DIY Slow Cooker With No Fuel or Sun

Dry beans make nutritious, economical meals and store easily for emergencies, but use lots of fuel, taking up to two or three hours to cook

We have learned a very simple idea that greatly reduces the energy (fuel) needed to cook. Stoves take lots of electricity, gas, or wood, depending on what kind you use. What if you could cut your fuel or electricity usage for cooking by 50-70% using items you already have on hand? An added bonus with this idea is you will never burn anything!

There are several names for this age-old method of conserving energy, including haybox, wonderbox, or heat-retention cooking. It is so simple and only takes a minute or two and a little planning ahead.

First bring the pot of food to a boil or to the temperature it needs to be until all of the contents are thoroughly heated, depending on the size and density of the food particles. Then remove the pot from the heat and place it into a well insulated container to keep the heat inside the pot. This utilizes heat already in the pot to finish cooking without continual energy usage. It may take up to twice as long to cook this way, but it cuts energy consumption way down.

You can purchase a Wonderbox or find a pattern to make one, but when you live in a small house like we do you don’t want extra things using precious space. For our method you need the following:

  1. Laundry basket
  2. Bath towel (optional)
  3. 3-4 blankets

Let’s use a pot of brown rice as an example. I place the pot of rice and water on the stove and add spices while bringing it to a boil. I allow it to boil two or three minutes while I assemble a basket “slow cooker,” placing a big blanket in the bottom and partly up the sides of a laundry basket.

I stir the rice, place the lid on, make sure it’s still boiling, then lower it into the basket. If the contents could seep out of the pot I use a bath towel around it to avoid washing blankets. I fit a medium sized blanket snuggly over the pot and tuck the corners inside the big blanket . Then I place one or two other blankets on top, since heat will most likely escape there if it can.

Then I set the basket aside out of traffic for about 1 ½ hrs. When we’re ready for dinner we pull it out and serve with whatever topping we prepared.

Line the basket with one large blanket and place the pot into it

Tuck another blanket or two snuggly around the sides and over the top

Finish with a good thick blanket on top

For our family we cook three or four cups of dry brown rice at a time (in a three or four quart pot). Normally it takes about 12 minutes to bring a big pot of brown rice to a boil and simmer for a few minutes, then 40 more minutes of simmering on the stove top. That is a total of around 52 minutes of stovetop cooking. Using the basket cooker method I cut stovetop cooking down by 77%, completely cutting out that 40 minutes of simmering.

It takes between one to two times longer cooking this way, which should be calculated in advance, but timing is not nearly as critical as when using the stove.

We are not big meat eaters, but I know others have cooked meat successfully (smaller pieces) if heated thoroughly before placing it in the basket cooker. Dry beans, stews, lentils, pasta and potatoes can be successfully cooked in this way. Boil bigger particles a bit longer before removing from the stove to make sure they are hot all the way through. More specific information can be found here.

Every Sunday our house church has a potluck, so our food must stay hot for several hours, waiting to be served after church. We used to keep it warm in an electric crockpot or on a warmer. Now we just pack it in our basket cooker, and it’s ready to serve hot at lunch time. It can finish cooking during the service, or we allow a completely cooked dish to cool to serving temperature and place it in the cooker just to keep it hot. If someone asks about bringing laundry to church, we smile and pull out the pot.  🙂

The best dry beans I’ve ever made were cooked using our basket cooker. I used to soak my pinto beans overnight, drain the water in the morning (to “de-gas” them), then add fresh water and cook them for 1 ½ to two hours before adding the final ingredients and simmering for another 20 minutes. I would let them set for at least eight hours for the flavors to mingle well before reheating and serving.

Recently I tried using the basket cooker with great results. I soaked the beans all day, drained them and added fresh water in the evening (along with garlic, olive oil and salt) and brought them to a boil for several minutes right before bedtime. I placed them in the basket overnight and when I got up in the morning they were absolutely perfect!! I added the final ingredients (vinegar, honey, cummin, and onions) and barely brought it to a boil before placing it back in the basket. It “simmered” in there all day, and that evening was ready to serve. It was so easy, and the beans were very tender and flavorful, with no mushiness. I was sorry I hadn’t tried it before.

Our homemade windshield shade cooker

It is wise to be familiar with this cooking method for emergency situations with limited fuel. It allows a little fuel go a long way, making it possible to store whole foods for a crisis which may need longer cooking times. Your back-up cooking plan may include a camp stove of some kind, a solar cooker, or an open fire. Either way, being able to use a “slow cooker” with no fuel will be helpful.

Many variations of this cooker can be made, so use your imagination and make use of what is readily available. Any tub, basket, crate, box or even a hole in the ground will do for a container, and the insulating material could be a sleeping bag, pillows, towels, jackets, hay or other materials that won’t melt or emit toxic fumes. Use common sense with flammable materials. The possibilities are endless, but the key is to make it thick enough with no way for the heat to escape. If you like to sew, here is a pattern for a Wonder Box.

Sometimes we practice the valuable skill of learning to cook over an open fire (I've still got lots to learn about it!)

How To Prepare A Family Emergency Food Storage Plan

If you find this idea helpful, you will find more ideas for preparing food to store and cook efficiently for your everyday use or emergency purposes in How to Prepare a Family Emergency Food Storage Plan: Giving the Frugal Family Confidence to Survive in the Face of a Crisis. Silver Oak and I wrote this eBook after years of practicing a rotating emergency food storage system for our family. Our budget has not allowed us to purchase expensive emergency foods, and we believe it’s healthier and more efficient for stored emergency food to consist mostly of what we normally eat. We live in hot, muggy, buggy Florida, and with our methods have rarely needed dessicants, Mylar, or other such supplies.

