Being able to cook food is something almost everyone takes for granted. What would you do if you found yourself without a stove or oven? Would you know how to prepare a meal that was nutritious and safe?
If your answer is anything but “of course,” you need to consider the following ways to cook food outdoors without a stove or oven.
When most people think of situations where a person would have to improvise to cook food, they usually envision something along the lines of the aftermath of a hurricane or tornado. These scenarios can give rise to that sort of a challenge, but each is hardly common, and in most cases, the majority of the public will never be confronted with them.
There are a few different instances — some not even emergencies — where cooking without a stove is necessary. A few of them are:
Hiking and backpacking
Temporary power outage from a storm
Moving into a new home
The following are ways you can neutralize the challenge of making meals without a kitchen.
Traditional BBQ Grill
Whether wood, charcoal or gas-fired, traditional backyard BBQ grills have gotten so sophisticated that they function as both a stove and oven in a pinch. If you have a full fuel canister, there is little you can’t do, including:
If you don’t have a BBQ grill, you can hit end-of-season sales in the fall and get a great price on just about every type of grill imaginable. Grills usually for sale include ultra-heavy stainless steel BBQ grills with a non-stick surface on the appliance and non-stick coating on warming racks and burners with boil times and cooking processes that closely resemble a conventional oven or cooktop.
There are also ultralight versions of grills that provide the basics in cooking capabilities, have a total weight that is a fraction of the navy-duty brands and are thus highly mobile.
Another light-weight version is the traditional charcoal grill with the removable, domed top. With either version, add wood, charcoal or a small fuel canister, some camping or backpacking pots, and pans, and you are good to go.
The traditional campfire is another way you can cook food, make hot water and, if you want, utilize an entire cook set to create a meal. The amount of equipment you need for an open fire is minimal and is perfect for ultralight backpacking.
A campfire requires kindling to get started, wood for more fuel and a way to hold food or make boiling water.
Simple pots can help you accomplish the task of holding the food, or something as complex as a full cook set, including a portable grill that distributes heat for cooking vegetables and meat, would be helpful.
While they can be expensive, a titanium pot or titanium cookware set can be a convenient addition to your camping collection.
If you don’t have the equipment for backcountry cooking, you can use the coals of the fire directly, which is usually more than sufficient to cook food and boil water.
The open fire is a great way to prepare a meal or make boiling water if you’re car camping or if hauling in even a small backpacking stove with gas canisters or ultralight gear is too much to carry. All you need is a way to hold your food, and you are good to go.
Another benefit to an open fire is that you can warm yourself and leave it unattended with some preparation for when you sleep. Plus, if you’re not in an emergency, there’s nothing quite like watching the stars at night around a campfire.
Just because the gas or electric range does a poor job or you lack one doesn’t mean you have to go without a warm meal. Several types of stoves are light and can heat everything from water to a freeze-dried meal, allowing you to prepare gourmet fare.
The two most popular alternative stoves are canister stoves, including something simple like a Sterno container with a warming pot and alcohol stoves.
Either type is super light, doesn’t require you to carry fuel on your body outside of the canisters that come with the stoves and is extremely fuel-efficient.
A popular alternative stove is the camping stove that most campers have used at one point or another. These run on propane and provide a fire just like a gas stove does. There are many different models of camping stoves that range from simple to complex.
Self-warming meals have been around for a while but have gotten much better over the last 10 or so years, including evolving from a bulky pouch to today’s barely noticeable ultralight version. These meals are perfect for overnights or thru-hiking and having an emergency supply kit on hand.
All you need is cold water and an eating utensil.
Active packaging warms prepared, packaged food, and often you can eat them right from the container, meaning there’s no need for backpacking cookware. Self-warming backpacking meals are the ultimate in ultralight cooking.
You don’t need so much as a pot unless you want to split a pouch between people. Thus, the benefit of self-warming meals is how easily you can transport and store them. The meals won’t take up too much space in your bag.
Because many are freeze-dried, they add no extra weight to camping or hiking equipment, and if you choose meals carefully, you can save weight instead of hauling separate ingredients, fuel canisters or an ultralight cook kit.
One hack is that self-warming meals also serve as great hand warmers when using them in cold temperatures.
Popular self-warming meals include:
Scrambled egg(s) and hash
Mac and Cheese
Tin Can Stove
The tin can stove is an old favorite because it combines what many people enjoy: Innovating and creating something using scrap materials. With two cans, cutting shears and pliers, you can quickly assemble a small, portable and low-weight method of heating small food portions.
