Woodburning stoves for outdoor cooking (plus: new stove!)

I like tinkering with gear, especially outdoor cooking gear, and especially especially stoves. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with wood-burning camp stoves.

Since starting with Cub Scouts nearly 5 years ago, we have done most of our camping with the Scouts, and that sort of cooking is big group cooking. Sometimes, it’s BIG group cooking. Like 75 to 85 people big. Like two 18 liter stock pots of chili at one time (there’s a reason my big chili recipe is called “Chili for 75″, and I’ll post it up here sometime — but not now) on a giant 3-burner propane camping stove.

campfireBut, on the occasional solo or small trip, I like to do some cooking. I’ve been known to cook over an open fire, and I love doing that with my dutch oven and cast iron skillets, but sometimes I like a small stove or I don’t have room for the big cast iron cookware. I also used to do a lot of backpacking (more than 10 years ago — before The Boy came along).

Back in my backpacking days, I use an MSR Whisperlite (original) and later an MSR Dragonfly (searching for better simmering), both powered by white gas (“Coleman fuel” to you old-timers). They can be messy and finicky (and LOUD), but man can they boil some water quickly! Later, I got lazier and switch to canister fuel stoves (easier to deal with, simmered better most of the time, still boil water like a champ). I also have used some alcohol stoves (and even made a few). Slower to boil, but lighter, quieter, and easier to use.

But, lately, I’ve been interested in wood-burning stoves. Clarke Green over at the Scoutmaster Blog and Podcast has had several great posts about the environmental impact of cannister stoves versus wood-burning stoves, including this one with the nice infographic and excellent discussion in the comments. In addition to not carrying flammable fuel (white gas, cannister propane or isobutane, or alcohol) in your pack or canoe, there are no cannisters to attempt to recycle and no petroleum impact of your fuel (though the same can’t be said of your stove unless you’re cooking over an open fire).

I think wood-burning stoves are cheaper (in the long run, anyway), safer, and more fun. I’m a big fan of campfires and cooking over fire. Even taking Leave No Trace values into consideration, you can still use a wood-burning stove to cook your meals on and provide some cheery comfort. LNT doesn’t say “no fires,” it says, “minimize campfire impact,” which is easy to do with a little practice. Even where you can’t build a campfire, you can often cook in a woodburning stove (check regulations for your area, though). And you can use it as as small campfire, too, which helps maintain the PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) while camping.

Solo StoveMany wood-buring campstoves are double-walled wood gas stoves that incorporate secondary burning to eliminate much of the smoke from a wood fire and also to burn the wood more efficiently, which makes you use less fuel to cook your meals and also leaves you with less waste (usually just a handful of ash). I recently purchased a Solo Stove that is built like that.

I’ve done a couple of test burns in the Solo Stove, and I really like it. Burns very efficiently, is light enough (not UL by any stretch of the imagination at 8.7 ounces), and is fun to cook with. It also nests perfects (in its stuff sack) inside my IMUSA 12CM pot (like Shug’s “Hillbilly Pot”), which is my new favorite camping cookpot (more on that in another post).

Clarke Green’s troop uses the Solo Stove (which I think is where I first read about it) when backpacking, and they use a larger wood burning stove model when car or canoe camping for group cooking. See the post of his I linked above for links to his review of the Solo Stove and other wood-burning stoves.

I’ve also got an original Emberlit, which is a single-walled wood-buring stove. I like the Emberlit, but it’s a bit fussy, and I find I get soot on me while assembling and disassembling it. Maybe it’s my technique. Very cool design, though. I think I prefer the Solo Stove for my purposes.

I think firebuilding is a core Scout and outdoorsman skill that should be learned in lots of different conditions and should be maintained. It’s a great confidence builder for anyone, but especially for Scouts (The Boy is justifiably proud of his firebuilding skills, even at his young age). Building a fire in a wood-burning camping stove like the Solo Stove or the Emberlit reinforces the core firebuilding skills.

Outdoor Cooking: Mushroom Soup Mix and Creamy Mushroom Rice and Chicken

I’ve long been a fan of Sarah Kirkconnell’s trailcooking.com website. Her “Dehydrating 101″ is where I learned how to start dehydrating food for fun and profit (true, except for the profit part). She’s published a fabulous book on freezer bag cooking called, Freezer Bag Cooking. I believe she’s working on a new edition now, but the first edition is well worth reading if you’re interested in making your own freezer bag meals (so MUCH better than Mountain House and the like — and cheaper, too!).

She also has a great blog, Trail Cooking and the Outdoors where she often shares great outdoor cooking recipes.

Last weekend, on the Beaver Patrol’s first Webelos den campout, we made chicken with mushroom rice for dinner. It’s stupid easy, but very car-campy:

Mushroom Rice and Chicken

Ingredients:
One big box of Minute Rice,
with enough water MINUS 2 cups,
plus 2 big cans of Cream of Mushroom Soup,
plus 5 cans of chicken.

Directions: Boil the water (minus the 2 c.) with the broth drained from the chicken cans plus the two cans of cream of mushroom soup. You basically make a really thin cream of mushroom soup. When it’s boiling, take off the heat, add the rice and chicken, then stir it all together. Cover, let sit for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

Sarah has a backpacking friendly freezer-bag (or one-pot) version that sounds even better. I really need to make some of that mix and try her recipe.

