• December 7, 2021

The Joy of ‘Analog’ Cooking on a Green Coleman Camp Stove

I was reminded of this on a recent camping trip with my wife Elisabeth, where I was jarred as ever by the peculiarity of going from the 1-to-10 precision controls of my home stove to the kooky two and a half revolutions of the Coleman’s knobs, whose positions correspond to no particular heat level. Strange as it sounds coming from the guy who prefers home stove burners that you can control to the degree, I like this rudimentary design. It makes you pay more attention to the food you’re cooking. Pancakes not bubbling to indicate that it’s time to flip them? Turn it up. Chili boiling over? Turn it down. Camping food should not be complex food. Use your senses. Look at the flame for a visual. Listen to the hiss of the gas and the sizzle in the pan. Cook fully analog like this, and you are bound to learn something.

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While you’re at it, pour a glass of wine and revel in its aromas wrapped in fresh air and pine. It’s nice.

On that trip with Elisabeth, we made pancakes and oatmeal, sautéed chicken thighs and combined them with pasta, ate mole with sausages, reveled in mac and cheese with canned green chilis. We got particularly high bang for the buck with red lentils in a jarred curry, served with diced red peppers.

After our trip, I ran a few rudimentary tests at home, learning that it took 16 minutes to bring a gallon of room-temperature water to a boil in an uncovered 10-inch pasta pot on an 80-degree day. I used that hot water to make cool soba noodles in chile sauce, which would make an excellent hot-day camping dinner. I also made lamb burgers that got plenty crusty on the top and bottom before the inside slid past a perfect medium rare. All that to say the Coleman is not a rocket ship, but it’ll easily do what you need it to do while you’re camping.

The Coleman certainly has its flaws, and I’ll get to those, but let’s pause here and talk about an industry-wide problem: the lack of easy recycling for the camp fuel canisters. Millions of them just end up at the dump for lack of better options. BernzOmatic has a “CylinderSafe” program that apparently helps you figure out how to dispose of the metal torpedoes, but when I plugged my zip code into the web-based tool, it produced a dead link. Even in environmentally-minded Seattle there’s almost nothing to do with them. Seattle’s nifty “Where Does It Go” website tells you how to easily dispose of all sorts of things, but suggests the garbage as its first option for camping fuel canisters. It does mention that Coleman canisters can be brought to a hazardous waste facility—five miles away in my case—or I can drive further afield and pay to drop them off at a store that’s run by a trash company (and is closed during the pandemic).

It’s 2020. Can’t we figure out a way to make this easier? The glaciers are melting and California—a very nice place to go camping—is on fire! Gimme some more earth-friendly options here! Coleman, this would be a great opportunity to lead the way. One easy suggestion that springs to mind would be to have canister recycle stations at the hardware stores where you buy them. Another might be to go back to the refillable tank.

The stove itself also has flaws that are minor but surprising. Just because the stove is so old and well-known that it justifiably has “Classic” in its name doesn’t mean those flaws couldn’t have been edited out by now. Here’s my wish list: a bit more space on the cooking surface, especially the width to accommodate two wide pans at once; an auto-igniter button; and I know it’s charming that the dials spin around and around, but it’d be more practical to limit it to 360 degrees (or less). That feels like a good compromise, right? It’d also be nice to have a few more grates on the cooking surface to better stabilize narrower saucepans, and adjustable-height feet would be luxurious when the picnic table you’re cooking on is warped.

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