NOTE: This is a Special Guest Contribution from longtime BackdoorSurvival reader Donna!
In a grid down situation or even a winter snowstorm presenting a temporary 3-4 day power outage, having a method to cook a hot meal would be a welcome way to bring some comfort back into your life.
However tempting eating Oreo’s and PBJ for 3 days might sound to children, the result may be a group of sugar-wired children and adults. Of course, you already know that nutrition is most important in stressful times, so let’s consider one approach to being able to prepare the foods our family is used to eating and that will promote their comfort and well-being.
My husband and I had wanted to try a solar oven for several years but we were just dragging our feet. Neither of us had ever seen one up close and personal. We didn’t know anyone who had a solar oven either, but the idea of harnessing the sun’s power to our advantage was intriguing.
- The first roadblock was the cost. The $300 was substantial just for an experiment. Did we need special pots and pans or other costly equipment?
- The second obstacle was our location. We live mostly in the woods but recently we’d had several large trees felled because they were dying and were close enough to our house to present a danger. So okay we did have some direct sun now, but was it enough to cook a tasty meal? Would the oven get hot enough to cook meat all the way through in a reasonable period of time?
After some further investigation on the internet, we got answers to all of our concerns and if it worked as well as the reviews we read claimed then the investment would be well worth it.
The “All American Sun Oven package deal” we got included many extra’s. I have included some photos, descriptions and uses of these items later in this article.
(here’s an great demo of the sun oven in action!)
We took a deep breath and went for it. The order was placed and we anticipated her arrival – we named her “Sunny”. When she arrived, we spent some time looking at her design, kind of like counting fingers and toes of a new baby!
We expected it would be well-constructed from the reviews we’d read and it didn’t disappoint. Well made in every way. Solidly built. This was no toy! I loved that this Sun Oven was American made. I’d planned out the menu before she arrived: Meatloaf, carrots, potatoes, cornbread and apple crisp.
After we’d set it up, which didn’t take long at all we prepped the oven by heating vinegar in it until it was steaming and allowed it to do that for about one and a half hours.
We were surprised that the heat gauge reached 345° fairly quickly in about 15-20 minutes. After the vinegar steaming cleaning time was completed I just wiped the inside of the oven well with a paper towel while wearing an oven glove.
All of the utensils and supplies you see here came with Sunny. If you noticed, there are 2 hanging (self-leveling) racks. The one in the back is for a turkey or whole chicken. We are planning to try it out next week.
To the right is a small cloudy day cube stove and about 10 fuel disks. We haven’t used it yet so I can’t report on its heat output or how quickly it brings a liquid to a boil. The fuel disks look like fat hamburger patties.
I like the enamel pots and the well-fitting lids. Being dark colored they will absorb and hold the heat quickly I’m sure. The clear glass lid will provide the ability to keep an eye on the cooking progress.
There are three well-made wire racks and two large bread pans. On the far right there is a glass gauge tube with green wax inside.
When you desire to sterilize water, just drop it into your pot of water and when the wax melts and moves to the top of the tube you are sure that the temperature has reached sufficiently high enough that it is safely drinkable.
The next time you use this wax indicator the wax will again move to the top of the tube. There are easy instructions included. The temperature gauge indicting the inside oven temp is also included. There is an instructional video with recipes in the box.
This company has thought of everything.
The temperature is rising!
So the picnic table is set and we await the final minutes of cooking. The oven came up to an acceptable temperature of about 340° and I calculated that an hour and a half would most likely do the trick.
Honey, Dinner’s ready!
I should have thrown in a few of those lovely basil leaves! Simple fare for our first try.
We were both pleased with the tenderness of the meatloaf and the clean vegetable taste of the carrots and potatoes.
This was our first attempt, so now we are stoked about the endless possibilities of “coming attractions”. I want to try baking bread and an apple cobbler very soon!
NOTE: Paul Munsen (the owner of SunOven) is a longtime “Friend of BDS”. If you are interested in the Sun Oven, please use this link to order direct.
