1. The Topic of the Month for October is "Make this the Perfect Bugout Location". Please join the discussion in the TOTM forum.

Emergency cooking fuel, charcoal ideas?

Discussion in 'General Survival and Preparedness' started by Ajax, Nov 9, 2011.

  1. Ajax

    Ajax Monkey++

    I've been thinking about cheap ways to store fuel for cooking and did a few searches for charcoal and it seems like a cheap and easy way to store fuel for emergency cooking a lot cheaper than propane.

    Of course the main thing is only cook outside and not inside. Has anyone ever done a test or read something online about using charcoal for emergency cooking fuel? Like whats the most effective way to burn the fuel, how many bricks does it take to boil 2 quarts of water for 10 minutes for example.

    Has anyone ever seen or know how to make a cooker of some sort that will work the best to get the most burn time out of the charcoal or will a simple small grill work fine. You could probably even use a charcoal chimney to cook with since it has holes in the bottom, easy to light with paper, and directs the heat straight up.

    When I get a chance I would like to do a test and see how it works. If it works well I wouldn't mind buying a few large bags and store them in 5 gallon buckets with the rubber seal to keep moisture out.

    I read a few things that said you could get a years worth of cooking charcoal for under $100.
  2. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    I would be very interested in seeing results from your experiments with stoves and reading the research you find. (I've never seen any, not that it means anything.) I don't know why you couldn't burn charcoal in a wood stove and take the smoke out a chimney, thus get heat as well as warm stew.

    Gotta say that it doesn't look too efficient from a fuel use standpoint, unless you can get the charcoal as a byproduct of something else you are doing, and/or had a use for the heat during start up and burn out. (You can snuff charcoal fires by choking off the air and light it again later to burn it the rest of the way, but you still lose the heat value waiting to reach cooking temps.)

    Saying that, storage in a dry environment would be critical to very long storage. I've used charcoal briquets in a grill that had been stored in my garage for three years in an open (but folded closed) bag (forgot I had it from the previous season.) Never wetted, burned just fine.
  3. Pyrrhus

    Pyrrhus Monkey++

    I was afforded the opportunity to use charcoal as an emergency cooking fuel after hurricane Irene when we lost power for 4-5 days. Worked great outside in the grill (and a Cobb grill). I use natural charcoal, which would also be easy to make if needed. I usually have 4-5 bags in my garage.
  4. Falcon15

    Falcon15 Falco Peregrinus

    I was afforded the ultimate opportunity of testing charcoal as an alternate cooking fuel post Hurricane Ike. I was lucky enough to have purchased a two-sided cast iron griddle (flat on one side, ribbed on the other) that fits the grate rails of my pit easily. I had a lot of food that needed cooking, and FAST. I cranked up the coals, and set grills on one half of my pit and the cast iron griddle on the other half, smooth side up. The inspiration for this was cast iron wood stoves - like the one my great grandmother cooked on to the day she died. It is essentially a flat cast iron plate with heat from beneath, with additional features like ovens et al.

    I made two very large chimneys of charcoal briquettes (I do a LOT of brisket, so I have 2 starter chimneys, to make sure I have a steady supply of lump charcoal going). I piled them on each side of my grill, and set the grates/flat top. I tried to make a "hot zone" under the front of the flat top, and a cooler side on the back, by strategically piling coals. I was able to set stainless cooking vessels on the flat top, and it worked perfectly. I could vary the heat by moving the vessels from hot to cool or in between. This would work on ANY grill, as long as you have a cast iron griddle with a flat side, IMO. I cooked a freezer full of meat, veggies, sides, etc. in under 1 hour, and had the neighbors over for a huge meal. Nothing wasted. So I not only had grilled meats, I had steamed veggies, rice, sauteed peppers and onions, and the bonus was I was able to toast buns on the flat top. The nice thing about having the cast iron griddle is I normally use it when making the onions and peppers for fajitas. I just set it on the grill, oil it up and start the veggies before I start the meat. A good wipe down with an oily towel and I cook the tortillas right on the griddle.

