Anybody who stayed up too late in the mid-1980s remembers the cringe-worthy infomercial for the Showtime Rotisserie. This appliance cooked Flintstone-sized hunks of meat. Studio audience members bellowed like parrots, “Set it and forget it!” Seth McGinn's CanCooker makes the same type of claims, suited for cooks on the go.
Inspired by the meals cooked in a 10-gallon cream can and served to ranch hands on his grandparents' cattle farm in Nebraska, Seth McGinn wanted to replicate his childhood experience but had trouble finding a modern can that could handle the task. In 2009, he brought his own to market, allowing people to cook a lot of food with little effort.
Made from FDA-approved 1060 anodized aluminum, the CanCooker comes in three varieties: the 4-gallon Original, the 2-gallon CanCooker Jr., and the 4-gallon Bone Collector (which appears to offer nothing different than a dire name and a deer skull logo for a penny less than the Original). They're 10 inches in diameter, but the Jr. is 3 inches shorter than the 10-inch stature of the other two.
All three, however, offer the same benefits. CanCooker makes a complete meal in about 40 minutes and can work on any heat source: stovetops, grills, fryers, camp stoves, campfires, and the Multi-Fuel Portable Cooktop offered from the company. The CanCooker's insides are coated with a nonstick surface.
We reviewed the CanCooker Jr. Adventure Special kit, consisting of the CanCooker Jr. and a Multi-Fuel Portal Cooktop. Our sample kit also contained a small plank cutting board (normally sold separately for $18) and a couple examples of the seasonings. However, it didn't include the optional two-piece rack, so we felt obliged to purchase one for $14 since every recipe in the manual suggested it.
The Multi-Fuel Portable Cooktop is a single burner unit capable of 10,000-btu output and can be fueled by butane or propane. It's compact for a single-burner stove, but not entirely practical for bugging out. This is a basecamp stove, packaged with a hard-shell plastic case.
The concept of the CanCooker is simple. Put in the rack, dump in the food in a particular order (usually a bed of vegetables then meat on top), and add 12 ounces of a liquid (in our case, a Belgian ale). Clamp down the lid (which has a silicone gasket), and fire up the stove. Then walk away.
The CanCooker converts whatever liquids you put in there into steam, which thoroughly cooks the food. The concept of steam cooking started in the American Southwest about 7,000 years ago, and it's considered a healthy alternative to frying or other stove-top cooking methods that involve oils.
We were apprehensive to walk away from the stove while it was spouting steam like an old-timey locomotive, but as a watched pot never boils, 3 pounds of sausage, peppers, and onions never cooks. So that's what we did.
After 30 minutes of steaming and a 10-minute rest, everything was cooked to perfection. The sausage was moist and tender, and the seasonings had melted into the meat. The vegetables retained their full flavor and didn't absorb any from the sausage, while the Belgian ale provided a subtle crispness to the whole dish.
The CanCooker — especially the Jr. — would be perfect for an RV or a remote cabin where the fuel may not be reliable and you would have to use different sources. The CanCooker can be placed directly on burning coals if need be (though you'll stain the aluminum with soot). It's a convenient and versatile tool — not to mention that our 2-gallon version prepared enough food to feed more than a few people.
This, however, is by no means a cooking vessel one could take in a bug-out situation … or on a hiking trip … or anywhere where space is an issue. It's light, at 2.1 pounds, but cumbersome because of its girth (though it has a cinch sack). And forget its cooktop — we're sure you can find a much smaller portable stove that could fit inside the CanCooker, should you choose to pack it with your survival cache.
Still, it's a solidly constructed and well-designed piece of cookware, and it functions exactly as promised. We're still baffled by the Bone Collector version (and the penny savings) though. Maybe people steam bones they've collected. Frankly, we don't want to know. We'll stick with the sausage, thanks.
Make & Model
Seth McGinn's CanCooker
CanCooker Jr. Adventure Special
7 by 10 inches