Cooking over open fire is like burning money
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Authors Johan Löfström
Location Gävle, Sweden
OKH Manifest Download

People that live in undeveloped areas who have little to no Fuel, Electricity, Water, Food, are often highly creative individuals. They struggle and try to get along with any little means they can find for the day. Some of their smallest ideas - sometimes very simple tricks or methods that can help save water and/or energy - could easily be applied to kitchens with modern electric appliances in developed nations. Even the tiniest percentage of reduction of electricity, gas and water will make a visible change in the monthly/yearly utility bills, and can make your economy and lifestyle slightly better and relaxed.[1] So in order to help you reduce your costs, make you learn, adapt to new, simple habits, this project will help you prepare - in good time before electricity and energy prices and emission taxes will rise even more - with some suggested, simple, easy-to-use methods to help you Cooking much more efficiently.

Goals and purpose of this project[edit | edit source]

Short-term goals[edit | edit source]

  • spreading information about possibilities and simplicity with updated and improved Cooking methods.
  • attempt to create understanding about what we have that others might not have.
  • change minor routines and behavior among people to make them think about their own use and waste.
  • create an understanding that many small, separate amounts of any type of waste in many millions of homes, add up and equal a global landslide.
  • make people realize that any little second of saving electricity will be of help and will result in slightly lower bills from the power- and utility- companies.
  • promoting the Nega-watts-thinking of "A watt saved is a watt earned".

The larger perspective[edit | edit source]

  • inspire many people to feel good about saving so they become eager to try to experiment to find many more energy-saving cooking methods.
  • inspire others to start similar efficiency-projects within other areas of their homes and daily lives.
  • make people notice and reduce wasting and to save more electricity, time, water, and energy.
  • educate people how to shop smarter, cook more at home, and to eat healthier.
  • influence the idea of a small personal change among a growing group of individuals.
  • make people think about solidarity with other living people, and towards people in future generations.
  • reduce the amount of large and expensive appliances that are routinely installed into newly-built homes.

Illustration on how to turn old pot into heat-retentive gasket/collar How to apply gaskets/collars to modern stove

Illustrations on how some people build gaskets/collars to retain heat closest around the cooking pot. This works well over both open fire & modern electric stoves. Do not attempt to use this on a gas stove! Images are meant only as inspiration!

Appliances & Equipment[edit | edit source]

Most advice in this project concerns mostly regular standard electrical equipment that occur frequently in most households. There will be no instructions or suggestions on methods that suggest you to build something or to purchase anything expensive.

Primarily, these methods aim to be as easy/simple to use as possible, so that anyone can understand them and turn them into a habit to use year around. Secondly, because some individuals could get inspiration from these efficient methods, and possibly discover other simple and clever methods in different areas around the house that are a source of waste of electricity, water, paper, time or something else. The illustrative sketch above is only meant as an inspiration from undeveloped regions, on how people try to preserve the heat where it is needed, and not let it slip away into thin air.

Every modern home has some standard appliances like a fridge/freezer and an oven/stove with 3-4 hotplates on top.[2] This article will show a few descriptive methods that you can try and experiment with, but be careful and try to stay safe at all times.

A microwave-oven and electric water kettle are very useful to heat and boil small amounts of food or water quickly. You could even benefit from having 2 different size kettles, one for occasions when you just want to have one or two cups of tea or instant coffee, and another bigger one for boiling larger amounts of water. The time needed and electricity used/wasted to boil water in a kettle or a saucepan depends very much on the ratio between how much water to air is inside the kettle/vessel.

Retained heat cooking - all you need is a towel![edit | edit source]

See Towel cooking - it is extremely easy. Wrapping a pot in a big towel while it's hot is enough; putting the cooking vessel inside a cardboard or Styrofoam box is little a bit better. An insulated box is better again (but needs a little bit of work to set up).

Ensure food is cooked properly - especially foods such as chick peas and kidney beans which should be boiled for about 30-40 minutes to be safe to eat. Many other simpler foods such as oatmeal or vegetables can simply be brought to a boil and then you can turn the heat off immediately.The pot will continue to cook, whilst it is wrapped with a towel or placed in the retained heat cooker.

Never boil more water than your current needs![edit | edit source]

However, if you have got a clean and empty thermos flask, you could fill it up with that extra hot water and the thermos can keep it hot for several hours. If you normally would drink a cup of instant coffee a while later after your meal, you would not need to boil any new water for that. (if you have some hot water saved in the thermos flask)

Never save and reuse water that you have boiled any type of food in! It can be hazardous and unhealthy.

