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 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 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
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.
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 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.
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
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, 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 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
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.