Hobo Stove Cooking

| 3/18/2010 5:04:07 PM

Tags: question to readers,

Many years ago — OK, decades ago — I took a group of 8-year-old Brownie Girl Scouts on a day outing. The goal was to successfully hike a couple of miles, discover something new in nature and cook our own lunches. Eight-year-olds, you say? Yup! And each of the girls did successfully cook and then eat her own lunch.

/uploadedImages/articles/issues/1984-03-01/086-047-01a.jpgAh – one other parameter — we couldn’t cook with wood as there wasn’t any available where we were hiking in the Eastern Washington drylands. So, we chose to cook on tin-can stoves (click on the link to see how to make a tin-can stove) we had made during our regular meeting the week before. Each girl and leader carried her stove and the fuel necessary to fix lunch. I’m sure many of you have used these handy stoves. The fuel consisted of a tuna can with a tight roll of corrugated cardboard inside. After the cardboard was inserted in the can, we put a birthday candle in the middle, just the height of the cardboard, then carefully poured melted paraffin into the can up to the top of the cardboard. When ready to cook, we placed the little can under the tin-can stove and lit the candle.

At lunch time, we set all of the stoves on the gravel, in a line, two arm lengths from its neighbor. Each girl put her little tuna-can burner under the stove and one of the leaders lit it. Within a minute or so, the top of the stove was hot enough to cook on. We made eggs in a hole! First each girl put about a teaspoon of butter on the stove top – it melted quickly. Then, a slice of bread with an egg-sized hole in the middle was put onto the butter and an egg was broken into the hole. It took just a couple of minutes for one side to be cooked. Then we flipped the bread and egg onto another teaspoon of melted butter. Within five minutes, most of the lunches were cooked and ready to eat.

The best part of the whole process was each girl was responsible for the success of her own lunch and therefore had a strong incentive to pay close attention.

I’ve cooked many times on a tin can stove since then – a few burned meals when I wasn’t attentive, but mostly quick, tasty food after a day’s outing. Have you cooked on a tin-can stove? Share your best meal experience in the comments section below.

4/10/2010 11:10:54 PM

I once cooked pop tarts on a frying pan over a campfire, it burned the edges but got the job done.

4/8/2010 9:17:40 PM

To AgnusTN: If you click on the link in the article called " tin-can stoves " a larger picture will appear. This picture is much easier to read. The stove uses a Number 10 can. A Number 10 can is one of the bigger ones you see on the store shelves. I hope this helps.

heidi _2
3/26/2010 7:38:53 PM

I volunteered as a Junior Aide at a Girl Scout day camp one summer when I was young. We all made hobo stoves one day. The next day, the last day of camp, we cooked our own hamburgers on them for the final day picnic. It worked very well. I think we also did banana boats.

3/26/2010 10:59:43 AM

This was a excellent article, could you please do one on cooking in a paper bag. That would also make a excellent article.

3/26/2010 8:54:03 AM

Picture is too small to read; comment descriptions confusing. Tuna cans? Catfood cans? Coffee cans. Picture seems to show 3 tiers. Got the fuel section, what/how are other sections? Never been a Girl Scout. :)

3/25/2010 11:39:45 PM

I worked for a natural gas and oil research company in my younger days and we would take can of stew, or soup and rest it on the exhaust manifold of the auxiliary Diesel engine to heat it.

3/24/2010 6:07:37 PM

I remember the 'can meals' from my scouting years .. :) ..years later on a cross country trip I put a "can meal" under the hood of my car .. just out of curiosity .. tasted great.

