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Two weeks ago we discussed methods for cooking after the power goes out. I hope you have copied that and added it to your preparedness binder and that you will begin practicing new cooking methods. This week you will learn how to construct some of those off grid cooking options.

Preparing a Haybox Cooker

To review, a Haybox cooker allows you to prepare meals in the same way an electric slow cooker works, heat and insulation. You will bring food to a boil for three minutes and then place the covered food into an insulated container. Food will continue cooking for several hours until done.

1) Choose a container that is at least four inches larger, on all sides, than your pot with the lid on. Line the container bottom and sides with insulation. For the best results there should be four inches of insulation, or in other words, your pot should be at least four inches from the walls, top and floor of the container.

2) Make a “nest” in insulation for the pot.

3) Cover pot with insulation.

4) Close lid securely.

That’s it! 


Obviously, hayboxes originally used hay as the insulation but there are many options.

  • Blankets: wool works best, do not use quilts you care about just in case some of the food spills.
  • Fabric: yards of flannel, batting or felt.
  • Newspapers or magazines: these can either be stacked or shredded. Naturally the material over the pot would make a mess if shredded.
  • Sleeping bags
  • Coats and/or sweatshirts.
  • Dry and clean: hay, straw or sawdust.
  • Cushions or pillows.
  • Old drapes.
  • Extra mattress pads.


Plan for the largest pot you anticipate using. It is also possible to use this method to stack Dutch ovens in your container. Any container should have a good lid. If your container does not have a lid you should make one of wood or a sheet of metal. You must have a good lid.

  • A large camping cooler can be used with only 1-2 inches of insulation around the pot but any less and you could melt the cooler.
  • Cardboard box
  • Computer or appliance box (these are heavier cardboard and are great)
  • Wooden box
  • Plastic or metal garbage can (be sure to insulate plastic well or it will melt)
  • Metal tub
  • Trunk

*Food MUST remain above 140° F during the entire time it is in the haybox. Test by using a pot of boiling water, ½ to 2/3 full and treat as though it contained food. After 4 hours, remove pot and check temperature. If the Temperature is too low, add more insulation and test again.

To test the accuracy of your thermometer place in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes and check temperature. Your thermometer should register at the temperatures listed below. If your thermometer registers higher than the temperature given below for your altitude, add the difference to 140° for the minimum temperature you must maintain in your haybox. If it registers lower, subtract the difference from the 140°.

For example:

If at sea level your thermometer registers 220º that is a difference of 8 degrees so add 8 to 140=148, now you know your haybox should remain at 148º or higher when using that thermometer.

If at sea level your thermometer registers 200º now you would subtract 12 degrees 140-12= 128, now you know your haybox needs to remain at 128º or higher when using that thermometer.

Altitude Boiling Point Chart.

Sea level 212° F
1,000 feet 210.2° F
2,000 feet 208.4° F
3,000 feet 206.6° F
4,000 feet 204.8° F
5,000 feet 203° F
7,500 feet 198.4° F
10,000 feet

Tin Can Stoves

To make you will need a #10 can. What is a #10 can? The large, commercial size cans we used to call coffee cans.

  1. Put on your gloves.
  2. Cut out one end of the No. 10 can with a can opener.
  3. Using tin snips, cut the sides of a door about three inches high and four inches wide on a side of the can at the open end. Leave the top of the door attached. Pull the door up toward the closed end. Be careful! You may want to use duct tape to wrap the edges and prevent cuts.
  4. At the top of the stove (the closed end), use the church key (punch style) can opener and punch two to three smoke holes into the side of the can opposite the cut-out door. This will allow the smoke to escape.
  5. When ready to use your stove place your tuna can stove, sterno, charcoal or kindling on a fireproof surface. Light heat source and place tin can stove over it.
  6. Make a damper out of the lid of a can. Wrap foil around the edge of the can lid to make it more safe as the edge will be very sharp. The damper is a key to tin-can cooking because it allows you to control the heat as you move the damper over the fire. You will need tongs in your Grab and Go Kit to hold the damper as you move it. If you no longer have a can lid make a damper by folding aluminum foil in three or four layers, slightly larger than the dimension of the tuna can or sterno. The heat is much harder to control when using charcoal or kindling which should make them the choice of last resort.
  7. Now you are ready to cook. Place a pot or frying pan on the top of the stove. The stove will get very hot. Food must be monitored as it will easily burn. Think of it as the high setting on your range.
  8. Never attempt to move the stove without allowing time for it to cool down. Do not allow children to do the cooking without very strict supervision. Always wear oven mitts when using the stove.

These are great stoves to make and store in the trunk of the car should you ever become stranded.

Tin can stoves make a great project for your scout troop or other group to make for their family as a Christmas gift. Be sure to include directions for use.

They are easy to make and give to a neighbor or friend who has failed to prepare after the lights go out.

Tuna can stove

Tuna can stoves are great for use with a tin can stove but also as a fire starter providing a steady flame, saving lots of frustration. They are also great in a car kit to use when stranded as a light and heater in the car. A small flame such as this can heat the air enough, when confined in a car, to prevent hypothermia.

  1. Thoroughly wash a tuna can.
  2. Remove label.
  3. Cut an old cardboard box into strips the height of the can.
  4. Place a piece of cotton mop or an old candlewick at one end of the cardboard extending about an inch over one edge.
  5. Roll the strips very tightly into a coil.
  6. Wedge the coil into the can.
  7. In a double boiler carefully melt the remains of old candles. You will want to use an old pot for this.
  8. Pour the wax over the cardboard alloying it to soak in.
  9. Let the wax harden and place in a zip type plastic bag to store in your 72 hour kit, Grab and Go Kits, Car kit or Office Kit.

These also make great gifts and easy projects for kids.

Your assignment, should you decide to accept it, is to copy this article and place it in your preparedness binder. Next make the Tin Can Stove and Tuna Can Stove and try cooking with them. Then, try cooking in a Haybox. Finally share what you have learned with us and with your family and friends. Christmas vacation is a great time to gather the children and grandchildren and to have some fun with preparing in mind.

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