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Friday, January 6, 2012

MSR MicroRocket -- Cooking Report

Hey, don't you just love freeze dried food?  Mmm -- mmm!  lol.  NOT.  Hey, c'mon, there's no shame in it.  We all get tired of dehydrated/freeze dried.   Every once in a while it's just nice to have real food out on the trail.

This is an installment in my series on the new MicroRocket stove from MSR.  Other installments in the series include:


Well, speaking of "real" food.  How does the MSR MicroRocket do with real food?  Let's run a few tests and see how it does.  For our testing, we're going to try cooking Hikin' Jim's favorite:  an omelet.

Test Number One:  An El Cheapo lightweight 7.25" non-stick aluminum fry pan that I got at a garage sale.  It's light.  That's about all I can say for it.  It's very thin.  It'll be hard to not to burn things on this one.
A 7.25" lightweight non-stick aluminum fry pan.
First, a general cooking tip:  See the metal attachment sticking out from the side of the pan?  That's for a fold out pan handle.  My tip?  Lose the handle.  The steel handle is heavy, and the heavy handle will cause your pan to be unstable on a little backpacking stove.   Get you a nice lightweight aluminum pot gripper.

First, with a thin pan like this, we'll really need to turn down that flame so we won't burn things.  Is the MicroRocket that adjustable?
A very low flame on an MSR MicroRocket
Turns out, the MicroRocket is pretty darned good when it comes to flame control.  You can really dial that flame down.

And how does it cook?  Let's have a look.
Eggs cooking on a lightweight aluminum backpacking type pan
Now notice the center of the pan.  The eggs are firming up there, but around the periphery, the eggs are still runny.  Our little El Cheapo pan really isn't distributing the heat well.  Finally, it was obvious that the center was going to overcook while the edges weren't going to cook enough, so I flipped the center to the edges.
The center's cooked eggs had to be flipped to the outside edge to prevent overcooking
Well, not exactly an omelet, but I did wind up with some nice scrambled eggs.  Now, let's take a look at the pan after a quick rinse.
Our lightweight, thin pan after a quick rinse.  No burned spots.
No burned spots.  Not bad for such a thin, cheap pan.  I'm going to call this a pan failure but a stove success.  Any stove that can be turned down low enough not to burn on a cheap pan like this is a pretty good stove.

Test Number Two:  A plain aluminum fry pan from a Trangia 27.
Eggs cooking in the plain aluminum fry pan from a Trangia 27.
Wait a minute.  Do you mean to tell me you're going to try to cook eggs in a plain aluminum pan? No coatings?  Not even anodized?

Yep, that's right.  I will use butter to grease the pan, but I'm going to cook in a plain aluminum pan.  We're going to get some sticking, but let's see how it goes.  First, the fry pan from a Trangia 27 is quite a bit more substantial than the cheap fry pan in test number one.  A thicker pan means we can turn the heat up a bit.
The flame from a MicroRocket underneath a Trangia 27 fry pan.
And how did it do?  Well, even with a thicker pan, I still wasn't getting enough heat out on the periphery.  I had to turn the center to the outside in order to get even cooking.
Eggs cooked on a Trangia 27 pan.
Well, this time also, I really wound up with scrambled eggs not an omelet although the Trangia 27 pan was clearly a better cooking pan.  And what about sticking?
A Trangia 27 pan after a simple scraping with a spatula
 I took the eggs out and scraped things a bit with my spatula.  A little sticking to be sure (which is actually pretty normal with plain aluminum fry pans), but no burned spots.  Again, no omelette, but the highly adjustable flame of the MicroRocket helped me avoid any burning.

Test Number Three:  A real cooking pan.  In this case a Belgique brand annodized 10" skillet.
A 10" skillet on an MSR MicroRocket
First, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at how stable such a big pan was on the little MicroRocket.  No problems at all.  Now, these tests were conducted on top of my kitchen stove, so naturally, the MicroRocket will not be as stable when you're cooking in the wild, but still I was impressed that I could use a 10" skillet at all.

