If you have never purchased a camp stove or a camp grill before, it can be very difficult to know what it is you should be looking for. Even if you have purchased one before, you may have found yourself disappointed by that purchase. Should you try to buy the most expensive one you can find? Is bigger better? Does brand name make a difference? All of these questions are bound to float through you head at some point. Cycling through questions such as these with the added worry that purchasing the wrong stove/grill may lead to cooking problems and extreme hunger during your trip is enough to overwhelm anyone.
This article has been written to reduce the amount of confusion you may be feeling. It is designed to guide you through a process of weighing out your various needs and wants, to assist you in coming to a conclusion about which type of camp stove or grill will best suit your needs.
Not surprisingly, many people aren’t even sure if they should purchase a stove or if a grill may be the better selection. Some people aren’t even sure what the difference between the two is. If this sounds like you, don’t worry – we will begin with the basics before moving on to some more specific considerations.
A Stove or a Grill?
This is really a touchy subject among many campers. Everyone has their preferences, I am no different. I will, of course, share my preferences and the reasons for those preferences a little later in this article, in case they are helpful in your own decision-making process. For now, let’s just take a quick look at the differences between stoves and grills.
The basic difference is that a stove features burners, much like the type of stovetop you see in a home, whereas a grill spreads heat around the entire cooking surface, much like a barbecue. Actually, a camp stove is, basically, a portable stovetop and a camp grill is, essentially a portable barbecue.
If you are hoping to boil water, heat things in pots or cook things in pans, you will want to look into purchasing a stove. Whereas a stove is best for things which require focused heat, a grill is best used for cooking things which can be spread out over even heat. For example, if you would like to boil water to make coffee or steam vegetables, you are looking for a stove. If you would like to cook burgers or grill vegetables, you are looking for a grill. Both can be transformed into griddles, but we will come back to that later, when we discuss accessories.
Advantages and Disadvantages of 2-in-1 Stoves and Grills
You’ve learned a little bit about the differences between stoves and grills. Perhaps you are thinking about purchasing a cooking unit which fuses the two devices into one device. If you are dead-set on purchasing a two-in-one stove and grill, you will be happy to know that it is possible to do so and that I have purposely included at least one of those combination units on this website for your convenience.
One great advantage of the two-in-one stove and grill is that it allows you to cook something in a pot or a pan while simultaneously grilling something right beside it. Whether you are grilling steaks and steaming vegetables or grilling vegetables and boiling pasta, you can easily create an entire meal on a grill/stove combo unit. If you don’t anticipate having to cook for a lot of people at one time or are trying to conserve packing space in your vehicle, a two-in-one combo unit may be just what you need.
A problem with these units, however, is that they do not allow you to do a lot of one thing. You will not have multiple burners upon which you can place pots and pans. You grilling space will be exponentially smaller that it would be if you purchased an entire grill unit. What if you need to boil two things at once or boil one thing while simmering something else? What if you need to cook 12 hamburgers but only have room for six?
Personally, I prefer a large camping stove. I usually travel with my family or friends and find myself offering large contributions to group meals. A camping stove allows me the versatility I need for creating these contributions. As you will see in the next section of this article, you can easily transform a camping stove into a grill, a griddle, and even a smoker with the right accessories.
Transforming Your Stove with Accessories
One of the best ways to meet all of the various needs you could possibly have while camping is to purchase a camp stove and accessories. You can easily turn a camp stove into a grill by placing a grill pan on top of one or more burners. Some grill pans are made just the right size to fit over one burner, while others are made to fit over two burners. Some grill pans even come with special lids that allow you to mimic the barbecue experience atop your camp stove. If you purchase one which is made to fit over two burners, consider purchasing one made from a material which will spread the heat out evenly across the entire pan to avoid hot spots over the burners.
Other accessories allow you to transform your camp stove into a griddle or a half griddle/half grill combination. You can even find accessories which will allow you to transform it into a pizza oven or a smoker.
The first thing you need to consider when considering size is the number of people you are hoping to feed. Are you only feeding yourself? If so, a small, one-burner stove may be sufficient. Are you hoping to feed your family? Perhaps you are looking to feed multiple families or a large group of friends.
