Introduction: Hay Box Cooker

Picture of Hay Box Cooker

Haybox or retained heat cooking is simply cooking a liquid based food like a soup or stew in it's own heat. During WWII cooking oil was rationed for the war effort this method became popular as a way to conserve cooking fuel. They used hay in a box because the air spaces in the hay trapped in heat and allowed the soup or stew to cook in it's own heat. Anything like hay, shredded news paper, rice hulls, cotton balls, corn husks etc will work as long as it packs loose and creats air spaces.

Step 1: Get a Container

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Pretty much anything will do, i got this box at a army surplus store. A cardboard box will do as well, some people have even dug a hole in the ground and used that.

Step 2: Optional

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If you have a wooden or metal box you might want to line it with that emergency blanket material, this helps trap even more heat.

Step 3: Get Your Material Ready

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Get the material your using. In this case i use shredded newspaper because it's everywhere and it works well.

Step 4: Line the Box

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Put a layer on the bottom of the box a bout 2 to 3 inches deep. This is what your stew will rest on.

Step 5: Prepare Your Soup or Stew

I don't have a pic for this step, but i hope it will be clear. Take the pot or kettle you will be using, make sure it has a lid, the tighter the fit the better. Put all the ingredients in the pot with water or broth,try to keep it as full as possible, the fuller the pot the larger the mass and therefore it holds more heat and cooks better. That's why this method is good for cooking for large amounts of people. Turn on the heat and get it to a roiling boil ( a good strong boil) and let it go for a bit. Some ingredients should be simmered for a time to increase the heat like beans, they should be simmered a bout 15 minutes after it boils. Potatoes or rice 5 or 10 minutes

Step 6: Put the Pot in the Box

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After it's boiled for a bit put the box on the bottom layer of paper in the box. Make sure it's centered and stuff paper on the sides until it reaches the top of the pot.

Step 7: Finish Up

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Make sure the lid is on good and put more paper on top of the pot, don't be shy with it either.

Step 8: The End

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Now just shut the lid and walk away. This is fix and forget,4or 5 hours later it will be perfectly done and still hot for eating. This method won't burn food on the bottom either, i get it going at about noon and it's ready for supper.


Ann 73 (author)2017-01-06

This is how the Scots out with sheep and cattle would cook their oats: On the last embers of the night's fire, into a hay box overnight, then wake up to some perfectly cooked warm porridge in the morning!

Timmymtd (author)2007-06-24

I dont see why you would want to do this, If you bring it to a boil on a stove. Why take it off? Only plus I see is less energy. Still in that sense, ill give it a plus.

meddler (author)Timmymtd2016-04-08

This type of cooking was used quite a lot during ww2 because cooking oil was a rationed item. This method allowed you to get the food cooked and save on fuel at the same time.

KittyF (author)Timmymtd2016-04-08

the food can't burn, the cook won't get burnt, you don't have to stand over it in hot weather getting hot yourself, you don't get smoke in your eyes if you use wood, you won't have a child falling in the fire or onto the pot and if you save enough fuel to save some money up you might be able to buy some extra food or other necessities.

Morgo (author)2010-05-21

I'm toying with the idea of making one, but I'm wondering if it can act more like a crock pot with the addition of heated bricks as an additional heat source. what do you think?

meddler (author)Morgo2016-04-08

I think there was an instructable where a gentleman used an old pressure cooker and put heated rocks in then whole chickens in foil (2 or 3) and more heated rocks on top put the top on and I can't remember if he put it in the ground or covered it with blankets, but it worked fine. I even bought a big one at a garage sale to try my self.

