As you work through your list of preparedness items to consider for a disaster or emergency, you inevitably arrive at cooking. Having a good quantity of stored foods is the primary concern so that you can feed your family and stay healthy. Assuming you have checked the box on your food storage plans, the next item in the same vein is how to cook that food you have stocked up in your pantry. What will you do if the electricity is not working due to a black out? What if the natural gas has been shut off because of an earthquake or some other emergency? Most people rely on one or both of those methods to cook and if you are unable to utilize these great modern conveniences, what options do you have? We discussed some options in our post entitled, “Where there is no kitchen: Cooking when the grid goes down” and one of those options if you have to take it outside is a Rocket Stove.
For those who don’t know, the Rocket Stove concept allows for a small amount of biomass (wood, charcoal, dung) to be used in a highly efficient manner. The efficiency comes with the insulation factor of the stove and the special combustion chamber which super heats the gasses and produces much less smoke. The Rocket Stoves are designed to cook food and are most commonly found in third world countries where wood is scarce and electricity may be virtually non-existent.
Rocket Stoves have found a market in developed countries recently and I think this could be partly due to the growing preparedness movement. Preppers can take advantage of the same great design concepts of the Rocket Stove in a lot of situations we plan for. So, you don’t necessarily have to live in a small hut in a village in Africa to find the Rocket Stove concept useful to your preparedness plans.
Enter the EcoZoom stove. I’ve orderd the EcoZoom for some time. I received my EcoZoom Versa cook stove and was immediately impressed by the construction, but I’ll get to that in a second. As part of our preparedness plan, I have the equipment we need to cook over an open fire if we encounter an emergency that dictates that, but the EcoZoom stove had some serious advantages over a typical campfire.
- It uses a significantly less amount of wood. The EcoZoom stove, like all Rocket Stoves is extremely efficient so I would be able to cook with just a handful of twigs and sticks. For a real fire in a fire-pit, you are going to need a lot of logs to get those coals hot enough to cook off of.
- There is not as much heat loss – The heat in a rocket stove is directed up the chimney to the cooking surface and there is even an adjustable pot skirt so that you can further trap the heat and direct it to your pot or skillet.
- A lot less smoke is created – With a fire outside, you do have to deal with a lot of smoke and this can be a negative if you are trying to keep somewhat low-key. The EcoZoom versa produces almost zero smoke when the fire is going good.
- The Rocket Stove concept employed by the EcoZoom means I can start cooking in just a few minutes really. A regular fire is going to take a lot more time to get going.
With all of those advantages, the EcoZoom Versa cook stove was starting to look like a better option in a lot of instances if I needed to cook outside. Additionally, besides being able to use this stove to cook if we lost power, it would be just as good if I wanted to take the family car camping. The weight of this stove isn’t really designed for backpacking or your bug out bag since it comes in at around 27 pounds, but it is perfectly suited for home or car use.
Form and Function
The EcoZoom cook stove is built like a tank and I was surprised at first when we initially opened the package. I think the weight comes primarily from the beefy cast iron stove top that has 6 prongs to give any pot stability and the ceramic insulation to keep the heat inside the combustion chamber. This is key to the design. The EcoZoom Versa also has two doors to allow air to flow over the combustion chamber and up the chimney. The bottom door is only used when you are using charcoal. I burned wood in my stove, but for those of you who have charcoal for your grill, or who actually make your own charcoal, this is a great option too.
Everything on the EcoZoom feels heavy duty from the doors that have nice hinges and latches to keep a tight seal. The handles on the sides are made of heavy gauge steel with plastic grips so they can hold the weight and keep you from burning your hands if you have to transport the stove somewhere. I wouldn’t recommend doing this while the stove is burning, but it is a possibility. You can’t do that with a fire-pit.
