Friday, August 3, 2012

Cooking without Electricity (Almost): Cooking with a Hot Box

 This is the seventh post in the series Cooking without Electricity.  I hope you are enjoying the series and gathering ideas on how to cook if you find yourself without electricity. The post for today is an idea I use all the time - I believe it can save you money in the long run!

There are other names for this cooking method on the Internet: Hay Box, Wonder Box, and Fireless Cooking.  I first learned about this idea on the Food Storage and Survival blog.  You can read the original blog post here.   In this post, Angela (the writer),  uses a special insulation cover that she made.  I printed the instructions she gave with every intent to make my own.  Well, that never happened - life got in the way!  So, this post is my interpretation of how to use a Hot Box without the pretty hand sewn insulation cover. 

This method is perfect to use with recipes that say:  'heat to boiling, reduce heat, and simmer for X minutes.'  How you heat to the point of boiling is your choice.  If you don't have any electricity, you can heat to boiling on your grill using propane or charcoal.  If you are just trying to save on your electric bill, you can use your stove top.

Today, I am using the Hot Box to make meals for my little angel.  Unfortunately, she is allergic to life.  Constant rashes, ear infections, a constantly runny nose, and very itchy feet make me feel so sorry for her that I wish I could help more.  She is allergic to grass, trees, bugs, cats, dogs, and all types of mold.  Everything we have plenty of here in the south!  She also can't eat 'normal' food.  She does much better when I cook for her.  Here is a picture of the princess. Her name is Molly.

I got this recipe from a nutritionist. (Yes, there are dog nutritionists - and they are very expensive!)  And for anyone wondering, she also gets allergy shots.

The first step to making a Hot Box is to find a cardboard box that is big enough to hold your pot.  You don't want a tight fitting box - be sure it is quite a bit bigger then the pot.  I used a standard size moving box. After you've found an appropriate box,  line the bottom of the box with old towels. 

You want at least 3 to 4 inches of towels in the bottom of the box.  This cooking method won't work if the box isn't well insulated.  Don't skimp on the towels.  You can also use old tee shirts, rags, blankets or what ever you have.  It doesn't have to be towels.

Prepare your recipe and heat to boiling. At the point in the recipe when it says to cover the pot and turn the heat down to simmer, cover your pot and place it in the cardboard box.  I removed the pot cover for the picture.

This picture shows the frozen green beans and squash from the garden that I added while the water was heating up.  The carrots are dehydrated.  I got them at the LDS Cannery. There are pumpkin pieces in there too.  I used Seminole pumpkins that I grew last year.  They were cut fresh (Seminole pumpkins store very well). The rice and turkey are at the bottom of the pot.  The rice and carrots were just added a few seconds before placing the pot in the box.

Add additional towels and blankets and such to the sides of the box.  You are going to insulate up to the top of the pot and then place about four inches of additional insulation over the top of the pot.  Here is mine when I was finished.

It is not necessary to fill the box to the top with insulation if your box is really big.  All you need is to do is cover the top of the pot with about four inches of the insulation medium you are using. 

Let the food simmer in the box.  The rice is usually done in about 45 minutes but I let mine stay 1 1/2 hours because I went out to work in the garden for a while. 

This is what it looked like when I took the cover off.

Be careful!  The pot will be extremely hot!  I burnt my arm taking the pot out of the box.  At this point Molly was very hungry, but the food was too hot to eat.  I put some in a bowl and let it cool a bit.

There are a few things to watch for when using this cooking method:
  • This works best if you size your pot appropriate to the recipe.  The pot should be full.  If there is a lot of air space in the pot, you lose some of the insulation value.
  • Pack the insulation medium in tightly.  Don't leave a lot of air pockets around the pot.
  • Don't peek at the food! Every time you open up the box and remove some of the insulation, heat escapes.  You lose some of the cooking power when that happens.

If your recipe states to simmer the food for only a few minutes (say about 10 minutes), you can also just cover the pot and turn the heat completely off while leaving the pot on the stove top.  I have a ceramic stove top and this idea works wonders!  Routinely, I turn the stove top off early no matter what I am cooking.  The ceramic cooking surface always holds the heat and it is a great way to save electricity. 

If you have a gas cook top you are not going to get as much mileage from this technique.  However, I bet it will save you money over the long run if you turn the burner off 30 seconds to 1 minute early each time you cook something.

Using the hot box to cook is so easy!  In addition to printing and placing these instructions in your food storage binder, try this cooking method out now - you will be very pleased with the results!

If you liked this post, you may also like other posts in the Cooking without Electricity series:

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