Chuck Wagon Cooking: When the Power Goes Out

Cooking without electricity for an extended period (months) is not the type of cooking many of us have ever experienced. Of course, we cook over open fires when camping overnight or when the electricity is out for a few days, but when the power is out for weeks or months and the propane bottles run empty cooking becomes much more difficult.

Making Coffee

We need to keep our priorities straight here so coffee first the old-fashioned way.

Coffee is brewed using a handful of grounds to one cup of water. You would grind your own beans using a hand grinder. Whole unroasted (green) beans would be the best way for Preppers to store large amounts of coffee.

This is easy to make, but difficult to perfect so experiment some. To make, you simply put the grounds in the water and boil. You can add eggshells to help settle the grounds, and in some cases, a splash of cold water added just before pouring will help settle the grounds as well. A dash of salt will help with bitterness. If you don’t want to deal with having grounds in your coffee you can also use a stainless steel coffee percolator.

Green coffee beans can be roasted in a skillet over a campfire. You simply roast until brown, but it requires patience and you cannot walk away to gather firewood while the beans roast.

There are several stages to the roasting process and you can ruin the beans if you let them roast too long. The beans will turn yellow, and then crack to emit steam in the first stage, and once the beans turn brown you can stop if you want, or continue on to create a darker roast. It all depends on your taste.

If you leave the beans roasting, you will hear another crack (second stage) and the beans may begin to act like popcorn because the heat is rapidly evaporating the moisture from the beans causing them to bounce.

Less moisture means a darker roast, but you do not want to burn the oils and sugars in the beans, so for your first time, it is better to stop after the first stage, then grind a handful, and see how it tastes. As you gain more experience you can advance the roasting process to make a very dark roast.

Next Is Fried Bread:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 Tb sugar
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 1/2-4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • Vegetable oil

Heat the milk until warm (115° F), and be careful you do not scald the milk.

Then pour into a large bowl and add the yeast and sugar. Then stir in beaten eggs and salt. Slowly mix in the flour until mixture forms smooth and elastic dough.

Cover with a damp cloth and allow the dough to rise until it doubles in size. Sprinkle flour over your work surface. Divide the dough into 10 or 12 pieces roughly the size of a lemon. Flatten into discs. Leave the dough to rise for another 10 minutes.

Heat oil to 350 degrees in a deep fryer, large pot, or skillet and then fry dough discs one or two at a time for three to five minutes, and turn once to make sure both sides fry evenly (Legends Of America, 2016).

Making Venison or Beef Jerky

Jerky is not just survival food because it can be used either as a main meal or as the basis for other recipes like stews and protein broths. The word jerky is derived from the method in which the meat is removed from the bones. It was jerked away quickly to leave behind much of the sinew.

Three pounds of fresh meat equals about 1 pound of jerky.

 Method One: 

Hang the strips of meat on racks made of willow to dry in the sun and/or in the smoke of the campfire. Smoke will help repel bacteria and insects. It can take days to dry the meat sufficiently.

Before refrigeration and vacuum sealing, the meat was dried until extremely hard, so hard, in fact, it could not be chewed easily, if at all. It was often soaked in warm/hot water to create a broth or pieces were shaved off and left in the mouth to soften before chewing. It had to be hard to last for months out of refrigeration.

Method Two

Rub the strips of meat with dry salt and then place in a stone crock (today it’s called Earthenware or stoneware) for 24 hours. The salt will pull the moisture out of the meat. Do not add liquids while the meat cures. Remove the strips and hang in the sun or smokehouse to dry until nearly brittle (Legends Of America, 2016).

 Pantry Essentials for Chuck Wagon Cooking

  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Vinegar
  • Potatoes
  • Salt, Pepper
  • Beans and Onions

Legends Of America. (2016). Retrieved 2016, from