Cooking Fuel Overview

Home / Emergency Preparedness / Cooking Fuel Overview

While there are MANY great reasons to “do” food storage, the main one people think about is in preparation for a major natural disaster. Depending on the disaster, you could be without electricity and/or natural gas for anywhere from 3-4 days up to several months or longer. It is great to have FOOD to last that long, but eventually you are going to need to figure out how to actually COOK it. This is more of an advanced concept so if you are just getting started with your BabySteps feel free to bookmark or print this post for later reference.

A while back we did a brief overview of a few different options for Powerless Cooking. However, most of them require some sort of fuel to store in order to use them, so we wanted to cover cooking fuels today. Here are a few different fuel options to consider for cooking and storing:


Raw, dry wood is a very good source of fuel although it often becomes wet and unusable in a disaster. Also good for heating so it’s a valuable fuel to store, even though it takes up a lot of space.
Indoor cooking: Wood-burning stove or open fireplace (make sure they are properly vented to outside)
Outdoor cooking: Open fire or Volcano Grill
Storage limitations: In rural areas wood may be readily available at a relatively low cost but local permits may be necessary. In urban areas wood may not be as readily available and storage areas are limited.
Shelf life: Virtually unlimited as long as kept dry and covered.


Available in several sizes ranging from 1 pound to very large containers and is a good source for both heat and cooking.
Indoor cooking: When using propane to cook indoors you can ONLY use a natural gas stove that has been adapted for propane use. Without proper alterations it is extremely dangerous to use inside.
Outdoor cooking: Barbecue grill or Volcano Grill
Storage limitations: NEVER store propane indoors, or even in a garage or storage shed. It should be stored in a location that gets little to no direct sunlight. Limitations on amounts you are allowed to store generally apply due to its explosive nature. Check with your local fire department for specific storage restrictions in your area.
Shelf life: Most containers have a “use by date”, they need to be recertified 12 years from that date and every 10 years after that.

Kerosene/Heating oil

As with propane, a variety of storage tanks are used. Kerosene and Heating oil are good sources of heat for heating your shelter but generally not ideal for cooking.

Indoor cooking: A kerosene cooker-heater can be used for “one-pot cooking”
Outdoor cooking: Not applicable
Storage limitations: Store kerosene out of sunlight. If legal in your area, it can safely be stored in a garage or shed, but NEVER in your basement. Limitations on amounts you are allowed to store may apply in your area. Check with your local fire department for specifics.
Shelf life: Ideal shelf life is 1 year. High quality kerosene stored properly in a well sealed container MAY last up to 3 years.


Coal can be good source of heat and charcoal is great for outdoor cooking. Both are fairly easy to store without safety concerns.

Indoor cooking: A coal-burning stove can be used for “one-pot cooking” with proper ventilation. Charcoal should NOT be used indoors.
Outdoor cooking: Charcoal can be used for dutch oven cooking, in a barbecue grill, or in a Volcano Grill
Storage limitations: Large amounts are needed but it is easy to calculate how much you need to store. Must be kept dry.
Shelf life: Charcoal and coal can be stored indefinitely in dry locations indoors or outdoors.


Insta-Fire is a safe, simple, and versatile new fire starting product. You can use it to light campfires, prepare charcoal briquettes, or as a safe and reliable fuel source for cooking or heating in emergency situations.

Indoor cooking: Insta-fire can be used in a wood-burning stove or open fireplace. The key is just to have proper ventilation.
Outdoor cooking: Works fantastic by itself in a Volcano Grill, can also be used in a #10 can stove, open fire pit, or directly on the ground (even in snow!)
Storage limitations: None. May be stored indoors, next to food, in basements or attics, or outdoors.
Shelf life: 30 year shelf life.

PLEASE NOTE: There are many many safety concerns with the proper storage and usage of cooking fuels. We provided this information as a general overview but recommend you look into other sources for more detailed information. We found great info in Emergency Food in a Nutshell and the Family Preparedness Handbook.

  • Anonymous

    I’m so
    love this blog, already bookmarked it! Thanks.

  • I would add a solar oven as well, though I see that has been mentioned by another person as well. I have also seen an alcohol burner, made with an aluminum can and rubbing alcohol. It was pretty amazing. They cooked pancakes over it.

  • We love using our solar oven, too. You don’t need fuel to cook in your solar oven. Just sunlight. In the event of the power going out we will use our sun oven during the day to cook, as long as the sun is out and it’s not cloudy. In the evening or on a cloudy day we will use our other sources of cooking that use fuel. Sun ovens can be quite pricey. But, I do know where you could get one that heats up to 200 degrees and is only $37.00. It weighs less than 2 lbs. I am not paid to promote this item. I just thought I’d let you all know in case it’s something you’re interested in.

    • Yes we definitely agree that Solar Ovens are a fantastic way to go.
      We suggest them as a powerless cooking option. For this post we just
      wanted to cover the different fuel types for other types of powerless
      cooking that people might be doing.

  • Dennis Bares

    I recieved via Mail an offer to attend a seminar about “Cooking in the Dark”.It is open to local CERT Members, of which I am. CERT = COMMUNITY EMERGENCY RESPONCE TEAMS. It came as my mind was centered upon this phase of preparedness. if yu may be interested in such type of training, check with ur local EMO’s,[Emergency Management Organizations.

  • Dennis Bares

    Recently my medical needs requires me to use oxygen equiptment; This throws a stumbling block in my using flame of any sort for cooking. Electric is ideal, but we dont have a backup generator. I have a battery for smaller appliances and light, also a heater. AS in times of emergencies it is good to serve warm food.[As I did when I worked for the American Red Cross].

  • Dennis Bares

    As an other resource to the above info; I referred to “DARE TO PREPARE!” By Holly Drennan Deyo, 3 Edition
    I found the page on keeping fuel from degrading, Fuel stablizers, informative.[p.315]
    On cooking without power In this same resource, it lists alot more of the types of stoves that could be used during needful times.

  • sarah

    We’ve found rubbing alcohol to be fantastic both for first aid and for heating/cooking. We also prefer storing it because we’re apartment dwellers and our landlord has limits on all the other fuels listed.

  • How do you determine how much of any fuel to store? especially wood and charcoal?

    • As far as charcoal goes, a 10 lb. bag of charcoal (Kingsford) will allow you to cook at least 1 dish a day for a full week in a dutch oven. I cooked in my dutch ovens every day last year, and I used about a bag a week. There are several varaibles including cooking times and temperatures, ambient air temp., etc, but that is a good starting point for how long a bag will last.

      • Thanks for stopping by our blog and sharing your expertise. I’ve gotten lost on your site on more than one occasion. You are an inspiration! I just got my first dutch oven this week and you KNOW I will be scouring your blog for help 🙂

  • LGCS

    “Propane can ONLY be used for indoor cooking”===Sorry this statement is incorrect. There are BBQ grills that use propane as well as camp stoves. We have also a crawfish pot/turkey frier that uses propane and must only be use outside.

    • The sentence reads funny but what I was saying was you can ONLY use it inside if you use a special adapted oven. You’ll see in the next sentence I list the ways it can be used outside.

      • Grandma Lori

        This would be the mis-placed modifier. Should say you can use it inside, but ONLY if you use a special adapted oven. You’re welcome!

FREE checklists to make your life easier

Start today and get our 4 favorite downloads to help you build and use your food storage!