Poverty Prepping: Types of Cooking Fuel

Two great methods of cooking that require no fuel and are fully renewable and unlimited.

Two great methods of cooking that require no fuel and are fully renewable and unlimited.

This is a guest post by my good friend Lesa on different fuels for cooking. Having hiked ortions of the Appalachian Trail  and living 6 years in Costa Rica she has a lot of experience cooking with non-traditional means. That’s made critically important because she is allergic to propane and can’t stand to be around it. What she’s learned about alternative fuels is very important to us because in the event of an extended emergency propane may be unavailable and we’ll need other choices.  Check out her blog!!     http://simplylesa.blogspot.com/ 

For new vandwellers, deciding on how to put together your kitchen can be a time consuming and confusing process. Because it’s a “hobby” of mine I’ve spent a lot of time with trial and error to learn what works best for me. In this article I’m hoping some of my experiments can be helpful to you and make your life easier. (Editors note; We’ll cover much of this material in more detail later.)

I suggest you start by looking at the many options that campers, hikers and boaters use because they are so similar to the limited space we have in a van. The best way to begin is with defining your needs and getting real with yourself. If you don’t like to prepare food, don’t like to clean up, or don’t want to wash dishes then your choices will be very different from a gourmet chef who needs many pans cooking at once as he makes elaborate meals. So be honest with yourself and work within the limited amount of space you have.

The first thing you have to decide is what you will use as a fuel source. Let’s look at some of your options:

Propane s the perfect fuel for vandwellers. I used an adapter hose to hook it up to a 5 gallon bottle which would normally last about 6 months. But in an emergency there wouldn't be any more available.

Propane is the perfect fuel for vandwellers. I used an adapter hose to hook it up to a 5 gallon bottle which would normally last about 6 months. But in an emergency there wouldn’t be any more available after that.

Propane is a good, reliable, inexpensive fuel source around most of the world. Something as simple as a Coleman propane stove is probably your best choice. Unfortunately I have an allergic/severe sensitivity to propane so I had to look for other options. (Editors Note: If the power grid goes down for long, you won’t be able to buy any more propane.) Coleman 1-Burner Stove

Butane has many advantages but is hard to find now and in an emergency will be non-existent.

Butane has many advantages but is hard to find now and in an emergency will be non-existent.

Butane is another good, hot heat source. It has four big disadvantages: 1) it doesn’t work in temperatures below 32 degrees 2) its expensive 3) it can be hard to find 4) in an extended emergency, you will NOT be able to buy more. But, because of the simplicity of butane stoves they can be a neat, simple, easy to use system that you many people love. Camp Chef Butane Stove with Camping Case

Backpackers love these tiny butane stoves and they work well in a van. But the bottles are expensive, hard to find and totally unsuitable for an emergency,

Backpackers love these tiny butane stoves and they work well in a van. But the bottles are expensive, hard to find and totally unsuitable for an emergency,

Many hikers and outdoor people are familiar with small ISO Butane canister stoves designed for backpackers. These lightweight tiny pressurized canisters can be found in sporting goods stores and Wal-Mart. I’ve been told that the fuel lasts quite a long time and boils water very quickly. Again, in the event of an emergency the little bottles will be unavailable.

This is an alcohol stove that Lesa made from a can for nothing. As you can see it burns HOT! Alcohol stores very well and goes a long way. it's a good choice in an emergency.

This is an alcohol stove that Lesa made from a can for nothing. As you can see it burns HOT! Alcohol stores very well and goes a long way. it’s a good choice in an emergency.

Alcohol is one more good cooking fuel – it is relatively safe to use although it burns so clean that you can hardly see the flame, storage is less of a factor because it is non-pressurized, it is inexpensive and can be purchased all over the world. Kept in its original or a special hikers fuel container, it should last indefinitely. Many world traveling nomads, boaters and thru hikers like alcohol as a fuel. There are many home-made types of alcohol stoves available with directions and videos to Do It Yourself are in many places on the internet.
Esbit Brass Alcohol Burner Camping Stove

Solar Ovens are a fantastic way to cook! But not the only way; this is Lesa's dashboard dehydrator which works well.

