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Life in Balance: Fire up a tin can for some summer cooking fun

An innovative outdoor cooking method — and excellent to have for power-related emergencies at home — is the simple homemade tin can stove which can be used for frying, boiling and toasting. It is best used for one or two people because of its small size. It is also disposable.

A buddy burner (a tuna can, or a can similar in shape, filled with rolled corrugated cardboard and melted paraffin) is the main source of heat for a tin can stove.

Anything that you can cook easily in a small skillet can be cooked on top of the tin can. Some of my favorites are eggs, pancakes and a hamburger.

To make the tin can stove:

First, cut out one end of the No. 10-size can (102-ounce or 6-pound 6-ounce) available from restaurants. With tin snips cut two slits 3 inches high and 31/2 inches apart on one side of the can at the open end, leaving the top attached. Pull the door open. With a punch-type can opener, punch two or three holes on the backside of the can near the top. These act as a chimney, allowing the smoke to escape during cooking.

A skillet may be used on top of the tin can by removing the top of the can. When using pans, be sure to rub liquid soap on the bottom of the pan so they will clean easily.

To make the buddy burner:

Cut corrugated cardboard (across the corrugation so holes show) into strips the same width as the height of the tuna can.

Roll strips tightly to fit inside the can. Heat the wax in a double boiler and pour melted wax into the cardboard. Or set a piece of wax on the cardboard and light a match next to the wax. Continue adding wax near the flame until the buddy burner is filled. The cardboard serves as a wick, and the wax serves as the fuel, providing the heat for the stove.

When lighting, it may help to carefully tilt the can on its side so that the flame spreads across the cardboard. To refuel, add a new small piece of wax when it is burning and let it melt into the burner. When finished, let the wax harden before storing.

To make the damper:

A damper covers the buddy burner to control the amount of heat. It is easy to make out of foil or from the lid of a tuna can.

To make, fold an 18-inch-by-15-inch piece of heavy-duty foil into 3-inch sections again and again until all the foil is used.

Bend the foil down as a handle to set over the tuna can. To make a handle with a cardboard pant hanger (minus the cardboard), bend ends together. Punch holes in the top of the tuna can lid on each side. Wire the lid to the ends of the hanger.

Bend the handle of the coat hanger down so that it will prop itself up while the buddy burner is burning. Move the damper to increase or decrease the heat.

TV personality and author Dian Thomas shares her journey of weight loss, exercise and life on the run every other Wednesday in the Deseret News and at Her weekly blog also runs Mondays at and she takes tour groups to China. Contact her at