Book Review: Cliff Jacobson’s Basic Illustrated Cooking in the Outdoors

As I posted earlier, I’m working on expanding my repertoire of outdoor cooking techniques and recipes this year. The Boy will be crossing over from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts in the Spring, and I won’t have to cook for 80 people at a time on Cub Scout family campouts (we have a really large and active Cub Scout Pack).

When I camp with the Boy Scout Troop, I’ll be cooking with the adult patrol, and I’ll have the opportunity to cook small (or individual) meals. I’m greatly looking forward to that. I’m also working on learning some new small group recipes to teach to The Boy’s Webelos den (the Beaver Patrol — which is a completely unironic name chosen by 10-year-olds) some easy small-group recipes for their den campouts, the first of which is coming up soon.

In addition to the other outdoor cooking books I already own, I recently picked up a copy of Cliff Jacobson’s Basic Illustrated Cooking in the Outdoors (Falcon Guides, 2008). I’m a BIG fan of Cliff and his books (especially Expedition Canoeing which I also recently bought and will talk about here in this blog at some point) and his articles in Scouting magazine. Cliff Jacobson is a Distinguished Eagle Scout, experienced leader of wilderness trips, and a retired Environmental Science teacher. Clarke Green (of the excellent Scoutmaster Blog and Podcast) recently posted some video interviews that someone else did with Cliff fairly recently, and they are entertaining and enlightening.

I haven’t finished reading all the recipes yet, but the thing I like most about the book is that it’s full of advice about preparing meals in the outdoors. Yes, that would seem obvious, but many “outdoor cooking” books are mostly collections of recipes and have little experienced practical advice in them. Cliff’s book is FULL of that sort of information.

The book was published in 2008, so it’s pretty up-to-date, but there may be a few techniquest or pieces of gear in that have been superseded by better options. For example, I would think cozies made out of reflectix would be easier to make and more efficient than Cliff’s wool and batting design, but I could be wrong.

The book is focused on group cooking where you can carry a lot of supplies and gear, so it’s more focused on canoe trips (no surprise there, given Cliff’s background) or car camping. Many of the techniques can be adapted for backpacking use, though.

It’s well worth adding to your collection of outdoor cooking books.

A River Rat Is Born

The Boy finally got his chance to float the Buffalo National River on Saturday. While we’ve taken him down there to swim and explore and fish a few times, this was the first time for him to float, and he had a blast.

With all the rain the area’s gotten lately, there has been floatable (and MUCH higher than floatable) water on the upper Buffalo IN AUGUST for only the second time in 40 years, according to Buffalo Outdoor Center’s Mike Mills. We watch the river levels and the forecast all week and finally found a day that had good weather and good floating levels, and which our friends were free, too.

We floated from Steel Creek to Kyles Landing, along with several hundred of our closest friends. It was crowded but congenial on the river Saturday.

After watching a number of people tump over right at the put-in (there’s a tricky little hole right after you launch), Daniel was a little nervous, I think. We made it through that hole just fine, and floated down through the first pool. Our friends the Buttons, Rob and his two boys, turned over in the second rapid. Not sure what happened: one minute they were doing fine and the next they were in the water. We stopped and helped them get their boat out and continued on.

The weather was beautiful, in the 60s to start and it never got hotter than about 80. The water was nice and cool, too, but warm enough to swim in (intentionally or not).

We found good places to pull over and eat and swim. Daniel loves swimming in the river, but we already knew that. The upper Buffalo has the best scenery (though it’s all good scenery) with lots of towering bluffs right on the water.

We had a few close calls but didn’t turn over until about 250 yards above the takeout. We watched the Buttons go through a small rapid that swept a little to the left. I guess we got lazy and didn’t study it too hard because we were thinking about taking out, but by the time we realized we needed to paddle hard to miss a strainer on river left, we were being swept into it.

I grabbed onto the tree to pull us past it, but instead it tipped the boat upstream and the canoe filled with water and over we went. I went under and when I came up, I could see Daniel. He was upstream of the overturned (and floating) canoe, holding onto the boat, with his feet up and pointed downstream, just like he should be. I was a little disoriented and — to be honest — scared, but he was fine, and quickly I was, too.

There was a shallow gravel bar just below us, and the Buttons had stopped there, and they helped us run our salvage operation. We had tied everything into the boat, and it was all okay, if a little wet. The only damage was that river water got in our cooler and soaked some crackers and a few other food items, but we recovered everything.

We didn’t get to fish (too many boats on the river, really), but Daniel had a great time. He said his favorite parts were turning over and swimming. A river rat is born.

I’ve been wanting to take him on a float for a long time now, and I’m glad this unseaonable cool snap and rain we’ve had lately helped bring it together right before school started back.

My Review of The Ultimate Hang in Cool Tools

hammock-camping-book

I recently had a review of a book published in the awesome Cool Tools blog that was started by Kevin Kelly and is current edited by Mark Frauenfelder (BoingBoing, Make: magazine, Gweek podcast, etc., etc.). Serious nerd achievement unlocked. Is there a patch for that?

I reviewed Derek Hansen’s The Ultimate Hang: an Illustrated Guide to Hammock Camping, which is THE book to get you started on hammock camping. Read the review!