February 18, 2009

Guerrilla Camping 101 : Advanced Class – Simmer Down Now

Simmer Down Now – Simmering On a Liquid Fuel Stove.

I love my multi-fuel stove. The ability to switch fuels on the go, depending on their availability in the area I find myself is indispensable. However, in my first few years using it, I was dogged by the apparent inability to simmer on the stove. Any attempt to cut the fuel level down enough to get a slow flame resulted in sputtering death. This required me to carry a simmer plate if I planned on anything requiring a long slow cook, wasteful of both weight and fuel.

I eventually learned how to simmer on liquid fuel stoves. The method of doing this is dangerous, and after I heard the trick, I found an apartment parking lot surrounded by a lot of inflammable asphalt to try it in. Having inadvertently created mushroom clouds when first learning to relight a stove after trying to simmer, I knew this trick could be very dangerous.

I pulled my cook set out of my pack and walked far enough away to not catch my pack on fire if things went wrong. I set up the stove and windscreen as usual, checking the tank pressure with a shove or two on the pump before connecting it to the fuel line of the stove. I bled about a tablespoon of fuel into the priming cup and shut off the valve before lighting it. It took about 30 seconds for the fuel to burn down and I turned the valve back on. The assuring whoosh blared from the jets as the stove kicked into full blast.

I gave the stove a minute to warm up, figuring I’d bring something to a boil before simmering it, and I knew the stove needed to be hot for this to work right. As the old edges of the jet plates began to glow red, I turned off the stove and waited for the last licks of flame to finish spiraling around the inside of the stove.

I quickly snapped the fuel tank off the fuel line and walked a few feet away, before cracking the seal on the tank by slowly unscrewing the pump from the fuel bottle. The compressed fumes hissed out from the edges of the bottle’s mouth. Distance is important; doing this near enough to the stove would risk igniting the escaping gasses. As soon as the pressure was released, I reconnected the tank to the fuel line, and gave it one pump. I leaned my head way back, and held a lighter to the top of the stove with one hand as I turned the valve on with the other.

I was immediately greeted with the sputtering death I expected, and gave the pump one long, slow thrust. The sputtering slowed, but did not entirely subside. I pulled the pump handle out, and slowly pushed it in about half an inch. The sputtering stopped, and I was rewarded with a small steady flame. About a minute or so later, the sputtering began again, and I pushed the pump handle about half way, stopping as the flame steadied. I continued this for a few minutes to make sure it worked, before shutting the stove off and allowing it to cool.

As soon as the stove was cool enough, I put my cook set back together, stuffed it in my pack and got off the asphalt as quick as I could…

Since then, I’ve used this a lot. It is especially useful if you make your own dehydrated meals, as it uses less fuel and is not as likely to encrust your dinner on the bottom of the pot. If you use freeze-dried meals, or stick to stuff like couscous and ramen, which only require boiling water, it’s just an interesting trick. However, if you want the convenience of cooking at home, no matter where you might be, this is definitely worth trying.

If you just bought your stove, and have not yet had a flare up, DO NOT try this until you do. There is nothing like a good mushroom cloud to teach you the principles and the dangers behind cooking on compressed liquid fuel. If you screw up, you will start a fire, or worse, blow your hand off. Hell, now that I’ve gone and posted this on the internet, I’ve decided: NOBODY should do this, and I’m stopping right now.

Remember kids, today’s lesson; Always Follow The Manufacturer’s Instructions!

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