Cooking with the Cat
More to follow. If you have a tip or recipe for alcohol stoves - send it in!
I never thought about the question: How to cook on a Cat Stove?
But someone finally asked me that question in an email. Since I made this site to share information I have learned from my experiences, I decided that this may be a concern for others out there. As I was in the market to reduce stove weight, I really wanted a gas stove, reasoning that since I love to eat hot meals, this would be the only possible stove. Alcohol, esbit, zip stoves, etc. couldn't possibly produce the meals I loved. But experimentation proved me wrong.
I had learned to cook on one by trail and error (get it?) after making my first cat stove. I made some mistakes, and I learned how to make food while using the least amount of fuel - thus saving weight. I love to eat, so even though I try to reduce pack weight all the time, my food weight has actually been going up in an attempt to make eating a pleasure on the trail. Eating a hot meal is an important part of my hike, and going stove-less is as appealing to me as sticking nails in my eyes. But since I am very weight conscience, making good hot food with the least amount of fuel required on a light weight- high performance stove was as important as my choice of shelter or sleeping bag.
So after many miles of experiences cooking on this stove, I have developed some philosophies and techniques to alcohol cooking - some of which could even be applied to other stoves for weight savings.
Don't cook food too hot! One of my standard experiences with he old Peak1 was making a meal, then waiting for 10 minutes for it to get cool enough to eat. I love coffee, hot tea, hot cider, hot Jell-O, etc. and have something like this about twice a day. But making beverages that hot is a waste of fuel. Heating water to drinking temperature actually saves you time - heating time and no waiting to drink time. And it saves you fuel, thus it saves you pack weight.
In a sense of efficiency, you should never heat water to boiling unless reconstituting a meal like rice. Meals like grits only need warm to hot water. Drinks should be heated to drinking temperature, not above.
So what does this mean? When I make breakfast on the Cat Stove, I put three cups of water in my pot. Using .5oz alcohol I heat it to eating temperature, 1 cup of water goes to my grits (2 packages), and the other two go to my coffee. I can eat and drink right away, no cooling necessary.
Store heat! Once you boil a meal like pasta, it has a great amount of heat, the same amount required for simmering, and it is too hot to eat anyway. If you can use that heat to your advantage, it will allow you to avoid simmering. Coffee and tea must steep to make completely, but why do it over a stove?
Old style Pot Cozies:
Foam pot cozy Polypro Cup Cozy
New Pot Cozy:
Make an insulation system to store heat. It doesn't have to be heavy, and it can even be multi functional if you are inventive. Once you boil or heat your water, put it directly into the insulation to use that heat to your advantage. I have used some old closed cell foam to make a pot insulator, and it only weighs .8oz - the same weight as simmering two meals using fuel. I used some old polypro material to make an insulator for my Lemonade bowl/cup/water jar to use as insulation for hot drinks, and it only weighs .5oz. My Lemonade jar with cozy weighs 2.3 ounces - way less than an insulated coffee mug.
So how do I apply that? When making a pasta dinner, first boil your meal using .5oz alcohol and two cups water - regardless of the amount of water it requires on the package unless it is actually less than two cups. After the food boils, place the pot into your pot cozy. I found that it takes about twice the time listed for stove simmering, so if 10 minutes is required, check you meal in 20 minutes it should be ready to eat if it hasn't done any pre-soaking. You will probably find that the pot is still too hot to touch, but the pot cozy actually makes holding a hot pot easy.
If you don't want to make a pot cozy, I will cover using the simmer ring later on this page.
Soak your foods! Most hiker meals are dehydrated meals that must have water to become edible. A large part of the simmering process is re-hydrating the food. To reduce the amount of time required to cook the meal, you can start the meal re-hydrating before you cook it. The more time you can soak your foods before cooking the less time it will require at the other end - simmering.
Cold water doesn't hydrate food as well as hot water, so it isn't a minute for minute swap. If you can use warm water it will make the process go better. How I do this depends on the meal. One way is to put pasta into my Lemonade jar with some water, pasta usually re-hydrates well. The other way is to put you food into your pot once you reach camp and allow it to soak while you set up camp and do your other camp chores.
Rice and beans don't hydrate as well, but soaking does help - remember mom soaking uncooked beans for hours before actually cooking them at home?
So how do you do it? I use 2oz water to each ounce of pasta, and then subtract the amount of water from what I boil to make the meal. I can usually do a pasta by re-hydrating in my jar about 1 hour before getting to camp, then just heating and eating my dinner - no simmering required. I often do this while still walking before getting to camp, so the meal is ready to go when I am. This lead me to part of my other recipe: no cook Italian pasta salad.
I base this on my past experiences with cooking real foods like omelets and steaks. I had a tendency to use too much alcohol and overcook foods. I figured since I needed .5oz alcohol to cook a normal dinner, than that 8oz steak should need the same, but I was wrong!
So, when trying a new real food, start with .25oz alcohol. You may find that it is all you need.
A lid helps your pot heat faster. If your pot doesn't have a lid, make one that fits snugly. But I highly recommend getting a pot with a lid that can be used as a pan. The benefit is you can also fry the occasional meal, use your pan as a plate, or best - use it as a second water heater.
