Alcohol Stoves for post-SHTF Cooking

I’m looking into the use of small portable alcohol stoves, of the type used for camping and hiking, to cook food in any type of post-disaster scenario. First, I did quite a bit of reading online about these stoves. Then, I watched a seemingly endless series of YouTube videos of homemade alcohol stoves, many of which are quite clever in design. Most of these stoves are made from cans or from metal bottles. Although some designs are impressively complex, they are generally within the capability of someone who is handy with tools.

I’m not — so I promptly ordered two different alcohol stove designs from an online source: Batch Stovez. I chose the Batch Stovez 2.0 Kit and the BS 1.1 Adjustable flame stove. But the purpose of this article is not so much to evaluate these particular stoves, as to evaluate the suitability of portable alcohol stoves in general for survival or emergency purposes.

The advantages of this type of stoves are several:

1. inexpensive to purchase
2. can also be made from inexpensive items
3. light weight and portable
4. use inexpensive widely available fuel
5. the fire is generally smokeless (unlike campfire cooking)

Given these advantages, it would be prudent to have a couple of these types of stoves, and some of the fuel (methyl, ethyl, or isopropyl alcohol) for use in case of necessity.

However, there are also several disadvantages. These are small stoves that cannot heat a large quantity of water. The typical review of these stoves will say how quickly they can bring 2 cups of water to a boil. That is not enough water (for soup, pasta, etc.) to feed a family. These are designed as one or two person camping stoves. The stoves are not designed to support a large pan or pot over the fire. This is because the stoves are intended to be as light as possible for camping and hiking.

Related article: Post-SHTF Cooking Options

The alcohol stoves burn well, once they get going. I tried methyl alcohol as well as isopropyl alcohol. Both were hard to light and to keep lit. Another problem is that the stoves are susceptible to wind, which either blows out the stove, or fans the flames making it much hotter than you might want. There is no fine control of the amount of heat for these stoves. Although the BS 1.1 model has a function whereby you can decrease the airflow, so as to turn down the flame, this offers limited control over the flame and heat.

I used the BS 1.1 stove (silver stove with pot-stand prongs above) to heat a small pot of water to the boiling point. This could be used to pasteurize water, or to cook food such as couscous, ramen, mac and cheese, instant rice, etc.

I used the BS 2.0 stove (blue stove with flames coming out of the sides) to fry a chicken breast in oil, that I had already cooked at low temperatures in my solar oven. The low-temp solar cooking leaves the chicken tender and cooked through, but in need of searing in a pan for a browned exterior. The problem with the stove was that the temperature was very hot. I had to repeatedly take the pan away from the stove, and then return it when it needed more heat. Also, there is no way to turn off this type of stove. You just wait until it burns up all its fuel.

The fuel content of these two stoves is in agreement with their model numbers, one ounce and two ounces, respectively. The stoves only burn for about ten minutes. This is not long enough to cook a meal for an entire family. They burn hot and fast. I don’t think that this is a design flaw. It is simply how this type of stove is designed. Useful, but not what I’m looking for.

I don’t need the stove to be small and portable, since I want it for SHTF home use, not for camping. I’d like a stove that holds more fuel, cooks for a longer period of time, has a control to reduce the flame and heat, doesn’t wrap its flames up around the side of the pan, and has a sturdy stand that can accommodate full-size cooking pots. I’ll be looking into homemade stove designs that might meet these criteria. More on this topic in future posts.

– Thoreau

4 Responses to Alcohol Stoves for post-SHTF Cooking

  1. I wonder if you could make a much larger version of these stoves for cooking actual meals? I’m not much of a handyman either so I would need to leave this to someone more talented than myself lest I blow myself up!

  2. You have to keep in mind that you are working with alcohol, which is quite volatile. I tend to favor propane or Coleman type liquid fuel stoves (the “Coleman” fuel is quite volatile). Propane is easy to store in either disposable bottles, or gas grill-sized units. You need an adapter for the large cans, which are only cheaper if you are refilling the tank. Good to have the adapter, but not much of a cost advantage when you factor in the cost of the tanks.

    You can easily boil water on a sunny day with a Fresnel lens available free from any rear projection TV. Be careful, as you can easily start fires. A board placed at the focal point will burst into flames within seconds. You can see this on you tube.

  3. The Fresnel Lens method is a fun idea, worth trying on a sunny day as an experiment. Of course, relying on it, in many climates at least, would be problematic. If the SHTF though, there may be many a television laying about with which to start fires with on a sunny day.

  4. The point expressed here is that alcohol is dangerous as a fuel. I would press it into service if no alternative was available, but it would not be high on my list. Kerosene is stinky as a cooking fuel, but not as dangerous as gasoline or alcohol. The Coleman liquid fuel is also very volatile. This article assumes a situation where electricity is off and fuels are hard to obtain. The solar gadgets would allow you to conserve your fuel for times it is really needed. The real problem with any of these occurs when 310MM people are competing for fuel.