Monday, October 29, 2012

Simmering with Sterno

Sometimes you don't need or want a fancy alcohol burner for your backpack cooking system.  Good old Sterno may not burn very hot, or boil water quickly (if at all); but, this relatively cheap burner is very good for slow cooking, simmering, and fry-pan cooking.

Sterno utilizes a gelled alcohol as fuel - basically the same stuff as in a liquid alcohol stove, but the gel burns much more slowly and evenly, without as much heat.  The Sterno can stove needs to have a good heat-reflective windscreen in order to get water to boil, and even then it could take on the order of 20 minutes to get 12 oz of water to boiling.  But while you wouldn't want to count on Sterno to boil up your water for rehydrating meals, it works fine for reheating stew, beans, or soups; and Sterno is great for simmering sauces or cooking eggs and pancakes (which can tend to burn on hotter stoves).  Also, you can get up to 2 hours of burn time on a $1 can of Sterno.

Tuna can windscreen & stand
I will sometimes carry my Sterno stove on short overnight backpacking trips, when I'm looking to simply reheat some canned stew for dinner, and want to have a hearty breakfast of pancakes for my kids.  I'll typically use the Sterno can with a homemade pot stand/windscreen fashioned out of an old tuna can, which is light and easily packs around the Sterno can - it does the trick just fine.  

Alternatively, I have a flat folding Sterno stove holder that provides a large and stable surface for larger frying pans, like the one in my Texsport Kangaroo Mess Kit - and the stove holder fits right in the mess kit's mesh bag when folded flat.  The folding stove holder also fits my Swedish military Svea alcohol burner, which is a bonus.

Another chafing fuel burner that I'd like to try is one of the wick glycol fuel burners.  The wick chafing burners put out about the same heat as the Sterno, and will burn for up to 6 hours per can (that's a lot of pancakes).  Intense Angler posted a nice video-blog review of one of the wick chafing burners that he uses in his $3-cook kit (watch it here).

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