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Those of us who use off grid cooking methods know that fuel is a precious resource. Whether you're using solar power stored in batteries, a gas generator, propane, butane, wood, wood pellets, or charcoal—that fuel must come from somewhere, and it has to be replaced.
Even if you’re cooking in a solar oven and using the sun as your power source, your hours of sunlight are limited, and you need to cook with daylight hours in mind.
To save precious cooking fuel and power sources, I’ve created a list of 15 cooking hacks to save you time and resources.
Prep your food first
Wash, trim, and chop your ingredients before you start up your heat source. You don’t want to waste fuel heating pots and pans when the ingredients aren’t even ready. Have everything prepped and ready to go so you don’t accidentally burn part of your quick-cooking meal because you forgot to prep one of the ingredients.
Foods cook faster when there’s more surface area and less distance for the heat to travel. The smaller your ingredients are, the greater their surface area, and the faster the heat will reach the center of each of the bits and pieces. Stir-fry meals cook up in minutes because the meat and vegetables are in bite-sized pieces.
A mandoline can help you evenly slice fruits and veggies.
Use a grater to make quick work of root vegetables like carrots and beets. The tiny slivers will cook almost instantly when they hit the hot pan.
Boneless meats cook faster. If you’re removing the bones yourself, save them to make stock or bone broth. You can use it for soups and stews or bone broth, or pressure can it to use later. If you have a freezer, you can freeze the bones to use another day.
Use your meat mallet
For recipes where chopped meat isn’t practical, use a meat mallet to flatten steaks and chicken into even thicknesses. Slice meat thinly or pound it into thin, flat pieces (like you’d do for chicken fried steak). Watch closely once you put it on the heat so it doesn’t overcook!
Make sure your ingredients are uniform in size so they’ll cook in the same amount of time. It’s not fun to bite into a raw potato cube followed by a mushy bit of something else.
Bake in portions
Size matters when you’re baking, too. Smaller baked goods will bake quicker, saving fuel and time in front of the oven. Convert cakes into cupcakes by decreasing your baking time by ⅓ to ½. Make mini loaves of bread, or use the bread dough to make breadsticks or dinner rolls.
Cupcakes and minimuffins are perfect for baking in a solar oven. Try using silicone baking cups when baking with the sun!
For even quicker bread, make pita bread on a hot baking stone in your outdoor oven, or cook tortillas, chapatis, or naan in an iron skillet or griddle over a low flame.
You can even use less cooking fuel when baking pies by making them into little tarts or turnovers—perfect for parties and dinner guests or a late-night sugar craving.
Use the right pan
Use a pan the appropriate size for your food and cooking method. Don’t put a giant pan on a small flame. You want even heat distribution but not overcrowding, so size your cooking vessel appropriately. Shallow, wide pans might cook food more quickly, but if it’s too big for your heat source, you’re defeating the purpose.
Put a lid on it
Cover your pot or pan with a lid to trap heat. As long as you’re not frying or caramelizing an ingredient, pop a lid on it and trap the steam and heat inside.
Cook under pressure
Talk about lids! Use a pressure cooker over your propane or butane burner, or plug in your Instant Pot if you have an electricity source. Pressure cooking locks in the heat and pushes it through your ingredients in a fraction of the time. This is especially helpful for long-cooking grains like rice.
For outdoor cooking over a fire, try an Afghan pressure cooker (which can be used on a regular stove as well). Regular pressure cookers with plastic handles are not meant for cooking over a campfire—the food could be unevenly cooked, and the handles may melt. But an Afghan pressure cook is designed to handle the heat.
Lower the flame
Decrease the flame once the water is boiling. Even pasta will cook with water at a simmer instead of a full rolling boil. Save gas by using a lower flame whenever possible.
This counts for things like hard-boiled eggs, too. Once the water boils, remove it from the heat and cover the pot--the heat from the boiling water will continue to cook the eggs even after the boiling has stopped.
Remember when I said not to heat your pans while you’re prepping ingredients? That’s still true—you don’t want to heat your oven or pans too early. But preheating them at the right time—right before you put in the food—will save time and fuel in the long run.
Preheat your pan, so foods start cooking the instant you add them. When cooking with fire, make sure you have the flame or coals just right before you put the food on so you make the most efficient use of your wood.
Sometimes it’s more practical to cook a large batch instead of making smaller portions. Make double batches when it’s more practical—like when cooking soups and stews, large portions of meat, rice, or beans. You can eat leftovers the next day, freeze portions for another meal, or pressure can the extras to store for later use.
If you’re slow cooking in a fire pit, double the amount of brisket, pork, or chicken. You’ll need to increase the number of coals you’re using, but not as much as you would if you were starting from scratch another day.
Beans, beans, the musical fruit
Dry beans can take hours to soften. Speed up cooking time by soaking the beans overnight while you sleep. For old or stubborn beans, add baking soda to your soak water or cooking water. Use About 1 tsp per cup of soak water or ¼ tsp per pound when cooking.
Thaw foods or bring to room temp
Always use safe thawing methods, but try to bring meats to room temperature before cooking them. You won’t waste any fuel while you’re letting it rest, and you won’t drop the temperature of your pan as much when you add the food.
Chew on this
Living off the grid has its pros and cons, and one of the most enjoyable is using a variety of creative cooking methods instead of getting into the habit of putting something on the electric range or popping leftovers into the microwave.
But along with the creativity comes a need to protect the resources you’ve carefully stored. By paying attention to how you cut and portion your ingredients, doubling batches when practical, and using leftovers to your benefit, you’ll have more time to enjoy those evening sunsets you moved off grid for in the first place!
Now that you have extra time after dinner, why not relax in a warm bubble bath and soothe away the stress of the day? Or, if you're in the mood to do a little shopping, check out our Ultimate Off Grid Gift Guide!