Solar Ovens are a fantastic way to cook! But not the only way; this is Lesa’s dashboard dehydrator which works well.

Solar can be used to cook in three ways: 1) solar panels to power a microwave, slow cooker, 12 volt appliances or coffee pots 2) solar ovens to directly cook food 3) solar water heater or thermoses. One example I’ve tried is passive solar on my van to create a Dashboard Dehydrator for my raw food experiments and dehydrated crackers and pizza crusts.

This is an Esbit multi-fuel stove kit designed for Esbit tablets (that's an Alcohol stove in it now).

This is an Esbit multi-fuel stove kit designed for Esbit tablets (that’s an Alcohol stove in it now). They will be the first thing to disapear off store shelves in an emergency.

Solid fuels, like Esbit tables or WetFire cubes. These work well, although they are chemical based and have a smell, so it’s best to use them outside. They aren’t as available as other options but you can order them online or find them at outdoor outfitters like Campmor, REI or Gander Mountain. These are a very light weight fuel source and good for hiking trips where you only boil water. Because they are a little difficult to find, stock up whenever you do find them. Again, in an emergency they will be the first thing gone off store shelves.
Coghlan’s Folding Stove

This is a very inexpensive Coghlans stove designed for Sterno or alcohol stoves. But it works well.

This is a very inexpensive Coghlans stove designed for Sterno or alcohol stoves. But it works well.

Sterno, which is basically jellied alcohol. Sterno is relatively safe because in a jellied state it does not spill easily. Though Sterno does not get very hot, this is a good fuel for someone who likes to wait for food to warm up slowly or for teaching youngsters how to handle cooking over a fire. Sterno Gel Fuel, 24 Count

Charcoal is a great fuel but totally impractical in an emergency.

Charcoal is a great fuel but totally impractical in an emergency.

Charcoal, works well, but it’s dirty. I’m not a big fan of charcoal because I like my food fast, I don’t want to wait and you also have to carry something to help start it. Things like: 1) lighter fluid 2) bags of charcoal that are pre-soaked with fluid like the MatchLight brand 3) you can pick up chunks of charcoal from an old fire pit and douse it with alcohol or hand sanitizer and then it will light. Lodge Camp Dutch Oven, 8 Qt

Wood, is the ideal cooking fuel: it's in unlimited supply and is easy to work with. In an emergency, a little soot will be the least of your problems!

Wood, is the ideal cooking fuel: it’s super easy, requires few tools, and most importantly is in unlimited supply. In an emergency, a little soot will be the least of your problems!

Wood can be great even though it’s dirty because the dishes get sooty. But it has the advantage of being free and easily found in small quantities in most places. Because of fire bans and limited amounts of firewood in some areas, you may have to buy firewood. I’m a fan of things like hobo stoves, rocket stoves, gasifiers and Kelly Kettles. Simple DIY or close to it stoves that use twigs or even cardboard or newspaper as fuel. I was blessed with a Kelly Kettle and love the way I can boil water even in wet, nasty and windy conditions. And if money is running low, I most likely can pick up a few sticks here and there for free. I also have a similar MKettle that is designed for hiking and is just enough water for 1 person. Kelly Kettle USA – Volcano Kettle – Ultra Fast Boiling Kettle

The Kelly Kettle is an outstanding tool! It has a double-walled chimney that holds water that heats while you are cooking something else.

The Kelly Kettle is an outstanding tool! It has a double-walled chimney that holds water that heats while you’re cooking something else.

This is where you pour the water into the chimney. It is extremely efficient!

This is where you pour the water into the chimney. It is extremely efficient!