Sun Oven as a Dehydrator
I do a lot of dehydrating. In fact, right now I have two excalibur dehydrators going with our supply of this winter’s mullein. I borrowed the second dehydrator from a neighbor and they have both been going for four days with the variety foraged medicinal plants I prepare.
So this Sun Oven is a welcome addition in the dehydrator department, too. It is perfect and the use of solar power will cut down on the cost of electricity by a third! Three dehydrators! Yea!
We’ll have enough remedies for our own needs and to share with others who know I make herbal remedies like my dear mother and grandmother made. During the winter time I often get calls asking for remedies for various ailments. We’re always happy to share.
Good to the last drop….eerrr, crumb.
Just couldn’t wait. We tried the apple cobbler.
Superb! What made it even easier was that I’d canned the apple pie/cobbler filling last year and all I had to do for this was dump it into the enamel pot. I will put a simple cobbler topping on it before closing the oven door. My kitchen will remain cool and we will enjoy the cobbler. Wish we could share it with you all!!
When our Sun Oven is not in use, we put everything back into the original box and place that box into our rainproof deck box for easy storage.
So do we think the Sun Oven was worth the investment? Dave and I give it two thumbs up!
We are glad we made the choice to go for it! It’s prep equipment that we will use now and if hard times make it a necessity. It’s a win-win! Again, you can pick yours up here!
2. Rocket Stoves
About dozen or more years ago, we decided it would be a good thing to add a rocket stove to our emergency preps. Our home is surrounded by acres of woods so since the fuel used in these rocket stoves is simply twigs and very small branches, we would be set with fuel forever.
If you are familiar with rocket stoves then you already know that they come in all shapes and sizes. Some are used inside of homesteads or even luxury homes and take care of both house heat and cooking needs. I have seen elaborate mass heating rocket stoves that are made of adobe and are six or eight feet in height and just as wide. (See below)
Homemade rocket stoves made for emergency cooking, from simple and temporary to a bit more complex and permanent, are still are considered rocket stoves.
Some are made of 55 gallon drums, others of brick or blocks. Some others are crudely made but they work. Some are made from # 10 tin cans. All are identified as rocket stoves and work from a similar principle.
If you are inclined to be a do-it-yourselfer there are plenty of stove plans available on the internet. I have a friend who made one years ago for use in his detached workshop. It’s still going strong and keeps him toasty in the winter.
We opted for the StoveTec. It is used in under-developed countries all over the world.
- Lightweight, insulated ceramic fire chamber.
- Weight 18 pounds total
- Cast iron stove top and adjustable galvanized metal skirt that increases the heat transfer to the pot very well.
- Dimensions: Stove: D-10 1/4 in H-10 1/4 in Door: W-4 3/4 in H-4 in
- Heavy wire stick support, which makes for an easy feed of the fuel into the chamber
- Painted sheet metal body
- Heat resistant plastic and steel handle
Stove Tech Use
- Use of collected sticks or split wood about 1/2″ to 1″ in diameter is best.
- To light the stove fill the combustion chamber with tinder and light it from the door.
- Once the tinder is burning add three or four sticks through the door that is supported by the wire stick support. Add more as the first ones burn down. Don’t overload the chamber as this actually decreases the efficiency of the stove.
- The heat transfer skirt is put on the pot and the pot is put on the stove.
- It takes about eight or ten minutes for the ceramic chamber to reach optimum temperature; once it does there is virtually no smoke because the gases in the smoke are ignited in a secondary combustion zone. That is a key part of the stove’s design.
- The stove must be tended while cooking and the fuel advanced into the combustion chamber regularly as it burns.
Back in the late 1990’s when we purchased our rocket stove, I think the cost was around $50-$60. The shipping from Oregon was $40. Today, the stoves cost more but some of their features have improved.
When we first began using our rocket stove, my major complaint was the single handle. It was hard on the hands because the weight of the stove cut across your palms. It was hard for two people to carry since it was hard for both to grab the same handle. It was simply bulky and awkward.
