When it comes to storage fuels, charcoal is one of safest and least expensive options. Charcoal briquettes burn very hot and are easily managed to distribute heat evenly. The one drawback is that they produce large amounts of carbon monoxide (a deadly gas) and should never be used indoors or in a garage where fumes might seep into the house.
Charcoal briquettes will store pretty much forever if they are kept in an air-tight container. When charcoal is left exposed to the air, it readily absorbs moisture rendering the briquettes useless. The good news is that it is easily renewed by allowing it to sit out in the sun on a nice hot day to dry out. For long-term storage, we recommend using quality original style briquettes. The lighter fluid on the easy-light versions will evaporate over time.
Our favorite way to store briquettes is in empty laundry soap buckets with the lid caulked on tightly. This is a great use for clean non-food grade recycled plastic buckets. Charcoal briquettes can also be stored in the original bag and placed in a garbage can with a tight-fitting lid for long term storage. Be creative and use whatever resources you have available to protect the briquettes from moisture. It is important that they work when you need them to.
Charcoal needs to be started before it is ready to use. A charcoal chimney is a great way to accomplish this. The briquettes are put in the top of the chimney and a small newspaper fire is started underneath, igniting the charcoal within a few minutes. I actually prefer to use Safe Heat to start my coals. Just light the can and place under the chimney, no blowing or tending the fire. Guaranteed to start without trouble every time.
My favorite way to use charcoal briquettes is in Dutch oven cooking. A great Dutch oven meal can make a power outage into a special occasion. Dutch oven cooking takes a little bit of practice to master, but can be a fun and tasty hobby. Anything you can cook in an oven can be made in one of these … bread, cobblers, cakes, potatoes, roasts, casseroles … seriously the possibilities are endless. A Volcano cook stove is a great way to increase efficiency and conserve fuel while cooking in a Dutch oven. The cast iron cookware also works well over an open fire with coals created from the burning wood.
Another way to cook with charcoals is in a reflector box oven. An inexpensive box oven can be created out of a cardboard box and aluminum foil. These simple tools allow you to bake in your regular kitchen pans using charcoal briquettes. An apple box reflector oven is created using an apple box. The food is placed on an elevated cooling rack and the box covers it, creating an oven. To learn how to construct this inexpensive oven go to http://theprovidentprepper.org/apple-box-reflector-oven/.
A paper box oven is a creative tweak on the apple box design. It uses less coals to accomplish the same job, thus stretching your fuel supply. It is created from the cardboard box that reams of paper are sold in. The food sits on aluminum covered dowels inside the box. For more information on this reflector oven go to http://theprovidentprepper.org/paper-box-reflector-oven/.
Indefinite shelf life, inexpensive, and safe to store. It really doesn’t get much better than that. A stash of quality charcoal briquettes and a few tools can allow you to cook gourmet meals outside during a power outage. Once you have become a practiced Dutch oven chef your family might just get excited when the power goes out.