Tag Archive for: prison cooking

It’s certainly no secret that jail and prison food can be absolutely disgusting. Therefore, it is also no surprise when prisoners take it upon themselves to upgrade the quality of their daily cuisine.

They do so by using items purchased from the commissary, a few ingredients stolen from the kitchen (kitchen workers earn extra money by pilfering food to sell to fellow inmates), from prison/jail gardens and, if they’re lucky, someone smuggles something in from the outside that’s really good, such as real meat.

By the way, most of the food items smuggled from the kitchen are concealed inside the pants of the workers. Officers often tend to skip the crotch area when conducting pat-downs, so yes, that delicious piece of leftover cake or chicken breast was once, well … right “there.” Yum …

Prison culinary pros use only the best of cooking tools, such as a sharpened vegetable can lid (one edge folded over for safe gripping), used for slicing, dicing, and chopping. Lids are honed to a fine edge by rubbing across a concrete surface. They’re actually quite sharp, sharp enough to glide through a tomato with ease. They’re also sharp enough to slice human flesh with equal ease.

Plastic garbage bags can be used for steaming and boiling, and in place of microwavable bowls.

Most commissaries sell microwavable bowls but some prisoners cannot afford such luxuries, so they cut 4-6 inches off the bottom of a plastic bucket and it serves nicely as a microwavable cooking bowl.

Five gallon bucket bottoms of various heights and depths make excellent pots for cooking stews, soups, and pasta, as well as being utilized as nice serving containers for large groups—birthday, holiday, or Super Bowl and “release eve” parties.

An 8″-10″ bucket bottom with multiple holes drilled through are fantastic colanders. For an even better product, simply cut a slot on each side to serve as handles to prevent the burning and steaming of fingers.

If the facility does not provide microwaves or, if you’re confined to a cell without access to a microwave, well, you’ll have to be a bit more creative, such as perhaps using a stinger to generate heat.

Stingers are used to heat liquid and/or boil water

Stinger – spoons

A stinger is a device made from electrical wire and two metal objects, such as razor blades, spoons, forks, or even parts from fingernail clippers.






Boiling Water

So, what sort of dishes are concocted from these piecemeal ingredients and crude cookware? Well, for starters …

Jailhouse Tamales


  • One bag of plain corn chips
  • One bag of spicy hot chips – Cheetos, Doritos, etc.,
  • Hot water – (only the amount needed to transform mixture into a thick mush/paste)
  • Hot sauce


  1. Place all chips into one chip bag
  2. Mash/crush/pulverize the chips
  3. Add just enough hot water to transform mixture into a thick mush/paste
  4. Knead mixture well
  5. Drain excess water, if any
  6. With mixture/dough still inside chip bag, mold into shape of a tamale
  7. Let “tamale” “cook” (let it stand for 5 minutes or so).
  8. Remove tamale and top with hot sauce
  9. Enjoy

Spicy Tuna Surprise


  • One can of tuna
  • A hunk of stolen kitchen cheese
  • One package of Ramen noodles (flavor is optional)
  • Jalapeños – stolen from kitchen, jail garden, or purchased from commissary


  1. Break noodles into smaller pieces
  2. Cook noodles per package instructions (add hot water heated with stinger)
  3. Drain tuna and then place it into a bowl
  4. Top tuna with jalapeño slices/wheels
  5. Add cheese crumbles or slices
  6. Mix seasoning packet into steaming hot noodles
  7. Top dish with prepared noodles
  8. When cheese has melted to desired consistency … enjoy

The Spread

Serving large groups—parties, social gatherings, etc. By the way, it’s a sign of respect to invite someone to join in on a spread.


  • Top Ramen Soup (one package per guest)
  • The kitchen sink – whatever you want to add—tuna, corn chips, chicken pieces, summer sausage, popcorn, etc.


