Instructions for Building Hayboxes for Fireless Cooking with Recipes

A Haybox is an insulated box used for slow cooking without electricity, wood or gas. See our recipes for the forerunner to the crock pot! The haybox cooker is also known as a fireless cooker or strawbox cooking.

Originally, hayboxes were square or rectangular boxes, insulated with hay, having large molded holes inset to hold one or two pots of hot food.

Haybox cooking was done where the meal was brought to the boil in the normal manner and then placed in the haybox to continue to slow cook. However, although hay or straw was the preferred medium for insulation, it really isn’t that great. Both tend to absorb the steam and the grasses end up sappy and start to smell if you use them repeatedly.

I hate to say this, being a traditionalist, but polystyrene is a far better way of insulating your boxes.

an early haybox
An early German Haybox from the 19th Century

How to Use your Haybox

Using a haybox is a very fuel-efficient way of cooking, and particularly suited to cooking soups, stews, curries, milk puddings, and rice dishes. The haybox may also be used for making yogurt and for keeping food warm.

How to Make your own Haybox

Traditional hayboxes are few and far between these days, but you can make a cheap alternative. Line a strong cardboard box with 5 pieces of polystyrene at least 2 inched thick, making sure that the pieces have been cut exactly the same sizes for the walls and the floor, so that there is a tight and snug fit. You will need a saucepan with two small handles and a tight fitting lid.

Ideally, make the box for a particular size pot, as the less space there is around the pot, the better, as the less heat is lost, and the better your food will cook. Any spaces around your pot can be filled with crumpled or shredded newspaper. Once your food has been placed inside, and covered with your tight-fitting lid, cover again with any crumpled newspaper and then provide the lid for your haybox, of polystyrene.

To make sure that your food cooks well, make sure that you have pre-boiled it on the stove for at least 10 minutes so that the heat has been thoroughly distributed, even to the chunks of meat your may have in your stews and curries. Then quickly transfer your food to the box, pad with crumpled newspaper, cover with the polystyrene lid, and then cover with the cardboard lid. Place something heavy to totally cover the top. Leave your food undisturbed for 8-10 hours without peeking! Some meats may need a couple of hours more.

Another way of making a hayboxes, or fireless cookers, is to use a cooler box you would normally take with you when fishing, camping or picnicking. In Australia it is called an Esky, named after the brand name, and in New Zealand it is called a Chilly Bin. However, because it already has the polystyrene lining inside the plastic coating, it is excellent for this purpose. Just make sure that the size of the pot, is the right one for the cooler box you want to use.

Recipes for Hayboxes

Haybox Recipes - Corned Beef and Cabbage

Wash and soak 6 pounds of corned beef in cold water overnight. Place in pot the next morning with enough boiling water to cover the meat. Boil for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, place into your hayboxes. Cover quickly and let stand undisturbed for 5 hours. If cabbage is to be used, add the cabbage to the pot after boiling the meat on the stove.

Stewed Chicken

Add a chicken to the pot with two chopped onions, some pepper and salt to taste. You can at this stage also add celery and whole carrots. Pour over boiling water to cover and boil for 20 minutes. Remove from stove, put into your hayboxes and leave for four hours. If you have a young chicken it should be ready in just over 2 hours. Thicken the gravy with 2 tablespoons of butter, and 2 tablespoons of flour after the chicken has been removed from the fireless cooker. You may need to place this back on the heat to thicken. Adjust seasoning and serve with rice or mashed potatoes.

Boiled Lamb

Place lamb into pot with enough boiling water to cover and place on stove. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 onions. Boil for 20 minutes. Leave in hayboxes for 5 hours undisturbed. Thicken gravy as for stewed chicken.

Haybox Recipes - Boiled Ham

Take a 12 pound piece of smoked ham and wash well. Soak overnight if highly salted. Place in pot and cover with boiling water. Add 2 onions and boil for 25 minutes. Remove from stove and put it into your fireless cookers. Leave undisturbed for 5 hours. If you are using a ham of 16 pounds, you will need to leave it for 6 hours.

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