Now with a real cooking pan (a thick one in other words), I can crank that flame up a bit.
A much higher flame can be used with proper cookware.
And how does it cook?  Ah, now that's looking a bit more like an omelet in preparation!
An omelet in preparation
And, now, the final product:
The omelet!
A little browning, to be sure, but that's normal when cooking with butter.  Guys, the crew here at Adventures in Stoving want to assure you that this was a darned tasty omelet.  YUM!

Discussion:  It should be obvious by now that for real cooking, you have to have real cookware.  A stove, even one with a minutely adjustable flame like the MicroRocket, won't cook a decent omelet on cheap, thin cookware.  Don't expect that your paper thin titanium fry pan is going to do gourmet cooking.

But notice even with the cheapest flimsiest pan, I was able to avoid burning.  And while I couldn't make a consistently cooked omelet, I sure could make some decent scrambled eggs.  This speaks highly of the MicroRocket's ability to maintain a very low yet stable flame.

In terms of cooking, it's up to you as to how thick of a fry pan you're willing to carry.  The pan you're willing to carry will have a lot to say in terms of what you can cook.

But, as for the MicroRocket, the MicroRocket's finely adjustable flame can be set such that you won't burn food (if you have a modicum of cooking skill) even on cheap, tinny pans like I used in Test Number One.  And if you're willing to bring a nice cooking skillet, I see no constraints at all in terms of what you should be able to cook.

There's my cooking report on the new MSR MicroRocket.  I hope you've enjoyed this Adventure In Stoving.

HJ

6 comments:

  1. Well, it seems pretty obvious that a stove with a small flame spreader is going to produce a hot spot in the middle of the pan. When you compare the burner on a Micro Rocket to the burner on a kitchen range, the micro rocket is more like cooking with a propane torch. In this respect, most everything is a compromise. You either need a wider flame or thicker cookware if you really want to cook. I tend to cook things that are more watery, because the heat moves through the water better. What I cook tends to be determined by how easy or hard it is to clean uo afterwards. A small flame tamer might not be too much of a weight penalty, if you are willing to carry one. I would cut a disk out of sheet brass about 4" in diameter to put between the stove and pan. This would spread the heat, but would also reduce the efficiency of the burner and consume more fuel. If I'm car camping, I might take my old Coleman two burner stove and a 10" Calphalon saute pan. It's certainly not practical to take on the trail, but it makes an awfully nice breakfast to start out with.

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  2. Hi, Bill,

    Yeah, small flame = hot spot. That's pretty much how it works. Still, I was impressed that I could turn the stove down so far that it didn't burn even on a cheap, thin pan. If I had a narrower, thicker pot, I bet the MR would do all right.

    Calaphon is "the bomb." A bit heavy for the backpacker, but dang that's good cookware.

    HJ

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  3. I see your point on turning the Micro Rocket down and agree with you. I've got a cook set just like the one you started this post with. Cheap non-stick aluminum with the handles removed. I think that the whole thing ran less than $20. I use the frying pan and 1 qt. saucepan most, but also have 2 and 3 qt. saucepans. I'm going to see if I can't make a little flame tamer that I can use with this and some other thin pots. I'm thinking of a 1/8" thick brass disk about 3-3/4" in diameter. I can put some holes in it to lighten it, but I need to see where the flame hits the disk. This size should work with most small stoves, particularly with roarer burners, like the Svea 123.

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  4. Hi, Bill,

    With a MicroRocket at least, I could turn the flame down so low that I didn't need any kind of simmer plate/flame diffuser.

    HJ

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  5. I've been cooking peppers and onions in the skillet on the grill a lot lately. I'll have to add jalapenos next time. Yum. I like cooking bacon that way too, although hot fat + open flame adds a nice element of danger. I used to get flank steak, but my husband got me to try the carne asada cut from our local market, and I prefer it. Not sure if it's thin-cut flank or skirt (I'll have to ask), but it looks like this 

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