    I stockpiled 18 of the large bags of charcoal (double packs from Sams Warehouse). I will use the grill to cook under the carport if the weather is inclement, and use my propane camp stove for short, menial tasks like heating water for oatmeal, coffee, tea, etc.

    The downside is the smoke when you light off the charcoal. However, well seasoned wood would work just as well as a cooking fuel using the same set-up. Just the smoke (and cooking odors) should be an OPSEC consideration.
    gunbunny likes this.
  5. beast

    beast backwoodsman

    charcoal is basically pre-burned wood, the stuff that makes the smoke and smell
    are all burned out of it
    having it in your fire is like adding more glowing coals to your bed of coals
    if you add air it burns incredibly hot, hot enuff to melt iron and steel
    its one biggest downfal is it burns a lot faster than coal, a wh0le lot...
    but it is cleaner than coal or wood, what doesnt make sense to me is burning the wood to make charcoal and wasting the heat while you do it
    you can cook just as well of a wood fire, just dont get carried away with size
    all you need is a 12 inch fire and shove your hot coals off to one side or the other to cook with
  6. larryinalabama

    larryinalabama Monkey++

    Hard wood lump charcoal is the answer for daily BBQ and survival prep. I have grill that is semi air tight whi IM done cooking I close the lid and the charcoal goes out, next time I just add if needed more charcoal and cook again over and over. Birquetts are a 1 time use and are worrthless if they ever ger wet.
    Hardwood lump charcoal can be stored in a closet and actually helps with mositure and orders. If it ever gets wet it will dry and still light.
  7. jasonl6

    jasonl6 Monkey+

    Here are a couple video links on how to make your own charcoal in a 55gal drum. The biggest advantage of charcoal is that most of the gases and smoke are gone. I think other than some heat vapor it would make a great SHTF fuel. I buy off fall from a local mill. Most of it is small 1"x1"x8" pieces but there are larger pieces as well. It's link dried to 7% moisture. I get a 1 ton dump truck load delivered to my house for $35. I plan to make some of my own charcoal this winter and see how it works.


    Bushcraft Magazine - Making Charcoal Part 1 - YouTube

    Bushcraft Magazine - Making Charcoal Part 2 - YouTube
  8. hedger

    hedger Monkey+

    I have one Rocket Stove that operates with very high efficiency with finger sized twigs of wood. There are also some Rocket Stoves that are made which can use either charcoal or wood. Since there are several good manufacturers of Rocket Stoves, please check them out online.

    One regret that I do have is that I bought an earlier model, which gets the job done but it is a bit small in width and has some challenges with stability in a wind, unless you set up a good windscreen. Therefore, my next Rocket Stove will definitely be one of the squatter and wider designs. And yes, I will be getting one that is designed for charcoal as well as for wood.

    I just really like the idea of being able to use readily available supplies of finger thickness twigs as the primary source of my cooking fuel. There is absolutely no shortage of (FREE) fuel around me.
  9. DKR

    DKR Interesting ideas, interesting stories

    Simple charcoal stove for cooking

    When stationed in Korea, we used charcoal (Koreans use soft coal for home heating and cooking)

    The stove was a 5 lb coffee can cut in half, with cuts made in the top and a series of holes in the bottom. Conversely you can use a can the same size with the top cut off and a row of holes at the top and bottom.

    We took a soda can and cut the top off the can and put holes in the bottom with a 'church key' opener.

    The soda can goes in the middle of the larger can and two or three briquettes between the soda can and the larger, outer can.

    The briquettes would be started with scraps of paper and allowed to start, then a pot (of soup or other food to boil) went on top - the soda can acted as a chimney - the stove would burn so hot, that water would boil in just a few minutes. More than once, the soda can would melt.

    If the outer can and the soda can are the same size (height), it will make a great little cook stove.