3/24/2010 4:25:57 PM

Sparky your wallys must be out of the Sterno Stoves. I've purchased several at the Rockwood,Tn. store. Got em in the bug out bags campin junk even out in the chickin house to heat up my coffee when I'm stuck out there in the winter. Them things are great. Cheaper Than Dirt also has great camping gear at reasonable prices. Course it's always fun to get back to Boy Scout days finding a discarded can and roasting a mess of minnows over some sticks. Good luck God Bless and have fun there's not much time left for it. Jim

john mayer_2
3/24/2010 2:24:28 PM

Hey Richard, Check on Ebay they usually have them for sale in their Camping accessories section. got to ebay select sporting goods+ Camping Accessories+Sterno Campstove. Good Luck I have gotten a few of them from Ebay myself.

3/24/2010 1:31:11 PM

Oh my, I grew up on a farm in the midwest and I remember making hobo stoves for my mom and I to use for picnic dinners when I was a kid. We'd put some ground hamburger and veggies in a tin foil packet and take our little stoves out to some remote part of the farm and cook up our dinners together. Awesome memories. Can't wait to do this with my kids someday.

3/24/2010 1:15:26 PM

Found a better hobo stove on the AT, that paraffin will be heavy. Pop airholes into the bottom of a catfood can with a hole punch, staggered every 3/8 inch, and not within about 3/8 inch of the bottom. Put in denatured alcohol to the level below holes and light. Cook in your cookset plate on top, usually macaroni and cheese mix or flaked potatoes and dehydrated meats and veggies. Keep the denatured alcohol in a nalgene plastic or other bottle. The can will burn out along the trail, maybe a good idea to carry a holepunch, but you can always find a cat food can.

3/24/2010 1:13:55 PM

Sorry I mean the holes are on the side of the cat food can, close to the bottom.

3/24/2010 9:40:03 AM

Sterno stove ,,,, I have looked at K-Mart,Wal-Mart,Sears,Dicks,Target, not a single one sell the stove---all of them carry the (sterno ) in the can--in the Camping Gear section of their stores. --but NOT the stove--how stupid. sparky

barbara gillihan
3/24/2010 9:28:12 AM

OMG... SO many years ago. I haven't thought of the hobo stove.. but what memories it brings back. A group of little brownie scouts huddling around watching in amazement as the bread and egg cooked! That was 59 years ago but I remember exactly where it was! Thanks for bringing back the wonderful memories.

suzanne horvath
3/24/2010 8:25:02 AM

No way to edit my last post. What I meant to say is to scramble the eggs and seal them raw (carefully :-} ) in a vacuum bag which is able to be put in boiling water. Of course, maybe you could actually cook scrambled eggs and then vacuum seal them - then heat the sealed package quickly in boiling water. That way you could add peppers, onions etc and not have to carry veggies with you. Or you could just put them on the cooking surface to get a little browned on the bottom. Yum.

suzanne horvath
3/24/2010 8:23:08 AM

I bought a book years ago called Roughing It Easy by Dian Thomas. Terrific book. It shows this hobo stove idea and many other great ideas. I think she was also a scout leader at one time. Since I'm in the process of buying a mini travel trailer, I think this will come in handy. Just a note on the plastic bag scrambled eggs. This is not a good idea as the plastic will leach into the eggs. These bags are not made for cooking. Same reason you shouldn't use styrofoam cups with boiling water for tea, coffee etc Can you scramble the eggs ahead of time and vacuum seal them (Foodsaver etc process) and just store them in a cold pack?

gaenor howe_2
3/19/2010 6:53:59 AM

Man, I LOVE hobo stoves! Super quick and easy for grilled cheese, pop the top can on to bake tuna can pineapple upside down cake or put on a pot of water for plastic bag scrambled eggs with cocoa to follow (assuming none of the egg bags comes open). I found you really have to control the amount of air that gets in, or they flame up rather spectacularly. Another problem is when you husband sees old burned out, punctured coffee cans in the garage and thinks they're garbage (I ask you!) They are so much better than an open fire for winter camping/hiking meals. They get hotter, are easier to light and cook way faster and more evenly, and it keeps youngsters with bulky winter clothes away from open flame. They're the best. I think most of my Girl Guides made their first three course camp meal on them.

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