See some more electricity saving advice in Electric appliances

You will need two to three different sized sauce pans/pots with lids. The lid should always fit as tight as possible on top to avoid heat and steam leaking out and being wasted. Always use as small a pan/pot as possible for your cooking needs. A small amount of water and large amount of air under the lid will be inefficient. Exactly the same as explained above with the kettle. Make sure you cover the item you intend to cook with water, but not with excessive amounts of water.

One or two different sized frying pans is also good to have. Some large frying pans come with lids, which can come in handy in other cooking, even if you normally use a frying pan for cooking stuff that doesn't need a lid, You could hold a lid in one hand as a shield, for example: if you are frying bacon or pouring out hot water in the sink. This helps protect your clothes from becoming stained.[3]

Use only pans that are perfectly flat bottomed and thick bottomed. You want as tight a contact as possible between the bottom of the pan and the surface of the hotplate/burner. This results in reducing the time needed to heat it up, shorter cooking times, and less wasted heat.The combined mass of the hotplate and the bottom of the pan retain larger amounts of heat, so you could normally turn off the plate completely at least 2-4 minutes before your cooking is done.[4]

Always match the size of the pan to the size of the hotplate. If you can see any part of the hotplate outside the edges of the pan: you will waste a lot of heat and possibly burn your hands on the handle. If you use a much larger pan than the hotplate, you will only get efficient heat in the middle of the pan and slightly less around the edges, which means slightly longer cooking times. Some large, cheap models of frying pans can get their bottom warped/curved after a while, so if it stands and jiggles slightly on the hot plate: stop using it for cooking. This leads to wasting a lot of heat and money in the empty gaps and poor contact surface.

Maintenance[edit | edit source]

Try to keep all your appliances clean, both outside and inside. You are more likely to cook at home regularly if they look clean and fresh to use. The equipment will get a slightly longer life-span and you will not need to replace them as often. You will probably also not go out to eat in restaurants as often, if you enjoy cooking at home. So you will save money!

For more advice on easy ways to save electricity, see Electric appliances

Cooking methods explained[edit | edit source]

Here you will be able to find some examples on food preparation that you can study and try to use, to learn about some updated, improved, smarter and energy saving cooking methods that is similar to Towel cooking. Below are a few recipe examples. Try to apply these simple techniques and this knowledge in your kitchen. Try to make a habit out of using them regularly. They are simple to use all the time, and prevent you from going back to your old inefficient methods.

Try to make a personal "food and eating inventory", or journal over a trial period of 2-3 weeks, or 1-2 months, so you can see more clearly how often you defrost and cook frozen food, what types of carbohydrates you eat and how often (potatoes, pasta, rice and so on), how often you consume meat and so on. No one will want to force you to stop eating what you like to eat. No one will force you into becoming vegetarian or vegan, But it is wise to sometimes make an inventory to make it more clear to yourself about what you eat, in the same way as you can make an economic or financial budget, to list everything in a simpler way of what types of food, how often and how expensive it is that you consume. You will also be able to calculate the result you get from your normal daily methods.

Try to think of it all as an inventory over cooking-time and cleaning-up-time too. Try to analyse your cooking methods and try to make your other recipes a little more time- and cost-efficient. Also please feel free to contribute to this article if you come up with something, if that method or recipe is: easy to use and will save either cooking time, electricity, water, or cleaning-up-time (and will require no custom-built, special or modified equipment)

A good rule of thumb of energy-efficient cooking is to choose fresh ingredients in the shop. They will require the least amount of preparation and cooking time compared to frozen food and ready-made-dinners.

Changing gradually[edit | edit source]

Perhaps you can immediately pick one or two days per month where you replace your most time- and energy-consuming food with another type of similar food that is slightly faster to prepare and will cost less to buy and lowers your use of electricity. You can maybe take one or two days per week where you replace your typical source of carbohydrate that demands the longest cooking time and try another kind. Great examples of smart and fast-prepared carbohydrates are cous-cous and bulgur and they are explained in the recipe section below.

You can try to start slowly. After you've gotten used to some of these ways of thinking, shopping, cooking, and living, you can gradually increase the number of days per month you change your diet. Positive side effects of this are that if you, for instance, cut back to eating boiled or oven-fried potatoes only once or twice per week, you will enjoy the taste of them much more when you eat them the next time after a short or long hiatus. After those initial experiments you can, perhaps, pick one or two days per month to change your meat/beef into another type of meat like chicken, turkey, pork, or fish. You can also change a "poultry-day" and turn it into a salad day.

