cut some of the bricks in half. When it cooled I stacked the bricks in in my basement along with the grate and wire mesh. It will be there when the SHTF. What a simple solution to a complex problem. Of course, it can only be used outside, but it will be great to cook on during the summer.

  10. I have the gas camping stove and grill (gas & charcoal) backups but my new rocket stove is impressive. I haven’t cooked anything on my yet but am amazed I got water to a hard boil in just a few minutes using just tiny fallen branches from my back yard. I’m getting old and like “easy”.

  11. Loneviking says:

    Two burner rocket stove, two burner Coleman white gas/unleaded fuel and a firepit, along with regular use and I’m as comfortable cooking outside as in. A good collection of cast iron skillets, griddles and Dutch ovens are also very handy to have. For an improvised grill, take apart an old used up shopping cart.

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