Ultimate Hobo Stove Cooking

In the video above, Fennel completes the Ultimate Hobo Stove Cooking Challenge, the aim of which is to see how much food can be cooked in a single frying pan over a hobo stove. Watch him do it, and then see what ideas it sparks for your own campfire cooking. Are you up for the challenge? It's immense fun! Fennel's tips and tricks are evident in the video, with further information in the blog below.

Why use a hobo stove?

Cooking over a wood fire is one of the most pleasurable outdoor adventure activities. It connects us to our primeval self and brings out the survivalist in us.

Gas powered camping stoves just don’t compare. They lack the fun of a real fire, they don’t flavour our food, we have to lug a fuel bottle with us that’s notoriously difficult to use in winter when the pressure drops within the canister.

Far better, then, to travel light and use bushcraft skills to start and build your fire. Simply take a form of ignition with you (a fire steel, match, lighter, or use a boot lace to make a bow drill for creating fire by friction) and then collect and assemble your tinder, kindling and logs.

And you don’t need to create a big campfire either. For cooking purposes you only need a fire big enough to do the job in hand. And when we’re alone or in a small party, the fire to do this can be remarkably small. Which is where hobo stoves come in.

Types of hobo stove

Hobo stoves are a simple way of ‘constraining’ the fire inside a metal object so to direct its heat upwards. And given the travelling nature of a hobo, these containers are often made from whatever metal containers are to hand. Tin cans are popular, either the small type used for tins of beans, or larger cans used for coffee. Just poke holes at the bottom and top, and cut a large hole in one side through which you add your sticks, and then sit a metal cup, billy can, or saucepan on top and let the flames heat it. You can go larger, using paint cans and metal buckets, but the principle is the same.

I use a custom hobo stove made for me by Martin Herrington. It’s made from titanium, so is super light, and sits on top of the base of my Kelly Kettle. (Kelly Kettle made a purpose-designed hobo stove, too.) If you want to be super-showy (and not so hobo-like) then the stainless steel hobo stoves from Petromax and Solo Stove are excellent.

Cooking with a hobo stove

The trick to cooking with a hobo stove is to be able to control and maintain the heat by adding the right sized pieces of wood at the right speed. Adding too much too quickly and you’ll either smother the fire and lose the heat, or get it blazing too fiercely and cook your food too quickly. (Nothing worse than the bbq-style food that’s cremated on the outside and raw in the middle.) The answer is to collect plenty of dry kindling, of consistent diameter, in advance. You can then snap it into consistent lengths (I tend to three-inch lengths of kindling) prior to starting the fire. (You don’t want to have to stop cooking and go in search of kindling, much better to have everything to hand and a fire that’s under your control.) 

Sure, you can use charcoal too, but this goes against the principle of a hobo stove in that it’s purpose is to liberate you from all the modern camping stove clutter. If you have to take bags of fuel with you, then you might as well take a Calor Gas or Primus stove with you.

The ultimate hobo stove challenge

In the video above I complete a hobo stove challenge, the goal of which is to see how much food you can cook in a single frying pan over a hobo stove. It’s a crazy but very inventive and fun thing to do, often conducted at base camp where you and your friends take turn to better each other to cook bigger and more ridiculously impressive meals each night.

I tend to stay safe with a ‘very’ full English breakfast (cooking, as you’ll see in the video: 24 sausages, 24 rashers of bacon, 4 rings of black pudding, a punnet of mushrooms, a punnet of tomatoes, six eggs, two rounds of toast and two tins of beans – all in an 8 inch Netherton Foundry frying pan) but some of my friends go for a sirloin steak dinner (steaks, being wider than a sausage, create higher sides to the pan and thus the potential to cook a great deal more inside, such as chips and onions). I’ve also seen a wire coat hanger used as a spiral atop the frying pan, onto which is threaded a super-long kebab of chicken, onion and mushrooms.

Be inventive, and see what you can create. (We've never seen a spitroast chicken cooked over a hobo stove – yet!)

The Flat Cap Cafe Chant

If you accept the challenge, be sure to begin it with the Flat Cap Cafe Chant, which goes like this:

"Sausage from a Cumber Land

Rashers streaky, smoked by hand,

Fruit from Tom who ate his toes

Bread that's charred with fireside woes;

Pudding black, a bloody treat!

Potatoes new, for us to eat;

Fungi grown on life departed

Beans from Heinz whose wind once..."

The chapter entitled 'Experiences at the Flat Cap Cafe', which Fennel reads in the video, is taken from the book version of Fine Things, Fennel's Journal No. 8


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