The Humble Thermos Bottle.
It’s not just for your hot beverages.
(cook meals and save energy/time with your thermos bottle)
Written & illustrated by TripleB
With the cost of energy & fuels within the past couple years at their highest we’ve seen. More and more people are feeling the punch and trying to find alternatives to save energy whether it is from heating or cooling their homes or foods. Whether your home or range top stove is powered by electric, fuel oils, propane or the like the costs are all the same = rising. With people on limited incomes and many elderly people finding it harder and harder choosing between heating their residence or use higher costing energy to cook their meals there is one sure fire way to cook various meals simply, cheaply, nutritiously, yummy. It’s with the simple humble narrow necked Thermos bottle.
The ideal & action of cooking with a thermos bottle is not a new one actually. All one has to do is type in a internet search under “Thermos Cooking” or “Cooking With A Thermos” and one will find some useful information on such. I myself discovered this method of cooking from the internet years back also. The internet is a blessing and curse for many. Much useful information can be gained by such tool. But one must weigh both sides of a story or article you might come across. Trial and error is the norm. Some things I’ve seen on the internet intended to help or instruct a person can be down right dangerous too. But this system is one of those rock solid systems I’ve tested and use as I have learned. Something you too can try with relative safety. But still yet, there is a safety factor in this since you are dealing with hot boiling water, food items, narrow spouts and a screw lid container
Many have used their thermos bottles to keep their liquid beverages warm to piping hot for years. But many still may not realize that a meal can be literally cooked in a quality thermos. Notice I said “quality” thermos. There are lots of thermos bottles on the market today from styrofoam insulated/lined bottles to the fragile silver glass lined models. The glass lined variety can & will eventually break on you while using them for cooking in any great capacity of time. And don’t go sticking your thermos bottle in the microwave please.
My experience has shown and been pretty conclusive that although these cheaper bottles are good at keeping some items warm enough to ingest within several hours down the road. And some will cook up items like rice and small beans & peas. They will not hold up to the repeated use of actual cooking as that of an all steel constructed double walled vacuum thermos bottles will. Many of the cheaper varieties sold today just will just not cut the mustard nor will they work like a real deal quality made brand name models.
I own several different thermos bottles (about 8) from cheaper models to nice all stainless double walled insulated ones. For the purpose of cooking one would be wise to consider the two I mention here. The Stanley model thermos bottle or the nice models from the company simply called “Thermos”. Both are really good thermos bottle companies. The “Thermos” company has been around for over 100 years & the Stanley company has been around for 95 years (at the time of this writing 12-2008). That’s a pretty good testament of their quality by any measure.
These quality bottles can be had for around $25 for the 1 quart version at many local “mart” stores still today. And you can find them sometimes on sale for another $5 off. These are still quality manufactured thermos bottles that the work-a-day person can afford. And if you’ve never owned a high quality thermos bottle, my advice is you get your self one. You won’t be disappointed.
Why the talk about a high quality thermos? Simply because they work and work very well for the intention of actually cooking in them constantly and being able to take the abuse. The two companies listed above are battle tank tough. They take repeated use and punishment quite well & seal up very well. And I know they work better than any other brand I’ve ever owned.
Now that we’ve established some info for you in regards to using at least a well made thermos for the purposes of cooking. Let’s cover real quickly the model thermos you should use for cooking & what you might try and test for yourself. From there you have an endless array of what your imagination can come up with to put in your thermos and cook.
If you are going to use a thermos bottle to cook in you’ll do well in getting a “narrow neck” model. I can not stress that enough or the importance there of. The good old classic narrow neck model is what you want to actually cook meals in & will retain its heat for a pleasant hot/warm meal even well into the next day when you’re ready to eat it.
Sure, you can buy the wide mouth model also if you want (and I have one too). But the wide mouth models loose their heat quite fast as compared to the narrow neck models. The wide mouth just dissipates the heat to fast & is less efficient for certain types of cooking. It will no doubt cook up rice, lintels & split peas that are small surface area items but when it comes time to cook meats and legumes like pinto beans you will see a wide mouth doesn’t come close to the abilities of a classic narrow neck model for thoroughness and speed of cooking & keeping items hotter over a longer period of time, not even close. So I suggest getting the narrow neck 1 qt. or larger capacity ones. They also make 2 qt. (1/2 gallon) model.
