Freezer Bag Cooking is a method of cooking dehydrated foods using only heated water and a freezer bag. It’s a technique that has caught on well with hikers and campers but has also been adopted by peppers as a means of convenient cooking with minimal cleanup. However, some people despise the idea of it and claim it can be harmful to your health.
The method itself is pretty straightforward. You mix your dry ingredients in a freezer bag, add in heated water, insulate the bag in some way, and wait for the food to “cook” or rehydrate.
For rehydrating food, you do not need boiling water but heated. Generally, most people will bring the water to a slow boil, and then allow it to cool off for a minute or two before adding to the bag. However, some people get very creative and can make full three-course meals using nothing but freezer bag cooking.
In this article, we will be discussing the details of freezer bag cooking, as well as the potential health effects some people claim. We will also look at two of my favorite recipes to make on the trail. Of course, we will talk about how freezer bag cooking can be useful to preppers, and how to incorporate it into your preps.
Freezer bag cooking initially became popular during the 1990’s during the rise of the ultralight backpacking craze. Since hiker and rock climber Ray Jardine hiked the Pacific Coast Trail with a pack that had a base weight of only 12.5 pounds, the quest for lighter and lighter gear has continued.
By allowing you to reduce the needed equipment and supplies freezer bag cooking can help a backpacker cut weight in a category that is often a large portion of overall pack weight.
Another aspect that helped freezer bag cooking become more and more widely used was the fact that you could make healthier and better-tasting meals, compared to the often less than desirable pre-packaged food. It is because of methods like freezer bag cooking catching on, that we have seen so much research and development by dried food companies in the last twenty years.
While you certainly have a large variety of “gourmet” meals to choose from today for your backpacking needs, in the mid to late nineties the options slim.
With freezer bag cooking, you forgo the standard mess kit, only needing a spoon and a pot to heat water. You also lose the excess weight of the standard mylar packaging most dehydrated meals come packed in.
You also do not have to do any dishes and have minimal cleanup at all. This allows you to save on extra water needing to be carried if you are away from a water source.
The remained trash from the meal is only the bag itself, which packs small and weighs next to nothing. Another area freezer bag cooking saves weight is with fuel. Just having to heat water, you will not use as much fuel as traditional cooking.
Another advantage to freezer bag cooking is that you get to customize your meals. If you’re a heavy eater, you can add in more food. A light eater can do less food, or omit heavier parts of the meal.
You are in control of the ingredients and portion size, which is an advantage over using store-bought food. From a health perspective, it also allows you to control the quality of ingredients and change recipes to conform to specific diets of beliefs.
While freezer bag cooking sounds like a fantastic thing, there are some who a staunchly against it. Most of the concerns are about chemicals leaching from the plastic during the “cooking” process while the plastic is softened from the heat.
However, according to the Material Data Sheet for Polypropylene (PP), the melting temperature is Melting Point | 150-170 °C, with the Decomposition temperature being >300°C, far beyond the boiling point at 100°C (212°F).
Another concern a lot of people are uncomfortable with freezer bag cooking is spilling of boiling water while adding it to the bag or mixing the food in the bag. Steam created inside the bag can fill the bag as you are mixing or kneading the food, and can cause the seal to pop open.
When freezer bag cooking you need the heat to do the cooking, so insulating the bag will help keep in the heat and make sure your food gets good and rehydrated before eating. It’s popular to use a specialized “koozie” to put the bags in while they cook.
Some people purchase or make their own, specialized koozies to drop their bags in. You can find them made from a ton of different materials, and everyone has their personal opinion into which one works best. The most common ones I have seen are made from the material used in windshield heat reflectors for your vehicle. I have used this style, as well as ones made from thick cotton towels, and both seemed to work about the same.
Other people, myself included, prefer to use something on hand to insulate the bag rather than a koozie. Generally, I will use either a jacket, sleeping bag, or beanie hat, and all work just fine.
