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Low Energy Cooking

When You HAVE to Cook

Hay box from WWII

Leif Jørgensen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s not always possible simply to eat “no cook food”. It may not be available, some may be too expensive and sometimes the food you have is what you have been given and it needs cooked. This is where low energy cooking is helpful. While it needs some initial heat to start, the majority of the cooking is done in a well insulated box (sometimes called a Hay Box) that allows food to cook without any further energy needed, because it uses the heat already in the food and doesn’t allow it to escape. One form of low energy cooking is the haybox which has been used for centuries as a way of cooking delicious, nutritious food. It also does not need any attention, once set up, so you can go and do something else and come back several hours later to find your delicious meal cooked perfectly, tasty and still hot. Just add bread for a full meal. This is also known as “retained heat” cooking or “insulation cooking”.

Haybox Cooking

A haybox, also known as a straw box, is a low-tech method of cooking that has been used for centuries. It is a simple and energy-efficient way to cook food that requires very little fuel. It is is essentially an insulated container that keeps food warm after it has been brought to a boil on a stove or fire. To use a haybox, you first bring your food to a boil in a pot on the stove or over a fire. Once the food is boiling, you transfer the pot to the haybox, which is lined with insulating materials like hay, straw, or shredded paper. The pot is then covered with additional insulation, such as more hay or a thick blanket, to keep the heat from escaping.

The residual heat from the food in the pot will continue to cook the food slowly over several hours, without the need for additional fuel. The longer the food is left in the haybox, the more thoroughly it will be cooked. Hayboxes are particularly useful for cooking foods that require long cooking times, like beans, stews, and soups. They can also be used for baking, by placing a covered pot with bread dough inside the haybox to rise and cook.

Hayboxes can be made from a variety of materials, including cardboard boxes, wooden crates, or metal containers. The important thing is to line the container with an insulating material like hay, straw, or shredded paper to keep the heat from escaping. Overall, hayboxes are a simple and effective way to cook food with minimal fuel, and they have been used for centuries in cultures around the world.

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How To Make A Haybox


  • A large, sturdy pot with a tight-fitting lid
  • A cardboard box or wooden crate that is slightly larger than the pot
  • Insulation materials such as hay, straw, or shredded paper
  • A thick blanket or quilt


  • Choose a pot that is large enough to hold the food you want to cook, with at least an inch of space between the food and the top of the pot. Make sure the pot has a tight-fitting lid.
  • Line the bottom and sides of the cardboard box or wooden crate with a thick layer of insulation material like hay, straw, or shredded paper.
  • Place the pot in the center of the box or crate. Surround the pot with more insulation material, packing it tightly around the pot to ensure good insulation.
  • Cover the pot and insulation with a thick layer of additional insulation material. Make sure there are no gaps where heat can escape.
  • Close the lid of the box or crate and cover it with a thick blanket or quilt to provide additional insulation.

Cooking With A Haybox

  • Bring the food to a boil on a stove or fire, following your recipe’s instructions. Once it has reached boiling point, turn off the heat and quickly transfer the pot to the haybox, making sure to place it in the center of the insulation material.
  • Close the lid of the box or crate and wrap it tightly with the blanket or quilt to keep the heat from escaping.
  • Leave the pot in the haybox for several hours, depending on the type of food and how thoroughly it needs to be cooked. The residual heat from the food will continue to cook it slowly over time.
  • After the desired cooking time has elapsed, remove the pot from the haybox and serve the food immediately. You will probably need insulated oven gloves, as the pot should still be very hot.

Note: It is important to ensure that the food reaches a safe cooking temperature before placing it in the haybox to avoid the risk of foodborne illness. Also, be sure to use a pot with a tight-fitting lid to minimize heat loss.

Foods For Cooking In A Haybox

Foods that require long cooking times and slow, gentle heat are well-suited to cooking in a haybox. Here are some examples of foods that cook well in a haybox:

  • Beans and lentils: Dried beans and lentils take a long time to cook, but they can be cooked perfectly in a haybox. Simply soak the beans overnight, then bring them to a boil on the stove or over a fire before transferring them to the haybox to finish cooking.
  • Stews and soups: Hearty stews and soups made with meat or vegetables are perfect for haybox cooking. Bring the ingredients to a boil on the stove or over a fire, then transfer the pot to the haybox to continue cooking.
  • Rice and grains: Rice and other grains can be cooked perfectly in a haybox, without the need for constant attention or stirring. Bring the water and grains to a boil on the stove, then transfer the pot to the haybox to finish cooking.
  • Bread and baked goods: Bread dough can be placed in a covered pot inside the haybox to rise and bake. The residual heat will help the dough to rise and cook slowly over several hours.
  • Braised meat: Tough cuts of meat like brisket or chuck roast can be braised in a haybox, which allows them to cook slowly and become tender and flavorful. Simply brown the meat on the stove, then transfer it to the haybox to finish cooking with vegetables and broth.
  • Corned beef and other cured meats: Similar to braised meat, cured meats can also be cooked slowly in a haybox to become tender and flavorful.
  • Porridge: Oatmeal or other hot cereals can be cooked in a haybox overnight, making for a warm breakfast in the morning.
  • Vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other root vegetables can be cooked in a haybox, as can other slow-cooking vegetables like winter squash.
  • Dried fruits: Dried fruits like apples, apricots, and pears can be simmered in water on the stove, then transferred to the haybox to soak up the flavors and cook further.
  • Chili: A hearty chili made with ground beef, beans, and spices can be brought to a boil on the stove, then transferred to the haybox to continue cooking and meld the flavors.

Overall, the haybox method is very versatile and can be used to cook a wide variety of foods. The key is to select ingredients that require slow, gentle cooking, and to allow plenty of time for the food to cook through thoroughly. Thus, any food that benefits from slow, gentle heat can be cooked perfectly in a haybox. The longer the cooking time required, the more effective the haybox will be at cooking the food thoroughly and evenly.

Haybox Cooking Recipe

Bean And Vegetable Stew


  • 1 cup dried beans (any variety)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups chopped vegetables (such as carrots, celery, and bell peppers)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups vegetable broth or water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  • Rinse the beans and soak them in water overnight, or for at least 6-8 hours.
  • Drain the beans and add them to a pot with the chopped onion, garlic, chopped vegetables, diced tomatoes, and vegetable broth or water.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the beans are partially cooked. (This is VITAL to ensure the beans are safe to eat.)
  • Transfer the pot to the haybox, making sure to wrap it in a thick towel or blanket to provide additional insulation.
  • Seal tightly and let it sit for 4-6 hours, or until the beans are fully cooked and the stew is piping hot.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot.

You can also experiment with different ingredients and seasonings to create your own unique recipes for cooking in a haybox. Just remember to choose ingredients that can be cooked using residual heat, as a hay box does not provide an external heat source. Some other ingredients that work well in hay box recipes include rice, quinoa, lentils, and other grains and legumes.

Commercial Hayboxes

While hayboxes are not as commonly used today as they were in the past, there are still some companies that manufacture them. Some commercial hayboxes are sold under the name of “thermal cookers” or “insulated cooking pots.” These devices are typically made of durable materials like stainless steel and come with insulation built into the walls to maintain the heat inside. They are often designed to be portable and lightweight, making them a convenient option for camping trips or other outdoor adventures. They can also be used in the home kitchen as a more energy-efficient alternative to traditional cooking methods.

If you are interested in purchasing a haybox or thermal cooker, you may be able to find them for sale online or at specialty camping or outdoor equipment stores. Alternatively, you can try making your own haybox at home using materials like a large cardboard box, insulation, and blankets or hay for insulation.

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