How to Prepare a Family Emergency Food Storage Plan spells out our entire plan with many alternatives to fit your family’s needs. The price is currently discounted by 33% for a limited time.

God bless you with wisdom to live prepared.

Growing Tropical Trees in a Not So Tropical Zone

Blessings,SLT Featured Post Badge

41 thoughts on “DIY Slow Cooker With No Fuel or Sun

  1. You need to try a rocket stove. I love ours and we use it as often as possible. There are a lot of videos on Youtube regarding them. We found building one out of bricks was the easiest and cost effective way to go. Plus we already had the bricks.


    • Yes, that’s a great idea! I have the plans for one and now the fire bricks as well…just haven’t gotten around to making it yet! Do you have pictures of yours on your blog? I’ll have to check it out. Thanks!


  2. Not only fuel saving,but space saving too: put an wrapped up pot in your bed! That’s an old trick used in Holland. People went to church and found their meal ready when they came home.


  3. Thank you for this post! I have a friend who spent two years in Tanzania and she told me they used something similar to this to cook dinner while they were away in the fields. They used dry grass (if I remembe correctly) for the insulating material, but I like blankets and towels. I wrapped my crock pot in towels (after un plugging it) to make yogurt. I’ll have to try this with my next pot of beans.


  4. I was wondering about a solar sheild…or thermal insulated blanket. I have a roll of that, I purchased a couple of years ago for another project…but I bet this works great to cook internally with no outside heat source (or limited heat source if conserving) Thanks for showing this today. I found quite informative!



  5. We live in a typical townhouse in a city and I’ve used this method for sealing my canned tomatoes. My mother-in-law taught me this years ago. We air condition our house in the summer and I’ve always hated to use the stove in conjunction with the air!! So I’m going going to use this for sure when the weather gets hot!! Thank you very much:)


  6. I learned something like this while spending 30+ years in Alaska… The old time minors would dig a hole in the ground, build a fire in it and when the wood turned into hot coals they set their pot of beans,moose stew etc in the hole, cover it with the dirt from the hole and after sluicing all day their dinner was ready when their day ended !!


  7. I love this so much. I’ve been quietly investigating solar cooking for a while, but this seems more predictable (and you don’t have to have sun). I love the common sense of it. I practiced the same thing with pasta when in college, but because of the short cooking time, I didn’t even need the box, just to let it boil for a minute and then turn off the heat and add a few minutes to the cooking time. Just plain sensible. Especially if you work in or from the home anyway. Thanks for sharing!


  8. Rose Petal that is so clever! What a way to save precious energy…..isn’t it amazing when we are patient and plan well how much we can accomplish but what I mostly love about the way you do it is that you are using stuff you already have around the house and just repurposing their use temporarily. Thanks so much for linking up to The Ole’ Saturday Homesteading Trading Post I know I have not had it up for a little bit I am so glad you linked up and I love reading your posts 🙂


  9. We’re trying to cut our electric usage. We heat with a wood stove and always have a 4 gal pot on with water. (And often a pot of soup!) After reading your post I decided to try a modified version so today I used the electric stove to start the brown rice and then moved it to the wood stove (as it’s not always hot enough to start the cooking process) and it turned out great. Thanks for the idea. This will be great in the summer also when we try to keep the heat down in the house.


    • That is a great idea, using your wood stove like that! I love our new little fireplace, but greatly regret that it doesn’t have a place to set a pot. We got it free, so can’t complain about that, and here in FL we will ony use it regularly several months every year, but I still wish it had a place to keep a pot warm.

      It should work well for keeping heat out of your house this summer. Thanks for sharing.


  10. You also can use an ice chest/cooler (like you use on a picnic for iced drinks and sandwiches) in the same way. It will keep food hot for a long time. I usually wrap the dish or pot in a towel to protect the inside of the ice chest from the hot dish – wouldn’t want to melt it!
    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. You certainly have inspired me to be more diligent about being prepared for whatever should come our way.


  11. Several years ago I made pouches of muslin and filled them with goose down from a comforter, then I knitted two wool circles, large enough to fit over my large cast iron dutch oven, I stitched the pouches together in a dome shape by placing the top ones flat and then stitching the side pouches together around the top circle of pouches I then put them inbetween the circles of knitted wool covering the dome of pouches, I then knitted tthe edges together. I place this over any pot or dutch oven and it keeps it hot for hours. I loved it so much I have made several in different sizes.

    We also dug an under ground oven that we stack our cast iron dutch ovens (with charcoal on each lid) to cook a complete meal all day or ovenight. We measured our three dutch ovens for height and then width, dug a hole for the size adding a foot at the top and 6 inches on each side. We then lined the sides of the hole with roofing flashing and placed river rocks at the bottom. We use charcoal and some kindling on top the rocks with hot coal topping each lids. Yum yum…one pot is meat the other potatoes/vegies the third a bread or potatoes.


    • Thank you so much for sharing this. It sounds so creative! I would love to see pictures of the covering you made if you care to share. The underground oven sounds so interesting as well! What do you use for a lid?


      • We took a piece of plywood and cut a circle larger than the opening and covered it with roofing flashing then painted it black on the top side, but when cooking we do not completely cover, we slant it slightly with a small opening for the coals to have abit of oxygen to help them stay lit.
        I will try to take a picture of my pot topper for you. I love your slow cooking idea to save energy, I have always used mine to keep my food or tea hot but I will now use it to slow cook too. Thanks for sharing this.


      • Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve done cooking in the ground before, but it was labor intensive to dig the hole, and then we had to replace the dirt when we were done so it wouldn’t be a hazard. But you have described a way to do it permantly and safely. Now I’m imagining where a ground oven could be located…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s