I  carry multiple stoves while traveling so that I have options, although I am rethinking this idea due to the small space in my van. I think knowing and practicing different options is wise given the state of the world we live in. From a prepper mentality, I’m pretty well prepared. I could likely make a stove out of nearly anything if survival was an issue.

Editors Note. In the event of an Emergency of any kind one of the first things to disappear from store shelves will be methods of cooking so you must have them on hand now, before you need them. But there’s no way you can carry enough fuel for an extended emergency so I strongly recommend you  consider renewable fuels with an unlimited supply like wood and solar. For short term emergencies I suggest you carry 2-5 gallons of Denatured Alcohol for cooking and heat. If you learn how to make Pepsi can alcohol stoves and carry a bunch of empty cans and  plastic bottles you can make an excellent barter items Make the stove, fill a bottle with alcohol and give them a box of matches and you can trade that for almost anything you want!

We’ll cover wood, solar and alcohol cooking in detail in a later post.

Bob
About

I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

37 comments on “Poverty Prepping: Types of Cooking Fuel
  1. Heyday says:

    Thanks for this.

    Have you tried or considered a Wonderbag?

    • Bob Bob says:

      Heyday, I’d never heard of it before so I found it on Amazon and I am very impressed. I think it would be a tremendous way to save prescious fuel in an emergency, or just everyday!

      have you tried one? I’d be very curious to see how it worked for you.

      Wonderbag Portable Slow Cooker“>

      • Ming says:

        If the thermal efficiency is similar to my Tiger Thermal cooker, then it should work very well. I tried a homemade version of this (bundle the pot up in blankets), which worked well except it ended up getting damp from steam and smelling like the contents of the soup. The Tiger cooker just wipes clean of the accumulated moisture.

        Thermal cooking is handy – bring to a boil, simmer for 15 minutes, and let cook by itself for the next 3-5 hours. It’s equivalent to leaving it in the electric crockpot all day.

        • Bob Bob says:

          Ming, yes, thermal cooking is an old and very effective cooking method. In the old days it was sometimes called “haybox cooking” because they used hay as the insulation. It worked well!
          Bob

  2. breid1903 says:

    maybe a trangia multifuel x2

    peaceup raz

    • Lesa says:

      Trangia’s are very good. The only thing I prefer about the Esbit model – which is basically the same. The Esbit and some other newer alcohol stoves include a little handle on the simmer ring. It sure makes it easier to handle than the Trangia.

      • Bob Bob says:

        Lesa, I’ll second that! I have a Trangia and turning the simmer ring is very difficult. The Esbit looks easier to use because of it.
        Bob

    • Bob Bob says:

      breid1903, I’m not familiar with it but it looks like it’s pretty expensive. The only liquid fuel stove I’m recommending is alcohol because a gallon of alcohol in it’s original can will last for decades. So if I store a can of it for 10 years, it will still work just fine. Plus alcohol stoves have no working parts and are virtually indestructible. If you break it or lose it you can make a new one out of any pepsi can.
      Bob

  3. DASA says:

    Thanks a bunch for the info in this post! I had read about rocket stoves but the Kelly Kettle is completely new to me. Most rocket-type stoves are pretty big but the Kelly is nice a small, and much cheaper than the big ones. Definitely picking one up (through the link here to help Bob out!) Thanks again!

    • Lesa says:

      The Kelly Kettle is a wonderful piece of equipment. Over this winter, I had been designing a rocket stove top for the fire pot on the Kelly Kettle….and wouldn’t you know it, I checked the company and they are going to offer one themselves this year!
      I suggest checking that out.
      If you prefer the look of ‘NEW’ that the average US people I have been meeting this year, you might want to learn how to choose and protect your pots from the build up of soot.
      Lesa recently posted…Vantucket island and her new neighbors!My Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      DASA, the Kelley Kettles were designed for Irish fisherman who needed a small, safe and very fast way to make hot water. They work very well!
      Bob

  4. Joy says:

    To save a bit more time on cooking…… One can use a good thermos to just add hot water to your pasta/rice/ingredients and in a few hours , while your off enjoying life, you will have a hot dinner. In that way, cooking times are lowered.