The wide mouth (to the right in the picture) are tempting because of the easy access and pouring abilities of potatoes and meats. And they do surpass well in that department but you will do well with avoiding the wide mouth model as your “primary” cooking thermos. I’m “not” saying the wide mouth won’t work, they will, but not as well as the narrow neck model & the wide mouth won’t come close to keeping stuff piping hot for a period of time like the narrow neck one will. You might have to cut your potatoes and meats in smaller pieces to get them in the narrow neck model but even then it will cook faster since you cut down the thickness and surface area of such items making your cooking time even faster. Less bulky items = less time it takes the heat to penetrate said item and cook it = you’re eating well in less time (which I call being fat, dumb & happy a lot faster).
Most food items that I know of with my limited knowledge will cook at 180 degrees and since much of this type of cooking is bringing water to a boiling point, which is 212 degrees at sea level, some items you try/or cook might not need to be brought to a literal boil actually. Some foods might get over cooked at 212 degree water temps and degrade some nutrients according to some educated cookers, or so they say. I’ve never found that to be any provable case myself nor affect the taste. But then again I’m no food, fat or calorie scientist. I will say this, from my experience; don’t leave rice in more than a couple hours or it will get more paste like and super soggy like mush. Myself & what I usually cook, I bring my water and all contents going in the thermos to a rolling boil on the stove together and then pour it into the thermos then seal it up. If you live in a place and have no stove top but have access to a microwave and have cooking ware that is rated as microwave safe (not your thermos for heavens sake, a bowl). You can still boil items and place them in your thermos bottle. Although I’m no fan of microwaves or the health factors about them coming to more light. If that’s all you’ve got, well then, there you are. You might just have to use what you have too.
If you add your food items to your thermos first and then pour the boiling water on top of it all then cap it off you stand a chance at your water becoming cooler faster because the food items will draw the water temperature down cooling the water a lot faster. I know that might be nit-picky but I have noticed in my testing that cold items in a thermos don’t cook up as good or fast. But if you toss all your goodies in with the water as you bring it all to a boil it all gets heated together nicely and will go into the thermos already really hot and start cooking immediately thus cooking faster. It’s quite useful to “prime” your thermos with hot/warm water before using it also. We’ll speak on that in a bit.
Now for a quick safety note: So far I’ve only had a thermos lid pop off once and that happened recently as I was writing this article. I don’t know why or how but when I was testing some dumplings with smoked turkey in it. I placed the thermos on its side and about 10 minutes later I heard a pop sound and seen my thermos lightly spewing hot liquid on top of the counter. The lid was screwed down tight like always and bottomed out with the serving cup screwed down on it too. Strange occurrence but apparently it can happen. Maybe too much pressure built up in it with the dough swelling. Don’t know but it was weird. Only time I’ve ever seen that happen with a quality thermos. You sure wouldn’t want that happening in your vehicle on the way to work that’s for sure.
Please be careful when using your thermos and boiling water. You’re trying to pour something extremely hot and scalding into a narrow area with chunks of food product at the same time. DO NOT….repeat…..DO NOT hold your thermos in your hand as you try pour hot boiling water into it without a funnel. Please use a funnel…..or you will regret it eventually. You might think you are nimble and can balance a pot of hot water in one hand just fine while pouring it into your thermos but all it takes, heaven knows that I know, is one slip, one sneeze, one bump from your toddler in the leg and you WILL let go of that thermos when that boiling water rolls down the side on your fingers. You will let go in a post haste manner too. Not pleasant. I did that long ago when I first started using my thermos for cooking various items thinking I had everything under control just fine. Thank heavens I had it over the sink when it happened. Make sure you place your thermos firmly on the counter top or even better down in the kitchen sink. Just in case a spill or slip does happen the sink catches the boiling hot liquids and not the front of your body like your waist area or toes as it flows off the counter to the floor or on a child as the case could be if it fell over on the counter top and spilled out everywhere all of a sudden on you. The bottom of a standard Thermos is a polished metal and slippery (on many models, especially Stanley).
For a funnel you can use a canning funnel (a funnel used in pressure canning of food found at your local store) if you’re careful. If you use a metal canning funnel you can slightly bend the bottom inward and it will balance inside the mouth of a narrow neck thermos. Or you can just cut a milk jug in half leaving the handle. Balances right on top of the thermos then. And just use a spoon or rap-n-tap the food into the thermos by jiggling your new home made funnel and the food will fall right in as you pour your contents into your thermos. You can also make a funnel with the pouring end of an empty 2 liter soda pop bottle. The milk jug is nice because you got a built in handle already and you get plenty volume sticking up as not to get any splash back on your arm or hand using the cut milk jug method
Now when you use a thermos like a 1 qt. model it will hold 1 quart of water. Remember to take into count that you will have food taking up space too so you will not be able to get a whole quart of water into the thermos because of the food products displacement. So you should toss your food item into the thermos bottle and then your water. Fill it up to the bottom part of the thermos bottles neck and now you’ll have the amount that will pour right back into your thermos without over filling and wasting anything or making a mess.
