10 Reliable Ways to Cook Without Electricity (And 3 That Aren’t Worth It)

Have you ever been in the middle of dinner when a thunderstorm knocked out power? Isn’t it crazy how it throws the entire day into chaos out of all proportion, when such a commonplace occurrence?

It’s annoying, sure, but can also be costly. You might lose all of the food you’re trying to prepare, and then you’re left scrambling trying to come up with an alternative meal!

But for homesteaders, cooking and even living without power can be easy with the right approach.

Turns out there are many, many ways to cook with no electricity at all, so you can whip up breakfast, lunch, or dinner whether the grid is down, or if your homestead doesn’t have an electrical infrastructure at all.

Below, I’ve got a list of 10 reliable ways to cook with no electricity. Of course, not all methods are worth the time and trouble, so I’ll tell you about those too…

a propane gas stove in the snow
a propane gas stove in the snow

✅ Charcoal/Propane Grill

The first entry on our list is surely the most obvious to most folks. If you have a charcoal or propane backyard grill, you are in business. Fire up some charcoal and a chimney starter or click the igniter on a propane model and you’ll be cooking in no time.

These represent the ultimate in convenience for cooking without electricity. Essentially, they work very much like your stovetop and you can use all of your typical cookware as long as it can withstand intense, direct heat and flames.

Charcoal grills have an edge for being a little more versatile, but propane is certainly easier and more convenient.

The only downside to both of these is that you’ll be forced to cook outside, with no exceptions: both generate tons of carbon monoxide gas as a byproduct of combustion, and can easily poison you and your family if you try to use them inside (or even in an enclosed space) with poor ventilation.

Nonetheless, you should absolutely have one even if it’s just in case as a backup option. Even something small like a tailgate or camping model can do the trick in a pinch.

pot of water boiling on a rocket stove
pot of water boiling on a rocket stove

✅ Camp Stove

For taking care of the basics or just as an emergency option for boiling water, a camp stove is just the ticket.

Camp stoves are all designed to be portable and lightweight, from the two or sometimes three-burner options that fold up like a suitcase, as popularized by Coleman, the ultralight backpacking models that use their fuel canister as a stand.

Speaking of fuel, depending on the variety you buy, yours might use liquid fuel or solids like charcoal, wood, paper, and other stuff. Much like the larger grills we just talked about, the fuel type will give you greater convenience or better versatility.

Don’t underestimate these things, because they can put out a ton of heat very quickly and easily heat a small pot of water or food.

The major shortcoming is that you’ll have to use them outside, and also they are not satisfactory for preparing a larger meal or larger quantities of food. It’ll take a lot of time and you’ll go through a ton of fuel.

South Bend wood cook stove
South Bend wood cook stove

✅ Wood Stove

This is the way that grandma and grandpa did it, and gosh darn it, it’s the way we can do it, too! Are you even a homesteader if you don’t have a wood stove?

Wood stoves are a wonderful source of primary or supplementary heat and some new models, and most vintage ones, have a flat cooktop that works just like a griddle on the stovetop in your kitchen!

This is a great way to get more done with the same amount of fuel, and it’s also one of the methods on our list that works normally and safely inside – assuming of course that the stove itself is properly maintained and installed!

Wood stoves can cook absolutely anything, but they’re something of a skill unto themselves: heat control is challenging, to say the least. But with a little practice, you can figure it out just like so many generations that came before us.

boiling water over camp fire at night

✅ Fire Pit

If you really want to get back to basics, learn to cook over an open fire. A backyard fire pit works wonderfully for cooking with the right setup, and is versatile enough to take care of roasting, frying, and even baking.

And you don’t need an actual fire pit necessarily, either; you can just build a good cook fire in a clear spot as long as it is safe to do so.

As you might expect, cooking over an open fire takes some legitimate skill. Learning how to build the fire properly, manage heat, and set up multiple zones of heat if you want to get really fancy is a skill that must be cultivated.

Likewise, you’ll need steel or cast iron cookware only since a lot of stuff that we would normally use in the kitchen simply will not withstand going into an open flame like this.

And of course, handling this screaming-hot cookware means you’ll need tongs, pot lifters, gloves, and more to avoid accidents and prevent injury.

I can tell you this, though; out of all of the methods on this list this is probably the most versatile and the most enjoyable: next time you head out camping you’ll certainly be able to put these skills to use!

a fireplace

✅ Fireplace

A chronically underutilized option for no-electricity cooking is a fireplace, and specifically a wood-burning fireplace.

Believe it or not, this was the de facto method for food preparation in homes around the world for centuries. People didn’t necessarily have a separate kitchen space, at least not for a long time…

A properly set up fireplace and hearth will let you do everything you can normally do on a stovetop or in the oven and do it comfortably and safely indoors.

Again, it requires a little bit of practice and it can be dangerous. Spills of flammable liquids can easily turn into disasters, so caution is a must as is a fire extinguisher.

And, just like any other source of combustion inside your home, proper maintenance and inspection is absolutely necessary to prevent the accumulation of dangerous gases.

With the right stands, holders, and other specialized cookware, you might come to really enjoy cooking over the fireplace.

Butane Burner

A convenient and easy-to-use option for indoor cooking is a butane burner. It’s exactly what it sounds like; a one or two-burner arrangement that is fueled by butane which is common, clean-burning, and easy to handle.

These are a wonderful choice for a ‘just in case’ option, or for folks who don’t want to go through the uncertainty and trouble of developing their skills for cooking over any kind of open fire.

Just like your stovetop or propane grill, you can adjust the fuel flow to increase or decrease heat as needed. These units are also easy to store and easy to set up, making them a great component in any blackout kit.

