My mission: To ensure that I had a reliable cook stove that met the following criteria:
- Doesn’t require the storage of highly flammable fuel
- Relatively portable
- Doesn’t require sunshine
- Sufficiently heavy-duty and durable to handle heavy amounts of daily cooking for at least a year
- Won’t compromise my security such as broadcasting smoke signals to attract unwanted guests
- Uses a minimal amount of readily available, accessible, CHEAP fuel
- Sophisticated enough that I can easily regulate the temperature and direction of the heat source
- And above all, it’s SAFE
The good news? Yes, my search for the perfect solution has been solved—rather easily, as a matter of fact, and I’m happy to share with you what I found, but I feel like there were several key things that I discovered in the finding of this solution that are important to share as I discovered some relatively serious potential pitfalls in using various cooking stoves and ovens that I hadn’t previously considered. I know that I’m not alone in my previous naiveté, so I’m going to share some of what I’ve learned in this pursuit for a cooking tool that’s capable of enduring a long-term crisis scenario. But in addition to that, I was so pleased with “the solution” that I’ve decided that I just have to “share the love” and so I’ve decided that I’m going to dangle a carrot in front of all of you. *grin* One of you faithful readers is going to be pretty happy about this “carrot” but I suspect that all of us will benefit a bit with the way I’m going to go about awarding that prize. So be sure to read this article for all of the fun details.
Now…on to my mission of finding a reliable cooking stove that would meet my criteria.
I’m the kind of gal that thinks in terms of all kinds of “what if” scenarios. As such, I believe in having back up plans for my back up plans, and sometimes I even have back up plans for those back up plans. I’d say that this is manifested clearly in the measures I’ve taken to make sure that I have sufficient cooking tools. I choose my cooking tools based on my belief that I can use such equipment to safely and realistically handle the challenge of cooking for a lot of hungry folks for the period of at least one year.
To this end, I have a couple of solar ovens, but “what if” there’s no sunshine? So I have my beautiful Camp Chef oven with some propane tanks, but what happens when I run out of propane and can’t get anymore? Also, what will I do if I need to cook indoors because of inclement weather or for safety and security reasons? So, I’ve got my butane stoves and several cans of butane which are relatively safe to use inside the home. But of course, the problem with that is “what will I do when the butane runs out or if the Korean cook stoves break?” By now, lesser committed preppers would have declared that the good old-fashioned use of an open fire would meet their cooking needs just fine. Such persons are likely planning on their stacks of cut firewood to be available to address such needs, and if/when the firewood runs out, they will just start cutting down trees and making more. But as it turns out, there are a LOT of problems with this plan. Now I’m not able to fully explore what all of those problems are in one article that’s suitable for blog reading, because unfortunately, I’ve discovered that there are a whole lot of problems that come with the use of an open fire, even when it’s partially contained in a wood-burning stove, so I’ll address that in a follow-up piece to this article. But today I want to address one of the biggest concerns I discovered that we need to be mindful of when choosing our preparedness cooking equipment.
Did you know that the damage to your lungs as a result of having an open fire in your kitchen is like burning 400 cigarettes an hour in your kitchen? (Kirk Smith, professor of Environmental Health at the University of California Berkeley).
While many of us wouldn’t even dream of smoking a cigarette or exposing ourselves to second hand smoke, few of us realize that the smoke from an open fire produces as much black carbon soot as diesel cars and trucks do worldwide! Now imagine that going on three times a day, every day in your kitchen that used to be so common. The World Health Organization estimates that the cook stove smoke that an open fire creates from wood or charcoal is the fourth overall health risk factor in the third world countries.
Sure we’re aware that cigarette and tobacco smoke damages our lungs, but most first-world persons have no idea that second hand wood smoke is actually MORE damaging. Tobacco smoke causes damage in the body for approximately 30 seconds after it’s inhaled, but smoke from burning wood continues to be chemically active and causes damage to the cells in the body for up to 20 minutes—that’s 40 times longer than cigarette smoke! (Rozenberg 2001, Wood Smoke is More Damaging than Tobacco Smoke). Even the smoke from wood burning stoves is bad for our health. EPA researchers have concluded that the lifetime cancer risk from wood stove emissions may be 12 times greater than the lifetime cancer risk from exposure to an equal amount of cigarette smoke!
I realize that Little House on the Prairie never ventured into this fact, but the research that’s available today is overwhelmingly clear that permanent damage caused by smoke inhalation is a matter of certainty. Laura Ingalls failed to mention that many of the small particles from wood smoke are actually too small to be filtered by the nose or upper respiratory system. Since they aren’t filtered, they are able to penetrate deep within the lungs, and they build up in the most remote portions of the lungs known as the alveoli. The alveoli are tiny air sacs where oxygen enters the blood stream—you know…slightly important. Ahem… But due to ability of these particles to evade any defenses of the body, they instead become efficient vehicles for transporting toxic gases, bacteria, and viruses into the lungs, and ultimately the blood stream. Sounds like fun, right? So, yeah, I think I’ll learn from the example of 3 billion people and NOT rely on that kind of a cooking method for any future plans I might have to endure a society down scenario. Might you be convinced to avoid this method of cooking too?
