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How to cook without a pot (hint: you make one)

August 23, 2016

boxed-msr-stove-with-propane-canister

August the 15 I was gifted with a new backpacking stove (and one butane canister).

Earlier I had posted on my Twitter account how I was saving up for such a thing and another Twitter user generously offered to buy it for me and I didn’t refuse.

In essence, the tiny CDN$44 MRS Pocket Rocket is little more than a high-precision adjustable brass and steel valve for dispensing compressed gas from squat little $8 screw-on butane canisters. The “little more” would be how it’s designed for igniting the dispensed gas and cooking things over the resulting super hot, ice-blue flame. There are three swing-out steel vanes to support a cooking pot just above the business end of the stove.

Therefore, on Sunday evening (August 21), armed with my little stove and a squat fuel canister, I had almost everything I needed to take advantage of the unopened bag of hard-frozen heat-and-serve perogies that I found in the topmost strata of a Fairview dumpster; everything, that is, except a pot to heat them up in.

This post is actually more about how I conjured up the pot that I needed, than how I used it to heat up the perogies.

Preparing for a potluck dinner, homeless-style

First use of the MSR stove to boil water for instant noodles.

Using the MSR stove to boil water using an unmodified 2L beer can.

In an affluent neighbourhood like Fairview, if you can’t immediately find the exact thing that you need in the garbage (such as a pot) then you should at least be able to find the raw materials needed to make yourself a fair equivalent.

Everything in our society is so highly manufactured and from such sophisticated materials—including product packaging—that most of the non-organic garbage we throw out is absolutely chock full of usable things—either suitable to be reused as is, or to be adapted or “repurposed”, often with little or no effort.

In the case of finding materials for my pot, I had already turned up a large 2L aluminum beer can in a Container recycling blue bin. This was sufficient for my immediate purpose, being about 30 cm tall, with a diameter of perhaps 12 to 13 cm. This left me needing a coat hanger. These usually occur in Fairview back alleys in feral packs of 20 or more but I  found a solitary one hiding in a dumpster.

Imagine making a pot, it’s easy if you try

instant-pot-01

Not-so-raw materials: A 2L aluminum beer can, scissors and a wire coat hangar.

The beer can was made from aluminum milled thinner than a sheet of paper and entirely owed its rigidity to the stamped-out shape of its bottom, as well as the crimped and folded steel collar that joined its cylindrical body to its conical lidded top.

The first step in making my impromptu pot was to take a pair of scissors and cut off that conical top. This left me with an open-topped cylinder that was almost too flimsy to pick up.

My second step was to break the hook off the coat hanger and then to straighten out the remaining wire. I preceded to bend this length of wire to trace out the combined circumference of my can as well as the length of handle that eyeballed measurements determined I could make from about a third of the height of the can.

An important detail is that the mid-point of the wire became the end of the traced-out pot handle, with the ends of the wire meeting at the far circumference of the can.

As a brief aside, steel wire coat hangers make excellent construction material. They offer both workability and strength. They can be easily bent with hands and pliers into shapes of great complexity and rigidity. The wire, being steel, is strong and flexible up to a predictable point, past which, it can be broken without cutters, just by repeatedly bending the wire back and forth in one spot.

Using pliers, I bent crimps in the wire at the points just before it stopped tracing the straight sides of the handle and began curving around the circumference of the can. This step is probably clearer in the images than in my explanation. It was done to add extra rigidity and strength but probably wasn’t essential.

instant-pot-02

The can cut down with a projection for the handle and a 2 cm fringe of material around the final desired rim and handle shape.

My third step involved cutting away over a third of the top of the can. This was done in such a way as to:

  1. Leave a can-height strip of aluminum for the “skin” of the pot handle and;
  2. Leave at least a 2 cm fringe of excess aluminum around the final desired shape of the pot rim and handle, in order to provide sufficient material to fold around the wire form which I made in step two.
instant-pot-03

A look at the underside to show how the aluminum has been folded over the wire.

The fourth and final step involved seating the cut up aluminum can in the circlet of wire, so that the larger handle shape of the sheet aluminum was sitting exactly on the smaller handle contour of the steel wire.

Then it was just a matter of folding the excess 2 cm-or-so of fringe aluminum over and/or around the wire form. It was necessary to make spaced 2 cm cuts in the aluminum wherever it had to fold over curves in the wire—particularly around the circumference of the can.

A sturdy little pot that took about 5 minutes to throw together.

The sturdy little pot that took about 5 minutes to throw together.

The coat hanger wire was essential to both restore the rigidity of the can—lost when the top was cut off—and to brace the paper-thin aluminum handle so that it could bear the weight of the “pot” when it was full of water (and perogies).

Keep in mind that the rough look of the final result has nothing to do with the materials. It’s because I was measurably more interested in eating the aforementioned perogies than I was in making cookware. Click the images to enlarge them.

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4 Comments
  1. Rodney Clarke permalink

    While I admire your excellent technique, my concern would be that the interior coating of a beer can was not developed to withstand boiling water at 212 degrees F.

    According to the internet -“beverage can manufacturers use waterborne coatings extensively – these are used for two-piece beverage can base coats, over varnishes, inside sprays and rim coats. Waterborne coatings contain a polymer or resin base, water and organic solvent. Pretty much any beer can is going to have an interior coating over the aluminum.”

    Heating plastic promotes leaching of toxins into food so this could put you at risk.

    According to the book I’m re-reading, “Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes (highly recommended), Marines in the Vietnam War made “field stoves” by punching holes in C-ration tin cans. In the bush they preferred to cook with C-4 plastic explosive, often digging apart claymore mines (very dangerous and strictly forbidden) to get something less noxious to cook with than the “heat tabs” provided by the military which gave off fumes that stung the eyes and nose.

    Anyway, proceed with caution! Always looking forward to your next post.

    • What can I say, I was dying for some perogies! 🙂

      Aluminum is bad enough as is neurotransmitter-wise, I believe, and your caution about toxins leeching from the plastic coating is valid.

      Most/all mass-produced beer is pasteurized in the can/bottle for about 4 minutes at a temperature of 60 degrees C, which is 40 degrees C. below the boiling point. I honestly doubt that I got my water much hotter than 60 degrees C.

  2. Wow, I call that ingenuity! Also, aren´t those simple stoves amazing? Throw a can of soup on top and voila – dinner!

    • Amazing things. Pure functionality. And so small–the MSR Pocket Rocket fits in a tiny triangular plastic case shaped like a Toblerone chocolate bar box but less than half as long!

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