Cooking in power outage (or worse)

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This topic contains 19 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  David Smith 1 year, 1 month ago.

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  • #1548


    When I’m teaching earthquake preparedness, one of the things I have folks do is an exercise of figuring out, as a group, how they would cook or boil water if the power is out. And remind them it might be inclement weather, so they need to think about whether the means they’re relying on will be useful if it’s, for example, cold and windy and rainy. Do they have any safe way to cook indoors?

    For us, my favorite backup cooking option is a butane burner, like they use for asian hotpot. It’s rated for indoor, tabletop use so we don’t have to worry about Carbon Monoxide. It puts out enough BTUs to actually cook or boil water in a reasonable amount of time. And the butane canisters are available for really cheap at places like Ranch 99 (or other asian groceries) and also available online. I also have sterno and a fireplace (and firewood), because two is one and one is none.

    For those with electric stoves, how will you cook when the power is out.

  • #1570


    That’s a great exercise!

    We heat with a wood stove we can cook on. In fact, the power went out a few nights ago and we cooked dinner on it. Easy peasy. We do have about a half a dozen other options that can be used in a sheltered/covered area next to the house.

    Encouraging folks to take a few hours (or even days) and practice going without power/water/communications can be a real eyeopener.

  • #1573

    Carl Sagan

    Seconding a portable butane stove, definitely the easiest way to go.
    Haven’t had the need to invest in a nice lunchbox style stove yet but that’ll come soon. I have a Primus Omnifuel stove, can use butane, white gas and in a pinch kerosene and diesel. The last two smell quite a bit when burning and mean a lot more maintenance for the stove to prevent fouling. I use iso-butane when it’s above freezing and white gas when it’s below 0C. The one downside is the pump, when using liquid fuel you have to use the pump to build up pressure and the greased leather packing ring used to build that pressure is usually the part that fails. Requires pliers and around 10-15 minutes to swap out, I keep quite a few spares on hand but it’s a finite amount. Only had to swap it out twice in the year I’ve owned it but that’s twice too often for me.

    If you’re not going to be mobile having a big, stable lunchbox stove like Annaraven is perfect, but having some kind of multifuel stove when you run out of butane isn’t a bad idea.

  • #1778

    Atypical Sapien

    Before we put in our gas stove I used my backpacking stoves. Over the years I have had several types: MSR Whisperlite which uses white gas. My issue with this type is that it can sometimes leak and that can be deadly indoors. I personally would not use any type of liquid gas indoors. My first choice is a canister stove. The gas is not that expensive, it stores quite well and should last for many meals. I have a preference for the type that does not have the canister directly under the burner. You may want to search for the various types of stoves: they have over 120 choices.

    For a very low cost alternative you can make your own denatured alcohol burning stove out of drink cans. Youtube has a number of videos oh how to make them. The alcohol is usually sold at painting/building supply stores.

  • #1781


    For outdoor/mobile use, I love my whisperlite as well. I also have a tiny stove that screws directly on to one of those domeshaped canisters, and the whole works fits into the pot I would use on it.

  • #1782

    Crow Bar

    We have two campstoves, and keep a few gallons of white gas on hand.

    Second the cooking on a wood stove.

    Then, there is the grill. Even smoked bacon on it in the winter.

  • #1785


    I use a campstove in case of power outages. I always keep several gallons of white gas in storage but I can burn regular gas if things get really bad. In the winter the wood stove works fairly well at least to heat water. As a last resource the cast iron pots and pans work great on a camp fire.

  • #1787


    My concern, and why I do this exercise, is that people don’t realize how dangerous it is to rely on campstoves and grills–because they don’t realize it’s not safe to use them indoors due to carbon monoxide. We emphasize that folks need safe indoor alternatives. Being from Minnesota, I’ve seen families dead of CO poisoning during power outages in Winter because of bringing a grill inside for warmth or cooking.

  • #1789


    A campstove indoor is no more dangerous than a gas range that is normally installed in any kitchen. It produces carbon dioxide, not carbon monoxide as long as you use it correctly (blue flame). Carbon monoxide is produced when there is not enough oxygen in the air to completely burn the fuel and is especially a problem with grills since, using briquettes or coal, the fuels is not well exposed to air.

  • #2066

    Barbara Evans

    We have several ways to cook without power. Camp stoves, backpacking stoves, charcoal grills, gas grills. I am adept at cast iron cooking, which needs a wood fire (we keep plenty of wood stocked). I would be more concerned with quickly canning the foods I have stored in my freezers.

  • #2076


    Multiple options here also. I have a couple of briefcase butane cookers but to be honest I much prefer using gel fuel cookers to cook. I’m used to cooking on them when camping and they are perfectly safe indoors. I would use the butane cooker to boil water.
    It’s what you’re comfortable with I suppose.

  • #2637

    L Tecolote

    Liquid fuel stoves, and pressurized gas stoves are neat, convenient, and generally easier to live with, as long as the fuel hold out. But for an extended timespan, or on a trek without a motor vehicle, a top-lit updraft stove (TLUD) is fairly lightweight and allows the economic use of natural fuel (wood, twigs, pine cones, dried animal dung, even dried leaves or grass) saving the necessity to carry fuel cans. Usable stoves of the type can be hand made from empty tin cans, and will serve fairly well in the short term (online search will provide many forms of instruction) but tin can stoves tend to burn/rust out fairly soon. A more durable alternative for those able to purchase, would be the Solo Stove ( or one of its foreign-made copies on eBay, Amazon or other online markets/merchants.

