Tag Archives: cooking

Old School Meets High Tech – BioLite CampStove Charges As It Cooks

When it comes to cooking, a wood fire is about as old school as it gets. BioLite has brought the basic wood fire into the 21st century with their CampStove.

Why would I be interested in wood as a cooking fuel? My little motorhome has a fully equipped kitchen including a four-burner gas stove, but sometimes it’s just nice to cook outside. It also doesn’t hurt to be prepared for anything.

Why Wood?

While BioLite’s target customer probably camps somewhat more primitively than I do, why would they even be interested? Compact gas and liquid fueled stoves are abundant, convenient, and reliable. I’d like to think that, for at least some, there is a simple romantic or nostalgic attraction to a wood fire, but there are other good reasons, too. How about not having to carry fuel and empty fuel containers? How about wood being a naturally renewable resource? Oh, and how about if, on top of all that, it could recharge your phone or other devices while it cooks your food?

High Tech

Oh yeah. This is about as high-tech as cooking on wood gets. It uses forced ventilation for efficient burning, reduced emissions, and a really hot flame. And while there are other fan-driven wood camping stoves on the market, they all require batteries to run the fan, and that means batteries to remember and replace. The BioLite uses thermoelectric technology – the heat from the fire is converted to electricity to power the fan. Not only that, but it generates more electricity than it needs for its fan, and makes the surplus available via a USB jack so you can charge your phone, LED light, or other gadgets. Pretty neat, huh?

I first read about this sometime last year and just had to get my hands on one. At the time they were still in development, but they were taking email addresses of interested parties. I signed up and eventually forgot all about it until one day, out of the blue, I get an email telling me they’re accepting reservations for preorders. Eventually I was invited to place an actual order, which finally shipped last week and arrived this week!

Nicely Packaged

I was impressed from the moment the UPS driver handed me the box. Much smaller than I was expecting. The box, that is. It was exactly the size it needed to be, but not a millimeter larger in any dimension. And no polystyrene peanuts nor plastic bags, either. BioLite gets extra points in my book for smart eco-friendly packaging. In the box was the stove (in a drawstring nylon stuff sack), a short USB cable (for initial charge-up of the internal battery), a handful of sawdust-and-wax fire starters in a waxed paper bag, and a sheet of instructions.

Nicely Built

The stove is very well built. Excellent fit and finish. The “power module” (orange unit containing the fan and electronics) stores inside the fuel chamber. For use it attaches to the side of the fuel chamber and is securely held by extending the legs, one of which engages with a protrusion on the bottom of the power module.

Get Ready

I connected the power module, using the supplied USB jumper, to an AC powered charger to “condition” the battery prior to initial use. This is only necessary the first time, or if the stove is stored for more than six months.

The BioLite burns wood or other biomass, so I went about collecting some. It didn’t take long to collect a handful of twigs, plus some bark and pine cones fallen from nearby trees. I collected a variety from smaller than pencil thickness up to about as thick as my thumb. I broke them into about 5-inch lengths.

First Firing

I attached the power module to the side of the stove and deployed the legs.  I loosely filled the fuel chamber with a few pieces of bark and the smallest of the twigs. I twisted a bit of newspaper up into a “stick” of sorts and stuffed it in. I lit the paper with a long barbecue style butane lighter, sticking it down to the bottom to get the bottom of the paper and some of the bark burning as well.

Once it looked like it was burning well enough, I started the fan (doing it too soon would just blow out the flame), and after another minute or two, it was going quite nicely, so I added a couple pine cones and some of the thicker twigs. I switched the fan to high and put on a pot of water.

Charge!

While waiting for the water to boil, I watched for the LED bar above the USB jack to turn green, indicating that it was ready to use as a charger. I connected my combination cellphone and UHF/VHF radio and sure enough, the phone’s display indicated it was taking a charge. I was using fire to charge my HT/phone — how cool is that?

Tea Time

I probably should have started a timer, but it wasn’t three minutes before the water started to bubble a bit, and in less than  five it had achieved a vigorous boil. During that time I had to lift the pot once and feed the fire. I made myself a nice cup of tea and took some photos.

Conclusion

In all, I’m very pleased. I can honestly say the BioLite CampStove has exceeded my expectations. It’s a great little stove; burns hot and clean on a handful of twigs. It’s so efficient that it only left a couple of tablespoons of ash. I can also see it being really nice as a compact portable (tabletop, even?) campfire. I don’t know how often I’ll have a need for the USB charging feature, but it never hurts to have a backup plan. It might work nicely to directly power a small LED light — maybe to see what I’m cooking at night?

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Oh, and  what’s more, BioLite is using sales of the CampStove to help fund the design and construction of a larger version for use in developing nations. For more info or to get your own CampStove, check out BioLiteStove.com.

Manufacturer’s Specifications:

  • Packed Size  Height 8.25 inches  Width 5 inches
  • Weight  33 oz (935 grams)
  • Fuel  Renewable biomass (twigs, pinecones, wood pellets, etc.)
  • Fire Power Output  Peak: 3.4 kW (LO), 5.5 kW (HI)
  • USB Power Output  Max continuous: 2W @5V, Peak: 4W @5V
  • Compatible Devices  Powers most USB-chargeable devices including smartphones.
  • Charging Time  20 minutes of charging provides 60 minutes of talk time. Charging times vary by device and by strength of fire.
  • Boil Time  4.5 minutes to boil 1 liter of water. Varies based on strength of fire.
  • Fuel Consumption  1.6oz (46g) of wood to boil 1 L of water
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Right Sized Shopping

I’ve always been a frugal shopper.  I try to get the most for my money, especially when buying groceries and household supplies.  This can sometimes be a real challenge for those of us who are single and/or live in small spaces.  Often the best bargain is to be had in the larger sizes.