The size of camp stove or grill you purchase will impact the number of people you are able to feed within a given amount of time. The more burners you have on your stove; the more dishes you can prepare at one time. The more surface space you have available on your grill; the more hot dogs, hamburgers, or grilled vegetables you can create at once.
When looking into purchasing a camp stove, it is also very important to consider the size of the burners. Of course, we know that the number of burners is important, but the size of the burners will also impact your ability to meet the needs of those for whom you are cooking. Imagine that you purchased a camp stove separately from your cookware and did not realize until you were setting up at your campground that the pots and pans you selected were too large for the stove and made it so that you were only able to use two out of the four burners on your stove. Pay very close attention to the surface area of the camp stove you are thinking of purchasing as well as the amount of space in between the burners and the size of your cookware.
Finally, you should consider the amount of space you have in whatever vehicle you will be using to transport your camp stove or grill. I know from experience just how frustrating it can be to purchase a large camp stove in a moment of overzealous excitement only to find that it will not fit inside the car with all the other camping gear.
Are Lids Important?
Lids aren’t really all that important for camp stoves. There shouldn’t be anything you cook on your camp stove which will require you to close the lid to trap the heat. Since the heat is focused in one or two specific areas for pots and pans, it will be the pots and pans which actually require the lids. One advantage to having a lid on your camp stove is that you can trap some of the mess inside if any splatters occur during the cooking process. Theoretically, however, you should really be cleaning your camping stove after each use to deter pests. The only real advantage of a lid is the ability to protect your burners during transportation.
Lids are much more important when we consider grills. Since heat is spread out around the entire grill and isn’t focused on a pot or pan which you can close off with its own lid, it is important that you have a way to trap that heat inside to properly cook your food.
Ignition Switches and Temperature Valves
Let me just say this very bluntly: your cooking experience will be much more enjoyable if you purchase a stove or grill which features an ignition switch and temperature valves. Have you ever tried to light a match or a lighter in windy conditions? If you have, you must realize how difficult it can be and how long one can often struggle with trying to accomplish this task before actually being successful. An ignition switch will not only stop that hassle, it will also stop you from wasting fuel while you struggle to get the pilot flame lit.
You want to try to find a stove which features a valve for each individual burner so that you can adjust the cooking temperature based on what it is you are trying to cook. If you are trying to boil water to steam vegetables on one burner but would like to simmer some sort of sauce on another burner, it is important to be able to adjust the temperatures of the burners individually.
If you are planning to backpack your way through the backcountry and are hoping to eat something warm and safe, you may want to consider purchasing a small one-burner device to help you along the way.
Living off the land sounds great to many people, but isn’t always possible. It takes considerable training to properly identify plant life which is safe to eat. Even with those with plenty of experience and education in the realm of hunting and gathering can find themselves in situations which do not yield much in terms of food. To maintain energy throughout your hike, you will need to consider bringing some sort of dehydrated food along with you and a cooking device to bring that food to life.
A grill will be completely unnecessary for a trip such as this and will only add considerably to the weight of your pack while taking up more than its fair share of space inside your pack. You will want to find a small, one-burner cooking device which is lightweight and compact. Many one-burner devices exist which may be great for backpacking. Among these are some which utilize a fuel source such as propane, butane, or alcohol as well as those which rely on your ability to build a fire.
Building a fire for cooking purposes allows you to free up weight and space in your pack which would otherwise be used by an alternative fuel source. However, it is important to remember that conditions may not always be optimal for building a fire. You will have to weigh these pros and cons yourself to decide what type of one-burner stove is right for you.
Understand BTUs and Fuel Types
It is also important that you understand a little bit about the impact different BTUs and fuel types will have on your camp stove, backpacking stove, or grill. However, since that is such a large topic, I believe that it deserves an article of its own with its headings and subheadings to keep everything neatly organized for your understanding. If you would like to learn more about BTUs and different types of camp stove and grill fuel, visit our Understanding BTUs and Fuel Types page.