My thoughts and experiments with various means of off grid cooking

by BCtruck – subscribe to his YouTube channel for great do-it -yourself projects.

I’m a firm believer in redundancy or the old adage,” one is none and two is one”. Over the last few months, I’ve put a lot of time and effort into experimenting with different methods of boiling water and cooking off grid. While I haven’t tested them all by any means, I’ve tested several and I have come to some interesting conclusions. Who knows, maybe my experiments will save you some time or perhaps cause you to reconsider an option for cooking that you have put in your preps, that might not work as good as you thought.

To begin, I’ll break the methods down into what each type of cooking uses for fuel.

  • solar
  • fire
  • compressed gas

Solar is the easiest to address. I’ve built and cooked with a solar oven. They typically take several hours and some monitoring and repositioning, but they work well and are easy to build, and not terribly expensive to buy. I’ve even got water to boil in the one I made.Here is a picture of mine, before I made reflectors for it.

solar oven bct

It worked fairly well like this, but when I made reflectors and found the optimal angle to attach them at, my internal temps went way past 300 degrees.

Fire is the next type of fuel I’d like to discuss. Of course, you can just light a fire and use that to cook over. It worked for our ancestors and still works today. However, the type of fire I’ve become confident in for its survival applications is fire that burns hot enough to both create woodgas, in a device designed to take advantage of that woodgas and burn it off before it exhausts from the device. Those are a rockets stoves and woodgas stoves. The next two pictures are of a rocket stove I built and gave away at prepper stock and the woodgas stoves were also built by me to be given away as prizes at the same gathering the next year.

rocket stove bct

cooker bct

These can be purchased (I don’t mean from me) if you don’t have a shop or aren’t handy with tools. In fact, they make some very nice rocket stoves and woodgas stoves commercially and I’ve tried the ones silverfire makes and while they are a bit pricey, they are extremely well made and I see no reason they wouldn’t last a very long time.

Rocket stoves and woodgas stoves may both use the same means of achieving extreme temperatures very quickly. By creating woodgas and using up that woodgas in a complete combustion, before it exits the stove as smoke. This is why a properly burning stove like either of these produces such extremely low emissions. Both the rocket and woodgas stove can boil larger volumes of water very quickly and I’ve cooked some really great meals over each of them. While they both need to fed with biomass (wood, dung, pine straw, grass, leaves) the woodgas stove isnt quite as convenient to feed as the rocket stove, because the pot needs to be lifted in order to do that. In a complete grid down, SHTF scenario, my choice would be a rocket stove for long-term survival.

Next, I’d like to discuss compressed gas stoves and tell you about some interesting findings. A one pound bottle of propane contains roughly 22,000 BTU’s of energy. I have had a small two burner propane stove that runs on a one pounder, for about 20 years. I’ve used it hundreds of times for cooking and a few times for emergency heat in a small room. This stove even made a few trips to bike week with my wife and I. Though I have used it many times, I had never given much thought to just how well it would serve in a grid down scenario. While I was experimenting with candle cooking, I decided to get the stove out and hook it up to a brand new bottle and answer a couple of questions. How long would it last on one bottle and how long does it take to boil two cups of water. The water boil test was what I expected. It boiled two cups of water in about 4 minutes, with the burner on its highest setting. I decided to leave that burner running at its highest setting and see how long a one pound tank would last. Five long boring hours later, it was still going. It was going well enough to even use for cooking though I doubt at that point it was enough flame to boil water. I gave up watching it, but I would feel comfortable saying you would get at least five hours from a tank.

Let’s do some math. Now I admit up front, my methodological skills are sorely lacking, but here goes. A one pound tank containing 22,000 BTU’s, will run a single burner at its highest setting for five hours. So, a twenty-pound tank containing 430,000 BTU,s would theoretically run a single burner at its highest setting, for roughly 95 hours!! That’s a lot of cooking right there! There are a couple things I would like to add to this before we jump back into picture mode. The little propane stove can be run on a twenty pound tank, using a special hose (see picture), or the one pound tank can be refilled, using an adapter, from the twenty pound tank.(see picture). The stove is about 30 bucks on amazon, the hose is about 25 and the adapter to refill the one pounder is about 12 bucks. Let me just say that this is my “go to” preferred method of off-grid cooking for shorter term emergencies. You know, emergencies that you could see ending in a few months and life returning to a more normal state. I currently have 42 of the one pound tanks and so much propane in larger tanks that I don’t even want to give a number. I will say, I think I could easily go 4-5 years on propane using it carefully and not being wasteful. Now for some pics and thanks for taking the time to read this article.

campstove bct

hose bct

adapter bct

Comments

  1. BC, your rocket and wood gas stoves look better than some factory built models. I’d wager they are a bit sturdier also.

  2. Petticoat Prepper says:

    Thanks BC!