    I’m kinda surprised I haven’t seen many mention sitting black jugs in sun and using for some extra [free] thermal warmth.

    I’d like to hear more about dashboard dehydrating, with pics…pretty please. I have an elec. dehydrator and thought maybe it could work being hung outside, under a tree, with strings or wires, using just the racks. You could even use a 12v fan blowing through it, to speed things up. That way your van won’t smell like grass drying in the sun.
    Joy

    • Lesa says:

      I have had a non-electric version of a screened in dehydrator on my wish list for years. In the Southwest US this would be a wonderful addition. It would certainly keep smells out of the vehicle during Dashboard Dehydration….but for now my Dashboard is FREE! I like free!
      Check out my blog for more pictures and soon I will post some recipes as well.
      Lesa recently posted…Vantucket island and her new neighbors!My Profile

      • Bob Bob says:

        If you can afford the wonderful Global Sun Oven, they sell a dehydrator specifically for it that I’ve heard works extremely well! Once you’be bought it, it is free forever from then on.
        Bob

    • Bob Bob says:

      Joy, I almost included that idea but I’m not sure it’s safe. Those plastic jugs aren’t intended to be reused or painted so I’m concerned that the toxins from the paint would leech through. I would use it to wash but to drink or cook with.

      I used to work in the dairy dept in a grocery store and when we had just a few gallons of close-dated milk we would use a magic marker to write a reduced price on them to sell them fast. After awhile the bosses told us to never do it again because the ink leeched through and tainted the milk. After that we had to go find a pricing gun and mark them. But even then we had to use a magic marker to slash through the UPC or it would scan at the full price. i guess that was okay.
      Bob

  5. dave says:

    I live in Phoenix and my veterinary technicians cook cookies for the clinic on the dashboard of their car during the summer. Yes, it easily gets that hot in there. Never thought of dehydrating food on a dashboard though.

    Bob has mentioned it in other posts, but freezer bag cooking is also popular among backpackers. Just google it and you’ll find all you need to know. Because it usually just involves rehydrating dehydrated foods it is a good van dweller option. Boil water, rehydrate food, place in a “Cozy” to maintain heat, ten minutes later on average you have a hot meal. Brilliant in the extreme.

    Best alcohol stove I’ve used backpacking is known as a fancee feest alcohol stove. Google or Youtube it for instructions. Uses a fancy feast brand cat food can, a wick and a piece plumbing steel that holds the wick in place at the edge of the can. Its much more fuel efficient than most alcohol stoves, and the steel gives a secure seat for the pot to sit on. Weighs virtually nothing.

    Finally I’ll mention Tinny from minibulldesign. He has completely perfected the lightweight backpacker alcohol stove. He builds them in his garage workshop and they are not cheap, but he can bake (yes, I said bake) biscuits, cakes and muffins without burning or steaming them. You have to see his end products to believe them, he also has two youtube channels.

    • Lesa says:

      Thanks for mentioning Tinny, his creations are worth a look at least.

      Cat can stoves (Google Zen Stoves.com) are great…there are so many different DIY ways to create stoves.

      When hiking the AT, I used a Haulite tea kettle by GSI along with Esbit tabs and a folding titanium stove to heat water for freezer bag re-hydration cooking. I used my winter hat for a cozy to avoid carrying another piece of equipment. The kettle heats faster than others because of the Haulite, the fold up stove and Esbit tablets were one of the tiniest things to carry I used twigs and wood when possible because the tablets were not always available. Although I could have ordered them online and had them shipped.