Butane can be a little pricey, and you’ll go through more of it than you think if you’re going to rely on it totally for cooking, but if that isn’t a deal breaker for you, these are another fine choice.

✅ Sterno

A trusty, portable, and ultimately disposable option for cooking is Sterno, other similar “canned heat” products. Usually a type of jellied liquid fuel, these clever cans were originally developed in the middle of the 20th century for military use.

You’ll usually see these things broken out today to keep large servings of food warm on buffet tables at banquets, receptions, weddings, picnics, and the like, but it is possible to use them for boiling water or cooking if you’re working with smaller portions.

All you need to do is follow the instructions on the can, usually some combination of opening the lid completely or fully and then igniting it with an open flame. Sometimes you can adjust the heat output by partially covering them with the lid.

The biggest shortcoming with any sort of canned heater like this is that you will often need to use multiple cans to get really substantial heat going for cooking or boiling larger quantities.

They also don’t emit much in the way of dangerous combustion by-products, but they are expensive and you must take great care to protect any surface that they are sitting on because the cans themselves get blazing hot.

Not a terrible choice for taking care of one or two meals, but if you’re planning for long-term cooking with no electricity, look to a different solution.

Kendra next to a Sun Oven
Kendra next to a Sun Oven

✅ Solar Oven

One of my favorite methods for cooking with no electricity, and indeed no other kind of fuel, is a solar oven! It is exactly what it sounds like: an oven that uses the unlimited power of the sun to cook food.

They come in different shapes, sizes, and configurations but usually take the form of a large, open-top box with a clear cover on top. The interior of the cooking compartment is always lined with mirrors or else metal that has been polished to a mirror shine.

The sunlight can stream through the clear top and then will be trapped inside the compartment, raising the temperature enough to bake bread, cook whole cuts of meat, etc.

You can purchase these things ready to use, or make your own if you are crafty and have a little bit of DIY spirit.

With just a little bit of experimentation you’ll find they’re also easy to adjust and set up for different temperatures, and an integrated thermometer will allow you to monitor the cooking temp easily.

The shortfalls of solar ovens are obvious, though: they are entirely dependent upon the sun to function. Cloudy days and nighttime mean you aren’t going to be doing any cooking!

✅ Ground Oven

An ancient method of cooking, an earth oven is little more than a hole in the ground lined with rocks upon which a fire is built.

This fire will be built quite hot, and the wood is allowed to burn down all the way to coals. When you’re ready to cook, you place food on top of the coals, cover it with more hot coals, and then a layer of dirt.

This is a fairly involved but surprisingly effective process, and also one that’s pretty nuanced for what it is. It can allow you to steam, bake, or roast depending on how you set up the oven and what you burn inside it.

You can add fresh greenery before covering your food in order to generate steam and cook it more gently.

The biggest drawback with an Earth oven is that it’s mostly an all-or-nothing process. It’s also highly labor-intensive. Having said that, it’s something that can be done anywhere as long as you have stones and wood, and as a hasty, improvised option it is a tool worth having in your personal cooking toolbox!

a kerosene heater
a kerosene heater

✅ Kerosene Heater

One of the most popular liquid fuels in the world, kerosene is being slowly but surely phased out throughout much of the US, though it still has some dedicated proponents.

Used as a heating fuel, it is shelf-stable, long-lasting, efficient, and easy to handle, and in a properly maintained heater, it also burns very cleanly making it attractive for indoor use.

And because most kerosene heaters actually work on a sort of modified radiant heat principle through the heating of a stout metal plate, it’s possible to cook on that metal surface or boil water.

In fact, many old kerosene heaters were designed with this function in mind, or can be adapted to do so.

Kerosene heaters will give you the advantage of easy heat control and refueling, and assuming they are well maintained and the kerosene itself is not too old, they’re pretty safe to run indoors, though you should still ensure cross-ventilation.

This is another good choice for multipurpose preparedness: a kerosene heater can give you plenty of heat, of course, but also cooking functionality!

3 Cooking Methods That Just Aren’t Worth It

We covered a lot of great options for no-electricity cooking. The following are other options, but they are ones that really suck for various reasons.

❌ Candles

You’ll see this brought up repeatedly in survival forums and sometimes even survival guides. Candles are indispensable in a survival situation, yes, but they are a terrible choice for cooking.

Trying to rig up some kind of rack or holder over the candles that will support your cookware or food is a pain in the butt, and then evenly maintaining, much less establishing, the right temperature is difficult bordering on impossible.

Plus, it simply isn’t that efficient. You’ll be wasting your candles when you could be saving them for light.

❌ Tealight Oven

This is sort of related to candles, but you’ll sometimes come across so-called tea light ovens for sale online, or plans to make one of your own. The principles are sound, using an insulated box to capture the heat from multiple tea lights to cook food. Like any other oven, when you think about it.

The problem is that tea lights are very inefficient and they burn out way too quickly. You’ll be replacing these little candles all the time if you’re trying to cook anything substantial.

Annoying, difficult to use and, in my opinion, a waste of resources. Don’t bother!

❌ MRE Heaters

Lastly, is an option that is bound to hurt the feelings of some MRE fans. Those little heaters, especially the new ones that are the stick-on type, can work surprisingly well to gently warm a small pouch of food but that is absolutely all they can do.

Though a neat bit of chemistry, these things are just not that powerful or efficient despite how hot they feel. Go crazy if you’re trying to heat up an MRE, but the reason I bring them up is that I know some folks have stockpiled the things as an emergency option for off-grid cooking.

I think this is harebrained to say the least. I think it’s bound to cause more problems than it solves, and even if you are munching on an MRE, heat it up some other way or eat it cold before you mess with these things.

cooking without electricity pin image

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