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Cooking without fire

How to save energy by making and using an insulated cooker

2021 Available in English, French and Spanish

Illustration of how to cook without fire.
Lameck Chibago in Tanzania carefully looks after the solar panel on the roof of his house.

From: Sustainable energy – Footsteps 114

Practical examples of how off-grid sustainable energy can improve people’s day-to-day lives

Fireless cookers are a simple and effective way to reduce the amount of firewood, gas or electricity needed to cook a meal.

The food is partially cooked using a fire or stove. The covered pot is then placed in the fireless cooker where insulation keeps the pot warm and allows the food to carry on cooking.

As well as saving fuel, fireless cookers can reduce the amount of water used in cooking by a quarter. This is because water is prevented from evaporating, preserving nutrients and flavours.

Fireless cookers are also known as hay boxes, straw boxes, insulation cookers or retained-heat cookers.

How to make a fireless cooker

  1. Prepare or make a basket, box or other container, making sure that it is big enough for both the cooking pot and the insulating material.
  2. Line the inside of the container with strong fabric, leaving space for insulation to be placed between the container and the lining.
  3. Tightly pack insulating material such as hay, sawdust, rice husks or recycled clothing between the container and the lining, ensuring that there are no gaps which would allow heat to escape.
  4. Check that the cooking pot will fit snugly inside the insulated container.
  5. Stitch the lining to hold the insulation in place, sewing the top of the lining to the outside of the container.
  6. Add an insulated cushion to the bottom of the container and make a second cushion to put on top of the cooking pot.

How to use the cooker

  • Using your normal stove, cook soft foods, such as bananas, for around three minutes and harder foods, such as beans and meat, for 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Place the hot, covered pot in the fireless cooker and put the cushion on top so it fits as closely as possible.
  • Allow soft food to continue cooking for about 25 minutes and harder foods to cook for two to three hours.
  • Remove the pot of food and enjoy your meal!


If the food is left too long in the fireless cooker at 50–60 degrees Centigrade it may result in the growth of harmful bacteria. To avoid this problem, make sure the food is cooked for long enough at a high temperature before it is placed in the fireless cooker as this will kill any bacteria. If in doubt, reheat the food to boiling point on your normal stove before eating.

For more information, visit and search ‘fireless cooker’

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