Paul and I both grew up using Buddy Burners to cook breakfast on while at kids camp – we went to different camps, but it was a highlight for each of us. What isn’t to love about cooking bacon and eggs over a tin can?! A buddy burner is simply a smaller tuna can with rolled up cardboard and wax burning underneath a larger can that is used as a cooking surface to cook your food.
Last summer we were recalling our fond memories of cooking breakfast over a tin can and we introduced the boys to it for dinner one evening. They thoroughly enjoyed it and so when we were asked to be the activity directors at a kids camp this summer and were told the theme was Western we thought these buddy burners would be the perfect thing to introduce to a camp full of 8-12 year olds! It took the place of a dining room breakfast on Tuesday morning.
There was a bit of apprehension leading up to the breakfast, but it went as smoothly as we could have hoped and the kids loved it!
We had two kids per burner (so they took turns) and lots of teen staff and adults to help – it went so smoothly!
Each child had 1 piece of bacon (cut in half, so two strips), 1 egg, 1 cheese slice, and 2 pieces of bread.
The bacon gets cooked first so that the tin can is nice and greasy for the egg. Once the bacon is cooked the egg is placed on top of the bacon. When it is firm enough it gets flipped. The primary reason that kids had to start over again was because they flipped their egg too soon and the wet mess fell to the ground mid flip. The cheese gets added once the egg is done, then one slice of bread on top of the cheese, flip so it can toast, and add the second slice of cheese to complete the breakfast sandwich. Flip to toast the remaining slice.
We had a (real, not plastic) fork from the dining room for each child, plus spatulas and tongs to be used as needed. Paper plates were used in abundance – I saw them setting up the raw ingredients on the plate to prepare it to be cooked, and then a new plate to hold their cooked breakfast sandwich.
To Make a Buddy Burner You Will Need:
a box cutter
tuna can (1 per 2-3 people)
old candles for the wax
Using the box cutter cut the cardboard into strips approximately the height of the tuna can. You want the corrugated cardboard so that the holes are going up and down when rolled and placed in the can.
Start rolling the cardboard as tightly as possible, adding strips of cardboard until it is thick enough to fit snugly in the tuna can.
Melt your wax – either in an extra can or in an old pot. Candle wax works much better than paraffin. Once it is melted pour it over the cardboard. The wax will settle nicely into the holes in the corrugated cardboard. If you want to you can add 3/4 inch lengths of wick from your old candles into the cardboard to make lighting them a bit easier. We have never done this, but it is an option.
Let the wax cool and harden.
To use hold a flame over burner until it lights. Give it a moment for the flame to spread and you will have a great source of heat for cooking a meal under a larger tin can.
To Prepare a Larger Can for Cooking On You Will Need:
large can (coffee or vegetable can)
The can should be empty, rinsed out, paper label and the lid removed. The open end is going to be the end that sits on the ground over the burner. The other end (technically the bottom of the can) is now going to be the top – the end we will cook on.
Using a can opener (the V shaped opener, not the ones that remove the lid) make at minimum three evenly spaced openings along the side of the can nearest to the cooking surface. This serves as a vent.
At the bottom of the can use the tin snips to make two cuts to fold the tin back to make an opening a bit larger than the tuna can. This is so you can ensure that the tuna can is properly aligned in the center of the larger can.
Cooking on a Buddy Burner
When you set up your buddy burner make sure that the ground is level. If it is off the grease will drip off, and the bacon and eggs may too. The entire experience will be much smoother if you start with a flat surface. It can leave grease stains, so avoid nice looking walkways.
Technically you could cook pretty much anything on a buddy burner. Our experience is limited to the above mentioned breakfast sandwiches.
The two important things to keep in mind while cooking with the buddy burner are; 1. make sure there is grease from something (fatty meat or butter) put down first to avoid other foods getting stuck and 2. make sure that the buddy burner is in the center of the larger can for even cooking heat.
Other Useful Tips
When collecting this for the large scale project for using at camp we asked friends to keep their tuna cans – we ended up collecting the smaller cat food sized cans too due to a lack of tuna cans and while it worked, we needed two cat food cans to provide the heat of one tuna can.
The large tin cans were collected from a few sources. Friends gave us their old coffee cans, we arranged with Wife Saver – a local fast food chain and the only one we could find that uses tins! – to save their cans each day, and then we discovered that the Chow Hall on base goes through almost 100 of these large cans each day. They rinse them and throw them in a tin can only dumpster, so we now have an easy source for large cans in the future!
If you are going to be using buddy burners for a large group I would recommend starting to save cans 3-4 months ahead of time – tuna cans are hard to come by in large quantities and the larger cans could be too if you can’t find a source like we did. So start early and avoid the last minute stress.
Our wax was collected from half burned candles laying around our homes and from the thrift store.
To put out the buddy burner do not flip it over. Rather, either place an unvented can over it until the flame dies out, or carefully flip the larger can over and smother over the flame. These burners can then be reused.
If you do this with children give them every opportunity to be hands on with this – with 80 some-odd children we had no injuries. We got the burners going, and then the kids cooked their own food – with adults right next to them to help out if needed. It is a wonderful learning opportunity for children, and as Paul and I can attest to, it makes for some wonderful memories.