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Hot Tuna Stove

How to make the world's easiest and lightest cooker.
By Erik Hansen, August 2001

Of the many lessons about improvisation I learned while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, one I'll never forget came the night I sat on a log and watched "Happy Feet" prepare his dinner on a beat-up tuna fish can. That's right, my fellow Maine-bound backpacker had the perfect lightweight, recycled stove.

The unit weighs about 5 ounces and boils a quart of water in about 10 minutes. One 20-ounce "tank" of fuel should last 5 days for cooking basic boil-and-stir meals. I've seen lighter, and I've seen hotter, but I've never seen simpler. Here's how to make your own:

1. Supplies. Buy a 6-ounce can of tuna, a soda in a 20-ounce plastic bottle, and a small lighter. Add an MSR-type windscreen and heat reflector from your local outfitter. From the hardware store, purchase a 32-ounce can of denatured alcohol. Grab a 1-gallon plastic freezer bag and elastic hair tie or wide rubber band from your home supply. Total cost: about $16.

2. Assembly. Open the tuna can, devour its contents, remove the label, and clean the can. Drink the soda, peel off the label, and rinse the bottle. Fold the windscreen in half lengthwise and bend each end inward about 6 inches (see photo above). Fill the bottle with denatured alcohol and mark it clearly so everyone knows it's fuel for the fire, not spirits for the soul (denatured alcohol is toxic).

3. Cooking. Lay the heat reflector on the ground and place the tuna can in the middle. Form the windscreen into a partial circle (folded edge up) with a few inches between each end, and set it around the can. This is your pot support. Fill the can three-quarters full with alcohol and light. You may feel heat before seeing flames. To "turn off" the stove, snuff the fire with the bottom of the pot.

4. Storage. Place the fuel bottle inside the can. Wrap the windscreen around the bottle just above the can. Fold the heat reflector in half, then around the top of the bottle just below the cap. Put the lighter and protected bottle in the freezer bag and roll it up. Zip the bag shut and secure with the hair tie or rubber band.

Note: Buy only denatured alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol will work, but it burns sootier. Gasoline antifreeze (available in auto supply stores) also does the job--just get the methanol, not the isopropanol, variety.