Why won’t canned heat boil my water?

I’m preparing for a winter power outage. Some of the food I bought is prepared with boiling water, and I want an emergency cooking option in case there’s a problem with my gas. I was considering using a butane camping stove, but I heard butane canisters don’t work when it gets cold. Since my building uses electricity for heating, it will most likely get cold, so I think trying to use butane might be a bad idea.

I decided to try using canned heat and a Coghlan camping stove to boil water. I had 3-4 cups of water in my pot, and I waited for 20 minutes after lighting the canned heat, but the water didn’t boil.

  • Is canned heat a bad option for boiling water in an emergency, or am I doing it wrong? Would the brand of canned heat or type of pot affect this? In case the type of pot would affect this, I used a regular stainless steel pot from my kitchen.
  • Is there a better option for indoors emergency cooking at cold temperatures? I considered using a propane stove, but I haven’t seen any that aren’t designed for outdoor use.

  • Comments (15)

    • 2

      The simplest, lightest, and cheapest would be an alcohol stove.  Trangia is one good brand.  You can actually make your own out of a couple of aluminum cans. 

        There are numerous types of kerosene or white gas powered stoves which work in extreme cold.  i have used such stoves at -40F with no trouble.

      If you keep the fuel and its container warm (under the covers)  they will perform suitable, especially in an enclosed space.

      How cold is cold?

      • 1

        I expect the temperature to be around 10-20F during a snowstorm, maybe below 10.

      • 1

        Is that indoors?

      • 2

        If that is the exterior temp, your interior should be a bit warmer an almost any fuel should be fine, especially with basic precautions. Practice with your rig before it is a critical situation….

    • 3

      I hope I’m not breaking a forum rule by linking to a YouTube video.  This is a new video, I think, by the Provident Prepper folks about an alcohol heater/cooker using canned heat.  They’re AWFULLY excited about it!  One Canned Heat just may not provide enough heat output for you.

      Vesta Emergency Heater Cooker

      • 2

        I can’t see one canned heat producing enough heat to be able to boil water, it just doesn’t burn as hot and isn’t meant to. It’s meant to keep cooked food warm at parties and such.

        One of my best memories is when I was a kid and I wanted to help my dad cook part of the dinner for a BBQ. I asked if I could heat up a can of corn using canned heat. From what I remember, it got it slightly warm but we ended up having to take it inside the house and finish heating it over the stove. 

        mr prepper, here’s an previous forum post that might give you some ideas. I just did a quick glance again and you really should be fine using butane inside your home, even if it’s cold. Warming the can under your armpit for a few minutes would help even more if it seems to be struggling to start.

        Barb Lee, please link and share relevant YouTube videos as much as you want! 

      • 2

        Thank you Gideon!

      • 3

         With any live flame source in enclosed space, be wary of CO.  A CO detector is a good idea

      • 1

        Thanks for responding. I’m planning on buying some chemical hand/body warmers. Would putting a canister near one of them help heat it up? How safe would this be, considering that you’re supposed to keep them away from heat?

      • 3

        TOTALLY UNNECESSARY!!  Just keep them in a warm, comfortable place, like under the covers with you on cold nights or any similar fairly warm spot.

        You should get some experience with your cooking rig in normal conditions before conditions become critical.

      • 2

        My Vesta just arrived and I will hopefully try it out, this weekend! We’ll see what it takes to boil water.

      • 2

        Oooh!  Can’t wait for a review!

    • 1

      Water boils at 212F and Sterno, a common canned heat, burns at 175F. I don’t think you will be able to boil water with Sterno unfortunately.

      If you like that same form factor and want a safe indoor product, look into an alcohol stove like hikermor recommended.

      Trangia is a great one that has good build quality, been around for a long time, and blooms (gets started) quickly.

      For fuel, HEET is a readily available, very cheap, safe, clean burning fuel that has a lot of heat output. It is a common fuel with those who use alcohol stoves.

      A wind screen like this will help preserve and direct the heat of the flame onto your pot.

      Then you will need some sort of stand since you can’t put the pot directly on the alcohol burner. There are many options out there but from what I’ve learned, the sweet spot distance between the top of the burner and the bottom of your pot is 1″ to 1 1/8″. That will give you the fastest boil time.

      On your pot, make sure you have a lid on it as well as that will keep the heat from escaping as quickly.

      All that being said, you should be able to get a quick 4-6 minute boil with an alcohol stove if you set if up correctly.

    • 4

      I favour a camping gas stove for emergency use, something like the pocket rocket.  I do not feel comfortable using liquid in either the house or tent with the small kids about, but that’s purely my paranoia kicking in.

      As for the cold, I have camped down to 5c with Butane and so long as I kept the cylinder in the tent it burnt ok, below that I swap out to a butane / propane mix.

      But as a few people have mentioned, if you are cooking in an enclosed space I would recommend a Carbon monoxide monitor if you haven’t already got one

      • 2

        I have a carbon monoxide detector for my home like this one:


         but that isn’t very portable or packable for camping.

        This keychain one, not sure how well it performs, might be a better portable option.


    • 2

      So my question is — what kind of pot are you using? You may want to get a thinner pot, i.e. a “camping pot” that heats quicker than a pot meant to use over an electric or gas burner.

    • 1

      What about briquettes or pellets from a pellet stove?  Any drawbacks or safety issues that anyone knows of?  I also use a Trangia stove that I place inside of a Bushbox XL.  Great small combo which gives me lots of options including bio-fuels.