Cooking after the SHTF

Depending on the world-ending scenario you subscribe to, the method of cooking everyday meals will change. I guess it’s possible our cooking habits won’t change if we’re lucky enough to “suffer” a candy-ass sort of disaster. A disaster that merely knocks out most government services, but somehow keeps the power running and leaves our food supply chain intact. If you believe that, I’ll use the condescending insult popular in the Southern USA…

Bless your heart.

For those of us with more realistic views on how the world will change after the SHTF, I’ll provide some ideas to help answer the following questions.

  • How will you cook without basic utilities required for electric/gas ranges and ovens?
  • How can you adapt meals to fit the ingredients you’ve stockpiled or forage?

Different Preparation Methods

Humans have been cooking with fire since the dawn of time[1]. Just start a fire to sear, roast, or boil your food. Campfires, hearths, and wood/coal-burning stoves are the first things we tend to think of when it comes to cooking, but there are many other sources of heat you can use. Some of these methods don’t produce smoke and shouldn’t attract unwanted attention.

Coal & Gas

I’m not a fan of using propane or coal for cooking in a survival situation, because those sources of fuel won’t last forever. I personally think you should save propane for emergency heating during winter, but use it if that’s the only way you can cook food.

Unscented Candles

It may take a while, but you can use the heat from unscented candles to boil water and cook a soup[2]. Cooking with candles can be difficult because the flames tend to go out every time there’s a slight breeze and it’s hard to control the heat level. You can try controlling the heat intensity by raising or lowering the cooking surface, or by snuffing out a candle. However, such measures can remove too much heat and stop the cooking process entirely.

I’ve come to realize that when cooking with candles, it’s high heat or no heat.

Kerosene Lamp

Someone recently gave me a kerosene lamp, that’s missing a globe. I don’t have a spare globe and thought I’d just use the oil contained inside, but I noticed the globe clamps look similar to the pot holder on my compact gas grill. This made me think of how people around the world use kerosene for cooking and heating, so I should be able to use this lamp to do the same.

The clamps are too flimsy to hold a pot (obviously), so I built a crude platform out of bricks and an old stainless-steel grill. That “broken” kerosene lamp cooked a 1-pot meal better than tea candles. Not only was the lamp better able to tolerate a breeze than candles, but controlling the heat was easy too. I was able to bring the stew to a rolling boil and then lower the heat to simmer for an hour simply by adjusting the height of the wick!


If enough light energy is directed to a contained focal point, you can boil water and bake food[3]. Boiling water and cooking is easy if you invest $70 for a solar oven[4]. If you don’t want to spend that much money on a specialized oven, you’ll need to build something similar[5]. It may not be as nice and probably won’t boil water, but a homemade solar oven can reach temperatures around 200°F on a sunny day[6] (which means it can’t boil water).

The primary complication with solar cooking is access to direct sunlight, so cook with fire if it’s cloudy or looks like rain is coming. Regulating the temperature is impossible because you’re at the mercy of the sun and the amount of light you can focus into the cooking chamber. And baking takes longer because the cooking temperature is much lower than what conventional ovens can reach.

Automotive Dehydration

A sealed car in direct sunlight can’t reach temperatures high enough to safely cook food. You may not be able to bake food in a car, but the sweltering heat can be used to dehydrate fruits and vegetables to make them last longer in dry storage.

How else will you use a car if there isn’t any gas?

Different Ingredients

When the SHTF and access to food becomes scarce, the ingredients you have for meals will be limited to what’s in the stockpile and whatever you can forage. That means you may not have all the ingredients to make your favorite meals and will be forced to improvise.

How can you adapt your recipes?

  • “Powdered” ingredients will be used for things like: milk, butter, potatoes, and even tomatoes.
  • Specific meats will be unavailable and you’ll need to substitute beef with deer, rabbit, squirrel or whatever you can catch.
  • If missing a specific ingredient (like spice), you may have to cook without it.
  • If missing a vegetable, you could replace it with something similar or double up on another ingredient. For example, hardy greens like kale can be substituted with foraged dandelion or rose leaves.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil can be substituted with vegetable oil, ghee, or lard. Similarly, butter may need to be substituted with oil (preferably, a clean oil if baking cookies).

Different Planning

Meal planning will change after the SHTF. Certain foods will need to be prepped a day in advance, like beans. You can quick-soak beans in less than 2 hours, but a wise survivalist won’t waste fuel on shortcuts.

Alternately, you can’t store perishable ingredients if you don’t have electricity to power a refrigerator. Which means meal prepping will be restricted to 12-24 hours prior to dining. This also means you can’t easily store leftovers and shouldn’t waste food by cooking too much. It doesn’t make sense to cook a huge pot of soup if you’re only serving 2 people, so cut the amount of ingredients a recipe calls for in half.

Speaking of ingredients, the amount of ingredients used in recipes won’t be an exact science. You can’t afford to waste an onion if a recipe only calls for 1/2 cup of diced onions. Use the whole thing!


The way we cook our meals will change after the SHTF. Ovens probably won’t work and it’ll be impossible to go to the grocery store for ingredients needed for specific recipes. It’ll be inconvenient and maybe a struggle at times, but survivalists adapt and learn to make do with the tools and ingredients available.

A phrase I’ve learned to enjoy is “Eat it, or starve”. Well, in this case:

Cook it, or starve.

[1] Fire Safety: Fire is a potentially hazardous tool and should be handled responsibly. Never leave a fire unattended, even if it’s contained in a seeming innocuous vessel (candle, lamp, etc.). Always take precautions when using any form of fire, or when handling or storing any type of flammable substance. Always have fire extinguishing equipment or substances available in case a fire gets out of control.

This disclaimer provides a few general fire safety guidelines, which do not encompass all safety precautions related to using fire.  

[2] Scented Candles and Lamp Oil: DO NOT use scented candles or lamp oil to cook a meal, even if using a tasty-smelling scents like vanilla or cinnamon. Most scented candles and oils are made using paraffin wax and other synthetic chemicals, which leach into the food you cook. This gives the food a chemical or plastic flavor and can be hazardous to your health if consumed regularly or in large quantities.

[3] Camp Oven: I own a small portable camp oven that works using the heat from a stove top burner. It works, but it’s incredibly hard to regulate the temperature and may not be practical in a survival situation. Plus, it’s hard to use the oven over a campfire because it becomes a smoker.

[4] Solar Oven: I don’t make specific product recommendations unless I’ve personally used them, so do your own research and buy a solar oven if you’re interested. I don’t make commissions on any products I describe in my articles either. Hell, my website doesn’t even have ads… I wonder if I can, at least, get a tax deduction from paying for the website account?

[5] Homemade Solar Oven: The goal of this article isn’t to teach how to build cooking devices, but here’s how to make a basic solar oven: (1) build a box, (2) paint the inside black, (3) top the opening with glass (not plastic), (4) place in direct sunlight, and maybe (5) consider using a mirror or panel covered with aluminum foil to direct light into the box.

[6] Internal Temperature: A homemade solar oven may be able to reach 200°F, but you should always check to make sure meat has been cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F. Do this regardless of the cooking equipment used in cooking.

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