Kitchen Essentials for Cooking Off-Grid
When my family started living off the grid, I quickly learned that cooking in an off-grid kitchen is very different to how most people cook. If you no longer have access to a seemingly never-ending supply of mainstream electricity, you need to look for off grid kitchen appliances.
So what do you need to know if you are planning to attempt off grid cooking? What are the best off grid kitchen appliances? Here's a few thoughts I hope you find helpful.
Power Sources in an Off-Grid Kitchen
One of your main goals, winter or summer, should be to reduce your reliance on any kind of fossil fuel. If a kitchen appliance requires petrol, coal or natural gas directly or indirectly to power it, look for an alternative.
In an ideal world we would never turn on a generator and would manage to survive without even the need to burn wood. But that's not going to happen where I live anytime soon.
Perhaps if I could harness solar power, wind power, hydro power and produce enough methane to cover all my power requirements 365 days of the year, I would consider getting rid of my generator and my wood burning stoves.
The best I can do is make every effort to create as small a carbon footprint as possible, so I use the following power sources in my off-grid kitchen:-
- Solar power - I cook with a solar oven outdoors on sunny days, and use the sun to dehydrate fruits and dry herbs etc. (Plus our solar panels feed directly into deep cell storage batteries, so we can also use solar power indirectly in the kitchen.)
- People power - many of my off grid kitchen appliances require a bit of manual effort.
- Fire - in winter I cook on the same wood-burning stove we use to heat our home.
- Electricity - my deep cell solar storage batteries provide electricity to our house, but I don't like to waste electricity in the kitchen.
Plus, sometimes :-
- Generator - In dreadful weather when I turn the generator on to top up the solar storage batteries, I might run a lead directly from the generator to power a rarely used electrical appliance in the kitchen.
- Propane gas - powered the refrigerator before our recent solar battery upgrade (which can now take care of the fridge), and a small LPG bottle is on stand-by near our barbecue.
Cost of Cooking in my Off-Grid Kitchen
Fortunately my efforts to live a green lifestyle result in me saving a lot of money. I love never paying an electricity bill, and the amount of fuel I need to buy for my generator is minimal.
- Most days I receive enough sun on my solar panels to charge my deep cell batteries.
- Wood for the fire is free. Enough trees near my home drop dead branches to make feeding my fire very convenient at no greater cost than a bit of effort and some fuel and oil for the chainsaw. (Plus, by burning the dead wood in my wood-burning stove throughout winter, I reduce the bushfire threat the next summer.)
- My solar oven provides cost-free cooking in the summer.
My Weber barbecue can be cooked with an open lid, like a traditional barbecue ... or with the lid closed, acting more like an oven. It runs on LPG (propane) but because it is only relatively small, it doesn't need much to cook a meal. I rarely use it.
There was initial expense in purchasing off-grid appliances and setting up my off-grid kitchen, but I cook without needing to connect to the mainstream electricity grid every day of the year ... so now I cook for free.
Off grid barbecue
You can still buy manual egg beaters. This type looks a little different to my very old one, but it gets good reviews. :)
Kitchen Appliances Grandmother (or Great-Grandmother) Used
Cooking in modern kitchens requires plugging in an appliance to complete most tasks. Your reliance on electricity must change when you are cooking off the grid!
Try to think like your grandmother, (or your great-grandmother if granny always had a pop-up toaster, electric kettle and microwave.)
If you spend enough money having a large solar system installed, you can still use an electric toaster and a bread-making machine, but most of us living off the grid tend to start small. I plan to continue upgrading my solar system and the amount of power I can store in my deep cell batteries, but I have no intention of upgrading my trusty kitchen implements or appliances.
The best off-grid kitchen appliances do not require electricity to operate them.
- Your grandmother and your great-grandmother used wooden spoons to mix and stir ingredients in a bowl that sat on the bench, or was cupped with one arm while they walked around the kitchen.
- Lemons and oranges were juiced using muscle power, pushing down on a juicer that did not require electricity.
- Cheese was grated on a metal grater.
- Vegetables were chopped with a knife.
I enjoy the earthy, genuine feel that comes with using the same type of simple implements and appliance for off-grid cooking as my grandmother used in the days when she relied more on wood than electricity. It makes me feel far more connected with the food itself and inspires respect for the marvels of nature that make organic foods available to me.
The magnificent mortar and pestle needs no electricity
Big, heavy and made of stone ...
Every kitchen deserves an authentic mortar and pestle. Yes, it takes longer to crush cumin and coriander seeds than an electric grinder, but the process is joyous (and it requires no electric power!) I love to grab the pestle and pound, then swirl it in a circular action around the base of the mortar. Not only is it a fabulous feeling, but it makes an authentic, old-fashioned noise that encapsulates the back-to-basics delights of off-grid living. :)
Mortar and Pestle
If you are going to buy a mortar and pestle, choose one like mine. Big, heavy, and made of stone.
