We had a pretty wild snowstorm last week– we got about 2.5 feet of snow dumped on us at once, everything shut down, and our county was in a state of emergency with a travel ban due to avalanches on nearby roads.
Thankfully, our power did NOT go out. But it made me think about whether or not we would have been prepared if it had. With no ability to leave the house, an outage would have made things a bit complicated!
Candles & oil lamp- check. Water bottles- check. Shelf-stable food- check. Extra blankets and layers of clothing- check. Shelter- check. And, happily for us, we also had the ability to cook without power if needed.
Almost four years ago, my husband built us a beautiful mud oven in our back yard. (You can read the post on that process here.) It was made with mostly found materials and runs on small logs and manpower. It’s delightful to use for cooking any day of the week, but it would be especially useful during a power outage.
Of course, power outages don’t only happen in winter, and there are other reasons to use alternative cooking methods besides an outage. Saving money on bills, reducing heat in the house in the summer, or just enjoying the charm of cooking outdoors- cooking without power is a skill for all occasions.
Thus, I present to you: cooking options that don’t involve electricity. (This post contains affiliate links.)
- Open Fire Cooking
Sounds obvious, right? However, I’m often ashamed of how long it takes me to start a fire, and I know I’m probably not alone in my challenges. Here are some posts with tips on cooking over an open fire:
- The Lost Art of Cooking Over a Fire (Hillsborough Homesteading)
- How to Cook Over an Open Fire (Montana Homesteading)
- How to Build a Better Fire (Mother Earth News)
2. Solar Ovens
Solar ovens are what they sound like: cooking with no fuel but the sun! Now that’s cheap power! I have never tried a solar oven, but they are apparently a popular off-grid cooking option. Here are several posts with more information & solar oven recipes:
- How to Bake in a Solar Oven (Homestead Honey)
- Solar Oven Blueberry Muffins (Homestead Honey)
- Goat Roast in the Sun Oven (Imperfectly Happy)
- Slow Roasted Rabbit in the Sun Oven (Imperfectly Happy)
- Hard Boil Eggs with the Solar Sun Oven (Off Grid Homesteader Prepper)
3. Dutch Ovens
Obviously, a dutch oven can be used indoors in a conventional oven. However, its durability lends itself to alternative cooking methods very well. If you’ve managed to find yourself a good cast iron dutch oven, be happy. You can do a lot with it! Here are a few examples:
- How to Bake Without an Oven (Homestead Honey)
- Dutch Oven Cooking: Zucchini Bread (Learning and Yearning)
4. Alternative Stoves
Who says you need a nice cook top to saute something? Check out these posts for some alternatives to the conventional range.
- Baking Without an Oven: Woodstove Bakes (Homestead Honey)
- How to Build a Rocket Stove (Attainable Sustainable)
5. Earth & Brick Ovens
- What Can You Cook in a Mud Oven? (They’re Not Our Goats)
- The Backyard Bread & Pizza Oven Ebook (Homestead Honey)
- Build Your Own Earth Oven (Kiko Denzer)- the guide my husband used to build our cob oven.
- How to Make an Underground Oven (Hometalk)
Jas Townsend– one of our original mud oven inspirations:
Other Inspiring Posts
- 6 Ways to Cook Outdoors (Grow Cook Forage Ferment)
- Solo Pot Review– for those who like fancy gear (Survival at Home)
- 11 Ways to Cook Off-Grid Without Power (Melissa K. Knorris)
What other ways have you cooked without electricity? Share below in the comments!
The year after moving in, my husband built us a handsome, highly functional cob oven (or “mud oven”) in our own backyard. It was quite the task, but one that he undertook with willing hands. He has written up a post describing some of this unique and exciting (though laborious) project. (Note that he keeps saying “we”- really he’s just being sweet, because I was in my last month of pregnancy and didn’t do much more than sift a little dirt and bring him water!)
Note that I think this would be a fabulous project for a group of friends, a community center, or even a gang of homeschoolers to complete. Who would you invite to come play in the mud with you? 😉
This post contains affiliate links.
Being outside. Dirt. Wood. Fire. Bread. Pizza. Food. We love all of these things. We also love making just about anything! Somehow all of this love, moved by some Youtube videos, forum posts, and ultimately Kiko Denzer’s website and book Build Your Own Earth Oven gave birth to the idea of building a cob (earth, mud) oven.
With the exception of the firebricks and some sand and straw, ours was made exclusively from the clay about a foot beneath our feet and various objects found or gathered from the land around our house. While the building process seemed daunting, it was an enriching experience which we would wish upon anyone. Do try it yourself! If you follow through, you’re sure not to regret it.
Now that we have built one, we hope to adjust the design (to improve efficiency) and build more.
This is not the place for detailed instructions–for those, please get Denzer’s book–some pictures of our building experience follow.
First we chose a site. We wanted it to be conveniently located near the kitchen, but at a safe distance from the house. Our original intent was to build it at the base of the retaining wall outside of our kitchen (you can see the stone-filled hole at the base of the wall in this image), but we finally decided to put it at the top of the retaining wall. This position raised it to a decent height for working and eased the roofing process.
