Turning up the Heat on Butane Gas Stoves
While it seems that these compact little gas burners have been gracing the shelves of camping stores and hardware shops forever, in reality they have only really been available in Australia for a dozen or so years.
Portable butane stoves have long been standard restaurant fare in places like Vietnam where meals are often prepared at the table or pots of noodle soup are kept simmering while patrons nimbly dunk morsels of food with their chopsticks.
On first encountering these handy camping additions we thought they looked a bit gimmicky and perhaps moderately unsafe. Time has proved us wrong and we've developed an enduring respect for their versatility while never having heard of an accident or explosion.
These particular butane (or propane) stoves take a smallish 220gram disposable canister which delivers enough gas to simmer a stew or curry for several hours or to boil enough water to make coffee for around a week. And they're cheap. We've seen replacement butane canisters sell for four dollars for a four pack. That's a dollar apiece, that's cheap cooking.
These units can even prove a valuable addition for diehard camp cooks who refuse to heat on anything but open coals and camp ovens. The ability to pull up on the side of the road and knock up a quick toasted sandwich, heat some beans or boil some coffee water, without gathering wood and making a fire, makes them a sure fire winner. We've used two butane stoves to make complete meals for large groups. We've also used two and straddled them with a small alloy plate we carry - an instant, simple BBQ.
Real toast, cooked over a flame and not under an electric element, is one of life's great pleasures and the addition of a camp toaster brings another weapon to the camp cooking arsenal.
Normally sold neatly contained in a plastic clip lock case, butane stoves are all virtually of the same design. A pressed steel base and four rubber feet support a single burner and a pressed steel hob. To the right is the gas control knob and the safety lock. The safety lock is simply a cam that pulls the butane canister into the gas apparatus to enable gas to flow to the burner. It also holds the butane canister firmly in place. A turn of the gas control knob activates the Piezo igniter and bang - you're cooking with gas.
We've lost them, we've left then on the beach, we've lent them never to see them again but we've never worn a portable butane stove out. They are just so reliable they simply keep working. We currently use a fancy stainless job which looks pretty but performs exactly as any other. Our doubts about the durability of the stainless steel proved unfounded as it hasn't shown any signs of developing rust (yes, cheap stainless steel does rust). The cost - $30, about double that of the cheapest units and still ridiculously cheap based on performance.
Smallish burners mean slightly less heat and portable butane stoves don't get as hot as some other camping burners. While you probably won't develop enough heat for stir frying an Asian dish with the extreme heat required to burn a wok, you'll still sear a steak with ease.
It pays to examine the plastic case that stores the burner when not in use. Portable butane stoves dismantle into a few different parts and having the gas canister hatch and hob floating around the boot is not to going to make for a long lived stove.
All camping stoves are prone to having the wind blow the flame around resulting in reduced heat at the base of the pan and these units are no different. Look for a stove with a deeply recessed hob for added wind protection. A hastily constructed, three sided shroud alleviates the problem.
Check that the mechanism that locks the butane canister in place works securely. We've seen some stoves where the mechanism constantly self-releases and turns off the flame at the stove. Annoying.
Have a look at the buttons and knobs to make sure they are all solidly fastened to the unit. Nothing worse than having bits fall off your new acquisition.
As we said these things can be purchased for as little as $15. Sometimes spending an extra $10 on something marginally better in construction can pay huge dividends. As for the canisters, there is a difference in gas quality but not enough to worry about. Buy the cheapest you can get.
Everyone should have one. Stick one in the car boot to make a quick cup of tea in the park. Put one in the boat for the freshest fish fry-up on the water. Pack one away in the motorcycle pannier for a warm rum toddy at the end of a long ride. Keep one in the shed for melting down lead to make your own fishing sinkers. One on the kitchen bench for real camp toast and one to keep the fondue warm for those 1970's dinner parties. If you need a compact, reliable, portable butane gas stove then these little units could be the perfect addition to your camping or hardware kit.
If you're chasing a camping stove that's a bit more substantial then take a look at A Great Camping Stove
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