      Thanks for mentioning these methods…

      BTW Freeze dried, unseasoned vegetables and fruits are available even at some WalMarts. I have to watch ingredients because of my allergies and sensitivities. I have bought a large #10 can of broccolli which lasted an entire year. I repack into baggies for storage and I save the powder that collects at the bottom of the bags to add to smoothies and soups.
      Lesa recently posted…Vantucket island and her new neighbors!My Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Dave, thanks for a whole bunch of good information! Very helpful!
      Bob

  6. Ming says:

    +1 for the Kelly Kettle. I made some mods to mine: a raised grill to allow air under the burning sticks (sticks burn completely to ash so I leave very little evidence of my presence), a grill to sit the kettle on so that I don’t char the ground under it, a shelf at the hole on the side of the burn chamber to prevent embers from falling to the ground.

    This setup was approved at one of Canada’s national parks during a fire ban!

    I use thermoses too, for making tea later in the day, or to cook soup or rice.

    Thanks for the comprehensive overview on a variety of fuels.

    You are right, in an extended emergency, everyone would end up resorting to burning wood.

  7. The past few weeks I’ve done very little cooking. I just haven’t been in the mood for it. Instead, I’ve been eating things that don’t need cooking. It sure simplifies things.
    Al Christensen recently posted…Well, that wasn’t part of the planMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Al, it really does! I’ve got quite a few items in my emergency pantry that don’t require cooking and until then I am always on the look out for no-cooking foods. I find that’s especially true when it’s hot, I just don’t want to cook, too hot!!
      Bob

  8. Carla says:

    My last blog post discussed rocket stoves — superior because they use an insulated column to direct heat efficiently and need only a handful of twigs or less to boil water. There are some excellent YouTube videos of homemade rocket stoves, but below is a link to a tutorial with photos that I think is one of the most simple yet complete.

    http://prepared-housewives.com/how-to-build-a-rocket-stove-and-impress-the-boys/

    Of course, rocket stoves are for outdoor use since they do burn fossil fuel.
    Carla recently posted…Rocket Stoves Rate High for EmergenciesMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks Carla, that’s a great link! Rocket stoves do work really well!

      Bob

    • Lesa says:

      Carla, thanks for posting your site information. I have followed you for a while and you have great ideas.

      I too have made rocket stoves, because of my travel and storage space, its not practicle to carry. I like knowing how to make them when I land somewhere long enough to justify making a version that I will eather leave behind or gift to someone when I leave.

      I was happy to learn that the Kelly Kettle people have designed a rocket stove top to fit the fire bowl of the now famous Kelly Kettle…it will be a wonderful addition to that system. If you have used a KK before, you will be aware that cooking on the pot stand has major limitations. I didn’t like the thin stainless steel pots they sold as an add on either they were too thin and warped easily with the intense heat.
      Lesa recently posted…Nemo’s Box Truck is for sale!My Profile

  9. Opa says:

    Water is LIFE. Without water there is no life. Many prepers just don’t think about it. It can be expensive and labor intensive to have a steady supply of drinking water.

  10. Wayne says:

    Thought I’d mention that Prepperfest is on this weekend at the fair grounds in Phoenix. admission, $12.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Wayne, I hadn’t heard of that sure wish I had heard of it before, I would have tried to make it. thanks much for letting me know, I may still try to go but probably not.
      Bob

      • Wayne says:

        I didn’t know about it either until it was on the news Friday night.

        • Bob Bob says:

          Wayne, I couldn’t make it today and tomorrow I am hosting a group dinner (Sloppy Joes and baked beans) here so no chance to make it this year. I’ll have to try to remember for next year.
          Bob

  11. Myddy says:

    I’ll stick with “free” whenever I can, but I do use a combination of propane and electricity. That little mini oven you can plug into your cig lighter is great.
    Myddy recently posted…Homemade body lotionMy Profile

  12. antix jhon says:

    Ing, I realize you might have more sun on your vehicle compared to get mine along with We don’t get any difficulties applying mine. Nevertheless, as if you, I use that in early on day then it may fully boost.
    antix jhon recently posted…Launching Soon! Sign up for our Newsletter to be notified of the launch and for exclusive discounts.My Profile

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