    I’ve a single burner propane cooktop and quite a few 1 pounders. I’ve always wondered how long a tank would last so thanks for that info. I also have a small heater that uses the little bottles and I know I get 6 hrs of heat off one.

    Great article and nice pics!

    • Thanks! In all the times I used that propane stove,I had never paid attention to how long I could use it on one bottle. Im glad I did because I was a little surprised. I think I’ll test the single mantle propane lamp next and see how long it will go on a bottle.

  3. patientmomma says:

    Thanks for letting us know how long the tanks last! Very important specs.

  4. We are definitely going to get our outside kitchen put in this summer. We already use propane to cook in the house and our grill uses propane, but I haven’t used it for much cooking outside of occasional grilling. Finding out how much propane is actually being used, I’m setting that sucker up as soon as the gnats are gone and using that for most of my summer cooking. We have a propane refrigerator ready to be set up also. I can’t wait for the snow to be gone. Thanks, BC for the info.

    • Thanks! Ive used my outside kitchen all year long. There was only a few times when It was to cold outside to use,but I live in Louisiana.

      • BC , I hope that’s not your truck on that road or what’s left of the road in Louisiana!!!

  5. As a test for the next hurricane (last one was 11 years ago and we tend to forget how hard the recovery was) I’ve used a combo of the propane 2-burner and the solar oven.

    Boiled water for reconstituting and/or stew/casserole on the propane stove then transferred to a lidded, light weight dark colored pot, then wrapped the sides and bottom in a heavy towel and then put in the solar oven to cook for a couple of hours. Getting the right angle on the lid of the pot while the contents are still hot makes cooking go much faster. Also allows time to make muffins or biscuits to go with dinner.

    This frees up the propane stove to use for just boiling water to make hot tea or instant coffee, making breakfast like bacon & eggs, & lunches of heated up soup & grilled cheese sandwiches, etc.

    Also gives you large blocks of time to do the necessary chores without having to spend so much time on food preparation.

  6. Anonamo Also says:

    Thanks For the info BC , Can tell you put a lot into the article and fabrication…

  7. Having as “grid dependent” house with no fireplace (nor place to have one installed), we are always looking for alternative methods of cooking and heating. Plus we “group camp” so we cook 2 meals together outside of our travel trailers.

    MY next personal project is to learn to use our solar cooker. I am having the broken glass replaced on our south-facing glassed in porch. After the clean up (it became a storage facility) I’m getting the oven out to cook with.

    • I’d love to know if you can cook with the solar oven from inside the glassed in porch. Michigan snow pony ( a youtuber) cooked in her solar oven outside with the oven setting on the snow,in the middle of a Michigan winter.

      • cgbascom says:

        Yep, BC, it can be done. We will sometimes get really intense sun and with it reflecting off the snow, if you start early and move the sun oven, it works. I did a roast with potatoes and carrots one time in the snow. But, it was a lucky day since we don’t often have a enough sun during the day to use the sun oven. I have not used it inside next to a south facing window in the winter to find out if that is effective. I would have to move it from room to room. BTW, I did not set the oven in the snow. It was up on my patio table. Makes it easier for a vertically challenged person like me to move it with the sun.

  8. Good article Bc. Thanks.

    Your five hour figure for the little green tanks seems about right for full blast. We used to use them for camping with a two burner Coleman stove before we upgraded to the 20 pound tanks.

    We very rarely ran the burners full blast though, especially for cooking (as opposed to heating water- which wasn’t full blast either), so we were getting more than five hours out of them. My guess is that the best way to estimate hours is to use one for all normal everyday cooking until it is empty. Then repeat a couple times, timing use.

    I’m not sure that isn’t a wee bit obsessive. IIRC we were getting around 5-6 days camp cooking for three people out of one, so a dozen would do for close to two months at our camping rate of usage.

    We have a dozen or so of the 1 pounders in stock now, and 2 of the 20 pounders. The little ones have become back ups for the big ones, although when we had a blackout during breakfast prep time a few months ago I unlimbered the Coleman and a semi-used 1 pounder which had been laying around for a couple years. It worked fine.

    If you use the 20 pound propane canisters, you can also get what is called a Christmas Tree. That’s a long (30″) tube which fits on the valve and stands upright. You can screw a Coleman lantern to the top, and it has a couple more fittings for hoses so you can have light and cook off the same bottle at the same time. We use one for camping and I highly recommend them.

    Amazon keywords “coleman distribution tree” or “propane distribution tree”. They run 30-45 dollars unless you want to buy from the optimists who list them at $180 or so..

    Has anyone here used a Volcano stove? If so, what do you think of it? I ask because I picked up an unused collapsible model at the swap meet for $20 several months ago -it had a broken zipper on the case but was otherwise perfect- but haven’t tried it yet.