Big House, Carefree Shopping

When I lived in a great big house it was pretty simple.  My only concern was if I could use it up before it went bad.  I had plenty of cupboard space to stock up on dry and canned goods when they were on sale.  Same thing with paper products.  36-roll packs of toilet paper on a really good sale?  I’d take two or three.  I also had a great big fridge with a great big freezer.  The freezer was great when there was a sale on frozen stuff, or things that can be frozen, like meat.  The fridge, on the other hand, while it was nice to have plenty of room for cold drinks and such, was really too big for one person.  It encouraged over-buying of freshies as well as collecting leftovers that had to be thrown out once they became unrecognizable.

Little House, Careful Shopping

Now I live in about a hundred square feet.  No room to stock up on toilet paper now.  I have a really small fridge (in reality, at 4 cu. ft. it is probably just the right size for one person) with a tiny freezer compartment.  No more stocking up on meat and frozen foods.  And I’ve learned what really needs refrigeration and what can do without, as well as alternative items (like shelf-stable UHT milk).  My strategy now for many consumable items is to try to buy only enough to last until my next regular shopping trip.  I think the business sector refers to this as “just in time” inventory.  The supermarket has a lot more room than I do – I’ll let them keep my overstock.  I still try to get good deals, but I know I am not always able to get things as cheaply when I only buy what I need.   I can call the amount I overpay the price of being able to live comfortably in a small space.  And while I might be spending more buying right-sized items, I’m not wasting as much to spoilage.

How about you?

Do you practice right sized shopping?  How is it working out?  Any tips you’d care to share?

Mixing Bowl Solar Tea

Summer in the desert. Warm 113-degree temperatures. Phoenix just broke a record yesterday  – 29 days (so far) this year with a temperature of 110 degrees or more (the “normal” is 10 days per year).  When it’s this hot, it’s important to stay well hydrated, and iced tea is a good refreshing beverage. 

 Those of you in the southwest and possibly elsewhere make or have at least heard of “sun tea” – fill a large glass jar with water, add teabags, and set out in the sun for a few hours to brew.  The slower, lower-temperature infusion makes a very smooth brew.  In addition, it’s solar powered – no fuel or electricity is expended boiling water (and heating the kitchen, fighting the air conditioning). 

Well, I wanted to make some sun tea today, but didn’t have a suitable jar handy.  I do, however, have a nice shiny stainless steel mixing bowl.  How did that come to mind?  Well, recently I’d left it outside with a plastic measuring cup inside, and the bowl focused the sunlight intensely enough to melt the measuring cup. I thought if it got hot enough to do that, then maybe it would work well for sun tea, and possibly faster than a glass jar do to the fact that the reflective bowl will concentrate the heat in the tea.  There’s only one way to find out – TRY IT!

So, I filled the bowl with water, added four regular size teabags, covered with plastic wrap (to keep bugs out and keep the heat in) and set the bowl out in the sun. 

After a couple hours in the sun, the brew was quite warm and looked to be the right color.  I added a cup of sugar and a couple trays of ice cubes (in a bigger container, of course) and had some delightful iced tea!  Oh – the tea I used was Twinings “Lemon Scented Tea” – Gives the drink a definite lemon flavor, but much more smooth and subtle than when adding lemon juice to regular tea.  I have some Twinings Black Currant and some Hedley’s Peach-Apricot that I can’t wait to make mixing-bowl tea with now!

Cast Iron Cooking

When I was deciding what to take and what to leave, I’d opted to leave my cast iron cookware behind (in the interest of saving space and weight).  Not that I was gonna try and cook on some cheapie thin “camping” or “RV” cookware – I brought along a few pieces of quality stainless plus some heavy non-stick-coated aluminum.  Who was I fooling? NOTHING else cooks like cast iron.  Especially breakfast foods like bacon, sausage, eggs, and pancakes.  Sure… a non-stick aluminum skillet or griddle will work, sort of.  But they tend not to be as non-stick as they purport, and, especially with the eggs and pancakes, they just don’t brown the same nor taste the same as when cooked on well-seasoned cast iron.

 Well, I now have my Lodge skillet and griddle on board, and tossed out the Teflon-on-aluminum skillet and griddle, and I’m once again a “happy camper”.  And yes, I said “Lodge”.  Those who know me well know I’m not a brand name snob nor a name dropper, but once in a while there is a product or brand that stands out so far above the rest that even I will call it by name and will go out of my way to buy that brand and only that brand.  Lodge, being the last remaining manufacturer in the USA of cast iron cookware, which is both reasonably priced and of excellent quality, deserves such name-brand recognition, even from a die-hard generic consumer such as myself.

So life is once again good, mealtime is good, cooking (and eating) is once again a joy, even if the motorhome (and eventually myself) winds up being a few pounds heavier for it.  Now where’d I put that cornbread recipe?