COOKING

The best cooking plan depends to a great extent on the number of people you have to cook for and the complexity of your meal-planning strategy. If you're planning on "regular" meals, a propane or kerosene cooking stove might be your best bet. If you're planning on maintaining life off the grid, a wood cookstove might be the way to go, since you've probably planned a large woodshed with supplies nearby. If you're an optimist, like most people are, then your emergency cooking accommodations are just that - for emergencies only, and a camping stove would fit the bill. We have two propane grills and two Coleman fuel stoves, plus a propane cooktop and oven in the motorhome.

Wood cookstoves are beautiful; however, temperature regulation is tricky, fuel storage is messy and requires a large area, and you really aren't going to enjoy the excess heat in the summertime. On the other hand, a wood cookstove can be set up to power your water heater and provide heat for your home. Some friends of mine back in New York built a log cabin which had both propane stove and wood cookstove, since they lived in an area where power outages were as likely as the chances of getting snowed in! A wood cookstove can get you completely off the fuel-supply grid if you're willing and able to put away a great deal of wood each year. For those who've never been the route of downing the tree, sawing it up, splitting and stacking the wood, I can tell you from personal experience that it's hard work! You'll want to have a sturdy, dependable chainsaw with plenty of fuel and accessories. With prices for new wood cookstoves running around $2000, this is one of the more costly start-up options.

A regular woodstove with cooking grids can double as a cookstove, especially if you add a camping oven and a large metal plate (steel treadplate works well) to increase your cooking area. Properly seasoned cast iron cookware reduces cleanup. Don't forget to have a cast iron griddle for doing pancakes, eggs, bacon etc. all in one pan. Get some sturdy metal utensils. Stainless steel stock pots in a variety of sizes also work well on woodstoves; keep a small one filled with water to replenish the moisture in your air. By adjusting the damper and draft you can control the cook surface temperature, and some cast iron burner grates from a propane stove can be used to get your cookware away from direct heat if need be. If you're planning on buying a woodstove, don't get one of those decorative but fairly inefficient Franklin-type stoves. A plain ol' box stove is relatively inexpensive, or you can get one that's whole-house capable and more fuel efficient for less than the price of a good furnace. For some ideas on woodstoves, check out the Lehman's catalog available for the wonderful price of free! The best prices I've seen are from farm supply dealers like Tractor Supply.

If you're planning on using wood for cooking and heating, get to know your stove before you need it. In an emergency situation you can't afford to waste fuel and food resources practicing! Make sure it's properly installed and that you have spare parts and stove black.

I used the propane stove, the woodstove and an outside cooking pit for cooking at the cabin. During the winter months (which seemed to stretch from October through May), the propane stove kept the other end of the cabin warm while the woodstove held a pot of hot water for after-meal cleanup, or a stockpot full of stew, or a cast iron skillet filled with sizzling bacon and eggs. To conserve propane, I turned off the pilot lights, which can account for 30% of the fuel consumption on a piloted stove. It was easier and cheaper to maintain a supply of strike-anywhere matches! During the summer, I heated cleanup water on the propane stove and cooked on the grid over the cooking pit. If the cabin sounds rather rustic to you (or something akin to a shack in the woods) you're right, but I cooked Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings for 10 people one year and it was as good as anything from a Better Homes and Gardens kitchen!

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