Why? Because you want it to remain sturdy on your benchtop as you crush your basil or your peppercorns.
I don't understand why anyone would choose to buy a light, ceramic mortar and pestle. There's a good chance you'll break the bowl, or send it flying across the kitchen if you get carried away.
An authentic mortar and pestle should never be washed in a sink or dishwashing machine. You can wipe it clean with a damp cloth when you're finished or, if you use it as often as I do, there's no harm in leaving the lovely smell of freshly ground herbs and spices to emanate through the kitchen.
To thoroughly clean it occasionally, I pound and grind uncooked rice; the traditional method of cleaning a stone mortar.
Of course, you're going to lift it to pour the contents into your pot or dish or plate, so don't buy a really big one if you think you won't be able to lift it. Buy a smaller one ... still heavy and made of stone, though. :)
Choose Simple Kitchen Appliances
Electrical appliances that generate heat have no place in your home when you are living off the grid, so forget about an electric oven, kettle and toaster.
During winter it is lovely to keep a kettle filled with water, bubbling on top of the top of a wood burner stove. The steam adds a little humidity to the air, making it nicer and more comfortable than very dry air.
Watch out for a flat-bottomed kettle (stainless steel) with a whistle that can be removed, or no whistle at all. The flat bottom is important so that it can sit on cast iron.
A quick and easy way to boil a small amount of water, or warm some milk, or reheat some soup, is to use the same type of stainless steel jug baristas use when making espresso coffee. They come in various sizes.
Simple to use. Simple to clean. Simple to store. That's what you aim for when selecting appliances and other items for your off-grid kitchen.
In my off grid kitchenClick thumbnail to view full-size
Off Grid Kitchens Need Tables and Benches
People who choose to live off the grid are generally seeking an entire lifestyle change. Many of today's off-gridders are growing their own food and seeking a more healthy, green lifestyle in general.
The photo above shows just one day's harvest of pumpkins and tomatoes on one of my benches. Where would you put fresh produce in your kitchen? Do you have enough tables or benches?
If you like the idea of canning extra fresh fruit and vegetables, would your off-grid kitchen still have room for cleaning, chopping, cooking, bottling, (and leaving the jars or bottles to cool) ... while preparing dinner at the same time?
I love to bake bread. If you are living and cooking off the grid, you really must try baking your own bread. (The photo below shows bread on one of my kitchen's tables.)
Occasionally I will mix enough dough for just one meal; bread or pizza bases. For the most part, however, I create a week's bread at a time. That process requires more benches and tables than you'll find in little kitchens in homes near take-away food stores in the city.
Whether you opt for a walk-in pantry or just make space for lots of extra shelving (bookshelves will do), you can never have too much storage space in an off-grid kitchen.
Bottles of dried herbs and home-made sauces and pickles and jams or jellies will all need a home. You'll need somewhere to store all your lovely organic pumpkins so they are on hand for making delicious pumpkin soup throughout the colder months.
Some foods, like potatoes and carrots, can be left in the ground for on-going harvest if you don't have room to store them indoors, depending on your climate.
My off-grid kitchen has lots of cupboard space but I don't like to waste that valuable space storing pots and pans, graters and cooling racks. Any kitchen items that have holes in them tend to be hanging from meat hooks in my kitchen.
- Meat hooks are short and compact, and great for suspending kitchen items.
- Garden hooks designed for hanging pot plants are also useful in the kitchen.
One wall in my kitchen has an entire line of pots and pans suspended from a rail near the ceiling. I am not very tall, but I can easily reach the bottoms of the pans and lift them from the hooks. Another section of my kitchen has hooks where I hang cooling racks, strainers etc.
Suspended from the ceiling above my kitchen sink is yet another hanging space. When pots and pans are washed, they hang in that area to dry. Any drips fall over the sink area.
For the purpose of illustrating the types of things that can hang in your kitchen instead of taking up valuable flat surface areas, I have grouped a sample of items and photographed them.
Cooking Outdoors in Summer
If you want avoid generating heat inside your home during the hot summer days, a barbecue is a very helpful tool for cooking off-grid.
So is a solar oven!
The off-grid cook's best friend
- My Solar Oven | Cooking with Sunshine
A review of the solar oven I cook with every summer.
- 5 Top Tips for Solar Ovens | Solar Cooking Made Easy
Solar Cooking made easy with 5 top tips for cooking with solar ovens. Which solar ovens can cook on cloudy days? And in the dark! Here's some more of my hints to new owners of solar ovens.