The EcoZoom stove even comes with a handy shelf that is made out of what looks like regular grill material for holding large sticks so they can hang out past the fuel magazine. This allows you to keep some larger wood right there burning and as the wood burns down, you just have to slide your sticks forward slightly to get them over the combustion chamber again. The stove additionally comes with a spare grill ( actually, the other grill is used for charcoal) and an ingenious adjustable pot skirt. This nice feature has been imitated, or was perhaps influenced by ultra-light hikers using home made guards of aluminum foil their alcohol stoves. To direct as much heat as possible over your cooking surface, the pot skirt covers the space between the bottom of the pot and the cast iron cook surface and directs the heat upward.
Using the EcoZoom Stove
Using the EcoZoom is amazingly simple. Like any fire, you need to gather some tinder, small twigs and some larger kindling. I used a small piece of dryer lint, a small ripped up piece of newspaper and a handful of sticks that I found lying in the yard. I just wadded up the newspaper and lint, probably could have only used either, and broke the twigs up and dropped them down the chimney. When that was ready, I used a lighter to set the paper on fire. If I had to use a fire starter, I could have done that too through the door because the EcoZoom stove blocks the wind for you.
The twigs lite quickly and I fed several more in there while I waited for a decent amount of hot coals to get created. The flames came out of the top of the stove and I could see how you could easily use this for heat too if needed provided you had plenty of ventilation. I wouldn’t use this in my house, but those villagers in third world types of situations we mentioned do all of the time. Of course, they have a hole in their roof for ventilation.
Once I had a good bed of coals going, I stuck bigger sticks into the Fuel Magazine and let the rest of them rest on the stick support. You can just as easily keep shoving small sticks into the fuel magazine too as opposed to the larger sticks. The whole process of getting the stove up to cooking heat might have taken 5 minutes. I was now ready to cook on my new Rocket Stove from EcoZoom.
I tried two different things with the stove. The first thing I wanted to try was heating a fairly large amount of water. If you need to boil water that either came from rain barrels or a pond in your neighborhood, the EcoZoom is great at doing that. I filled a pot up with 2 gallons of water and had this boiling without a lid in about 12 minutes. 2 gallons of water should be enough to keep the average person hydrated enough each day with extra for cooking or hygiene.
This did remind me of two things. First, if you want to boil water faster, put a lid on the pot. I knew this already of course, but forgot to bring my lid out for the photographs. Secondly, you probably don’t want to use your wife’s aluminum pot over a fire unless you plan on scrubbing it for a good while with some Barkeepers Friend to get the soot off of it.
The second thing I wanted to try was cooking up a larger meal in the good old Dutch oven using some supplies from our food storage so I found this recipe online at the KOA website and modified it for my needs.
Chili Rice Skillet
- 1 pound(s) ground beef
- 4 c Uncle Ben’s Quick brand rice – I used regular rice from storage
- 3 c water
- 1 c chopped onion
- 1 large green pepper, chopped
- 1 package chili seasoning mix
- 1 can tomatoes, undrained
- 1 can kidney beans, drained – I used navy beans
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 c shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
In a large skillet, brown meat, drain. Add remaining ingredients except cheese; stir. Bring to a vigorous boil. Cover tightly. Simmer about 5 minutes or until desired consistency. Sprinkle with cheese. – I had to cook this a good bit longer because I was using regular rice, but other than that the recipe was great!
The EcoZoom stove was perfect for what I needed it for and that was to cook easily outside. The operation is simple and in my opinion much easier and faster than a regular fire in a pit. Now, there might be some of you who say that you can only cook one thing at a time on a stove like this and that is probably true, but the benefits here outweigh the negatives. Portability is a key feature of any Rocket Stove and if I had to cook three or four items at one time, I would need a larger fire. The EcoZoom handles any cooking challenge I would want it for and it does it quickly and efficiently.
I can’t envision a situation where you couldn’t grab a few sticks or twigs laying around unless you were in a parking lot. Finding some simple combustible material should be easy regardless of your location. The stove is portable so you can take it with you just about anywhere, provided you have a means of transportation. Like I said, this isn’t a backpacking stove, but it is an excellent camp stove. Actually, now that I think about it, this is much easier than using a regular fire if you are car camping, because we would always have to buy a couple of cords of firewood when we went camping. With the EcoZoom, just find some twigs laying around and you are in business.