    Worth the time to play with, I use a similar version as a charcoal starter,

    See Improving the Sweet 16 stove | Improved Biomass Cooking Stoves for a similar stove.
  10. munchy

    munchy Monkey+

    Guess I'm missing the point as wood to me seems the best option, however I live in the woods so stocking charchoal seems a waste. I can make charchoal with a well sealed stove but I'm thinking the heat loss of the process would be counterproductive. I'm not from a coal state so maybe I'm missing something.
  11. dragonfly

    dragonfly Monkey+++

    You could ( if so inclined) make you own cooking fuels...
    There are some internet sites that show you how to make a fuel similar to STERNO brand, types...It takes: denatured alcohol, (OR , 91 % "rubbing or isopropyl alcohol"), some calcium carbonate ( chalk) water and VINEGAR! It's fast simple and easy ( except for some of us!) to make ( I screwed up the first 2 times on the amounts, not being used to milliliters and such!) We ended up spending about $30-$35, and have 6-1 qt cans full and 4,-1-gallon cans full! We used new paint cans with lids and it's very easy IF you know anything about chemistry, and even if you don't!
    I'll look for the link/s and post it here later!
    Ok, heres just one:
    I'll look for much better ones!
    The REAL one:
    Gelled Ethanol Fuel

    • 1 Combine about 25 grams of calcium carbonate and 100 milliliters of vinegar in a small dish.

    • [*]2 Mix with the stirring rod until there are no more bubbles being formed. Add a little more calcium carbonate and mix again.

      [*]3 Pour the mixture through the filter paper into the old pot to eliminate excess calcium carbonate.

      [*]4 Place the pot on the stove. Heat on medium to boil away half of the solution.

      [*]5 Add 30 milliliters of ethanol and stir to mix fully.

    You have to stir constantly and slowly add the ethanol slowly!

    Here's the one we used:
    Make Your Own Gelled Alcohol Fuel - Canned Heat

    Extreme do it yourselfers can make their own gelled fuel at home with by mixing alcohol and calcium acetate (C<SUB>4</SUB>H<SUB>6</SUB>CaO<SUB>4</SUB>).

    The following instructions and measurements are from the Montville High School Science Departmental.

    1. Add 25g of crushed chalk or egg shells (calcium carbonate-CaCO<SUB>3</SUB>) to 100ml of vinegar (water and acetic acid - CH<SUB>3</SUB>CO<SUB>2</SUB>H) and stir for about 5 minutes.
      This should produce carbon dioxide (CO<SUB>2</SUB>), calcium acetate (C<SUB>4</SUB>H<SUB>6</SUB>CaO<SUB>4</SUB>) and water (H<SUB>2</SUB>O) plus leave you with some left over chalk (CaCO<SUB>3</SUB>). If you are guessing on how much chalk to add, just make sure that there is a little extra after 5 minutes of stirring.

    2. Remove the excess chalk by filtering your mix through some filter paper (coffee filter or napkin can be used).
      Set a funnel in a jar, place your filter in it and pour your suspension through it.

    3. Mark the level of your solution in its container and allow your solution to evaporate off about half that volume to remove the excess water.
      Place your solution in an oven set on low heat or place it out in the sun to dry. If you went to far - just add the missing water.
      Note - if you like, you can dry out your solution completely and store the remaining dried calcium acetate for future use.

    4. If your solution isn't already in the container you want your gel in, then pour it in there now.
    5. Add 30ml of alcohol (ethanol, methanol, or isopropanol) to your solution and watch the gel form. Do not stir.
    6. Once the reaction in complete, pour off any extra fuel.

    Y2kSurvivor suggests:
    Dissolved calcium acetate solution ratio:
    1 part dry calcium acetate (by volume) to 2 parts water
    Solution to fuel ratio:
    1 part dissolved calcium acetate solution to 4 parts alcohol
    Also see:
    Hope this is of some value!?
    Ya know, I like this stuff so much, and now that I have revisited it, I may choose to amp up our supply for any future needs...I am going to ask a friend of mine to see what he can come up with to make a small heater ( space type) for the cold! I'd love to have 3-4 of those....I know he alrady has used sheet metal and built several styles of ovens, some for use with Coleman stoves, some are stand alones that use the propane cylinders (with burners from the hardware store-replacements for barbecues) This would be a challenge for him!
    Sapper John and Seawolf1090 like this.
survivalmonkey SSL seal        survivalmonkey.com warrant canary