Cooking Indoors in Winter
Generating heat is the fastest way to deplete deep cell batteries, so even if you live off grid with solar power as I do, in winter your oven and stove are likely to be fuelled by either either gas or wood.
I have had beautiful big wood burning ovens in the past but for the past five winters I have simply used the top of a general wood burning fireplace (pictured), a gas oven or a barbecue connected to LPG (propane).
You need to eat, and you need to stay warm. Why fuel a heating source and a cooking source separately?
It makes perfect sense to meet both needs simultaneously. (With a water jacket on the back of your wood-burner stove, you can be heating water at the same time as cooking.)
Get Creative with Appliances and Utensils in your Off-Grid Kitchen
Creative cooking takes on a whole new meaning when the vast majority of your electric powered kitchen appliances become obsolete. Suddenly you begin exploring creative new ways to approach your kitchen and cook up a feast.
I have a hand powered juicer, a pasta press, and a grain mill that don't get used all the time, but make cooking lots of fun. When you are out and about, keep watching for simple kitchen appliances and utensils that will make life easier (and more interesting) when cooking off the grid.
As an example, I have a brilliant little 'roaster' that I spotted one day and bought. I honestly don't know what it is called because I threw the box away long before I thought I'd ever be writing a hub about it!
The photo should help you identify it if you happen to see one. The base has a hole in it and sits flat on the cast iron. A plate is inserted into the base, high enough from the direct heat to prevent the food burning. It has small holes in the circular edge to allow heat to pass through. The top covers the plate and has an air vent
It is large enough to bake all kinds of goodies, and small enough to fit on most standard sized wood burner stoves. When I bought it, the pieces for the handle were in a plastic bag and needed assembly. That was easy.
It is very versatile. If I am in a hurry to get my bread in the oven, I sit the dough in a large stainless steel bowl over the base part. My bowl is large enough to stay clear of the direct heat.
Electrical Appliances for Off-grid Kitchens
You can still use electrical appliances when cooking off the grid, but check the amount of power that your appliance will draw from your deep cell batteries. Don't damage your power system by being lazy in the kitchen.
A small hand-held mixer or a range of manual kitchen appliances can achieve the same results as a large food processor. They don't look as impressive, but they make a great contribution to a greener lifestyle.
I have a mortar and pestle, but I use a small coffee grinder when I want to grind tough herbs like cumin seed or coriander seed. I also use it to mash garlic or ginger when chopping just won't do.
If you really want to use a power-sucking kitchen appliance, connect it to your generator (or your house power to your generator) for the duration.
Save time and money ...
This hand-held blender is very similar to the design I use every daily. Here's why I recommend it to others ...
1) It has a stainless steel blade, but a plastic surround. This is very important if you don't want to scratch your special pots and pans when blending foods directly while they cook.
2) It is simple to use and easy to clean. You don't have to search for its many attachments before using it, and with two speed settings there's no difficult decisions to be made. Faster or slower? Simple.
3) It is cheap. Whichever way you look at it, this product is affordable. You don't have to live in fear of breaking it. Work it hard. If it breaks, you can replace it and learn from the experience.
The cost of two of these products will still work out to be cheaper than one more expensive hand-held blender. lol. You can afford to be brave in the kitchen!
When you live off the grid, you want cooking to be simple.
Storing Cold Food
Of course you need something for cold storage.
I have a refrigerator made for RVs. It is big, the size of a standard electric refrigerator. You can buy smaller versions.
More about how I keep foods cold can be found here ...
- Successfully living off the grid
Getting off the grid can begin with careful choices in solar lights and appliances while still living in your current home. Tips to save money on power and change to a self sufficient lifestyle today.
Biggest Change is Attitude
Cooking off the grid is fun for me. Some things take more time, but very few things take more effort than I made when connected to electricity.
The biggest change I had to make was a change in attitude. Instead of cursing the fact that I had to cook differently, as soon as I viewed cooking off the grid as a challenge and a chance to become more self-sufficient and sustainable, it became a joy.
There are few things nicer in life than spending time in an off-grid kitchen creating healthy and attractive delicacies from your own organic produce. It is remarkably satisfying!
Another off-grid kitchen gemClick thumbnail to view full-size
Start cooking in your off-grid kitchen
More by the same author ...
- Top Tips for Living Off The Grid
Living off the grid can be less stressful and more profitable than the lifestyle you are leaving behind. Here's my top tips to get you started.
- Cheap Organic Gardening Tips
Are you one of those people who spends a lifetime dreaming about becoming an organic gardener, but never actually doing it?
- Growing Organic Vegetables and Herbs
Not only can you see the difference, you can taste the difference.
© 2013 LongTimeMother