We don’t hear or see news headlines about this kind of risk because we’re not a nation that relies on this kind of method for cooking and heating our homes, but that will all change in the event of a massive power outage that will take at least 3 years to repair nationwide, or a devastating earthquake along the New Madrid fault line, etc. But we can benefit now, in our personal planning, from the overwhelming evidence we do have since half of the world’s entire population relies on open fires cooking and traditional cook stoves. In fact, the amount of needless death or crippling health issues are so prevalent, there are a myriad of foundations and non-profit organizations that operate in 3rd world countries with the primary focus of providing safe alternatives to the traditional cooking methods because right now, these methods are believed to be the 5th biggest killer in developing countries! Sure you may not have a tough time after your weekend of camping, but the story can be very different if you were forced to “camp” everyday for a year.
In addition to the severe damage to the respiratory system, there’s also the danger to children. In S. Africa, for example, where cooking with an open fire or open fire cook stoves is common, 15,000 children a year fall into open fires and are badly burned! I could list at least another dozen specific ailments that are pervasive in the cultures which use traditional cook stoves, but I think we get the picture. Bottom line, yes, it’s very realistic that we’ll need to use a cook stove that’s fueled by wood, charcoal, twigs, branches, dried dung, etc., but thanks to smart products like EcoZoom, we can do so while mitigating the majority of the risk that’s inherent with traditional options.
About 6 weeks ago, right when I was in the midst of seriously researching for a solution for a SAFE cook stove option, I was contacted by EcoZoom and asked if I would be interested in reviewing their product. They then sent me the EcoZoom Versa Cook Stove model, as that’s their most popular one. It retails for $129. While there’s a variation online of $5 or $10 here and there, the pricing is relatively consistent for each of their models. The company and the product is still rather new—only a couple of years old—and as such I doubt that anyone would be successful in running across one of these at a garage sale, thrift store, or on E-bay, but that was the least of my concerns.
After using the stove on 3 different occasions, I was extremely pleased with it—ESPECIALLY in light of the understanding I now had about the dangers of wood smoke inhalation. The design of these stoves will save consumers as much as 55% in fuel costs and eliminate 70% of harmful air pollutants. They also hold a distinct claim to be the world’s first cook stove that can use/burn charcoal while providing convection AND radiant heat.
I have to say though that I couldn’t believe how little smoke it put out! In fact, it was SO little that I was convinced I had smothered my fire somehow, but nope, it’s simply the fact that the design is just fantastic! After reading what I’ve shared with you on the health risks, you can understand why this was so important to me, not just from the health viewpoint, but also because I don’t want to send smoke signals to 100 of my neighbors that I’m cooking. It serves to reason that the less wood you have to burn, the less smoke it’s going to create. (Note: the dryer the wood, the less smoke you’ll get.) Once I got things going in the stove, it put out virtually no smoke. Mind you, that doesn’t mean you can use it indoors with everything sealed off, you’ll need to make sure you provide ventilation. Understand that the less fuel you have to use, the less black carbon is building up. (That black carbon is responsible for killing 14,000 Kenyans a year—and that’s just what’s documented!)
I also LOVED how easily I was able to control the temperature!! It took me a couple of tries to get the hang of it, but the small door at the bottom is what you’ll use to control how high or low your heat source is. You’ll note in the picture here how little I burned the ends of the kindling. I had three sticks that were 12 inches and one stick that was less than 8 inches to start. It appeared that I only had burned through a third of those—so little considering that I was boiling a half-full pressure cooker of room temperature water! That makes this cook stove significantly less to operate than my propane options—thus justifying the $129 investment all the more in my opinion.
Since I used my pressure cooker in each of my test runs, I didn’t have to use the stove for very long. However, when I accidentally brushed my arm against the side of the stove after finishing one of my experiments, I was surprised that I didn’t get burned. Upon further reading about their product, it appears that it remains relatively cool to the touch for up to an hour of use. Chalk up another PLUS!
In spite of that feature, I was also surprised with how much heat was put out considering how little fuel I was using. In my experimentation I used kindling sticks that we always have by the wood burning stove. After experimenting with other options I was really surprised how quickly I was able to get my fresh batch of chicken and dumplings cooked and how quickly I was able to boil water. The EcoZoom will burn wood or just about any biomass such as charcoal, pine needles, dried dung and dried corn cobs.
Also, keep in mind that the shipping on these stoves isn’t going to be cheap. These are not light #10 cans of freeze-dried food that’s getting shipped. This is heavy, cast iron quality that you’re going to be able to rely on for a long time. Cast iron is key to the efficient heat distribution. This is definitely not a flimsy piece of equipment, but that’s definitely what I want when a strong canyon wind blows through.
