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Indoor Cooking Without Power

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A while back I wrote an article about cooking without power, but when I wrote it, I was assuming that going outside to cook wouldn’t be a problem. I live on the gulf coast so even in the middle of winter, going outside to check on the grill is no big deal. All you need is a jacket. But what if you live up north and it’s so cold outside that opening the door for a few seconds sends a terrible chill through the house? After Hurricane Sandy, I got this message:

We just had a 20 hour power outage – it could have taken longer to restore power, and it could have been colder weather. What heaters and cookers can one use safely indoors? Staying warm in winter and having warm food and drinks is what I would like to know about, thank you for your help with this.

Here are a few of your main options if you want to cook indoors.


Anyone can roast marshmallows or cook hot dogs over a fire, but to cook a real meal you have to be more creative. Wait until your fire has plenty of glowing embers at the bottom, then try one of these methods.

  • Aluminum foil: Season some meat and veggies with salt and pepper and add a little vegetable oil. Then wrap the food in aluminum foil, use tongs place it onto the fire, and rotate it often. In a short while you’ll have a delicious meal. Just make sure you have a meat thermometer and make sure the meat is at least 165° before you eat it.
  • Skewers: Put your seasoned meat and veggies on a long skewer and slowly rotate it above the flames (not in the flames) until they’re ready. This requires a bit more patience.
  • Fireplace grate: Set one up above the fire and use cast iron skillets to fry up just about anything. I also recommend a good dutch oven. These are great for soup, stew or chili.

Of course, using the fireplace to cook indoors without power is obvious. So now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to the options for people who don’t have fireplaces.

Canned Heat

These are flaming canisters that are often used by caterers to keep food warm. They use a gel-like fuel that won’t spill, they’re easy to start, and a 7-ounce can will burn for a couple of hours.

I, myself, have a Sterno stove and plenty of cooking fuel.  It doesn’t get quite as hot as fireplace, but it definitely gets hot enough for you to scramble some eggs, make tea or cocoa, heat up canned soup, or cook your dehydrated or freeze-dried foods.

The Lost Ways

This is by far the easiest and safest way to cook indoors, so if you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to get some canned heat.

Camp Stoves

I have a Coleman two-burner propane stove, but unfortunately it’s not safe to use indoors. You could put it next to an open window in a well ventilated room, but that would defeat the purpose of keeping the cold out. Some people say using propane stoves indoors isn’t that dangerous, so long as you don’t leave it on for too long. Personally, I prefer to stay on the safe side. If you do use a propane stove indoors, at least make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector.

A better option is a butane stove. The good thing about butane is it burns cleaner so it’s a little safer to use indoors. However, I’d still be careful.

Your Car

If you have enough gasoline, it might be worth it to open your garage door (for ventilation) and use your vehicle to generate heat. Wrap some food in aluminum foil several times and place it on the engine (away from any moving parts) and close the hood. Again, check the internal temperature of your food with a thermometer before you eat it. Cooking this way certainly isn’t ideal, but it’s something you can do if you’re out of options. Better yet, get a portable stove that you can plug into your car’s cigarette lighter.

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  • countryguy

    Not so sure if the propane inside is that big of a deal if your only cooking and not trying to use it to heat. Millions in this country use propane and natural gas stoves everyday to cook and bake with. As you said, if your worried crack a window nearby or move the stove closer to the window.

    Also don’t forget if you have a wood fireplace you could burn charcoal in it and might be easier to cook with, especially on your dutch oven. But do not ever try to burn wood charcoal or anything in a gas fireplace insert. that should be common sense but I read about it happening every year during power outages.

  • name

    I remember during hurricane Gloria my father cooked over the fire place, we had canned spaghetti for supper. It was better then nothing that night. So having a fireplace for cooking is a great idea during a power outage. (Make sure you have extra wood ahead of time)