The improvement is that the StoveTec now has two handles, one on each side of the chamber, making it much easier to distribute the weight between the carriers.
There is also a two door model, which for us is not needed.
There is now a large, strong stainless steel pot available. It’s on my wishlist! What a beauty. ($70 more than we paid for the entire stove these many years ago!) But it increases the amount of food that can be cooked at once…a great boon for a larger group.
Remember that in an emergency or power outage situation you may have several neighbors needing your help with cooking a good hot meal or to sterilize contaminated drinking water. Or hey, you just might want to have some fun with your friends and family.
This would be something new and different to do for an “outdoor dinner party”!
3. The Dakota Hole
This is a more primitive technique for emergency cooking. You do not need a cast iron Dutch oven as in the photo. A simple spit over a Dakota Hole would work for roasting game.
Covering the larger hole with a flat thinner rock could be used for frying eggs or deer burgers. Save any wild game grease that results from spit cooking, if you can, to use for any frying you do. I have used it to good advantage while cooking over a Dakota Hole with a flat rock.
It’s nice if you happen to have a metal grill to cover the hole but that is not always the case if you are in an emergency bug-out situation. You can even use green wood to make a grate if nothing else is available.
Here are the specifics behind building a Dakota Hole. The measurements will be a general proportional guide.
- Choose a site that is relatively flat (not absolutely needed but it helps)
- Choose your location away from tree roots that might catch on fire underground.
- There are 2 external holes that connect underground, making a tunnel.
- The smaller one is for air flow called a vent hole the other, larger hole, is the fire hole. When choosing where to dig the vent hole make sure the natural air direction will flow into the hole and out the fire hole. Of course this air helps to feed the fire.
- Begin digging the fire hole about 12” x 12” straight down to about a one foot depth widening out a few inches as you get to the bottom.
- The smaller vent hole is about 6-8” wide and placed about 10” downwind of the first hole and is dug at about a 45° angle toward the fire hole. The depth is about 10-12”. Then connect the 2 holes creating a tunnel.
When you have cooked your meal, make sure to extinguish the fire with water, stirring embers and adding more water as needed. Next completely fill both holes with the dirt you removed, cover with leaves or debris to restore area to the way it was before your arrival.
If you have never built a Dakota Hole, it is a good idea to experiment several times to be able to understand first-hand what works and what does not. It will give you an idea of the tools you might need to purchase or what tools you already have that will be useful.
This is a great experience for your entire family. Allowing children, even 4-6 year olds, to help with tasks that you feel are age appropriate will give them a feeling of purpose and the experience and accomplishment will build confidence. With increased tasks and instruction, by the time they are 8-10 years old you will have instilled in them an appreciation of their own abilities and they will be able to do many tasks on their own.
If there comes a time when this method of cooking is one of your only options, having a little experience under your belt can be what you need to survive and what sets you apart from others. Adding any new skill to your knowledge base is always a good thing.
A Final Word
A few years ago, we had a gathering of 40+ people for an outdoor cooking demo of eight outdoor emergency cooking options. Dave and I manned the Rocket Stove while other friends demonstrated their Volcano stove, Dutch ovens, roasting spits, Dakota Holes, thermal cubes, spider fry pans and open fires with cast iron cauldrons.
It was a fun afternoon and evening and what a variety of foods! It opened eyes to cooking options that some folks had not experienced before.
In this article, we’ve covered three methods of emergency outdoor cooking. There are some indoor emergency methods as well but I will not cover those here. There are a variety of other outdoor methods available and you must choose based upon your individual needs.
If you have your emergency food storage or are just beginning to accumulate your food needs, it is important to consider a non-electric mode of cooking that stored food. (A family Christmas or Chanukah gift?)
A hot meal is a wonderful thing and will boost the spirit and help nourish the body. Having a way to fry, bake, sterilize, roast, broil or grill beats a continuous diet of PBJ any day. After a few days even your most ardent PBJ lover will agree! Besides, where would the bread come from?
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