What I mean is you can heat two containers of water at a time if you do it correctly. Fill the pot with water and the meal, then put the pan on upside down and fill it with enough water for some hot tea or coco to drink with dinner. when the bottom pot reaches roiling boil, the top pan will be hot enough for your favorite beverage - all for the same fuel usage as cooking your primary meal.
I already talked some about it under philosophies, but here is the exact science to how I make breakfast.
I use the lid of my Lemonade Jar as a bowl for grits or oatmeal. I put two packets into the top and add Tabasco, butter flakes, olive oil, or whatever. In the bottom part I put in three coffee packets and make sure my cozy is on it.
I heat 3 cups of water with .5oz alcohol. The pot lid is on and I just wait about 5 minutes until the fuel burns out. I pour the water on my grits until they are reconstituted, then put the rest into my coffee.
I now have two servings of grits ready to eat - sometimes a little too hot, and two strong cups of coffee ready to go in about 1 minute of soaking.
I like to have hot drinks, sometimes after dinner, with a cold breakfast, or sometimes in the middle of the day.
Not much required. Put your beverage mix or bag into the Lemonade jar with the cozy on it.
I heat 2 cups of water with .25oz alcohol. Pour directly into your drink.
I now have a hot beverage at drinking temperature, no cooling required.
Each type presents it's own problems and tricks.
Pasta - re-hydrates well.
Rice - re-hydrates OK if using precooked or minute rice types.
Beans - hardest to re-hydrate. I wouldn't recommend raw dried beans, but dehydrated pre-cooked beans are O.K. This type is typically what you find in pre-made beans and rice mixes.
I like to add 6-8 ounces of water in my Lemonade Jar to the meal at least an hour before I plan to truck into camp. Often I do this at lunch as part of my clean up from lunch. I don't like doing it with dinners that have the sauces already in the mix; I prefer doing it with the ones that have sauce and spice packages separate. If you do use one with the sauce in the dinner, then use the water you plan to add to the dinner to first rinse out your jar. If you don't get to pre-soak your food on the trail, then do it in your pot while doing camp chores prior to cooking.
I also set up the pot cozy for simmering and to hold the hot pot for eating.
I cook the dish with 2 cups water regardless of what it says on the packages - unless it requires less than 2 cups. Any water I used to pre-soak the food gets subtracted from my 2 cups. I use .5oz of alcohol to boil. After the fuel burns out I put it into the pot cozy and allow it to simmer in it's own heat until done.
Optional - if I plan to simmer on the stove using the simmer ring, I pull the food off after the fuel is burned out. I allow the food to partially simmer in it's own heat while the stove cools. This is important because it will be hard to get the stove to simmer correctly if you add fuel and light while it is still warm. After about 5 minutes, add the fuel and put the simmer ring on tight, then light and put the simmer cap on. Simmer the dinner over the stove with the lid off so you can stir it and prevent burning.
After about 15-20 minutes of cooking and simmering you will have a ready to eat hot meal. I often find it is still too hot to eat!
Mashed potatoes make a great meal, and cooking them is fairly economical fuel wise.
Start by putting your flakes for 4 servings into your pot, and make 1/2 cup milk using powdered milk. Then put in another 1.5 cups water. Get your pot cozy ready.
To avoid over cooking I only use .25oz alcohol to cook the potatoes, stirring as your cooking to avoid burning.
After I finish the cooking, I add some saved flavor packages from beef ramen, 1/2oz olive oil, and some butter flakes. Mix them up well with a spoon.
Potatoes that taste great and are right at eating temperature when finished. Use the pot cozy to make handling the hot pot easy, and to store the heat as you eat. Food in a metal pot goes cold fast.
I love steak! Eating it is a treat when out the first night after re-supply, and if you have the right sort of cookware, it is fairly easy to cook on the alcohol stove.
I use the pan/lid of my Ti cookware; a flat bottom pot would work, but not as well. Curved surfaces cause uneven heating. I had a 16oz steak that cut nicely into 8oz pieces - the perfect size for my pan. I put a small amount of olive oil in my pan to help prevent sticking. Since I don't use a fork, I used a knife and the spoon to poke and lift the stakes for flipping.
I tried using .5oz alcohol which made a good flame. Flipping the steak when it got gray on the top the first time. Then I flipped it back after it started to curl on the edges. I kept doing this until the fuel finally burned out.
I got an 8oz steak that was about medium rare to done. So I cooked the next steak the same way with 1/2 the fuel and got a nice rare steak!
Cooking the steak to your taste will take some experimenting.
I wanted to have some fresh food before the start of a hike. I had lots of eggs, some cheese, and some Spam. So I packed that into a cooler and took it with me. What I made was a delicious cheese and Spam omelet.
Mix two eggs and some small slivers of cheese and dices of Spam in your pan. Smooth it out evenly in your pan.
Use .25oz alcohol to cook your omelet. Flip it when the eggs get solid on top. Cook until fuel burns out. Using too much alcohol will make your fire overly hot.
Results: A nice 2 egg omelet. I added some extra slivers of cheese and some salsa from McDonald's breakfast burrito packages. Good eating!
If you have tips or recipes for alcohol stove cooking, send them in!