Saving Fuel With a Rocket Stove and Hot Box

A group of volunteers in Africa is teaching low-income residents how to cook with less fuel by using a rocket stove and hot box.

| April/May 2014

  • This hot box, named “The Wonder Box,” fits snugly in a kitchen drawer.
    Photo by Elma Hunter
  • This Chicken Apricot Stew Recipe is perfect for cooking in your hot box.
    Photo courtesy Elma Hunt With Vuka Energy Savings

I work with a small group of volunteers in the Western Cape of South Africa that’s showing the region’s low-income residents how to save precious fuel by using a hot box to cook their food. Inhabitants of these shanty areas rely on purchased gas, paraffin or hand-gathered wood for fuel. Our volunteers teach those interested how to prepare a meal with a hot box and a 16-brick rocket stove, which uses 75 percent less fuel than a conventional stove. When a pot of food has reached a hard boil on the rocket stove, the cook transfers it from the rocket stove to a hot box to finish cooking without fuel.

We call our hot box design the “Wonder Box,” and it’s made by sewing soft cotton or broadcloth into a circular shape that will wrap around your cooking pot. We use polystyrene beads, which are a form of insulation commonly used as packing material for electronics, to stuff the Wonder Box shell. You can also stuff the cushions with wool or nylon materials, newspaper, sawdust, hay, or wood shavings. To learn more about making a Wonder Box of your own, go to Vuka Energy Savings

Elma Hunter
Stanford, South Africa

If you try a hot box, you should return the food to a boil on the stove if its temperature has dropped below 140 degrees Fahrenheit before the food has finished cooking. See a DIY video in How to Build a Rocket Stove Using Cement Blocks. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Chicken Apricot Stew Recipe

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Time in hot box: 3.5 hours


1/2 tbsp of olive oil
Handful of fresh, chopped sage
Handful of fresh, chopped thyme
8 chicken thighs — skin on
2 tbsp of flour seasoned with salt and pepper
1 large onion — chopped
1 large carrot — peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves — crushed
1 tsp of fresh, grated ginger
1 tsp of cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp of ground cumin
1 tbsp of grated lemon zest
1/2 cup brown lentils 
1/2 cup of dried apricots — soaked in warm water for about 30 minutes
2 onions peeled and quartered
2 tbsp of apricot jam
1 tbsp of fruit chutney
1 cup chicken stock (with 2 teaspoon of chicken stock powder or 1 cube)
Salt and pepper


Combine chopped, fresh herbs and spread the mixture between skin and meat of the chicken.

Lightly coat the chicken with seasoned flour (reserve excess flour).

Heat the oil in the pot and brown the chicken on all sides, remove from the pot and set aside.

Add the finely chopped onion, garlic, carrot, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, lemon zest and 1 tablespoon of the leftover flour to the pot.

Cook gently for 5 minutes.

Add lentils, chopped apricots and quartered onions and mix well, cooking for another 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix together the jam, chutney and stock — pour into the pot and add chicken pieces.

Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Place the lidded pot in the Wonder Box to finish cooking for at least 3.5 hours or overnight.

Serve with brown rice.

Note: The pot should be almost full so that there is a minimal amount of air under the lid. Choose the size of the pot to suit the amount of food to be cooked.

Recipe courtesy Elma Hunt With Vuka Energy Savings.



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