Straw Box Cooking with a homemade non-electric slow cooker

How to improvise a "straw box cooker".

One of the small appliances in my kitchen that I really rely on is my slow-cooker. It allows me to slave over a hot stove all day long without slaving over a hot stove.

But if the power goes out, that slow-cooker is a paperweight, unable to heat anything without electricity.

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On our homestead, storms come through in the spring and fall that can knock out our electric power for hours, days, and sometimes even for weeks. In winter, ice storms can do the same.

Without electricity, my slow-cooker of course doesn't work. Electric stoves won't work either. Gas and propane stoves need electricity to ignite the cooking flame. 

But here's the thing. Even with electricity (or gas or propane), I don't like to go outside and work in the back pasture (or leave the house and go to town) with the oven on. Or even with the slow-cooker on, to tell the truth. 

Here's how cooks of the past made a hot dinner and still got a hard day's work done. 

Fireless cooking

Known as "straw box cooking" or "fireless cooking," an insulated box holds your cooking pot while the food inside the pot cooks.

In its original form, a straw box cooker was a wooden box that held the hot pot. Straw was stuffed around the pot inside the box as insulation. A pot of food was heated up on the stove or in the oven, then put into the straw box to finish cooking.

I'd read about straw box cooking in an old book, and when we had an ice storm a few years ago and lost our power for over 68 hours I was ready to give it a try. I didn't have a wooden box, but I did have an idea.

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The weather forecaster had warned us that this might be "one of those storms," so I was prepared. 

I gathered the items I would need to make my fireless cooker, and started lamb stew in the slow-cooker that morning. If the power didn't go off, I'd just have dinner ready as usual. 

But we did lose power. I quickly moved the "crock" of hot food into my improvised straw box cooker and let the cooking continue until dinner time. 

What you need to make a straw box cooker

Here's what I used to make my fireless cooker: an ice chest/cooler lined with a folded bath towel in the bottom of the chest and a blanket that I stuffed around the hot pot of cooking food to keep the pot hot.

The folded towel on the bottom of the cooler insulates the bottom of the pot - and also keeps it from melting the bottom of the ice chest. 

A really thick layer of newspaper (like a Sunday paper) would work instead of a towel. The blanket helps hold the heat instead of using straw, and the tightly-closed lid of the cooler creates an insulated box that holds in the heat.

I put the lidded crock of hot food on top of the folded towel, then used the ends of the blanket to completely enclose the crock and take up the empty space in the cooler.

If there is still empty space between the blanket and the cooler lid, add another blanket, more bath towels or even an old pillow. The goal is to stuff as much insulation inside the cooler as possible.

Then just shut the lid of the cooler tightly, and walk away.

By dinnertime our stew was finished, hot and ready to eat. 

Line the cooler with a blanket

Nestle your cooking pot inside the cooler.

How to cook dinner in a cooler.

Using a straw box cooker when you don't have power

We still didn't have power the next day, so we couldn't heat up the food in the slow-cooker or on the stove as I'd done the day before. Instead we used our camp stove to bring the food to a full boil, then moved the pot of food to the cooker. 

Sure, we could use the camp stove to cook dinner from start to finish, but using our improvised straw box cooker saved fuel. We didn't know how long the power would be out, so conserving our canisters of propane was important. 

We used just enough propane to heat the food to a boil each day, quickly moved the cooking pot to the converted cooler and let the straw box do the rest of the cooking.

Just bring your food to a boil before placing the cooking pot in the ice chest. We used a camp stove to do this. 

Yes, you do need a source of heat to get started, but the fuel needed is minimal because once you've moved your meal into the ice chest you won't need any added heat at all to continue cooking your meal.

For best results, move your food from stove top to straw box cooker quickly. Have the blanket already lining the cooler and the folded towel placed in the bottom. When the food reaches boiling point, move the pot of food, cover it all quickly and shut the lid tightly.

Allow enough time for your food to cook by making dinner early in the day. If it's something that you'd cook for eight hours in a slow-cooker, let it cook for at least eight hours in your straw box cooker too.

Having hot food to eat during that 68-hour-long power outage was such a blessing.

What you need to make a straw box cooker from a cooler.

What to cook in a straw box cooker

Soups and stews are excellent meals to prepare this way but don't overlook such dishes as baked beans or pot roast, 

If it's a dish you can make in a slow cooker, you can make it in your fireless cooker too. 

On the second day of that ice storm power outage I opened a quart Mason jar of chicken and stock that I'd pressure-canned, added a can of great northern beans, some dehydrated mushrooms and onions, and spices for white chili.

After bringing it to a boil on our camp stove, I transferred the lidded pot to the straw box cooker, where it simmered away all day long. 

Dinner was delicious!

Coolers and ice chests

How to store your straw box cooker

When your meal is finished, leave the top of your ice chest open for a while to dry it out; it's steamy and damp inside. Air out your blanket and towel before storing them to prevent mildew.

You can return your blankets and towels to the linen closet, or you can store them inside the cooler for the next time they're needed.

The cooler can be stored in the garage or wherever you normally keep it. (I keep the drain plug closed to help keep bugs out during storage.)

Great use for an ice chest

Ice chests can often be purchased for $5 or so at yard sales, and you can use the pots and pans you already own. Make sure your pots and pans fit inside the cooler before you need to use your straw box cooker.

Using what you already have makes this a very inexpensive alternative to a slow-cooker - and you don't have to wait for a power outage to use it.

Putting a hot dish in this insulated chest is an excellent way to transport food to a potluck supper or to a picnic in the park with family or friends. Take it on a camping trip. It's a great solution for those who live off-grid too.

It's also a frugal way to save money on your power bill: just bring your dinner to a boil, then transfer into your prepared straw box to cook until dinner time while you work on another project.

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How to make a non-electric slow cooker from items you already have at home.

Related Posts:
Make a Power's Out Kit
How to Prepare for Winter Storms
How We Prepare for Tornado Season

How to make a non-electric slow cooker using a cooler. Great for power outages and camping.

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This straw box cooker is great for camping and power outages. No electricity needed.