When you notice that these small alterations are starting to reduce your electric bill and grocery bills, you will probably be interested in increasing the number of days that you cook and eat more efficiently. Hopefully anyone can change gradually into only 3-4 "meat-eating-days" per week. There is a very high correlation between cooking-time, energy-use, and healthier food. If you slightly reduce your food costs on weekdays, with just one or a few percent over the course of several months, you will easily be able to afford a little bit bigger festive meals on special occasions such as holidays. (For instance a little bit bigger birthday-cakes, thanksgiving-turkey, Christmas dinner or any anniversary dinners)

Recipes[edit | edit source]

Eggs, boiled[edit | edit source]

When you boil eggs, think about how many eggs you want right away, and how many you might want for the next two days. Boiled eggs will keep fresh in any normal fridge for at least 2-3 days (if the shell is not cracked or broken). So boil a couple of extra eggs each time, which wont be any extra energy used. In fact it will keep you from having to boil eggs every day. This could reduce your energy use for boiling eggs by up to 50%. And every other day you have got a ready-boiled egg in just the few seconds it takes you to open the fridge door. Think of it as instant eggs!

To Boil, start with pouring fresh cold water in your electric kettle and start it. Remember to use the exact amount of water needed for anything you will boil. Filling a kettle or pan with any extra cold water will only make the cooking time longer and waste more electricity.

Pick out a good sized saucepan that will fit the number of eggs you want to cook in one layer It should have a tight fitting and undamaged lid. Do not fill ice cold water in this pan, because you will only cool down the metal bottom and sides. Place your eggs gently in the pan, and pour a little bit of tap water in the bottom. Place the pan on a burner/hotplate that is the same size as the bottom of the pan and turn on maximum heat when the water in the kettle is boiling.

Take the kettle and slowly pour the hot water carefully into the pan with the eggs. Sometimes it can be useful to tilt the saucepan slightly towards you, so that the eggs will roll to your side and you can pour the hot water at the other side of the pan because pouring hot water on cool eggshells can crack or break them.

Place the lid on the pot! Start a timer! Always use a timer when cooking, it will prevent you from guessing and estimating the time. This guessing often misleads you to cooking 2-3 extra minutes "just to be safe", and that is always unnecessary!

Gradually lower the heat on the plate one notch at a time to keep an even boil. It should never need to boil too hard or bubble too violently. If you have turned it down a bit too much, and the boiling reduces and slows down to a stop, you could turn it up one notch for a minute or two, to get it to start bubbling evenly again.

There is a lot of heat getting built up and stored in the combined mass of the hotplate and the bottom of the pan if the contact between them is as flat and tight as possible. So you can turn off the stove at least 2-3 minutes before your eggs are ready![5]

Eggs, Microwaved[edit | edit source]

If you are just boiling one or two eggs each time, you can even further improve efficiency by learning how to microwave them. You can use a coffee cup or similar device.There is even a product available in some shops, that is egg shaped, wherein it is meant to place your egg, and cook it in microwave. Because of its design, you will prevent explosions within the microwave oven, due to too high heat or too fast cooking of the egg.

You will have to learn and practice your way to get an appropriately cooked egg, in as short time as possible, depending on the effect and strength of the model of your microwave.

Begin by cracking an egg into a cup, remove all shell. add a little pinch of salt, and use a fork or spoon to crack the yolk slightly. (you can stir around a little to get more of a scrambled egg consistency of the finished product)

Place the cup inside the microwave and turn it on full power for 10 seconds. leave it to rest for 10 seconds. It can be very hot. Then take it out carefully to check. (You can stir around a little again with the fork or spoon, for the scrambled egg result). Then place the cup once again in the oven to reheat for 10 more seconds on full power. Repeat until desired hardness. Stop the oven immediately if you hear any sputtering sounds, to prevent you from having to clean the entire inside of the ovens walls. Too much microwave will result in big egg explosions. It will become very hot!

With the next egg you cook, you will probably be able to decrease the cooking time with a few seconds on the first and second heating session. Continue practicing until you received the most appropriately cooked egg.

with my microwave it takes 2 sessions of 25 seconds each @ 1280W, approximate electricity use roughly is 1 cent per egg, not including the cost for the microwave. All i have to clean is one cup and one spoon, no pots or pans to wash up. So a big save of hot water and detergent also.

