How to Cook With No Stove or Oven
When pandemic-related shortages lead to appliance delays, I had to learn how to get creative with my cooking. And I wasn't the only one.
If you tried to buy a new major kitchen appliance last year, the process was probably a lot more drawn-out and difficult than you expected. I know this from first-hand experience—my husband and I are still waiting on our new oven, dishwasher and microwave ordered in early 2021. Between businesses closing, manufacturers scaling back and stores pulling orders—not to mention cases of Covid-19 spreading rapidly through factories, leading to slowed production or further closures—a recession began that had a major impact on the appliance industry. Meanwhile, spending all our time at home, baking banana bread and sourdough and cooking dinner for our families every night led to an increase in demand for new appliances that the industry just couldn't keep up with.
While you still can't get a shiny new range delivered in a few days as in pre-pandemic times (, the situation is slowly improving. According to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, domestic shipments of major cooking appliances (think electric and gas ranges, wall ovens and microwaves) were up 16.9 percent for the year in April compared to the same timeframe in 2020.
Though many families were forced to go without a major appliance last year due to the delays, there's been a bright side: Adapting has taught them more than a few things about cooking.
Auburn, Calif.-based Lynell Ross, resource director for an online education company, says the motherboard on her family's 15-year-old electric oven went out in spring 2019. She and her husband held out on getting a new one in preparation for a kitchen remodel, for which they were planning to upgrade to a 36-inch range. "Looking back, I would have bought a used stove to get us through," says Ross, who cooks big meals regularly for her two adult sons and their families.
It wasn't all bad, however. Ross focused on honing her skills in alternative appliances to put dinner on the table. In winter months, she made everything from meatloaf to chicken and dumplings to minestrone soup in an 8-quart slow cooker. She dusted off her 20-year-old electric skillet to make pancakes and bacon or pork chops and rice — a not-too-shabby alternative to stovetop cooking. "You can [use it to] sauté, simmer, fry and warm things up," says Ross. Missing her ability to bake, she bought a new large toaster oven that could fit an 8-by-8 inch pan. And living in northern California, where it rarely snows, made it easy for her family to put their outdoor grill to use for pork ribs, steaks, fish, roasted vegetables and even Thanksgiving turkey.
Not all her creative attempts were successful. "It wasn't as easy as I thought it might be to bake casseroles on the grill even though it has a closed lid," Ross explains. For instance, a pan of macaroni and cheese burned on the bottom and didn't cook evenly, and a frozen pizza on the grill turned out laughably bad.
Around July 2020, the Rosses finally wrapped up their kitchen remodel, complete with a GE 36" Monogram gas range (currently out of stock indefinitely at major stores like Home Depot). Her first bakes in the new oven? Tamale pie casserole and cornbread.
Across the county, the Osborne family in Charleston, S.C. also know what it's like to live (and cook) without an oven. "It's been a comedy of errors," says Libba Osborne, co-owner of a PR agency and mother of two boys ages 9 and 13. Last Thanksgiving, their 15-year-old gas oven/range began showing its age, erratically turning off halfway through baking before finally going out. They tried to have it repaired, to no avail, before finally ordering a new KitchenAid — not expecting they'd have to wait nearly 6 months for it.
What was originally a huge disappointment turned out to be the boost the family needed to get creative in the kitchen. One big change? Appliances typically used for weekend enjoyment became weekday staples. For instance, an air fryer previously tasked only with crisping up chicken wings or tater tots got moved from an upper cabinet to a permanent space on the countertop. "I would always roast vegetables to add anywhere I can, and I learned the air fryer makes it so easy to have them fresh, versus trying to roast a batch and eating them cold later," says Osborne. "All of a sudden I had more variety and better temperature." Air-fried chicken breasts rubbed with Spicewalla seasonings even unseated her husband's famous grilled chicken. "Now I find myself saying, don't heat up the grill — just do it in the air fryer," she says.
A downside to the air fryer is its small size, which has forced them to cook dinner in batches. "Some nights, we say, 'Screw it, you are going to eat before us—kids first, then parents.' We haven't done that since we were little," Osborne says. It hasn't all been delicious, either. An attempt at air-fried eggs turned out rubbery and gross, and she sadly hasn't been able to replicate her son's favorite brownies. For what the air fryer can't handle, the family has also experimented outdoors with an Ooni pizza oven (they're still getting used to it, she says) and making dishes like chili or shrimp in their fire kettle.
"Typically I'm pretty regimented, but [being without an oven] forced me to think and prep differently," says Osborne. Overall, she says her family's vegetable intake at every meal went up; they spent more time cooking together (think making tacos on the fire kettle versus stovetop on a Tuesday); and she discovered some cooking methods are just surprisingly better for certain things. "I love air-fried asparagus with a little bit of sriracha and honey," she says. "It's a different flavor than the grill, but being able to have it hot right there on a scrambled egg is great.
Patty Lee, a retired court reporter based near San Francisco, says the 2020 death of her Thermidor oven—which was primarily used for baking or during the holidays—turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened for her cooking, too. Instead of waiting to order a new one (the gas burners on top are still functioning), she opted for an Anova Precision Oven instead, which sits on her counter and measures 22-by-17-by-14 inches. More than an appliance, Lee calls it her new toy.
"As with all new toys, one gets very excited and plays with it a lot," she jokes. "My [Anova] is basically on all day, every day, as I'm tweaking old recipes, trying out sous vide meats, and attempting new and time-consuming dishes."
Since losing her main oven, which she now uses as storage, she's expanded her horizons when it comes to baking, experimenting with sweet recipes from around the world such as Pandan chiffon cake and purple yam bread. Instead of making desserts only for get-togethers, she now churns them out on a regular basis, for the fun of it—and loves to give away the spoils. Call it making lemonade out of lemons. "The biggest difference now," says Lee, "is that cooking is more of a hobby or game, with infinite possibilities, than a daily chore."