Every summer here in Texas, it seems like most of the places we go camping or hiking are under a burn ban. So, when it comes time to cook, that means no open flames. You could use a gas stove (usually, but sometimes even these aren't permitted), but now there's another option to heat your dinner using just steam and no flames.
The Barocook Flameless Cooker uses non-toxic, self-heating pads that will get your food close to 200°F (the company advertises 98°C, which is 208°F; read on for my tests). This is similar to the MRE heater used in military rations, but the Barocook is a complete system that allows you to heat up to 40 ounces at a time, not just a single MRE packet!
We tried out the Barocook on a Boy Scout high adventure trip last week, with some typical backpacking freeze-dried meals. Normally I'd just use my JetBoil cooker for this, but we were flying, and the airlines frown on taking gas cartridges on the plane! Overall, we were pretty happy with the Barocook, with only a few reservations. Let's take a look at what this system comes with.
Barocook Flameless Cooker Components
The cooker itself has four parts which all fit into one another:
- An outer heavy-duty plastic container
- An inner stainless steel cooking bowl
- A snap-on lid
- A neoprene cooker sleeve (already on the plastic container in the picture)
The heat source for the Barocook is heating packs, each in a single-use package. The manufacturer doesn't say exactly what is inside, only that one of the main ingredients is quicklime (or calcium oxide). Both the outer package and the heating pack itself are environmentally friendly and can be disposed of in any trash can. Of course, if you're using it in the wilderness, be sure to pack them out and leave no trace!
To get started you remove a heating pack from the wrapper and place it in the bottom of the plastic container.
You then add 150ml of water to activate it - the pouch itself has a measuring line so you can get the correct amount of water.
Within seconds of adding the water, the heating pack will start to sizzle and steam. You then place the cooking bowl inside the plastic container, add your food to be heated, and snap on the lid.
Here we are adding our freeze dried mac and cheese to two cups of room temperature water. The cooking bowl is just the right size for a 2-person entree.
You can see a small amount of steam escaping from the sides--it gets hot fast! The neoprene cover does a good job of insulating though; you can still pick up the cooker and move it around, just don't touch the bottom.
One thing that would have been nice on the cooking bowl are some measurements. If you're just rehydrating something then a series of 1, 2 and 3 cup indicators in the side would be convenient. I'm thinking that these would be pretty easy to add--just pour in 1 cup of water and scratch a mark with a nail, then repeat for 2 and 3 cups.
The directions for the mac and cheese say to let it sit 8-9 minutes after adding boiling water. Since we were starting out with water at room temperature, and it never got all the way to boiling, it took a little longer to cook; we let it sit for about 16 minutes and it turned out great.
I also wanted to do a test to see exactly what temperatures were being reached, so I heated 2 cups of plain water and measured the temperature every 5 minutes.
Starting from room temperature, the water hit 175°F in 5 minutes, and peaked at about 190°F at 10 minutes. From there it steadily dropped about 5 degrees every 5 minutes. After 30 minutes the temperature was at 170°F, which is still above the recommended 165°F for safe food handling. Keep in mind that I was taking the lid off every 5 minutes and releasing the heat and steam; I would imagine the temperature would have stayed a bit higher if the lid had been on the whole time.
One nice thing about the Barocook is that it could easily be used inside a tent in bad weather. There's no open flame to worry about, but since the bottom does get pretty hot you would probably want to set it on something to insulate it from the tent floor (like a folded t-shirt).
Even though it's called a "Flameless Cooker", it's really more of a heater. You wouldn't be able to do any kind of cooking that requires a lot of stirring, since you'd be losing heat with the top of. The Barocook works best for rehydrating meals or heating food that doesn't require supervision.
The Barocook comes in four different sizes: Small (10 ounce capacity), Medium (28 ounces), Large (33 ounces), and Extra-Large (40 ounces). The extra-large was a good size for a typical 2-serving backpacking meal, so I probably would never want to use anything smaller than that.
What about the cost of fuel? At the time I'm writing this, you can find a 10-pack of heating packs for $18.75, or just $2 each. A Jetboil fuel canister costs around $6, and will last for at least 10 meals (usually...), so the Barocook is definitely more expensive. On the other hand, it can go places where a flame isn't allowed.
Another drawback to the heating packs is that they swell up and retain water. The pack in the photo above is still pretty large 24 hours after being used, and it weighs about 6 ounces. A brand new pack weighs 2 ounces, so instead of burning fuel and lightening your load, your load gets heavier with every meal. Granted, your food supply would be getting lighter, but it's still something to keep in mind.
- Extremely easy to use
- No complicated assembly process
- No electricity or flames needed
- Heavy for backpacking, may not be suitable for a long trip
- Fuel is not consumed--extra trash and weight after every use
- May need to carry extra water to use
After our week of testing at Boy Scout camp, I'm pretty impressed with the Barocook Flameless Cooker.
There are definitely circumstances that it wouldn't be suitable for (such as an extended backpacking tour), but I can think of loads of situations where it would be preferable to a small stove.
It would also be good for a bug out bag if you find yourself in a situation where fire is not permitted--such as staying in a shelter or hotel.
Have you tried the Barocook Flameless Cooker? What did you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.