One hack for this type of cooker is to use abrasive steel wool as your kindling as it lights quickly and will burn long enough to light most kindling.
To use a tin can stove effectively, you need at a minimum a pot to boil water, but if you make a few, you can use the best backpacking cookware to create mouth-watering food, heat water and disinfect other small equipment.
Stock Pot Stove
Constructing a stock-pot stove is fairly simple. The basis of the cooker is to use one large stock pot as a base and another smaller stock pot as a rack for holding fuel. Campers should modify the first pot to suspend the second pot about three inches above the bottom.
Then, punch additional holes into the upper and lower part of the bigger pot to enhance air circulation further.
The smaller pot has holes punched in its bottom, upper and lower sides. You place fuel in the bottom of this pot and lit it. It then serves as a makeshift stovetop. The air holes allow for you to place a pot or pan at the top of the pot without interfering with the fire.
When all cooking is done, the lid doubles as a damper and helps kill the fire. When the fire is out and the ashes cooled, you can remove the smaller pot and empty it of any debris.
Once emptied, hikers can clean both the pot and the cooking receptacle and store them inside the large pot for use in the future.
A stock-pot cooker boils water, heats soup and even cooks vegetables. It functions as an outdoor charcoal grill and can be used simultaneously. If you have a grate placed on top of the stock pot cooker, you can even smoke meats.
Multiple types of solar ovens vary in complexity. Some are complex and can even involve charcoal, internal igniters and temperature control. Others are as simple as using a reflective sheet and a spit for cooking meat using direct sunlight and reflected sunlight.
There is even a box solar oven that is compact enough to qualify as backpacking cookware.
Solar ovens usually operate in one of two ways:
Convert sunlight into heat
Convert sunlight into energy to power an oven or stove
Depending on the model you use, solar ovens can perform simple tasks like warming soup or giving you, say, two cups of water to cook an entire meal. Another vital role solar ovens play is to help sterilize potable water.
When combined with a water purification pill, the appliance can eradicate almost all parasites, bacteria and viruses.
Even if you opt for a simple solar oven, having one on hand for use in an emergency or while hiking or camping is a good idea. If you have to use it once to get safe water to drink, a solar oven has more than provided a great return on investment.
Using a Swedish torch to cook food is fun and a great way to prepare meals in a pinch. Survivalists, lumberjacks, soldiers and anyone who spends a lot of time in the woods and needs to warm up or cook food have used Swedish torches.
To build a Swedish torch, you need a sturdy log about one and a half feet in length, rope and an ax. Split the log crossways into quarters. Tie the logs loosely at the top and bottom of the log. Stuff the area where the log is split with kindling and light the kindling.
The fire will consume the kindling and, as it does that, set the inside of the log on fire. The fire will burn for hours as long as oxygen can get into it. To cook on the Swedish Torch, set a pot or pan onto the top of the torch in the middle of the cross-sections.
Watch whatever you cook closely, as this device produces an insane amount of heat. When utilizing fire in the wilderness, you should always monitor the height of the flames.
As mentioned, the torch will burn and produce heat for hours. If, however, the torch starts to falter, you can swap out quarter sections to reignite it or keep the fire going. By using this method, you can keep the torch burning almost indefinitely
Sterno is denatured alcohol sold in a jelly form. It is stored in a metal can, and you light the jelly while it is in the can.
People usually use Sterno to keep dishes warm in a buffet, heat cheese for fondue or heat chafing dishes. Campers can also make use of it to cook meals if they lack another way for warming food.
When utilizing the jelly, you need a way to heat whatever you’re cooking without coming in contact with the Sterno container. The best approach is to find a way to prop a metal plate or sheet above the container. You can use a stereo container repeatedly since it puts out a lot of heat until the jellied alcohol is used up.
Because Sterno is jellied, it’ll spread if spilled and create a fire that many campers would have difficulty extinguishing. Make sure that you place the Sterno container on a flat surface if you use this approach.
Cooking without a kitchen is a major inconvenience, but you can overcome it with preparation. By using one of these methods, you can make sure you can cook food and sterilize water.
There are also many other helpful strategies, tactics and tips to help you through whatever you encounter. Even if you have cheaper alternatives to titanium pots, you can still master the outdoors.
George Cummings enjoys connecting with nature, meeting new people, and making friends from all over the world. RVing and camping create the perfect opportunity for [him/her] to take part in these activities. After spending several years on the road and exploring the great outdoors, George Cummings shares some of his best pieces of advice on how to make the most of your time while camping. TourTheOutdoors is his way of helping outdoorsy individuals like [him/her] start on a right footing with amazing recommendations and buying guides.