Saturday, November 29, 2014

MSR Windburner – Cooking Ability

OK, so the new MSR Windburner is uber windproof.  And we know it can boil water.  OK, great, but how's the flame control?  Can it do more than boil?  I talked a little about this in Trail Report #1, but let me expand on things here.

In my first report, I noted some problems on low flame.  I would turn it down, it would burn for a while, and then it would go out.  I thought that was kind of odd.  After talking with MSR, apparently there was something wrong with my burner.  They replaced my burner.

Flame Characteristics
Now, when I turn it down, it stays on.  Consistently.  That's a far more satisfying low flame to say the least.  Now, as with all burners, there's a certain point where if you turn it down too far, it's going to go off.  I mean that is the function of the valve right?  We do want to be able to turn off a stove, but still we need to know how low can the flame go.   Here's a quick video showing low flame, flame out, and high flame.  The video also discusses lighting a Windburner with a fire steel and how to avoid the condition known as underburn.  I'm obviously not a professional videographer, but you should be able to understand what the Windburner's flame characteristics are from the video.  If you want "pretty" videos, I'm sure you can find them out there, but if you want to dig into the details, I think you'll find them here at Adventures In Stoving.  If you're not finding what you need, leave a comment in the comments section, below, and I'll see what I can do.

Note:  When it first came out, the Windburner was called the Windboiler.  They are one and the same stove.

Can it Simmer?
OK, great, you can turn it down, and it will stay on at whatever setting you put it on.  But can it simmer?  Well, if we use a strict definition of simmer, no.  Even the replacement burner I received, which is quite stable at low flame, cannot be turned down enough to get a true simmer.  By simmer, I mean that I should be able to turn the flame down such that I get a very low boil, one where the water is just barely bubbling.  I found that I could not turn the stove down that low without it going out.  Now, most people who buy an integrated canister stove (like the Windburner) aren't looking to cook gourmet meals, the kind that need a lot of delicate simmering.  Most people buy integrated canister stoves because they want speed and convenience.  So, the lack of simmering ability isn't necessarily a real drawback to the Windburner.  And besides there are other cooking options...

Cooking Options
In order to understand the Windburner better, I compared it to other integrated canister stoves, chiefly my Jetboil PCS and Jetboil Sol.  As I ran side by side tests, I noticed something:  The Reactor retained heat far better than the Jetboils did.  Here's a video demonstrating just what I found out.

Did you see what happened in the video?  After I turned off the two stoves, the Windburner kept boiling, far longer than the Jetboil.  This ability to retain heat gives the Windburner the ability to cook very efficiently using a technique called cozy cooking.  With cozy cooking, you bring the water to a boil, quickly put in your food, put the lid back on, and then cover the pot with something to insulate it (typically a fleece hat or something similar).  The food is sitting in relatively high heat while the stove is off.  I guarantee that no stove uses less fuel than a stove that is off.
Cozy cooking with an MSR Windburner and a fleece hat.
You want your food cooked thoroughly.  If you've ever eaten freeze dried food that's still a little "crunchy", you'll know exactly what I mean.  The problem of under cooked food grows worse as we climb higher.  Cozy cooking is sort of the "secret" way to get better food without having to eat through a lot of fuel.  The Windburner's ability to retain heat makes it ideal for cozy cooking.  Note:  At higher elevations and on cold days, if you need to, you can let everything sit under the "cozy" for a few minutes, turn the stove back on, add some heat, re-cover with the cozy, and let it sit for a few more minutes.

The Jetboil, with its open burner loses heat far more quickly.  It's just not as good of a choice for cozy cooking.
The open burner of a Jetboil, so open that I can put my fingers through it, does not retain heat well.
So, while the Windburner isn't exactly a gourmet cook's stove, it's not a "one trick pony" that can only boil water.  You can turn the heat down significantly, and with cozy cooking, you've got nearly the equivalent of simmering, but with far less fuel consumption.

That's my report on the cooking ability of the MSR Windburner.  I thank you for joining me,


MSR Windburner Posts
The item reviewed here was provided to me at no charge for the purposes of this review.  I am under no obligation to review this or any other item.  I am not compensated for my reviews in any fashion other than in some cases I am permitted to keep the item reviewed.  Given that I have well over a 100 backpacking stoves, a free stove frankly isn't going to buy anyone a good review.  Stove companies must measure up if they want a decent review here.  I am an amatuer stove blogger; I make my living elsewhere, in the IT field.  I fit blogging in as time permits.  Inasmuch as my income is derived elsewhere, monetary issues do not influence the reviews on this blog.  Yes, I do have advertisements on the blog.  I typically derive about $1.00 USD per day from the advertisements (last I checked).  This is a mere pittance and does not influence my reviews in the slightest.  Revenue from the advertisements goes toward hosting fees, stove fuel, and the like.  The blog is self supporting in that sense, and my wife is quite happy that I'm not using the family's income to run the blog, particularly given how tough the economy is these days.

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