Finding the right product is only half the battle in my opinion. I initiated several contacts with the company over the past 6 weeks in order to give their customer service a test drive via e-mail, Facebook, and telephone. Each time my contrived scenario was addressed promptly, accurately, and courteously. I can’t ask for more than that. They even quickly took care of some aesthetic suggestions I gave them for their Facebook page and webpage. In fact, the only “complaint” that I can come up with is that they’ve got a terrible spam blocker on their blog website. As I attempted to read through their comments made on their blog to get a feel for what kind of questions people are asking and how they are answered, there was a litany of spam postings throughout which made it a waste of time to peruse. Yep…that’s the worst I could come up with.
A Comparison of Similar Cook Stove Options
Just so you know, in my little pursuit of deciding what I needed and wanted to solve this problem, I did purchase a Volcano Stove. Yes, it had the benefit of being able to use a myriad of readily available fuel to run it, but I had the dickens of a time regulating the temperature properly. I kept having to remove my Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker off the heat completely and then put it back on, etc. It was really frustrating to make homemade chicken and dumplings that ended up being burned AND raw!
I also made a homemade rocket stove as well as a homemade hobo stove. I liked the concept of being able to use all kinds of “fuel” for these two options, but the results weren’t all that they were cracked up to be. It took me much longer to boil water on the hobo stove, and significantly longer to cook a meal on the homemade rocket stove than it did on the EcoZoom Versa Stove. Plus, the ding dong fire kept dwindling to just about nothing in both when I tried to regulate the temperature. Let’s also keep in mind that a good homemade rocket stove isn’t going to be portable, whereas the EcoZoom Versa is—though a bit heavy, it was fine for my hubby to carry it. However, EcoZoom has a Versa Lite model that uses a lighter, white ceramic material inside it instead of the more traditional material. In fact, there were some customers on the internet that actually felt that the Versa Lite did a better job of conducting the heat.
Another problem I had with these other options was that they just weren’t heavy-duty enough to hold up to full-time, “life depends on it” kind of use unless I was able to use heavier materials that aren’t readily available and became proficient in welding. (Even the hinges on the EcoZoom doors were impressively strong.) I also felt like the Volcano Stove still wasted much of its heat source. The EcoZoom did a much better job at putting the heat exactly where it needed to be, and the pot skirt that comes with it enhances the efficient use of the heat. I tried boiling water in my heavy-duty pressure cooker with and without the pot skirt. When put on properly, the pot skirt cut down my time for boiling water by a full minute. The technical info on the EcoZoom site claims that it can increase the heat efficiency by a full 20%! I can expect that to be a much more important difference if I was cooking something bigger like a pot roast or a whole chicken and that kind of fuel savings can translate into an important benefit when one is having to scrounge for fuel to burn in a crisis situation. (Just imagine how important that would be to a person who’s having to spend 20% of their income on fuel as is the case in S. Africa?!)
I can’t NOT mention one of the other things that I really, really liked about the product and that was the realization of just how committed the EcoZoom company is to giving back. Through many partnerships that they have in six different developing nations right now, EcoZoom is trying to make a difference for the 3 billion people who need a safer way to cook! As such, everytime they sell a stove, they give one away to one of those 3 billion persons! This not only gives the family a better quality of health, but also a better financial standing since fuel in many of these developing countries costs as much as 20% of their income. Can you imagine how valuable it is to those families to be able to reduce those costs?? It literally can make the difference between having a meal and going without. This has certainly not been a measly effort. To date, the company has given away more than 120,000 stoves and they are poised to TRIPLE that number soon now that they have a physical location in Kenya. Their presence in these developing nations not only provides safer cooking options but also jobs! It may sound corny, but I really enjoyed reading about their philanthropic efforts in this cause on their site and looking at the pictures. I encourage you to check it out for yourself.
I am no friend to techno-speak. There is MUCH more information available on their website that gets into more nitty gritty information—you know, things like the BTU’s and how their model stacks up with others. When I’m cooking an expensive pot roast though, I don’t think about stuff like that. All I care about is whether or not I’m going to be able to SAFELY and SUCCESSFULLY cook this piece of meat or am I going to ruin it?
So, now that you’ve got the complete low down on my AWESOME experience with the EcoZoom Versa Cook Stove, I’d like to give you the opportunity for a chance to let me buy you a stove. It’s pretty simple, really. All you need to do is to e-mail me (through our Contact Us option on this site) your favorite dinner or dessert recipe. You have until September 30th to get it in to me. (PLEASE do NOT post your recipe in the comments section) I will go through and decide which recipe is my absolute Favorite. The person who wins that distinction will be the person who receives their very own EcoZoom Versa Cook Stove! EZ PZ, right?
(Continental U.S. only; No age restrictions; One entry per household; any less than 25 participants may constitute the contest null and void; all recipes submitted to Preparedness Pro may be published by Preparedness Pro; all personal identifying information will remain private.) Good luck!!!
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