When it comes to the food that you can make while freezer bag cooking, the possibilities are only limited to your imagination. Some people prefer a simple dump it all in kind of recipe, while others will cook different parts of the meal in separate bags and serve it family style. As long as you can find, or make, the ingredients dehydrated, you can cook with it.
Another option is to cook your own meals at home, and then dehydrate them. Then you break it up and portion it out into freezer bags. You now have virtually the same thing you get with the store-bought dried meals (such as soup, beef stew, spaghetti with meat sauce).
This allows you to control what goes into the meal, and tweak the spices and style to make it your own. It is also significantly cheaper to make your own. The last time that we processed a batch of chili we ended up with 11 bags, and less than $20 in the chili. 11 bags bought commercially would have been $75 to $100.
I have two personal favorite freezer bag recipes that are my go to when planning on freezer bag cooking. These recipes are hearty, warm, and great after a long day on the trail, fishing, or hunting.
The recipes are very versatile and are more suggestions than an actual recipe. You can change almost any of the components, or add or subtract ingredients based on what you have on hand.
Pizza Ramen Recipe
The first recipe is Pizza Ramen. This recipe creates a very filling and delicious pasta dish that is not only delicious but warm and filling. You can add just about any topping you like into the mix.
I have added sausage, peppers, onion, mushrooms, shredded cheese, bacon bits, black olives, Canadian bacon, and just once, pineapple. I would not recommend the pineapple.
- 1 pack chicken flavored ramen
- 1oz of pepperoni, sliced in half
- 3/4 cup heated water
- 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese
- 4 tablespoons of pizza sauce
Break up the ramen noodle block and add into the freezer bag. Add in the chopped pepperoni, the ramen flavor pack, and the hot water. Here you can add any dried ingredients that you may want. If you add a lot of dried ingredients, you may need to increase the water to 1 cup.
Mix well and insulate. Leave for at least 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes remove and mix again to make sure all the noodles are broken apart and rehydrated. Next, mix in the parmesan cheese and pizza sauce. Here you can add any fresh ingredients you like.
Let it set for 2 to 3 minutes to combine well and heat the sauce, and it is ready to eat.
Notes on ingredients:
If you are planning on cooking on the trail, you will want to find shelf stable and sealed ingredients where possible. Ramen is nuke proof, so that is good to go.
Pepperoni is pretty shelf stable, but I usually buy the vacuum sealed packs, used half of the package and snack on the rest. The best place I have found for the pizza sauce is pizza style Lunchables.
You get a small sealed pack of sauce that is perfect. For the parmesan cheese, I will try to get the little packets from takeout pizza places. They are sealed in mylar and shelf stable.
Jerky Mashed Potatoes Recipe
The second recipe is Jerky Mashed Potatoes. This is another extremely versatile and very adaptable recipe. You can add is most dried ingredients to make it extra hearty. Often I have added shredded cheese, bacon bits, chunks of sausage or pepperoni, mushrooms, or whatever else is in the food bag.
- 1oz of beef jerky, chopped or shredded
- 1 pack of instant mashed potatoes (the kind you only need to add water to)
- 2 cups of heated water
Add mashed potatoes and chopped jerky into the freezer bag. Add 2 cups of heated water and mix well. Insulate the bag and wait 10 minutes. Stir and serve.
What are some of YOUR freezer bag prepper recipes that you’ve tried? Are they based on ingredients with a long shelf life? Let us know in the comments below.
Born and raised in Kentucky, Steve grew up deep in the mountains on a family farm. After college, Steve spent over 15 years working in public service and has experience in Fire, EMS, and Law Enforcement. He has also worked with training and deploying search & rescue and service dogs for utilization in a variety of services.
Steve is also a Scout Leader with the Boy Scouts of America, and works to teach preparedness to the next generation. Steve has worked with and taught firearms and self-defense in multiple venues, from tactical applications to long range shooting, and also has extensive training in first aid and wilderness first aid.
An active prepper, Steve has devoted hundreds of hours to mastering and teaching skills and techniques for use in survival, homesteading, and general preparedness.