Cooking during a power outage can be a bit challenging. In our emergency cooking classes, we present a wide variety of options for powerless cooking, most of which must be used outdoors. It is important to be able to cook both indoors and outdoors. Think about it, are you going to want to cook using charcoal and a Dutch oven during a snowstorm? Not me! I want to be nice and warm inside.
Canned heat is a great option for indoor cooking and comes in a variety of brand names (Sterno, Safe Heat, etc.), burn times (anywhere from 2-6 hours), and cost ($1-5 a can). Always be sure that the can you have specifies that it is safe to burn indoors.
The cans are filled with forms of alcohol or a purplish gel (petroleum product) that is flammable but does not burn quickly. The fuel puts out a visible flame and a good amount of heat. The heat and flame go straight up with little spread. They are safe, lightweight, store nicely, and great for boiling water or heating canned foods. They are frequently used at catering events and can be purchased in bulk at wholesale warehouses (i.e. Sam’s Club) or in smaller quantities in the camping section of other stores.
Safe Heat is my personal favorite. Each can has 6 hours of burn time and when purchased at Sam’s Club, by the case, costs less than $1.50 a can. That’s a lot of bang for my fuel buck. The shrink wrapped cases store very nicely for a long time.
Canned heat fuel is hot enough to boil water. Notice that the heat is in the center of the pan. Cover with a lid to help achieve higher temperatures and conserve fuel. The flame is visible and goes straight up along with the heat.
Use caution as flame may be difficult to see in some lighting. Do not blow on flames to extinguish. Simply smother flame with lid. Allow the can to cool completely before replacing the lid.
Heat may be increased by using additional cans. The EcoQue grill can hold 4 cans which makes a hot enough fire to boil pasta. I have a large chafing dish which I place 3-5 cans of canned heat under depending on how hot I want the fire to be. If I am boiling a large pot of pasta, I might need all 5 cans. If I’m just simmering I might use 2-3.
Controlling the temperature can be a bit of a challenge, but the fact that they can safely be used indoors is worth the inconvenience. It is still important to ensure that you have adequate ventilation when burning. Remember that any flame can produce carbon monoxide when there is not enough oxygen for complete combustion to occur. Always use great caution with any open flame.
Canned heat is safe to store indoors in reasonable quantities. It stacks nicely and takes up very little space. Storage life is 10 years to indefinite depending on the manufacturer. Be sure to store upright, away from heat sources, and dispose of any dented or damaged cans.
What is your plan to cook indoors during a power outage? Learn more about emergency cooking in our book, The Provident Prepper – A Common-Sense Guide to Preparing for Emergencies.