Summer is a good time to think about how food could be cooked if you lose power in an emergency. Sales on some storable fuels are easier to find in warm months, and camping experiences allow people to try alternative cooking methods firsthand and choose the ones they prefer. Whatever fuel is stored, it is important to consider purchasing cooking devices that conserve fuel and stretch stored fuels as long as possible.
Here are some things to think about when planning cooking options, as well as information on how to safely store and use these common fuels:
Propane has the advantage of storing indefinitely. For safety reasons, there are legal limits on the amount that can be stored in cities and communities. Twenty-pound cylinders are designed to release fuel as it expands, and, therefore, must not be stored indoors or in any enclosed place, even in a partially enclosed patio. Released fuel will pool on the ground and explode on contact with just a spark. Propane cooking devices give off carbon monoxide when fuel is burned and can never be used inside unless CSA certified for safe use indoors.
Propane is best conserved by using a burner that provides heat directly under a pan. It can be further conserved using haybox or insulated cooking to finish cooking food once it is brought to a boil. For more information about storing propane, see "Safely store propane; haybox cooking saves fuel" on DeseretNews.com.
Charcoal also stores indefinitely and must be kept away from moisture. Although the Kingsford charcoal company website recommends storing charcoal in a cool, dry place, 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. Some people are concerned about spontaneous combustion in humid climates with just the right combination of humidity and heat, though research raises serious doubts about that possibility.
Store good quality charcoal as discount brands can be difficult to start and may not stay lit. Watch for great sales beginning on Memorial Day and also in the fall when stores want to reduce inventory. Charcoal gives off massive amounts of carbon monoxide and can only be burned outside. Volcano stoves conserve fuel when cooking with Dutch ovens. Baking in an apple box reflector oven uses just over half the charcoal it takes to bake in a Dutch oven. For more information about charcoal, see "Safely store propane; haybox cooking saves fuel"on DeseretNews.com.
Kerosene has a shelf life of up to three years if high quality 1-K kerosene is stored. Some people extend this shelf life with additives, but this can be done for only so long. It is best to rotate kerosene storage by using it regularly. Kerosene should be stored out of sunlight and if allowed by local authorities may be stored in a garage or shed. There are legal limits on the amount that can be stored in cities and communities. Cooking devices using kerosene must be used outside unless they are CSA certified for safe indoor use.
Wood can be stored for a very long time when kept dry. Hard woods burn longer, so stored wood lasts longer. The best cooking device to conserve wood is a wood-burning stove, which also heats a home in cold weather.
Anthracite coal, found in the Eastern United States, is hard, clean to handle and stores indefinitely. Bituminous coal, which is more common in the West, stores for a very long time if protected from moisture. It's softer and not as clean to handle. Coal is used most efficiently in a coal-burning stove, which provides both cooking and home heating. Coal cannot be used in a wood-burning stove as it burns hotter than wood and can crack the stove.
Sun ovens are a wonderful way to cook without any fuel and are practical in months when the sun shines most days. Other cooking options are needed for cooking on cloudy and stormy days. Look for a sun oven with an internal thermometer, which allows monitoring of cooking temperatures, and a leveling tray, which keeps cooking pans level when the oven is tipped to best capture the sun.
Fuel-powered generators can run some home appliances in emergencies, but they require a lot of fuel, making their use limited in cities with fuel-storage restrictions. Rural settings, where larger amounts of fuel can safely be stored, allow use of generators for more than a few days.
Solar generators, which are appearing on the market, can provide enough electricity for some use of home appliances in an emergency. However, they can be expensive and may not generate enough charge for consistent use of appliances during periods of cloudy weather.
Author's note: Be sure to check several things before storing fuel: your housing or rental code; your condominium/homeowners policy; city and county fire regulations; and your insurance policy.
Consider storing a few kinds of fuels and devices for cooking in an emergency when electricity is lost, especially when living in cities where restrictions limit the amounts of fuels that can be stored.
Why not use this summer to see what you can do to provide for emergency cooking? It’s a fun time to try alternative cooking methods, determine what works best for you, and, of course, to practice before an emergency.
Leslie Probert, a graduate in home economics from Brigham Young University, is a popular speaker and is co-author of "Emergency Food Storage in a Nutshell, 3rd Edition" with over 400 fast, creative recipes. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org