We dug out the area and outlined the location in bricks (the stake marks the center of the oven floor). While the crushed stone atop the wall provides excellent drainage–much needed to keep moisture from wicking up the cob–we punched holes in a found piece of corrugated drain pipe and used it for drainage around the periphery of the future oven floor. This drains to daylight through the retaining wall.
We tried a few simple methods to gauge the clay content (Denzer outlines these in detail).
This base was filled with sand so as to properly lay the firebrick. The method is similar to laying pavers. The floor of the oven is critical–it is the hardest working part–and must be quite even to avoid catching oven tools on the edges of the bricks. Just think of the all the pizzas, breads, pans, and peels that will grace the oven floor in addition to the scraping it will receive from cleaning, etc…it’s important to take your time.
We covered the sand form with wet newspaper in order to differentiate it from the next layer: the thermal layer. This is helpful when digging out the sand after the thermal layer has dried enough (you don’t want to dig out the clay!). Next we built the thermal layer. This is pure clay because it has a higher thermal mass (it holds more heat) than sand.
We then covered this thermal layer with an insulation layer consisting of a thin clay slurry and cedar sawdust. This slows some of the heat loss. We dug out the sand form and gently fired the oven. We generally use wood from pruning or other small pieces as fuel.
Note the crack that forms over the door when it’s been heavily fired. This is due to a normal and harmless expansion of the clay; it actually helps to keep track of the oven’s temperature. There is a piece of galvanized material above the door to protect the temporary roof (branches and tarps) from igniting.
Here’s a clip of some bacon corn-muffins going in on a snowy night (they didn’t really need the live fire, but we decided to put them in on a whim after baking earlier that day–they turned out great!).
The temporary roof was finally replaced a year later with a more permanent form (the reclaimed materials were also free to us). We made a table out of part of an industrial wire spool and raised up the ground level in front of the oven to improve the working space. We also resurfaced the oven with a bit of sifted clay (there were a few drips through the temporary roof). Here is the final form as it is today: Expect great pizzas, breads, roasts, soups, and just about anything you can bake in a conventional oven. One of the greatest aspects of cooking in the cob oven is that the heat it absorbs after a firing remains for quite a long time, so you can cook progressively according to the temperature of the oven–pizzas to breads and pies to roasts, all the way on down to drying herbs. We certainly have not used our oven to its full potential but it is a joy to use it. It is deeply satisfying to craft something with your own hands and feet from the most mundane, neglected materials and cook wholesome food with a bright crackling wood fire. Don’t be afraid to build one yourself. Do what you can with what you have, and don’t be concerned if it turns into something you didn’t quite expect at first–you’ll be sure to learn through every mistake and every problem solved.
When an earthen oven comes to mind, most folks envision wood-fired pizza at a traditional (or progressive) restaurant. While pizza is a perennial favorite of ours, a mud oven is actually a very versatile cooking tool. What can you cook in it? Well, the short answer is: pretty much anything you can cook in a regular oven!
A little over two years ago, my husband almost single-handedly built a mud oven (or cob oven, or earthen oven, whichever sounds nicest to you) in our backyard. Since then we’ve had many mud oven pizza parties and bread bake-offs, but we’ve also tried several other types of food in our outdoor oven.
Before trying to cook in a mud oven, you should know how it heats. (My hubby is the mud oven guy around here, so he always takes care of this part.) First, he spends two-three hours burning a very hot fire to thoroughly heat the oven. After it’s quite hot, he pushes the coals to the edges of the oven and we bake pizza. (At this point it’s probably about 700 degrees in there, and the pizzas are done quite quickly!)
Next, he scrapes out the coals and wipes out the oven floor with a wet mop (reserved only for this purpose). He allows to heat to evenly “soak” the inside of the oven. It cools down a good bit- to about 450-500, so we generally use this stage to bake sourdough loaves and/or pies.
After this, the oven gradually cools on its own. We will often bake a casserole, soup, or stew as the oven cools to about 350. The temperature will eventually cool enough (between 100-200) to serve as an overnight dehydrator.
As you can see, mud oven baking is usually a whole day event for us. Planning ahead can help us to take full advantage of the long lasting heat, and we can make an entire week’s worth of meals at one time if we are organized! (Note the key word: IF. 🙂 )
(A picture of our mud oven pizza from my Instagram feed.)
We have personally tried making the following with various levels of success:
- Breads- sourdough, yeast breads, quick breads
- A whole turkey
- Dehydrated fruits and herbs
You could also try:
- Meats, poultry, fish
- Side dishes
We have also used our mud oven as a combination oven/stovetop by placing a Dutch oven inside and piling the coals up around it. It boiled what was in the pot just as if it was soup on a burner. I’m not sure how it would work for sautéing anything, but if you’re feeling adventurous, let me know how your experiments turn out!
It’s important to remember that a mud oven’s temperature is much more variable than a conventional oven’s. So make sure that you’re using cookware that will stand up to the high heat that a mud oven holds. (Cast iron cookware or no cookware at all when it’s really hot, Dutch ovens at about 450, Pyrex glassware or other regular bakeware for when it cools to be around 425 or lower.)
Do you have a mud oven? What’s been your favorite thing to cook in it? We’d love to try it here at our place!