Controlling cooking food odors whether SIP or Bug Out conditions

Controlling food odors would be an important consideration for anyone living in the city close to others or even in a rural area if hungry people are searching for food. I’m not sure, but it seems possible that very hungry people would have a heightened sense of smell. 

I ran a test on how much and how far food odors wafted from my home some years ago as part of scenario prepping.

There was no exhaust fan used to blow the odor outside. The item I cooked on top of the stove was dried red kidney beans. There was nothing added to the beans and water. It was to cook them only before making chili later.

While the beans simmered, I took a walk outdoors and was shocked by the smell outside my house. I never thought that plain, unseasoned beans would give off that much smell. More shocking was how far the smell travelled on a day with low wind conditions.

I wondered what the result would have been had I used an exhaust fan and blew more of the smell outside.

This led me to think that smell has to be considered in prepping. I am still trying to figure out how to control odors while cooking. Food can be eaten cold out of the can, but in an emergency of long duration, it will be necessary to cook food. Even bugged out, food odors from an outdoor meal could be a problem.

One last part, I have also considered food odors on my hands from preparing food. In times of scarcity, looking well fed and smelling of garlic might tip off people that you have preps. Lemon juice can neutralize the garlic and baggy clothes can hide a lack of weight loss, but I am still trying to find a solution to reducing or eliminating food odors.

Has anyone considered this and if so, any thoughts on how to deal with this issue?

Thanks in advance


  • Comments (35)

    • 7

      My understanding of a crisis where you have folks starving, is that there will be several phases.  Initially, there will be some food but as it runs out rather quickly, you will have to deal with desperate, starving people.  This is obviously a bigger issue if you are surrounded by other homes but this is also a concern for even rural preppers.

      One should prep accordingly for staying below the radar.  Part of that is having food that does not need cooking or at most just uses boiling water.  I keep many cases of Spam in stock which is fully cooked.  I also keep oats in storage which can be made into a porridge with boiling water.  This would be a good time to eat from your short term stores in your pantry.

      With time, there will be less folks around, either from starvation or evacuation.  Hard part is surviving to that phase.

      In my case I prep to provide food for all the families on our rural, dead end lane.  It is a big investment in resources and money but IMO it is critical for survival.  I have stated many times the most dangerous person you will ever run up against in a crisis will be your starving neighbor.

      • 7

        Thank you Redneck, for your reply.

        I agree that there will be phases and a starving neighbor (especially one with children) will be the most dangerous person to deal with. My mom’s stories of her experience living in a occupied city in the Netherlands during WWII support this perspective.

        Thank you for the reminder about Spam. My husband is a type 2 diabetic, who has, with proper diet and exercise, reduced his weight and is off insulin and oral medication. Because my food management is health driven by keeping his weight in check and diabetes in remission, I have overlooked certain foods and will review this asap. 

        I will add Spam to our preps and re-think some of the items I am stocking. I have stored water packed tuna and protein powder as protein sources. We also rely on legumes for protein. I buy large flake oats in bulk and store it in pails. My husband soaks it overnight and eats it uncooked as a museli.

        Your plan to provide prep food for the other families on your lane is a good way to mitigate panic and desperation. It can also build community.

        In a small rural town, it’s a bit more of a challenge, but all things relative, less headache than coping with a greater population. Caution is still required.

        If needed, I plan to use grey water to rinse any cans thoroughly and use a can crusher to compact any items and quietly recycle any items that could give away our preps.

        I really appreciate your response and enjoy your posts. Your homestead is very thoughtfully designed and well done.

      • 4

        If you like SPAM then try BACON GRILL yes I checked you can get it in the US and UK,  If Spam is the Ford of food, then Bacon Grill is the Mercedes.

        And dont forget about Tinned Corned Beef, No idea what its called in the US. 

      • 6

        Hi Bill,  Oh my gosh, yes, Bully Beef is what my parent’s called corned beef. We ate it on the farm and I haven’t thought of it in years. We used to fry it with onions and potatoes.