  1. Place noodles and spice mixes inside a plastic garbage bag
  2. Add any and all other ingredients of your choosing (see list above). Be creative
  3. Add enough hot water to “cook” the entire dish into the consistency of a casserole.
  4. Tightly close the garbage bag and allow mixture to “cook”
  5. When done, cover a tabletop with a newspaper or similar item and “spread out the ingredients.”
  6. Everyone uses a spoon to dig in and share this delicious “spread.”

Sweet and Sour Pork

This one is basically disgusting. It’s made by combining pork rinds, the kind sold in bags like chips and Cheetos, with a sauce made from jelly, Kool Aid, and one Top Ramen seasoning packet. Yum.



  • Elbow macaroni
  • Mixed vegetables
  • Butter
  • Hot sauce
  • Salt


Before preparation can begin, the cook must shop for the ingredients needed to make this delicious dish. Acquiring the goods involves either stealing the macaroni, vegetables, and butter from the chow hall, or to have someone who works in the kitchen steal the items. Of course, if a fellow inmates steals for someone else they’ll expect something in return. This could be an invitation to share the prepared meal, a trade of stolen goods for another item such as soup, cakes, tuna packets, stamps (prison currency – see note at bottom of article). Or, reimbursement could come in the form of a service, such as shoe shines, laundering clothes, a haircut, artwork to send home and, well, the list is practically endless. Like the cake smuggled from the dining hall, these and other items are often concealed inside the inmates’ pants.

  • Okay, with the ingredients in hand, the jailhouse culinary artist boils macaroni in the unit microwave, overcooking it until it reaches mushy consistency
  • Roll pasta into little balls
  • Use thumb to flatten the centers of each pasta ball, creating small dumpling pockets.
  • Fill the dumplings with vegetables, hot sauce, and soy sauce
  • Seal each dumpling by smooshing the gooey pasta mix over the vegetable mix until they’re encased
  • Brush each dumpling with melted butter,.
  • Toast the dumplings

*Toasting is accomplished by wrapping food in paper and then place next to hot pipes. Or, when hot plumbing isn’t available, by using a homemade toilet paper oven where a rolled TP cylinder is set on fire. The inside of the “oven” burns first which generates a more intense heat that’s perfect for cooking and toasting.

Note: Inmates are not permitted to take food from the dining hall. 

Dessert – Homemade Convict Cake



Peanut butter


Water (as needed)



  • Start by disassembling the Oreo cookies, then scrape off the white center goo, setting it aside for later use.
  • Next, crush the chocolate cookies into tiny particles. The smaller the better.
  • Mix the cookie dust with water until it transforms into a a paste-like consistency
  • Mold the “dough” into cake layers.
  • Spread the leftover white gunk across the top of the cake. It is the “icing on the cake.”

Peanut butter may be substituted for the Oreo white stuff. Or, the two may be used together.

  • Top the cake with M&Ms.

Just like Mom used to make!


Romantic meal

Postage Stamps as Prisoner Currency

United States postage stamps are the universal currency in most prisons. Inmates use them to purchase goods and services just as the folks on the outside use actual dollars. For example, in prison the value of a single stamp (not so long ago) had a value of $.50. Therefore: if the inmate who stole the ingredients to make the potstickers mention above charged $1.50 (a high price, by the way) for the pasta and vegetables, then the prisoner who received the goods would handover three stamps for the service provided. Inflation (increases in stamp prices) may have caused a slight price jump.

Other items could be used as currency, too, such as Ramen Noodles.

By the way, inmates are limited to a certain number of stamps. The rules, however, do not stop them from stockpiling and hiding their “currency.”

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) policy “limits the quantity of the sale for various items per Commissary visit, such as the equivalent of one (1) book of postage stamps per sale. Inmates may have no more than the equivalent of 40 1st Class stamps in their possession at any time.” If caught with more than the allowable number of stamps the inmate would be subject to disciplinary actions (loss of commissary, phone privileges, visitation, etc.).

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Final words