Alcohol stoves are great lightweight stoves to take hiking. Fuel availability, price, and DIY advantages are some of their perks. Here is how to cook with them.
As a long-time user of Alcohol stoves, they have accompanied me on many hikes in the past and will do so in the future. With their great fuel availability, you can go pretty much anywhere with these stoves and not have to worry about the right gas cartridges.
Stored in a simple plastic bottle or fancier alternative the fuel can last for a good time if you know how to cook with alcohol stoves.
How to cook with an Alcohol stove
This answer can be compressed quite a lot, put alcohol in the stove, put your windscreen around it, and light it up. However, it greatly depends on the type of alcohol stove you have and a couple of other factors.
Let’s dive into how you can cook with an Alcohol stove and how to get the most out of it.
Using a pot cozy
Using a pot cozy in combination with an alcohol stove is a great way to save on fuel, replace simmering, and generally make cooking with Alcohol stoves more efficient. The way most alcohol stoves are put together they do not simmer that well, and even if they have that option it is often a bit of a hassle that you don’t want to deal with when cooking after a day of hiking.
A pot cozy works like the old trick of putting a pot of potatoes inside a blanket once boiled. How they used to do it to save on fuel costs. The pot cozy is usually made from a car insulator screen that protects the windscreen from frost.
Making a pot cozy is a fun and easy project that I plan to make a full article on in the future. All you need is a car windshield insulator and some aluminum tape. I will link to it when I finish that article.
Cooking with a pot cozy is excellent for grains, rice, couscous or quinoa. Simply bring the grain of your choosing to a boil and slip it into your pot cozy. Wait until done / tender and dig in.
An added bonus of the pot cozy is that it keeps your meal hot for longer out on cold or windy days. And you can grasp you cooking pot and eat out of it without burning your hands.
Use a windscreen with an alcohol stove
Using a windscreen is an absolute necessity when cooking with an alcohol stove. Many of the Trangia alcohol stoves already have a built-in windscreen system that works exceptionally well. Other alcohol stoves not so much. Often you have to improvise one out of heavy duty aluminum foil or buy one that is a bit heavier duty.
The windscreen serves as a protective barrier against the wind (obviously) and insulates the heat and sends it towards the stove. If you cook without one you risk that your stove will blow out and more often the case, longer cook times.
What types of fuel burn best in an alcohol stove
The best fuel for alcohol stoves is Methanol alcohol, Methanol burns cleanest and without any odor or residue on your pots. Plus it burns hottest and with the best efficiency. If you can’t get your hands on Methanol however you can burn pretty much anything in your alcohol stoves that are above 70 % alcohol in them. Just make sure to stay away from white gas mixtures.
In the Netherlands, you have spiritus which is 1 euro in grocery stores for 1 liter. When camping and hiking in the Netherlands I often go for that since it is readily available and affordable.
Use whatever is available in your area. For a full list of alcohol fuels I direct you to my other article on the subject:
Actual cooking with an Alcohol stove
Alcohol stoves that work with turning the alcohol into vapor need a minute or two to light up properly. With the Trangia and beer can stoves for example you light the center part first and after a minute they spark up from the jets on the outside. A full review of the Trangia stove can be found here.
As long as this temperature is maintained the alcohol will burn cleanly from those jets. That is why cooking with Alcohol stoves in winter or colder temperatures often isn’t the best combination.
Alcohol stoves where you put the pot directly on the stove itself often have trouble with this. When you set a cold pot on top of them they suck the heat away, which in turn makes it go out on you. Alcohol stoves with a pot stand, therefore, are more reliable in my opinion, feel free to have a different one.
The only exception to this rule is the Fancy Feast Alcohol stove, with those you don’t even need to wait until the burner is fully lit. You can just place the pot on top. Read my full review here:
A pot stand for alcohol stoves can be improvised with many different items, the most common is to make one out of chicken wire. Tent pegs or any lightweight metal object really. You can even improvise one with a couple of rocks when in a bind.
What meals you are cooking with an alcohol stove
With Alcohol stoves, you can cook pretty much any meal you want to in the outdoors. With Trangia stoves the included simmer ring even lets you bake a simple loaf of bannock for example. Boiling water takes about 9 minutes for a liter depending on a number of factors.
For the Fancy Feast stove the boil time is around 6 minutes for 400 milliliters of water. My usual needs for a homemade trail meal.
Since most of the outdoor or trail cooking that your going to do involves boiling water and throwing some dehydrated stuff in you don’t need to overcomplicate this part. Combine that with a pot cozy and you can make any outdoor trail recipe you want with an alcohol stove. Cooking with an Alcohol stove can be fun and easy!
What kind of alcohol stove
Alcohol stoves come in many different shapes and types. From the simple tealight alcohol stove to the commercially available options from Trangia, Esbit, Vargo or Minibulldesigns. Many different DIY stoves are also easy to make and very affordable. Combine that with the low cost of the fuel if you get lucky and this stove system is for every budget.
As a fan of the Trangia stove I can highly recommend them for both solo use or for 1 to 2 persons. The link above and ad below are affiliate links where I get a commission at no added cost to you. Thanks for your support!
That is what drew me into Alcohol stoves when I was younger and that is what will keep me there for a long time. What is your favorite kind of alcohol stove? And your preferred way of cooking with one? Let me know.
Happy hiking and hike for purpose!