Recent events in Japan, war in Libia and the fact that an earthquake can happen anytime in places like Los Angeles, Charleston or Paducah emphasise the need to be able to cook food using whatever resources might be available. However, some things that might appear convenient to use in an emergency can be toxic as can some potential fuels.
Refrigerators are survivors. They are one of the bulkiest items around and their racks might appear to make ideal grills. Some are coated with cadmium which is fine for use in a cold environment, but gives heavy-metal poisoning if exposed to flames. Similarly zinc-galvanized metal should also not be placed into contact with heated food.
Grilling a steak is fine in a meat-rich country, but in a survival situation this meat needs to be extended by cooking with vegetables, in soups or as stews. It is also somewhat unlikely if much is the way of cut meats and ground beef burger would be available for very long if there was no electricity.
Although the surface may be rusted, cold-rolled steel plates that are about 1/4-inch thick cut about 3 feet (1 meter long) and 2 feet (60 cm.) wide can provide an excellent cooking surface when supported on concrete blocks and fueled with wood. Caution should be taken that this wood is free from paint (also may contain heavy metals) and galvanized nails. Such an iron sheet, once greased with vegetable oil and brought up to frying temperatures of 400 degrees F. and hotter, can cook meat and vegetables. In the U.S. this form of cooking is so common as to typify American Japanese restaurants. This piece of sheet iron can serve as a stove top that can be set up anywhere.
Entire meals, meats and vegetables, can be cooked in one pot by filling the pot and adding about 12-ounces of liquid, putting a lid on it and placing it over low coals to allow to boil and self-steam for a couple of hours. Even if the ration is just a cup of rice a day, extending this with whatever meat might be available and local vegetables can really help either cooked as a stew or on sheet iron.
Caution world-wide also needs to be exercised on the type of wood that is used for cooking. There are some woods, a South African tree in particular, that gives off poisonous fumes when burned. In the Americas, poison ivy can give off lung-irritating fumes if inhaled. If one can be selective, the best cooking woods are hardwoods, such as oaks. Others like pine, may be used if unpainted and free of zinc-nails. Strongly aromatic woods like cedar should be avoided. Do not attempt to use Styrofoam, plastics or rubber as fuel. Not only do they smell bad, their fumes can be toxic.
The symptoms of heavy metal and low-dose radiation poisoning are similar. Without analysis of tissue samples, it is difficult to tell the difference. Both are also similar in that the effects are accumulative, but most symptoms can attenuate over time once the source of continuous poisoning is removed and the body clears these materials if this is done before organs are damaged.
If the need arises to kill and butcher animals for food, my book “Backyard Deer Hunting: Converting deer to dinner for pennies per pound” provides instructions, recipes as well as a description of sheet-iron cooking along with many one-pot recipes. There is sufficient “survival content” in this book to even help someone who has never hunted get their family through a crisis. If you don’t think you need it, purchase a copy for your local community library. One in five Americans is likely to be touched by a major natural disaster during their lifetimes.