How To Cook In An Emergency: 10 Tips To Help You Survive | Build a Stash

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One of the most important things to do in an emergency is cook food. What are ten tips to help you survive when you need to cook in a crisis?

Let’s face it. The world is becoming a more volatile place every day. Any number of scenarios could trigger a crisis, from extreme weather events to wars to potential supply issues or even a governmental collapse. So how do you cook in an emergency? What is the best way to keep your family safe and survive a regional or national situation?

The best way to cook in an emergency is to plan what to do if something happens. You will need a heating source, cooking utensils, and some easy-to-cook foodstuffs. Many preppers have MREs or food pantries with prepared foods to use in an emergency situation.

What are some things you need to know to be able to cook in an emergency? If there isn’t any power or gas, the last thing you want is your family to suffer, shivering inside your home with their stomachs growling. And while no one wants to be in a survival situation, many families are beginning to realize the importance of long-term food storage. These preppers are making their pantries a part of their daily living, and the community of self-sufficient homes continues to grow daily.

This article will examine some tips to help you cook in an emergency. Whether a hurricane, tornado or even a manufactured event, you can face the future with confidence, knowing that you have a plan to survive.

Table of contents


What Are Ten Tips to Help You Cook in an Emergency

There are options for cooking should you need to find a way to prepare a meal during a crisis.

Tip #1  - Have a Plan

The best thing any survivalist does is develop a plan for unforeseen eventualities. You need to make a plan now for what might happen tomorrow. While some families are doing this, the reality is that many people are unprepared when an emergency happens, and these individuals are forced to scramble just to survive.

Determine What, How, and Where

A plan should include what you will prepare and how you will prepare it. If you plan on using a BBQ grill, invest in an extra bag of charcoal or have a backup propane cylinder that can last for a while. Designate an area to store basic foodstuffs, like beans, rice, and powdered mixes that will aid your cooking.

Don’t Put Off What Should Be Done Now!

A survival plan should not be something you always intended to do but never got around to doing. There is no reason to put off purchasing items or even stocking up on resources (you can start a small food pantry and grow it into something bigger), but the critical thing to do here is to start.

Tip #2 - Determine the Heat Source

Most cooking will require a heating source to prepare the food. Some MREs come prepackaged with chemical plastic bags or bases that allow for a twist or pop, and the chemicals begin heating the item - primarily soups, but most families will not have access to these kinds of heat sources).

Use Heating Sources Readily Available

Examine what items are available to you - a BBQ grill, firepit or fireplace, small camping stove are very advantageous in cooking. In a pinch, you can use canned fuel like Sterno or even tea candles which can provide limited cooking capabilities. While each method has its advantages and drawbacks, each should be used carefully.

Fireplaces, firepits, and bbq grills have limitations because they need to be used with caution. Many homeowners have failed to maintain fireplaces to ensure the chimney is free of debris or creosote. If you haven’t used your fireplace in a while, you might better step outside to use the BBq grill or firepit in the backyard.

Use Any Indoor Heat Source with Care

Tea candles or cans of Sterno should be used inside but monitored to ensure that nothing happens (if a can of Sterno turns over, the flammable jelly can spread, causing a fire). A camping stove or cookstove shouldn’t be used indoors unless the situation forces it. Be sure that any fuel source is stored secretly and safely when not in use.

Tip #3 - Determine the Item to Be Cooked

Cooking a freshly killed animal like a rabbit is an entirely different matter than heating an MRE (meal ready to eat). Many families are investing in a couple of months' supply of processed foods, freeze-dried items, and even stored items from gardens or local farmers' markets.

Prepare Easy Meals

Some items are simpler to cook than others. Rice, soups, sauces, and pasta are some of the most easily prepared items. It is best to keep whatever meal you prepare simple so that you can stretch what reserves you have stockpiled, particularly if you do not know how long the power will be out or how long you will need to shelter in place.

Use Freezer Items Before they Expire.

Many families have meats and proteins stored in freezers, which can be safely stored for up to 48 hours should the power be out. If this is your situation, you may want to cook a meat product that you know will likely spoil within the next day. Any meats or items stored in a non-working freezer for longer than 48 hours should be discarded.