    My initial reaction: They are pretty heavy to lug around, but could be very useful for bugging in. Apparently you should oil them after use or they rust. Not sure how serious that is as who oils a Weber? I’d be interested in anyone’s opinion on that who has used one extensively.

  9. Thank you for the article. I often get confused with gas types, here in New Zealand we use LPG for BBQ’s and I use a butane/propane mix for our camp stove. I really like these little canisters as they are easy to store. I’ll keep my eyes open for a rocket stove.
    Thanks again.

  10. BC,very nice looking equipment, you are truly a craftsman. I have recently purchased a nice 3 cup coffee percolator for a rocket stove. Great little unit,you can make coffee, boil water or even cook in it if necessary.

    • Oh I forgot a nice substitute for outdoor cooking is a deep frier. Pots, frying pans ect. great thing to take camping.

    • A coffee pot was one of the first things I tried on a rocket stove. Survival isnt worth it if you dont have coffee.

      • Mountain Trekker says:

        I just put together a 13 brick rocket stove made with insulating firebrick and this thing is really great, I can put it in a cardboard box and take it anywhere. A piece of paper and a few sticks and coffee will be ready in ten minutes, from match to boiling. Almost as quick as my coleman stove and alot cheaper. Trekker Out.

  11. Will Fehlow says:

    BCtruck, Great overview and comparative discussion; thanks for sharing your well-seasoned experience! Cheers.

  12. Curley Bull says:

    Yup! Ya did it again BC! I think you’ve got the handle on what we were talking about the other day with no sweat!

    • Thanks curley bull! Im enjoying it more and more. Im trying to improve my writing skills and the next article I feel is just a bit better. Maybe MD will post next week if he can work it into the lineup.

  13. Your solar oven looks great and so professional! Would sure like to know more about that too. 🙂

    • Ive lost about 60 pounds since this video so dont be shocked at the fat guy. I’m still a fat guy,but not this fat. Here is some meatloaf I cooked in my homemade solar oven.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_16YBBmKZiU&index=2&list=PL905EB29F5361416E

      • Thanks BC. I especially like the videos about how you made the solar cooker. Angling the door was a great idea. I have one I made a loooooong time ago called a solar box cooker out of two cardboard boxes insulated with newspaper between them. It’s flat topped. Doesn’t heat as well as yours. Or maybe I just haven’t played around with it enough. Your is way beyond my skill level of carpentry. ( Maybe I could pay/barter someone to make one .)

  14. swabbie Robbie says:

    I have also used a variety of stoves. I had an Origo single burner alcohol stove on my sailboat. I used denatured alcohol and it did a great job cooking. There is a sliding lid that regulates the amount of flame is available. Its main hazard is the alcohol is almost invisible when it is burning. I have a single burner butane stove with the fuel canisters that look like a spray paint can. Works well, too, but the fuel is a little expensive and not as universally available as 1pound propane canisters. By the way, I have an adapter to refil those 1 pounders from a 20 pound cylinder. Place the big one upside down and screw a small one into the adapter then open the valve on the big one. When you don’t hear any more noise the lttle one is full. It works best if the big cylinder is near room temperature and the one pounders are very cold. (put them in the freezer for a while in warmer weather.)

    My little folding burners that uses the little butane/propane canisters is my favorite for backpacking. They really last a long time. Note: my one weight concession I make is carrying a 7 inch cast iron skillet. It cooks evenly – no hotspots. Bacon, pancakes, bluegills, burgers are beautifully done.

    In my get-home bag I do carry a flat metal grill that turns into a box for burning twigs to make a hot meal. This is more emergency gear than something I regularly use.

    Finally, I really suggest learning to cook with a dutch oven. The kind with the flat lid with the rim around it for placing coals one to heat from the top and bottom. I have made biscuits, stews, apple and cherry cobbler with it.

    • I really would like to get my hands on one of those little butane burners. Those woul;d have worked well back in my long hauling days. Back then I had a big inverter and coffee,hotplate,crockpot,and even a microwave and a toaster.

      • JP in MT says:

        BC:

        I bought one for our GH Box that we travel with. That way if we get stranded in a motel or in just the van we can still do a little cooking.

  15. Jay in Kansas says:

    Another great article BC! I personally like using my ecozoom stove, which I believe is a rocket stove essentially, and would love to make a solar oven. I’m just nervous about making one and screwing it up.

    • Jay, google solar oven instructions. You will have a lot to choose from.

    • I have a freind who made one from multiple layers of cardboard and his worked just fine. cardboard is free so if you screw up,throw it away and try again.

      • That’s what my solar box oven is: basically a smaller cardboard box inside a larger cardboard box with crumpled up newspaper in between them. Then all the extras like edging, lined with aluminum foil for reflection, lid with glass in it. BC is so right about only make it as large as you need and no larger, I think mine is a little too big.

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