Oatmeal porridge[edit | edit source]

Oats are a great source of carbohydrates, energy, and some nutrients in the morning. It is traditionally quite fast to prepare. Normally there are recipes and instructions on the bag or box of oats, which recommend you to boil in a saucepan on the stove for 3-8 minutes! (that is really bad advice!) Here is a method that will eliminate the need to wash and clean the pan. This recipe will make you boil your oats completely with the use of an electric kettle, and directly in the dish or bowl that you will eat it from.

Boil 2-3 cups of water in the electric kettle. (if you will need hot water for boiling eggs or a cup of tea or instant coffe, boil that amount of water at the same time)

Take a ceramic deep dish or soup-plate that will contain at least one large serving of porridge. Place it onto a hotplate, without turning on the stove! Find a pot lid that fits nice and tight over the rim of the dish.

Pour 1 cup of Rolled oats[6] or Oatmeal[7] (or up to 2 cups if you are hungry) in the dish/plate, add a pinch of salt.

Pour the boiling water from the kettle onto the oats. You need little more than one cup of water for each cup of oats. Cover the bowl quickly with the lid! You can really use anything clean and flat to cover it with, as long as it fits above the rim of the dish and retains most of the steam, but not becoming moist and soggy so it collapses down and touches your food, when the steam cooks inside.

After 2-3 minutes you lift the lid. It might drop some condensed water from the lid, so keep holding it above the porridge bowl to avoid a mess. Stir around a little with a spoon in the porridge and quickly put the lid back on top! Wait for 2-3 more minutes and it should be ready to eat. Put your favorite toppings on it and eat![8]

Some examples of very tasty and healthy toppings are grated/shredded coconut, cinnamon powder, applesauce, crushed hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, or dehydrated fruits like apricots or raisins. Experiment and mix! If you can come up with plenty of versions, you will never get bored with your efficient oats in the morning.

After you have eaten your oats pour cool water onto the dish and leave it standing with some water to dissolve all residue. This will be very easy to wash up later, and will not require much detergents or work.

Cous-cous & Bulgur[edit | edit source]

Bulgur bag
Bulgur bag

These are two types of processed wheat, popular in middle-eastern and northern African cuisine. They are available in packages of different fine/large grains, and they are a healthy and energy efficient source of carbohydrates. The cooking times needed are extremely short, and a perfect substitute for any type of carbohydrates that require a long cooking time. There can be a slight difference with some different manufacturer types and grain size of the couscous and bulgur, but this is a general explanation of how to prepare them. You will have perfected the method and the exact amount of water needed after only 3-4 times of trying it.

Boil water in the electric kettle. You will need 2 cups of hot water for every cup of raw couscous you want to make.

Place a glass bowl, large ceramic deep dish or soup-plate onto a hotplate without turning it on! (make sure that the bowl is recommended for use in a microwave-oven and similar)

Pour one cup of couscous or bulgur per person into the bowl, then add one pinch of salt per serving. Pour the hot water into the bowl, two cups of water per cup of raw couscous. Cover the bowl with a lid (and/or a towel). It should be air tight, wrapping any textile towel around the rim of the bowl helps

retain the heat. See also Towel cooking

Leave the bowl on the hotplate for 2-3 minutes, it will cook/steam evenly without any use of electricity from the oven. Remove the lid, stir around in it little with a fork and sprinkle in your choice of spices and/or some olive oil or salad oil and then quickly put the lid back on. For 2-3 more minutes cooking/steaming. Bulgur takes sometimes one or two extra minutes to become ready.

When all the water, steam and oil is soaked up, it is ready. Stir around in it little more, place the bowl on the dining table, remove the lid at the last minute. Tasty examples on spice combinations and recipes for different warm or cold couscous-salads will appear here later

Mashed potatoes (potato-mash)[edit | edit source]

For some food you really must think first, before you proclaim it as energy-efficient. For instance a factory that makes powdered instant-mash out of potatoes, must use electricity. In some aspects it is slightly more efficient to do so (as opposed to you cooking your potatoes and then mashing them) because of large-scale-production and possibilities to reduce some transports (because the weight of the water, humidity is drained from the potatoes in this process). But you should never automatically say it is smarter food, just because you save electricity when you prepare it at home. In each product you need to examine the whole production and consumtion cycle before you can make that judgement. The efficiency and "cost" can be offset somewhere else. See Life cycle analysis

But speaking generally, you could prepare mashed potatoes energyefficient with the method of Towel cooking or in exactly the same way as described above with the Cous-cous.