Tip # 4 - Prepare the Cooking Surface if Needed

One of the best tools for cooking is to have a grate to wet pots on when cooking over an open flame. A BBQ grill has a built-in grate, but if you are cooking in a firepit or fireplace or building a fire in the backyard, you will need to have a structure to balance food on. A couple of bricks and the rack from your oven can come in handy. Grab the rack out of the oven or off your grill (if you cannot use it - no propane or charcoal), and set it over the fire. Be sure it is stable enough not to fall in the middle of the fire. A grate can also help keep an open fire contained. Be sure to dig a hole in the backyard (be careful of underground electrical lines - you won't shock yourself, just make it harder to get power to your house later when the power comes back due to a cut line).

Tip # 5 - Use Appropriate Cookware

Not every piece of cookware in your kitchen is useable when cooking in an emergency. Any petroleum or plastic container should never be used to heat food in an emergency. Designate an older set of pots or pans and other utensils. Remember that whatever pot you use, the cookware is liable to be covered with a heavy dose of soot or burn marks once used. So, it is best not to use your best utensils for emergency cooking.

Cast iron cookware is best, and many families have invested in a couple of pans, dutch ovens, and even coffee pots for use. A good resource is to purchase quality cookware from your local camping or sporting goods store. For an examination of cast iron cookware, see

Tip # 6 - Determine How Many You Will Feed

One thing that needs to be figured out when cooking in an emergency is whether you plan to offer your heat source (firepit, fireplace, or grill) to others who may not be as fortunate as you are. Chances are once your neighbors find out that you are cooking away and are eating more than just broth, they will be knocking on your door. While you may not want to turn anyone away, if you do not have adequate resources, you may need to do so. This is another excellent reason to have a stockpile: you may feed more than just your immediate family.

Tip # 7 - Pool Resources Should You Need To

Along the lines of having to cook for more than just your family, you might need to pool resources should the neighbors come calling. Incorporating any dry goods or pantry items that another family has can increase the ability to survive. Cooking more food can also mean having more options and not being the jerk of the neighborhood because you refused to help someone in need.

Tip # 8 - Have a Designated Pot or Kettle for Boiling Water.

Since sanitation facilities are liable to be inoperable, you may not have access to properly sanitize your eating and cooking utensils appropriately. Since fresh, drinkable water is paramount to survival, you want to have one or two designated cooking pots or containers for boiled water. Never use the same pot you cook in for boiling water to drink from. If you have the foresight, bottled water stock can suffice for drinking, while boiled water will kill any harmful pathogens. It is not advisable to boil water twice and use it because excess boiling can concentrate chemicals that emerge from inside your pipes and up, which does your family more harm than good.

Tip # 9 - Aluminum Foil and Paper Plates are Good Resources

Many pantries stock paper plates and aluminum foil because items can be cooked in foil and thrown directly on the red hot coals of a fire. Entire meals are delicious when cooked this way. For a list of good campfire meals, see

Tip # 10 - Cook Only What Will Be Consumed Within Two Hours

Even though you might want to hold onto the leftovers when cooking in an emergency, it is best not to do so. A cooler with ice might keep your sodas cold, but it will not cool heated or room temp foods fast enough to prevent illness. Do not risk your family’s health by trying to conserve and use foods for more than one meal. You should approach emergency cooking with the mantra of eating now or never. In crisis cooking, there is no such thing as leftovers.

This is why you should prepare what you know your family will eat. If your family hates Italian, then spaghetti and pasta sauce will probably just go to waste.

What Can I Use to Make Water Useable if I Cannot Heat it?

A couple of options are available to anyone who does not have a heat source for cooking. Since drinking water is much more critical than caloric intake, you should strive to find a way to make water so that it is consumable.

Iodine and Bleach Can Be Used

Iodine drops or Chlorine can be used as a substitute for boiling water. Let the water stand for about thirty minutes after adding a few drops of iodine or bleach. If the water smells bleachy, wait a while longer before consuming it. For a list of proportions, see the website.

If You Can, Take Advantage of Agency Rations - Resources

While this last tip might be a bit controversial because, in a crisis, many people will be tempted not to trust anyone, let alone the government, local authorities can provide foods that can help maximize your pantry. Governmental agencies like FEMA and others are supposed to step in and provide emergency assistance when a disaster strikes.

If the Red Cross is present, disaster relief agencies, like the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, will often provide delicious meals to those in affected areas. By taking advantage of these non-profit services, you can stretch your food resources and perhaps survive longer than other people who choose to go it alone. The meals are prepared by volunteers who are often very simple but very good and hot.

While the tendency to isolate and survive is extreme in an emergency, the reality is you have a much better chance of surviving if you stay connected with the outside. A good battery-powered radio can help you receive messages from agencies coordinating relief efforts.