        I haven’t heard of Bacon Grill, but will see if it is available in Canada. It sounds good, (anything with bacon sounds good).

      • 7

        In Canada the most common brand of Bacon Grill is the Tulip brand. We used to buy it when i was out there in the brit army

      • 3

        Wonderful, I will look for it. I remember the name Tulip, so it must be around our grocery stores somewhere. Many thanks, Bill.

      • 6

        Tinned Stewing stake is good and lean as well.

      • 6

        There is a specialty foods store in Winnipeg that sells global foods. I’ll bet they have tinned stewing steak and will check next time I’m in the city. I can’t recall seeing it in the big chain grocery stores in Brandon or locally in my small town. Thank you, it sounds tasty.

      • 1

        I have never heard or Bacon Grill and am intrigued!  Any ideas where I could acquire this is the US?  (Thanks for the tip — always looking for new shelf stable foods to to add to my pantry — this seems like a product that could be used to make some delicious fried rice and much more.)

      • 8

        Dont forget to write on ALL of your tinned foods with a permenent marker what is in the tins, as labels have a habit of coming adrift or falling off stored tins.

      • 6

        You know that is one thing I have yet to do. I have the permanent markers on hand, but I need to put that on my “get it done” list. I have everything organized in date order, but that is useless if labels come off. Thank you for the reminder.

    • 8

      So in my world we learned to cook smokeless and odourless. We would arrive where we wanted to eat, Dig a hole and get a dry firewood fire going lined with stones. We would not all stay in place whilst the fire did its job.

      When the fire and stones were good and hot we would either put a lidded cookpot with our food in it  and / or wrap fish / meat in foil and put it on the fire. We would then backfill the hole and leave it to slow cook underground for a few hours, we would then leave the area.

      We would return hours later and dig up the now cooked food, half ate the food other half on guard, then swap over. When we moved on the hole would be either refilled for the next meal or just filled in leaving no sign of us being there.

      • 6

        You know I haven’t thought of pit cooking, either. I have had a side of beef done in a pit on the farm and it was excellent. I have cast iron implements and a cast iron dutch oven, so that would work as the lidded cookpot.

        Very good plan for bug out or if it was necessary to travel away from the small town where I live and cook up a batch of food in a quiet place.

        Awesome ideas, Bill, thank you very much.

      • 8

        That method of cooking also works quite well in the back yard 🙂  Cooking and using two way radios close to your BOL is never advisable if TSHTF.  Oh and no more scented fabric conditioner, or laundry detergent or perfumed deodourants either.

      • 3

        Great idea, a back yard bbq this summer would be a great way to try it.  I have no neighbours on one side, so I could try it out on the other side of my garden. 

        I imagine the two way radios would easily be picked up or heard if you used them close to your BOL? It could also be a disaster if one of the radios dropped into the cooking pot.

        I avoid fabric conditioner (it’s easier to find my socks when everything sticks to my sweaters). No more scented hair products either.

        At least the prepared folks will be the aromatic ones. We can then all recognize each other by the smell.

        Thanks again Bill. 

      • 5

        Open pit cooking is equally viable, Let the fire heat up and the flames die out so that its just hot charcoal. Put the lidded or wrapped food into the fire pit and cover the hole with damp straw.  The straw greatly reduces both smell and smoke.

      • 4

        Would the open pit work well in sand? I live by a lake and the surrounding area consists of beach and sandy soil. Thanks very much for the tip on covering with damp straw. I live in grain country, so nearby farmers usually have straw for sale.

      • 7

        Dig the hole and line the sides / floor with bricks to act as a heat sink/ retaining wall.

      • 10

        One thing to consider here is that the smell of a wood fire could bring in unwanted folks, even without the smell of food.  I feel like everyone, but most especially people with lots of neighbors, need to prep to have several weeks worth of food that requires little or no cooking.  A propane stove or alcohol burners can heat up water with no smell.  Much of your canned food, be it commercial or home canned, could be heated in a big pot of water and leave no food odors.