Boil water in a kettle. Place a bowl on a thick piece of wood or on a cook-range on your electric stove. Prepare a lid and a towel to cover and wrap around the bowl. Measure and pour the amount of water into the bowl, measure the powdered mash and pour into the hot water while whisking for a few seconds to get rid of lumps.

Cover with the lid and wrap the towel around the bowl. Let it sit for a minute or two. Remove the lid and whisk some more. Add some spices of your choice: a pinch of salt, black pepper (Cumin, basil, oregano, Curry, Chili. Lots of options here to pick and choose from)

Cover again with the lid and wrap the towel around it again. Let it sit for another minute. When you are going to serve, check that the mash is mixed enough, the proper thickness, and warm enough all the way through. If it is too loose, you can add an extra pinch of the powdered mash, a knob of butter, and a few drops of milk. Stir to mix it up. If the mash has cooled down too much, put it in a microwave on low heat for 10-20 seconds and stir around again before serving.

Beware: Certain different types of powdered mash demands you to be extremely precise when you measure the water to powder ratio. One tip is to take out some milk and butter in advance from the fridge, so it is room-temperature, so when you whisk the powder in the hot water, you will not cool it down unnecessarily with cold milk or cold butter to make it thicken.

Vegetables[edit | edit source]

There are many beneficial aspects to eating vegetables. There is the health reason along with the carbon footprint compared to other food staples such as meat. There is also the way many types of fruit, vegetables, and legumes require much less cooking to prepare. If people choose a little bit wiser, the reduction in energy and food miles can be reduced a lot, by just taking a couple more percent of "smart vegetables" and reduce a couple of percent on meat and potatoes.


Broccoli is a great example. It is both extremely nutritious as it is packed with elements that are great for our bodies, and it is extremely easy to cook without much energy or water. If you have read the recipe for couscous or porridge above, you can use similar a method to steam-boil your Broccoli. There are some people that boil the heck out of broccoli, until it looks like cauliflower - they destroy a large part of the nutrients, and pour it out along with much of the taste with the water. A good measure of properly cooked broccoli should be its deep green color, and it should still have a little bit of crunch.

Tips & Tricks to save electricity[edit | edit source]

Refrigerators & Deep freezers are appliances that consume a large share of the total electricity cost in private homes. You rely on them to keep your food cold and they are on 24 hours per day, every day of the year. It is expensive to replace them and purchase the newest energy-efficient models.

Every time you open the door of your fridge or freezer you will release some cool air into the room, and make the fridge/freezer a little bit warmer inside. It's compressor will need to start working to cool it back down again. So avoid keeping the door open!

If you are applying advice in this article and changing your eating habits slightly so you primarily shop and eat fresh products and tinned goods, the need for having a freezer is gradually reduced. Some people can even get to the point where they can empty the freezer completely, turn it off, and get to use that free space for storing pans and other kitchen utensils. Next time you need to buy a new fridge/freezer you can reduce your size needs of the interior volume of the freezer.

For many more electricity saving advice in your kitchen see Electric appliances

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. There can be some people in industrialized nations in the north and west that sometimes seem to be taking for granted that the energy, electricity, water and food is relatively abundant, available, cheap and affordable to waste. As the prices on oil, diesel and gasoline rises, so will most likely the price on coal and electricity, and possibly the tax and fees for the utility companies and their emissions.
  2. If you have a gas stove, some methods in this article will not apply to your hotplates. Instead see Towel cooking, or consider buying a big flat stone or piece of metal that is equal in size to the bottom of your pan.
  3. All methods that slightly reduce the need to wash clothes is also helping you save money on electric and water bills.
  4. Unless you are going to cook something else on that hotplate immediately afterwards.
  5. That means for those that prefer 6-7-minute-eggs, the total time you use electricity on the stove is only 3-4 minutes + the 20-40 seconds it took to pre-boil the water in the kettle.
  8. If the oats are not cooked entirely you can add a spoonful of water, stir around and put the lid back on for an extra minute on the hotplate. if you are now in a hurry you can add a spoonful of water, stir around and place the dish in the microwave and cook on low to medium setting for 5-15 seconds.

Further information, description and discussion, concerning how and why this project was started, and what areas it will be limited to and why, see: Talk:Updated cooking methods in modern kitchens

See Also[edit | edit source]

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