Save Energy Costs by Cooking with a Hot Box

hot box

Photo: Nora Dunn

When it comes to preparing dinner, most of us simply cook our meals on the stove (or in the oven) until they’re done. It’s a pretty straight forward process, with not a lot of room for negotiation. At least you may think so.

However there are alternatives to using (and paying for) energy to cook your meals for the full allotted time. One of these alternatives is the use of a hot box. And you can fashion your own hot box with things that you can find around the house (even better, things that may have otherwise ended up in the recycling or garbage bins).

The sort of hot boxes I am accustomed to are simply cardboard boxes. Cardboard is a great insulator – it keeps cold things cold and hot things hot. You can also use coolers, or any material that is a good insulator.

The trick to making your hot box work is to create an extra few inches of insulation on the inside, forming a protective layer all around your pot. For this, you can use old towels or blankets, or even phone books and scrap paper. Don’t be skimpy though – you need to pack it tight to get the most out of your creation.

Next, it’s time to throw in your food, still in the pot it started cooking in, with the lid firmly on. The beauty of a hot box is that if you partially cook your meal and stick it in the box, it will slowly finish cooking over the next 6-8 hours. The most effective hot box delicacies are those that would do well in a slow cooker: rice, various legumes, or even stews. You may want to stay away from cooking meat using this method until you’ve worked out the kinks in your system, since bacteria from undercooked meat or poor temperature control could make you sick.

After your food is securely nestled in your layers of insulation, you must cover it up with a few more inches of insulation. Towels and blankets are usually the handiest for this, since the transfer process needs to be speedy in order to retain as much of the heat from cooking as possible.

Then, close up your box, and leave it for the day if you pack it in the morning, or overnight if you start the process in the evening.

Here are a few links I found about this topic:

http://www.hedon.info/goto.php/FirelessCooker

http://www.selfsufficientish.com/hayboxcooker.htm

http://community-2.webtv.net/adowning/FirelessCooking/

Using a hot box requires a little more forethought and preparation since you have to wait so long for the meal to finish cooking, but you will use half (or less) of the energy usually required to prepare your gourmet delicacies, hence being kind to both the environment and your pocketbook.

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