      • 6

        Good point, Redneck. Where I live folks usually campfires in the summer in their back yards or at the campgrounds by the lake, however, if SHTF conditions, then people would conserve their wood because it might be needed for heat in the winter months. A campfire in town would be noticed. Also, an attempt to have a wood fire in a less populated area outside of town would still attract the attention of local farmers by the sight of smoke alone.

        I have some alcohol burners and a propane camping stove. Hot water reheat would work very well, too and there is the bonus that it wouldn’t waste water.

        I do large batch cooking and freeze it in smaller containers. Usually I have a minimum of 35-40 cooked meals on hand. That habit will come in handy if things come to a difficult fork in the road.

        It really seems to come down to preparing on a spectrum of methodologies by having various means of storing food (dried, canned, freeze dried, or frozen) , home canned and commercial canned or employing no or low cooking solutions, or any other aspect of preparing.

        It is a sensible approach that leaves one with the ability to remain adaptable in rigid circumstances. In such conditions, versatility can reduce stress and if one method fails, then there are other means to fall back upon.

        Thank you very much for your kind reply, Redneck.

      • 7

        You are welcome.  Very nice topic too, I might add.  You are addressing an issue I think many preppers fail to take seriously… avoiding conflict.  I’m sure most preppers are well armed with plenty of ammo.  I sure am.  That being said, IMO last thing we want during a crisis is conflict.  We should spend as much time, or more, considering how to keep from being noticed as we do in gathering supplies.

      • 5

        Good valid points, we often use BBQ brickettes to cook with or coalite which is smokeless coal based fuel tablets

      • 5

        Bill, That’s a super smart idea to have a pit fire and then bury your food and slow cook it. Thanks for the tip!

      • 10

        Dont thank me thank Nomadic hunters and Native Americans who invented it hundredsof years ago, We think it was because either hostile trible or vicious predators used to home in on the smell of cooking food. So they learned to heat up a pit with charcoal , put the food in then leave it a few hours thus reducing the risk of attack.

    • 6

      Consider cooking smelly foods in a pressure cooker instead of a pan, then when finished cooked put a mesh bag of activated charcoal OVER (not ON) the pressure relief valve ( CAREFULLY) and it will trap much of the odours.

      • 7

        I have added pressure cooker to my list of preps. Mom had one on the farm, but took out part of the ceiling with it when the lid blew. I just need to read the instructions and follow them. I also want to get a pressure canner for low acidic food canning.

        I love the idea about putting the activated charcoal over the pressure relief valve. It makes total sense and I think it could be adapted to work in other situations. 

        There are air cleaners, however, I want to set up systems that are low or no tech/power dependent (prepare for the worst, hope for the best). The activated charcoal sounds like a good substitute for filtering out odours. (That and a little duct tape could work in lieu of deoderant – kidding).

        Many thanks again, Bill for taking the time to respond and for your help. There are very nice people here and I am glad I joined.

      • 5

        REMEMBER dont let the charcoal hold the pressure valve closed or it will explode, it wants to be ABOVE not in contact. if you are cooking in the kitchen you can fit an extractor fan unit with carbon treated filter sheets.

      • 7

        Understood, Thank you Bill.

    • 6

      I’d echo what Redneck said regarding having food that can be eaten cold. I have plenty of ready to eat tinned food and I also have a stash of meal replacement shakes, not the slimmers type. It’s worth having a variety.

      I would consider moving your cooking area upstairs also, as the smell can carried away on the wind dissipating as it goes and if you lived with neighbours nearby it might help confuse where the smell is coming from.

      Pressure cookers are great if you have limited fuel, I have used one for many years, but please, don’t put anything on or near the pressure relief valve or if your pressure cooker has weights, don’t touch them. I can see the idea, but in practice it could be catastrophic.

      If you want to filter the cooking smells, much better and safer to rig up an extractor fan and have quality filters at the end of the process. Then you can be sure whatever you use to cook with, you will to some extent capture the smell. 