KittyF (author)Morgo2016-04-08

if you get the bricks or rocks to hot they will melt the polyester. instead, try building a brick lined hole in the back yard. build a fire in it. to heat the bricks, put the pot over the fire to heat the food. after the fire dies down to coals place the pot IN the fire, cover with soil. leave covered til evening, uncover the pot, and serve the food. do be careful to keep the dirt out of the pot.

meddler (author)Morgo2010-05-22

Hmmmm, I never thought of that. I think it would work, maybe if the inside is lined with foil. Bricks or rocks retain quite a lot of heat for a long time. If you try it tell me how it worked.

lukeyj15 (author)2010-06-25

this would be great on camps etc. even on bikes, canoes etc. Get the meal started before you leave and the meal cooks while you ride/paddle. eat when you arrive.

meddler (author)lukeyj152010-06-26

I have never been able to prove it , but some oldtimers think if it sloshes around to much it won't cook as well. I can't say for sure.

KittyF (author)meddler2016-04-08

the denser the soup, stew or meat the slower it looses heat.

Don Tregartha (author)2015-05-27

As a Scout, we tried this with a two gallon Dixie in a hole in the ground, lined with grass and straw. Made a beef stew with stewing beef, potato, carrot, onion, beef stock cubes and seasoning. Boiled it up for about 20-30mins on the fire, then into the hole, covered with more grass and the turf. Spent two or three hours playing football, larking about. On our return, opened it up - still hot and cooked beautifully.

Save on fuel and time spent watching the pot boil!

louisecross (author)2015-01-09

use an old ice box cooler (called an esky here in Australia not sure what you call them where you are) great use for one that the handles are broken on so no good to take camping/bbq etc, line with old sleeping bag - maybe one with a busted zipper and old blankets etc, wrap your hot pot in a towel and then all other insulating material, then into the cooler, close lid and leave it alone.

Cherry Tree (author)2014-02-20

Yes, ClayOgre, I used a pressure cooker for years in mine, till I burnt my pressure cooker (the haybox no doubt delayed that event for years, another of its advantages !).
I see lots of questions about technique - lots of great ideas, there are also lots of ideas out there on the web, answer is, it all works !

meddler (author)2014-02-09

Hope everyone liked thiks instructable.

sclausson (author)2010-09-26

I have a book called "The Fireless Cook Book" 978-1-4290-1146-4 ISBN which is a reprint of a 1913 Drexel Institute book with instructions and recipes. It is still available.

pedleyfigg (author)sclausson2012-10-07

Available to download for free.

Thursday Next (author)sclausson2011-01-15

unfortunately it's 31 dollars for the cheapest one on amazon.

Check first. Much better prices almost all the time. Many books on fireless cookery.
Today they have 140 million books for sale.

I'll check it out. I have a lot of gift card money in my amazon account, that's why I looked there first.

sclausson (author)Thursday Next2011-01-16

have you checked at your library? some libraries will order books

Thursday Next (author)sclausson2011-01-29

To use the library in my area would cost me 90 dollars a year. I live outside the service area.That's the way it sometimes in poduck city, Indiana

soapmaker (author)2007-04-22

Glad to see this article! You can make a more permanent version of this with polyester quilt batting and cotton yardage. Mine's 20 years old, still on its original batting, and still cooking perfectly.

meddler (author)soapmaker2007-04-23

Hmmm, now that's a good idea. I have heard of people using thick sleeping bags before, my wife just happenes to have a box of batting that's just sitting there. I see the good ship larceny on the horizon

soapmaker (author)meddler2007-04-23

Heh! Sounds like a plan to me. We just lined the cooker box with fabric, made the nest of batting (using the pot we knew we'd mostly cook with to set the dimensions of the well within the nest), lined the well with more fabric, and popped together a 3" thick pillow for the top. The whole process, not including letting the glue dry (behind the foil liner), took about 2 hours and that's with hand-sewing the pillow as our sewing machine was broken at the time. Best two hours I've spent on a home improvement project!

Angelwings2ltd (author)soapmaker2012-07-25

hmmm. . . makes me wonder how well it would work for making CPOP or soap paste . . . you have given me some ideas!