    For some camping OPSEC (and efficiency) they can also be used with a folding windscreen, and also used with alcohol stoves. Obviously, it wouldn’t suit for all situations, but ….

  • #2640

    Jade Jasmine

    Last Saturday morning, a lady came speeding down the hill and took out the light pole that feeds power to my house. We had no way to get out because the work trucks were blocking the whole street. We couldn’t get out unless we wanted to drop it into four wheel low and try to drive over a couple of bucket trucks. So I pulled out my cast iron grill, charcoal, and a cast iron skillet and made breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausage, grits, toast and coffee. Then later I made lunch as planned, homemade ravioli and homemade canned sauce. By the time we were looking at dinner, they’d finished and we had power again.

    In this case, we just pulled out the charcoal, but we do have a couple of propane tanks in reserve for a turkey fryer set up that will hold one of my cast iron skillets. We also have a single burner stove that we have about 50 bottles of butane that are also in reserve used for camping usually. I have a dutch oven that we can put the charcoal around and on top of to make whatever as well as a solar oven but I live in a temperate rain forest so that only goes so far. If it gets down to brass tacks, I can build a fire in the fire place and cook over it. We plan to have a fire place arm installed this year for dutch oven cooking over the indoor fire as well. I also have a couple of the little backpack stoves and some fuel tabs.

  • #2647


    LT – Nice choice. I’ve used those and I like them. Good idea.

    We have a couple of rocket stoves, the self feeding kind. We use them for outdoor cooking often enough. No smoke, more fuel than we could ever use around here and nothing further to buy. They make quick work of skillet cooking. The kids (of all ages) like it when we fire ’em up at night and the flames shoot out of them.
    XLg one – 600+ degrees in ~20min, 2 hr effective burn time.
    Med one – ~400 degrees in ~15 mins, 1.25 hr effective burn time.
    Gonna get a small one yet, I think, to round it all out.

  • #2704

    Beverly Luthy

    My volcano stove which uses 3 fuel sources. Wood, charcoal or propane.

  • #8073

    David Smith

    It would be useful for people to look at the Camping Stove thread here started by Selco.  I agree with the poster Anon who said liquid fuel stoves are “safe” indoors.  They were used pre electricity for years.  That said.. I would always have a fire extinguisher close at hand and be careful.  Same with butane cookers.   Even a candle is dangerous and most people today are not expert with the “old” technology.. me included…it’s a learning process.  Nothing is foolproof.

    The question to ask is how would you cook if the power went off.. and didn’t come on for weeks, months, years… or ever…   There would be a series of steps,  butane cookers,  liquid fuel cookers, and eventually wood burners.  What you have prepared in terms of tools (stoves)  and fuel, will determine your level of comfort.

    The Coleman camp cookers, common in the USA, (I have picked them up cheep in NZ, used, on our  ebay) can burn coleman fuel (naptha, white spirit) or unleaded gas, paint thinner, and even kerosene and maybe the new low sulphur diesel (with extra pre heating).  There is a propane conversion kit which allows the convenience of gas bottles.    The alternative fuels may be inconvenient and smelly.. but you are cooking.   Selco would laugh at your concerns about danger and inconvenience .. if the SHTF .. you do what you have to do.   This video shows the use of the Coleman cooker and a propane conversion, and compares with a normal propane stove.  In the comments below the video there is a lot of comment and “experience”  which I found very informative.  Many people said they picked up old Coleman cookers for less than $20. at garage sales etc.  I have linked more at the camp stove thread.



  • #8074


    Go ahead and laugh at my safety concerns. Carbon Monoxide can kill you and your family. “According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year 10 to 17 deaths are attributed to camping stoves and lanterns used to heat or light unventilated, confined spaces.” So if you’re going to use a coleman stove indoors, make sure the windows are open for ventilation (better hope it’s not 40 below outside!) and, hopefully, have a carbon monoxide detector.

    Personally, I’d rather use my indoor-rated butane stove, with my kitchen fireplace as a backup.

    I agree you should have fire extinguishers anytime you’re using an open flame in your home. I have multiple.


  • #8161

    David Smith

    Hi annaraven,  I was not commenting on your safety concerns.. but on the idea that people would object to smelly fuel in a survival situation.  You concerns are quite valid, but to educate myself I did some research on the safety of butane cookers.  I presume you have what is called a suitcase cartridge cooker.  I have several and they are very common and cheap.  Usually my first go to stove if the power is out.  However I was quite shocked at what I found in my research.  These stoves are now considered unsafe.. particularly any older models.  Australia had a complete recall of these stoves made before 2015 due to safety issues with the pressure cut off. Millions of stoves.  I didn’t even know they had a pressure cut off.   In the USA I believe they are now labelled .. not for indoor use.  You could check this out.

    This is a long but very thorough article on camp stoves.  Butane is perhaps the safest of the fuels re carbon monoxide but it is still not safe.  He lists a case in NZ where 2 people died in a tent from using a butane lamp.  I have heard of other cases.  So you still have to be careful.

    But the real issue is with stove failure and the danger of fire and explosion.  The nature of the canister means they can and have exploded.  And there are issues with leaks at the valve/connection.  There is a rubber O ring seal. I will write a bit more when I have time.. but I will be much more wary when I use these stoves in the future . And the other  butane type I have with the piercing connection.. which are now considered obsolete and unsafe.  Sigh….

  • #8171


    Well heck

  • #8214

    David Smith

    Here is  good (long) article which covers all the fuels and stoves you might have backpacking.  His comments about what the manufacturers of stoves say… and what is practical… would apply in a SHTF situation.  The bigger stoves that you might use in a home, cabin or on a boat, are not covered.

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