      An old Victorian Terraced house I used to live in had a little fireplace in the bedroom. I would have used that had need arose as the cooking smell would have gone up the chimney and away.

      • 3

        Hi Linnet, I also stock protein powder that can be mixed with milk or water (like athletes/weight lifters use) to ensure there is a good supply of protein stored. I think protein would be depleted quickly in a crisis due to extra physical labour or if one had to walk to secure resources.

        I like your idea of moving the cooking area upstairs. It wouldn’t work for my current house, however, it would be possible to work a space like that into the garage I plan to build on my property. I wanted to put additional storage in an attic/mezzaine type area in the garage. Thank you for suggesting that because I believe it might work very well.

        I am a bit skittish around pressure cookers after witnessing Mom’s experience. She was not lucky around combustibles and one time, turned a can of aerosol whipping cream into a projectile.

        The extractor fan/filter/air cleaner option is one I am also researching. 

        A fireplace like that would have been perfect. We have that style of home in various parts of Canada, particularly Toronto area, however, not everyone has maintained the functionality of their fireplaces.

        Thank you so much.

    • 7

      To control the odor on your hands look into getting a stainless steel bar of soap. It is just a piece of stainless steel that you rub your hands on and I have no idea how it works, but it does. Your hands will go from smelling of fish or garlic to smelling slightly of stainless steel.

      I used to have one, but didn’t do much smelly cooking and donated it. I wish I would have kept it though, my dog’s kibble that I use as treats really stinks up my hands even after washing them three times. This stainless steel bar would have fixed that.

      • 7

        Thanks, Conrad, for sharing the info on the stainless steel bar. It would definitely save soap preps. What a great idea! I am going to hunt one or two down if possible.

      • 2

        Just use a stainless steel spoon.  A larger cooking/serving size works best, dual purpose and less weight.

    • 2

      I like the fire pit idea and will try that soon. In the sake of conserving fuel I have heated meals and finished them off in a homemade wonder bag to insulate pots and let the meal finish cooking that way. The insulated bag or box helps retain heat and odor while finishing cooking your meal like a slow cooker. Basically any meal you can make in a slow cooker can be made in a wonder bag.

      Also, when I worked construction as a rough framer. We didn’t have a microwave available to heat meals. So I used a thermos daily to make Spanish Rice, Red beans and Rice, Pancit, Steel cut Oats, Chili. I’ve used dehydrated veggies and made vegetable soup. Preheat thermos with hot water first, say for ten minutes while a prepared ingredients. Dump out water and add new hot water and ingredients. When lunch came around I had a still fairly hot meal. My wife made me a large sock I would put the thermos in for extra insulation and it certainly helped during the winter time to keep the meal warm for later consumption.

      Now you guys got me going. I’m gonna make a solar cooker box and see if I can bake bread. If I can find a fresnel lens I’ll make a stand to focus the light unto a cast iron crock pot and make a meal natures way. Should be basically odorless.

      Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Gonna read some other post now.

      • 1

        Dan, thank you for the great comment and for sharing your experience with the Wonder Bag. There is another forum thread that you might be interested in Cooking in a haybox – a fuel efficient way to slow-cook your meals.

        I’m looking forward to seeing if your fresnel lens idea will work. Printer paper sized fresnel lenses can be found at Dollar Tree in the office supply section. I’ve started many fires with those. You could also buy a few large mirrors from the dollar store and use those to reflect the heat onto your crock pot.

    • 2

      Since we got our Freeze Dehydrator, I’m putting the majority of my future food prep energy/resources into freeze drying food for the future.  Additionally, except for the fresh fruit and vegetables, most of the food we are storing has been cooked.  Some items like fruit, coleslaw and cooked oatmeal are delicious dry and don’t need to be rehydrated.  The items that need re-hydration don’t necessarily NEED to be heated.  Using cold water or hot water from a simple solar oven can keep odor to a minimum.  Hopefully, it never gets to the point where the pleasure of foods aroma can never be…