Hobo Cooking Methods
Cast Iron pans, although heavy and not necessarily the easiest to clean, are highly favored for hobo cuisine. However if you can't stand lugging your cast iron pan from one camp to another - you can leverage some solid hobo ingenuity and try making foil-wrapped "Hobo Dinners".
The ancestry of the hobo stove can be traced back to the invention of the No. 10 tin can. The device became prominent during America's Great Depression, an economic tragedy that thrust a great many people into the unfamiliar role of vagabond, making them take advantage of whatever resources appeared.
The No. 10 tin was a product of the period of relative affluence that immediately preceded the crash of 1929, and it was seized by the nouveau bum community as a staple of survival. The tin was used as stove, water carrier, serving dish, suitcase, and sole eating container for an enormous migrating society. As such, it became one of America's most cherished resources.
The stove that was fashioned by these knights of the open road was ingenious, efficient, and practical...and it's lost none of those qualities today. For the low-budget backpacker, it offers the added advantages of being lightweight, easy to use, and compact to carry because other cooking utensils can be nested inside.
Because of its double-thickness top, the hobo stove retains heat, distributes it evenly across the upper surface, and prevents rapid burnout of the can, which otherwise could occur. Since the fire is almost entirely contained within the small tin, and the amount of heat generated and transferred to the cooking surface is enormous, it's important to remember to use only pencil-sized bits of wood for the fire. By using the damper, you can control the intensity of the fire and keep it at the proper cooking level.
Building the Hobo Stove
First, remove the bottom from a No. 10 tin can and cut a 4"-square door along the lower margin of the container. Now, flip the can over and drop the detached bottom inside so that it rests on the inside of the top. Still holding the can upside down, punch several smoke holes around the top rim with a can opener. The can-opener tabs will keep the second lid—the piece you cut out of the bottom—in place so it can act as a durable double top when the can is turned right side up.
Next, just above and at each side of the 4"-square door, drill or punch two small holes. Insert a bolt through each hole and secure it loosely in place with a washer and nut on the inside. Now, attach the ends of a piece of stiff wire (a coat hanger or baling wire will do) to the bolts, as shown, and tighten them securely.
Finally, take the 4" square you removed from the tin and bend the top of it over the wire. You can open and close this makeshift "damper" as needed to keep the fire at the correct level.
The Buddy Burner
One of the most ingenious items you can use in conjunction with the Hobo Stove is called the Buddy Burner. A Buddy Burner is a simple stove made from a can and part of a corrugated paper box. It is usually fueled by paraffin wax but other fuels, such as boiled butter, animal fat or diesel fuel, can be used. It is usually used for cooking but can also provide heat.
The most common type of buddy burner is made from a tuna or cat food can because of the low profile. The corrugated paper is cut into a strip as wide as the can is tall then rolled into a tight coil and placed in the can. The can is then filled with fuel (if fueled with paraffin wax it is first melted) leaving enough of the paper above the fuel to act as a wick. Using paraffin wax as a fuel has two advantages. First, when the burner cools the wax hardens making it convenient to keep in the burner for later use. Second, it is safe to refuel the burner while it is operating since placing solid paraffin wax on top of the burning stove involves no danger of the fresh fuel igniting explosively.
Since oxygen is necessary for combustion, holes may need to be punched around the top of the can to allow air to enter, and to provide a way for combustion gases to escape around the pot.