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What to Cook When Your Power Goes Out

Put together a satisfying meal with a bit of thought and some pantry staples

man reaching for a jar in his cabinet

KAKIMAGE / Alamy Stock Photo

En español | The power’s out, but you still have to eat.

Thunderstorms, hurricanes, wildfires and other weather-related events are causing an uptick in electrical outages, which can span a few hours or a few days. But with a little advance planning and some creativity, your meals don’t have to be limited to beans out of a can.

Preparation for a lack of power starts with the usual supplies of flashlights, batteries and first aid items, but you’ll also want to have an ample supply of pantry staples, water and a manual can opener if you normally use an electric version. But even without electricity, you can cobble together a satisfying meal to feed yourself and your family. Here are some tips and recipe ideas for eating safely and deliciously when the power is out.

Raid the refrigerator

“If your power outage is less than two hours you don’t need to worry about the perishables in your fridge going bad,” according to Red Cross spokesman Michael Devulpillieres.   

But if your outage lasts longer, the refrigerated food is what you want to use up first. Some refrigerators may keep food cold up to four hours, but it’s dependent on how tight a seal your model has and how often the fridge is opened. If the refrigerator is still at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, food is still safe to eat, according to the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but go by sight and smell — never taste — to determine if food has gone bad.


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Many refrigerated items can last longer at room temperature, including fruits and vegetables like apples, tomatoes, carrots, and harder cheeses like cheddar, avocados and breads should remain good to eat beyond a few hours. Obviously a salad works, but think about incorporating those items into more creative meals: 

Gazpacho: Chicago chef Bill Kim suggests taking some of these vegetables and making a gazpacho if you have the tomatoes. “You can keep it chunky and mash up some bread in there and other vegetables and let it all marinate together,” he says. 

Panzanella salad: If you have day-old bread you can also make a panzanella salad, simply tossing that semi-stale bread with vegetables, olive oil and vinegar. Toss in any herbs you had in the refrigerator or pull dried herbs from your pantry. 

Avocado “toast”: If you have bread that’s still fresh (you can even use crackers), mash together avocado, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and lime juice if you have it. Spread on bread or crackers.

Turn to the freezer

If your freezer is full, then items should remain frozen for 48 hours in a power outage — if you don’t open it — or 24 hours if it’s half full, says Devulpillieres. If it looks like you’re likely to have to a long outage resulting in wasted food, start cooking before food goes bad. 

Some folks might start eating ice cream immediately, but there are other ideas for food to make straight from your freezer. 

Mexican corn salad: Some frozen vegetables, like corn, can be brought to room temperature and then made into something like a Mexican corn salad with black beans, a little hot sauce, lime and cumin. 

Frozen fruit snack: Depending on the fruit you have in your freezer, you can have a delicious frozen snack. Dip frozen bananas in peanut butter, eat frozen grapes as is or mix frozen berries with any yogurt you may have left. Add some protein with a sprinkle of chopped nuts from the pantry. 

Creative cooking

Even without electricity you may be able to do some actual cooking. You can use an outdoor gas or charcoal grill as usual. Even a firepit can work in a pinch for heating up hot dogs, or lay a camping cook grate over the top for some flame broiling. You can boil water, soup or use a cast iron frying pan to cook with either the grill or the grate. 

With access to outdoor flames you can create a variety of meals from your fridge or freezer, especially if you defrost some meat. 

Marinades: If you have access to defrosted meat you can create a few quick marinades like soy sauce, honey, garlic and olive oil or lemon juice, dill, garlic and mustard.

Quesadillas: These cook quickly over the fire if you have tortillas, cheese, veggies and meat. 

Tin foil packets: You can also make a wide variety of meals in tin foil packets. Simply put your choice of protein, vegetables and marinade in foil and cook on the grill or campfire.

Power through that pantry

The best (and safest!) way to eat during a power outage is by having a versatile, stocked pantry that can be used to make meals in a pinch.  It’s best to have items already in place and make sure you are checking expiration dates – yes, cans of beans do expire. Water also has an expiration date, so if you are stockpiling water, make sure to check that as well. Having a good arsenal of dry spices, plus vinegars and oils, will help you add flavor to any dish.

Here are some of basics you’ll want in your pantry:

  • Peanut Butter or other nut butters (make sure to check the jar — some versions need to be refrigerated)
  • Crackers, rice cakes
  • Nuts, trail mix, dried fruit
  • Cereal/oatmeal
  • Granola/power bars
  • Canned tuna, SPAM or other canned or pouched meats
  • Jerky
  • Rice noodles (if you have access to water, you can cook with just hot water, not boiling)
  • Canned beans, canned vegetables, canned fruit
  • Pickles
  • Olive oil
  • Vinegar
  • Dried spices

Here are a few pantry suggestions: 

Overnight oats: Mix oats and water as directed on the package (cold water works) and let sit covered overnight. Lots of toppings, including cinnamon, syrup, honey, fruit and nuts can jazz this up. 

Banana and nut butter: It’s simple, but satisfying, says Kim. “You can mash it together or just spread the nut butter on the banana for a protein boost,” he says.

SPAM or bean salad: Growing up Korean, SPAM was a big part of Kim’s diet and he still enjoys it today. If you don’t like SPAM, you can swap the canned meat out for beans instead. Kim will chop up radishes if he has them, add in dried herbs, olive oil, vinegar and a little lemon juice and mix it together. “This will give you different textures, soft and crunchy, and different flavors.” If you don’t have radishes you can add nuts or seeds for crunch or chopped up carrots. 

Tuna salad with avocado and crackers: No mayo, no problem. Avocado makes a great substitute for mayonnaise that can be mixed into any canned or pouch tuna. “Mash in dried chili flakes and pickles for more flavor,” Kim says.


Samantha Lande is a contributing writer who covers food, health and human interest stories for several national publications. Her work has appeared in
Real Simple, Allrecipes, on the Food Network and more.

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