When the grid goes down, satisfying hunger is going to become a priority. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people in the Western world are used to a certain amount of comfort when it comes to food. While there are a fair number of would-be preppers who have a freezer full of venison ready to go, it’s far more important to plan for a worst-case scenario than for a cozy catastrophe. If you’re making plans for things going wrong, you’ve got to take the time to figure out how you are going to keep yourself and your family alive. For most, that is going to start with how to cook in an emergency.
Heat and Food
When considering the specifics of how you would cook in the wild, it’s important to remember two basic necessities – heat and food. The former is going to be your method of cooking, while the latter is your basic survival necessity. You can, in fact, subsist without cooking in the wild – it just requires a great deal of effort. If you are lucky – or prepared – enough to be in an area with an abundant amount of easily accessible plant matter, you might not have to worry about heat. If your emergency is of the short-term variety, you might even be able to soldier on with a few MREs on hand. You should not, however, depend on this sort of situation.
In most survival situations, you will need to find a reasonable source of heat to cook your food. If you’ve been raised on microwaves, you might be surprised to know that you actually need a fairly stable set-up to be able to cook your food adequately. Simply carrying around candles isn’t going to cut it – you’re going to need a real fire, or at least something that can provide the same level of heat needed to cook your food to a safe temperature.
The Basic Campfire
In an absolute, take-no-prisoners emergency, your best method of cooking food is going to be with the classic campfire. A staple of human survival since humans began cooking their food, it’s hard to argue against this simple but effective method of cooking. Unfortunately, it’s also time and labor intensive.
Assume, at least for a moment, that you have a method of starting a fire. You’ve got a fire starter, a lighter or you know how to use two sticks – great, that’s where you start. If you want to cook food, though, you are going to need a tremendous amount of heat – and that means your fire is going to have to burn hot, and it’s going to have to burn long.
As counter-intuitive as it seems, a campfire isn’t necessarily the best method for cooking raw meat. If you managed to get out of the house with canned goods or hotdogs, you should be fine. Cooking something substantial, like deer, might be a bit more difficult. You’re going to want to cook any meat for significantly longer than on your barbecue, but you’ll have to watch it closely as there’s a fine line between safety and a charred mess.
Dutch Oven Cooking
A Dutch oven is essentially a lidded cast-iron pot. There’s nothing fancy about it, but it can greatly increase your ability to cook meat and vegetables quickly without requiring you to build a better fire. If you can dig a simple trench and keep your flames out of the wind, a Dutch oven can quickly become your ticket to eating well during any situation.
A good Dutch oven is easy to find, and you can add a small model to your bug out bag with relative ease. Emergency cooking at its finest will require this particular item, so make sure that you take care of it and keep it clean. Add a little water, some meat and a few vegetables and you can make a survival stew that will keep your necessary calorie count up so you can make it through the night.
Your Friend, Sterno
Sterno is a prepper’s best friend. It’s a portable source of heat, far easier to cart around than any other type of fuel. It keeps well, survives if it gets wet and will allow you to cook your food if you’re on the go. Unfortunately, it also has a rather low heat point – so you’re going to need a lot of it. Sterno, however, is important for survival cooking in those situations where a regular fire isn’t quite going to work. If you can get your Sterno fire started, any simple metal surface can be used to heat up food. It will take some time, but it will also take remarkably little effort. Sterno fuel containers are available in most camping/outdoors supply stores.
Survival cooking is simply a matter of having food and heat available. Building a fire is a good way to start, but having something in which to safely cook your food is better. Keep things simple, and you’ll rarely go wrong – real problems start when you try to make things too complex. If you want to prepare for the worst, your best bet is always to make things as easy on yourself as possible by ensuring that you have the basics at hand, ready to grab and use should the need arise.