Storing fuel for cooking in an emergency doesn't need to be difficult. Charcoal is a very easy fuel to store because it has an indefinite shelf life, as long as it is kept away from moisture.
Store good quality charcoal, as discount brands are sometimes hard to light and have been known to go out.
The Kingsford Charcoal website now recommends storing charcoal in a cool, dry place. However, some people store charcoal in a garage or shed in the original bags and place them in plastic containers or large plastic bags for additional protection against moisture. In humid climates, there is some concern that just the right combination of humidity and heat can cause charcoal to spontaneously combust.
One interesting website lists an impressive amount of research from foremost authorities suggesting that spontaneous combustion is unlikely with the quantities of charcoal people would store at home. When storing any fuel in or around your residence, always check your insurance policy and any applicable city or county ordinances. Check with your local fire authorities for their recommendations. Then you decide how to store your charcoal.
Making an apple-box reflector oven
Get a regular-sized apple box, 20 inches by 13 inches by 12.5 inches high, from a grocery store. You will need 18-inch-wide heavy-duty foil and "metal repair tape" from a hardware store. Cut extra cardboard to fit into the handle holes in the box and secure with metal tape.
Cover the box inside and out with heavy-duty foil, shiny side out, securing with curls of the metal tape every 4 inches along the edges. It’s simple to use a 78-inch-long piece of foil to cover the entire length of the box outside, up and down the ends of the box, outside and in, and onto the box floor about 6 inches from each end. Fold the extra width of the foil onto the sides of the box and fasten with tape. Finish with an 84-inch-long piece of foil to cover the box sideways, inside and out, overlapping the ends of the foil inside the box, and secure with tape curls. All the cardboard inside should be covered as it will ignite if exposed.
For the window, you will need some double-sided clear tape and an oven baking bag. Cut a lengthwise slit in both layers of foil in the middle of the window hole, stopping 2 inches from each end. Then cut diagonal slits to the adjacent window corners. Fold the outside flaps of foil over the window edge and slip them between the foil and the box. Fold the inside flaps onto the outside of the window, covering all the edges. Pinch small pieces of extra foil into the corners, ensuring that all of the cardboard is covered. Stick double-sided tape around the outside edges of the window. Cut a rectangular 10-inch-by-5-inch double-layer piece of oven baking bag and stick it to the tape, over the window. Place metal tape along the outside edges of the window, securing the oven bag in place and neatly covering the outside foil flaps.
Cooking with an apple-box reflector oven
Place a piece of heavy-duty foil, larger than the apple box, on the ground, shiny side up. Make an oven rack by resting an oblong cookie cooling rack without a nonstick coating (found at a restaurant supply store) on four empty pop cans filled with a few rocks to stabilize them. Using some long salad tongs, spread heated charcoals evenly between the cans and throughout the center. Place the rack on the cans and place a pan of food to be cooked on the rack. Cover with the apple box, resting it on a one-inch rock in one corner, which allows air inside for the charcoal to burn. Face the window toward the sun so you can see when the food is cooked.
How much charcoal do you use?
One briquette equals 35 degrees. For a 375-degree oven, add an extra charcoal, making 11. This is not an exact science. Add one to three additional briquettes for baking at high altitudes, in cold weather or when the ground is wet. Charcoal burns for around 35 minutes. If a longer baking time is needed, after 35 minutes have someone slightly lift the box and using the long salad tongs slip in half as many newly lit charcoals to maintain the desired oven temperature.
For perfect cookies or cakes, preheat the oven for 5 minutes, lift the box off, holding it face down to keep in the heat, add the cookies and replace the box to cook them.
A charcoal chimney starter is a great way to start charcoal without having to store lighter fluid. Charcoal is ignited using a sheet or two of newspaper. Chimney starters with holes going up the sides allow better air circulation and are more efficient for lighting charcoal. When lighting a starter on a concrete surface, always put a piece of foil under it to keep from discoloring the concrete.
How much charcoal to store
A pound of charcoal equals 17 briquettes. To bake every day with a 400-degree oven, which requires around 12 to 13 briquettes, you would need to store about 16 20-pound bags of charcoal. Store more if you plan to do other cooking using a Dutch oven.
This oven is exciting to use. We have always eaten better than anyone else at girls camp because we can bake any foods we cook at home. It’s also a great backup if the power goes out. Why not try making an apple-box oven for a family activity this summer? It's fun to hear gasps of surprise when the box is removed and cookies are perfectly cooked. Someone at a recent demo said, "Oh — we should have filmed this! People just wouldn’t believe it!"
For a demonstration on cooking with an apple-box reflector oven, go to www.emergencyfoodstorageinanutshell.blogspot.com.
Leslie Probert, a graduate in home economics from Brigham Young University, has been a popular speaker and is co-author of "Emergency Food Storage in a Nutshell, 3rd Edition" with more than 400 fast recipes. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org