Can Canned Fuel (Sterno) Boil Water?

Short answer: Yes, but slowly.

I have a small electric inductive burner I can run from my generator and a similar propane burner with a converter that allows it to run from either small green propane tanks or a larger 5G style tank.

I’m not consistent at keeping fuel supplies available for either of these cooking methods, though. So I considered getting a canned fuel stove and a supply of canned fuel I can keep stored.

I have a bucket of emergency food, but much of that food relies on having access to boiling water. So my question is: can canned fuel boil water?

Reviews and Q&A on Amazon seem to be mixed and nothing on the Sterno site (that I found) indicates it does or does not. So it is time to setup an experiment.

Full disclosure: this is not a highly accurate experiment, but it should give me a yea/nay on whether I want to rely on canned fuel.

My setup is straight forward: a stove, canned fuel, and a fairly accurate thermometer.

I used Sterno canned heat for fuel:

The cook stove is from Coghlan’s:

A cuisinart sauce pan:

and an exectech multimeter with temperature sensor:

First question: how hot is the flame? In general I was seeing 330F. It would sometimes go as high as 650F, but just briefly.

I tried 3 different experiments:

  • Heat 1 cup Uncovered
  • Heat 1 cup Covered
  • Heat 2 cups Covered

Here is a table of each experiment showing the temperature of the water as time passed:

In summary, you must cover the pan or the water will never boil. Even then it is pretty slow to get boiling.

To bring 2 cups of water to boil consumes 1/2 the 2.6 oz can of fuel. To add food to the water, get it back to boiling, and cook would certainly go thru the whole can and take roughly the full 45 minutes the can would last.

This is a little to slow for my taste, so I’ll stick to propane though I might buy a box of fuel just to use for heating (rather than boiling) food.

Feb 2020 Update:

I purchased a propane stove like this ($37 at local sporting goods store):

Then did the 2 cup water test using this setup:

I set the burner 2 notches back from high (high just seemed to me like too much heat was being wasted). It took 3 minutes, 40 seconds to heat 2 cups in this scenario.

I haven’t been keen on using 1lb propane bottles as possible emergency fuel as I don’t want to keep a decent quantity of tanks stored anywhere. But I do have 3 5G propane tanks I use in the BBQ, deck heater, and spare.

I found I can just keep a few 1lb propane bottle and refill them with this:

Instructions can be found easily on the web. It’s not the safest thing to do I imagine, but would do in a pinch.

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