Bacon-Off! Camp Stove Cooking Challenge

In deep wilderness, on long treks, my adventure partners and I have long conversations about food. The most popular food to obsess on? Bacon, hands-down.

bacon cook off
In Oregon, our test venue for the bacon cook-off (with highline action above)

Bacon and eggs, bacon and beans, bacon burger, bacon and chocolate… bacon simply makes EVERYTHING taste better.  All this obsessing led to our realization — we needed to hold a “bacon-off”!

We chose five stoves and cooked our favorite bacon (local and organic) on each of the units two different times. Below is our experience with each, including the good and bad in a totally unscientific, delicious test.

BioLite Basecamp Stove  ($299.95)

biolite basecamp

This unique stove cooks using natural wood or leaves as fuel and also charges USB devices at the same time.

The Good: It is the most fun stove here — it burns sticks, twigs, small logs, and paper, and it feels like cooking over a campfire. It cooked the bacon even and thoroughly. Unexpected bonus: The BioLite comes with an overhead light and the heat-activated power source works like a champ to charge up your electronics (USB outlet on the side).

The Bad: It is the biggest and heaviest of the stoves and quite expensive.

The Verdict:  This super fun, unusual stove can be the centerpiece of a camp site. For good ambiance and car camping or backyard parties, this stove is a wonder.

BioLite Wood-Burning Camp Stove ($129.95)

stove with grill

A smaller, wood-burning version of the BioLite above. Grill is optional add-on.

The Good: It got the bacon hot and crispy fast. While heavier than a standard backpacking stove (at about 2 pounds), its pros come from the fact that it runs off of wood and organic material, no relying on white gas to get your bacon going. It is also fun and efficient to cook on.

The Bad: While super fast to get the bacon hot, it got really smoky, making everything smell of bacon for a while afterwards. Grill attachment costs an extra $59.95.

The Verdict: This is a great stove for traveling to foreign countries or to take on long wilderness trips where running out of gas could be a problem. I recommend the grill attachment if weight is not an issue; it was a great upgrade.

Minimo, by Jet Boil ($129. 95)

jetboil minimo

The Good: “MiniMo delivers the finest simmer control of any upright canister system on the market,” claims Jetboil, and we certainly concur its simmer-ability is above grade.  The wider-than-normal pot made it easy to lay and maneuver the bacon strips inside. The simmer setting cooked the bacon even and slow.

The Bad: The flavor is good, but not as awesome as the grilled bacon (see BioLite stoves above). Hard to top a wood fire when it comes to smokey flavor.

The Verdict: Light (15 ounces including pot) and easy to control, this is a great option for hikers and backpackers. The simmer setting, plus the wide pot and speedy water boiling, are big bonuses for luxury backpacking.

The Reactor, by MSR ($199)

MSR Reactor

The Good: The Reactor fired right up and got the bacon smoking and crispy hot.  It is the most compact (14.7 ounces for 1 liter version) and efficient of the bunch. If I were doing an ultralight thru-hike, this would be a solid stove.

The Bad: It was so hot we scorched the bacon to a smoldering piece of tasteless, blackened meat! I also had to take an extra step and cut the bacon in half for it to fit inside the pot. (Note: This stove is made mainly to heat water; we were pushing its limit here.)

The Verdict: While the reactor is great in the windiest of conditions (we used this in the crazy winds in Patagonia, Chile) due to its enclosed heat exchanger, in the bacon-off it didn’t fare well — its flame is basically an all or nothing setting. This is a water boiling machine, and that’s about it.

Coleman FyreCommander ($250)

coleman fyre commander

The Good: The FyreCommander is a heck of an outdoors kitchen, and as such it fires up with the push of a button and cooks fast. It’s got two burners, so you can cook your bacon and eggs or potatoes at the same time. It also stands up tall, so no need to squat to use this bad boy. It has shelves on the side and a useful storage net between the extendable legs.

The Bad: You need to keep a close eye on your bacon as it’s a little tough to maintain a low simmering flame. The FyreCommander does give some decent adjustment for simmering, but in testing I’ve burnt a few things; you’ve gotta be careful to get the flame turned WAY down. It is also too big and heavy to carry more than a couple hundred feet, so this is a base/car camper for sure.

The Verdict: Coleman makes a great stove for car camping so long as you attend your cooking closely. Everything is engineered to fit together, and the compact package gives you a stand-up grill, stove, and shelving all in one. Enjoy your bacon and eggs, happy campers!