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Cooking On The Road: Tin Pan Galley

16 Jan

Camping is big business and outfitters offer a tremendous array of cookware, stoves, and accessories.  In fact, there are so many options that making a decision is often paralyzing to the novice.  Unless you are hauling your bikes in/on a trailer and have room for a gas barbecue and a massive ice chest, choices are limited mostly by size and to a lesser degree, weight.

The days of pitching a tent and building a campfire are pretty much over.  In most places the column of smoke will evoke an immediate visit by someone in officialdom and often the end result is a hefty fine.  Fire pits and barbecue grills still can be found in many state parks and commercial campgrounds, but it makes sense to pack your own stove.

Cookware ranges from minimal to elaborate with the best sets allowing multiple components to nest inside each other.  Some campers want to be able to fry trout and so need a decent size fry pan, others just want a couple of pots to heat up their prepared meal.  Regardless of how simple or complex you wish to get there are objective considerations that will help narrow the choices.

Food storage is the third component and, once again, this ranges from ultra basic to highly specialized.  Choosing the best storage solutions for your needs primary depends upon personal preference, but making a poor choice usually results in having to clean up an ugly mess.

STOVES:

1)    Sterno, alcohol, and electric should not even be considered.

2)    Butane and propane canister stoves provide fast ignition, a hot flame, and are usually easy to adjust.  Carrying spare canisters and disposing empty ones is the only downside to these stoves.  They can relatively inexpensive and can be exceedingly compact.  For weekend excursions these are perfect, but always carry a spare canister.  The most compact butane canisters are not as widely available as the medium and large propane ones.  Don’t purchase a stove that requires a specific brand of canister: choose one that accepts the widest range.

3)    Multi-fuel stoves are more complex, orifices require periodic cleaning (think carburetor jet), take up more space, and the fuel tank usually requires hand pumping to create pressure.  On the other hand you’ll never run out of fuel since you can use gasoline, white gas, kerosene, diesel fuel, and even Jack Daniels (or any type of alcohol).  Always choose a stove that will provide a very low and constant flame for simmering.  If you plan to do a lot of camping, travel in remote areas, or head out on a world tour, this is the type of stove to carry.  I recommend carrying a spare orifice jet and the tool to change/clean it.

COOKWARE:

1)    Regular aluminum – forget it.  This material reacts with salt and you’ll end up consuming aluminum chloride – not good.

2)    Teflon – absolutely not.  Teflon breaks down above 500 degrees.  It’s toxic and accumulates in your body.

3)    Titanium is great if you are scaling cliffs.  It’s lightweight and tough, but it doesn’t do a good job of distributing heat.  I don’t recommend it for motorcycle touring.

4)    Cast iron is fantastic in the kitchen and great on a campfire, but it’s also greasy and heavy.  Suitable only for packing in the trailer.

5)    Stainless steel.  Tough, easy to clean (use sand or almost anything), and has decent heat distribution. It’s the best when stacking multiple pots to cook on a single burner stove.  A tremendous range of options are available and these will last a lifetime regardless how scratched of dented they become.

6)    Anodized aluminum.  Lightweight, fantastic heat distribution, non-stick, no toxicity or chemical reactions, and the surface is much harder than regular aluminum.  A bit more costly than stainless steel and some care is required not to scratch through the anodized surface.  A 10-inch fry pan with a folding handle is one of my favorites; a small wok with a cover and folding handle my second favorite.  This material is ideal for large pans and pots used on a small stove.

7)    Regardless of the material, the best are those that stack and nest.  Those with folding or removable handles are preferable.  Some styles even have handles that lock covers in place and thereby double as storage containers.  A few kits even have specialty pieces like teapots, strainer lids, and heat exchangers.

8)    Cooking tools should match the cookware material.  Anything short of carbide tipped for stainless steel or titanium, wood or nylon plastic for anodized aluminum.  These can be purchased at upscale outfitters, normal department stores, and even yard sales.  Don’t be afraid to shorten handles for easy of use and/or packing.

CONTAINERS:

1)    Heavy weight zip-lock freezer bags are hard to beat.  They can be washed and reused, compress as their contents are used, are waterproof, and you can see what’s inside.  Spare bags take up almost no room at all.  They can also be used for documents, toiletries, small parts, and anything small that has to be protected from water, dust, or oil.  In other words, they are versatile.

2)    Special bladders (like those used for water) have proven to work well for cooking oil, but these are still enclosed in zip-lock bags.  Plastic toothpaste tubes that can be filled with any type of food paste are handy for ghee or peanut butter.  Again, bagged as oil.

3)    Hard plastic containers take up space put offer protection to delicate items like tubes of food paste and condiment packs containing honey, peanut butter, and such.  Only those that are transparent and have locks over covers should be considered (not Tupperware-type lids).  The must be waterproof (a.k.a. leak-proof).  These can be found for as little as a dollar but can run to $20 even for small sizes of the most noted brand (which happens to be worth it).

4)    Cookware with lockable lids.  Practical, but expensive.

5)    Food containers integral to cook sets are a wonderful space-saving concept until one component is lost or damaged.

6)    Whenever possible containers should do double-duty (see #3).  I have an insulated coffee mug with a screw cap in which I carry a container of coffee and filters.  Enough said.

In the end, the best set of cooking gear is that which enables you to cook what you like, fits on the bike, isn’t toxic, prevents a mess in your luggage, and lasts for years.  Some of the items that I use on a regular basis are no longer being sold (this is highly specialized gear) but will last me for the rest of my life.  Some of the newest I have yet to test.  Items can be inexpensive or costly, but in comparison to restaurant meals even the very best gear pays for itself after a single vacation.  In the end it’s all about the experience and that is priceless.

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