ClayOgre (author)2011-03-05

I wonder what would happen if one used a pressure cooker for this...for stuff that takes a longer time even with a pressure cooker. You could bring it up to pressure, leave it for a minute or two, then pop it into the box. The lid would certainly fit tight enough, and, if insulated, I bet it would take a while for the pressure to come down. On the other hand, you can't fill a pressure cooker more than 2/3 of the way full, so that might be a factor.

aiden120000 (author)2006-08-01

i like soup

johnlvs2run (author)aiden1200002009-08-13

Excellent idea and photos. Thanks for sharing.

acmuis (author)2008-10-30

In the old days they would heat the pot and just put it in bed till dinner time.

neuralstatic (author)2007-10-18

i was waiting to see in which step this cooker cooked the food. well ti's not, it's an insulator only. which is a good thing in itself. i'd recommend using fibreglass insulation attached to the walls of the box, with the backing toward the center. you won't have to shift it around so much with every use, and they don't call it insulation for nothing.

T-Terrible (author)2007-07-16

i use a big cooler and a quilt.. great for chicken stock.

meddler (author)2007-06-25

Well, it's simply a cooking method that you can use if you have a limited supply of fuel. Be it wood,propane or gas, this method helps you to extend those fuels by using less energy. I mean if you don't have any concerns about saving fuel by all means use the stove from start to finish.I use this method for camping mainly.

meddler (author)2007-05-29

I have heard of people using thick sleeping bags as well,I'm gonns see if my wife will make a (cooker bag)out of left over quilt and batting material.And i have used the thermos method as well works very good, i keep a look out for wide mouth stanly's at garage sales. For some reason i still like the box don't ask me why i just do.If your in a situtation where conservation of fuel is important you can't beat this method.

kd (author)2007-05-29

Hey guys, I cook this way often. Heat your food up to a boil over med heat, cover, simmer until heated thru, then wrap in insulating material. You don't need a box; I have just wrapped it in an old polyester quilt 3 inches thick all round and it works great. Beans simmer for 20 min, wrap for 3 hrs. Rice simmers 5 min, wraps for 1 1/2 hrs. You can cook most grains in a thermos even, just heat to boil, pour into preheated thermos, cap it and let is sit a couple hours. I only use about 1/10-th the fuel that way, and if I use several pots I can do a whole meal using the same amount of fuel I used to use for a single dish!! Even soybeans (notoriously long cooking) did cook this way, I just had to reheat them after the first 3 hours, and re-wrap for another 3 hours. Nice in that the food won't burn, the house does not get overheated in the summer, no way for it to catch fire or burn someone by spillage...I could go on and on. Im in the process of converting many of my crock-pot recipes now to use either a 'haybox' or a thermos to cook in to save $$$. Try it, you will love it.

meddler (author)2007-04-24

When i was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas i was going to make a double cooker out of an empty C4 wood box, they would usually let me have a small wood ammo crate here and there, but not the C4 box. They reused them and had to keep records on the number recived and sent back.I am going to keep my eyes open for a childs wood toy box at garage sales etc. The quilt batting idea would work on that pretty good i think.Although, that would be an awfull lot of soup or stew to make,(for me and mine) maby a good idea for a soup line for the homeless or a poor orphanage in 3rd world countries? I saw a web site once (can't remember it)where a guy made a solar oven out of a refrigerator for a very poor south american orphanage which coulden't afford a large oven, it would bake 40 loaves at a time.

meddler (author)2006-09-23

Sure , you heat your soup or stew on a stove to boiling let it go a bit then put it in the cooker. This was done during ww2 to conserve cooking fuel and not use as much during cooking.

dcshoeco33 (author)2006-09-23

you dont need any fire?

meddler (author)2006-08-02

I can't remember the site i found on this, but the guy who wrote it said you could do 5 or 6 pots of beans the haybox way for the same amount of energy it would take to do one pot on a stove from start to finish. Although with some beans you have to boil it up a second time to get it done.

meddler (author)2006-08-01

so do i,i use this alot when i have things to do. After i set it up i just leave it till supper. This was my first instructable hope it wasn't to lame.

fungus amungus (author)meddler2006-08-01

Cool stuff. Takes much less energy this way.

About This Instructable




Bio: pushin 40(50 now,where did the time go?) partialy disabled veteran, like to tinker with stuff, not very good at it, but i have ...
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