Pour the contents of food and water into your sauce pan (cooking pan) and season how you want, if you want, bring to a boil and then pour it back into your thermos. That’s really pretty much all there is to it. Do it fast so you don’t loose heat. But do it carefully as not to injure your self. It’s not a marathon race. Just do it efficiently quick.
You can also use a dedicated pot just for your thermos cooking if you want. You can make (by scratching in) certain level marks for various known items of food per volume of water it takes to fill your thermos bottle. All depends on the amount you normally cook and what item you are cooking. Like a marked area in the pot for rice might be different for pinto beans since beans are larger and might displace more water volume dependant upon the amount you use. You just got to test it out for yourself and you will soon see for yourself.
If you want to do some simple testing then just take a hand full of whatever grain item you want to test and use that amount. You’ll be able to see how well or not it does and adjust from there. It’s not hard. Most of this type of cooking is usually reserved for singles or married couples but if you have a larger family you can still cook in this manner with less power & time. Just buy more thermos’. They don’t take up that much room under the sink.
So what exactly can you cook in your thermos? About whatever your mind can come up with that deals with hot water. Corn, Beans, Peas, Rice, Soups, Stews, Noodles, Lintels, it’s your choice and your imagination. If you can cook it normally in a stew or cooking pot on the stove with water, or if you can cook it in a crock pot, you can cook it in a thermos. With less time at the stove, less time on your feet, tons less energy used, with a lot more time you can be doing something else constructive or with your family. This is not rocket science.
NOTE: Remember to lay your thermos on its side after you fill it. This will allow its contents to cook evenly throughout. Your food items will be evenly displaced throughout the hot water that way. This is also safer in case you do ever experience a blow out. Face it toward the sink. Then if an accident does happen while you are away. The contents will just spew toward the sink and not all over your cabinets or ceiling if the bottle was standing upright making a horrible mess.
Also make sure you fill your thermos all the way up to the proper level at the bottom of the neck. Don’t leave a lot of air space or your water will cool faster. Not only does this help retain heat. If it’s a small meal you’ll still have plenty of liquid to drink as a warm seasoned drink and will help keep you hydrated and help in digestion of any food you ingest. To digest food you body has to use its hydration to do so. So you’ll be putting water into your body this way to help digestion.
Here are some pictures of the process & examples you can try and go from there with your own ideals.
* Rice – ½ cup of white rice will make a serving for 2 people and literally fill a 1 qt. Thermos when all puffed up. Only takes about 1 ½ hours and it’s ready to eat (sometimes up to 2 hrs, depending on how fast you are with your system or if you primed your bottle beforehand). You don’t even need to pre-soak rice. Simply rinse your rice (if you want), toss it into the required pre-measured amount of water to boil and after it comes to boil pour it all into your thermos. Cap it tight, sit it on its side preferably facing the sink in case you do have a accident or blow out (at least point it in a direction away from other electrical appliances or people). As you can see in a picture below this simple half cup of rice made a plate full of food.
Granted also you can just bring your water to a boil with the rice in it and then turn it off, put your sauce pan lid on and walk away and it will cook too. But this way you can take it with you right then and not wait while it’s on the stove soaking up the heat. Not worry about nosey kids or spouses coming by and picking up a lid to see what’s for chow allowing heat to escape or wandering hands of wee ones coming by and grabbing a pot off the stove and possibly pouring the contents down upon them. And this manner will allow the rice to be really hot when you’re ready to eat. Along with some extra liquid you might want to drink on a cold winter day, even if it doesn’t taste real good just plain. It can still benefit you. I like rice sweet myself so I put raw honey in mine to cook so even the hot liquid that remains I get out of the thermos is sweetened some what and quite palatable.
When I cooked this ½ cup of rice in a 1 quart Thermos tonight, while at the same time maintaining my camera to take all these pictures of the process, the pot on the stove went just below boiling by the time I poured it. So the water was just either right at 212 degrees or right under. Either way it really don’t matter that much since rice cooks up pretty quick while you go mow the lawn or go sharpen your axe & chop some firewood or go to the store for a item or simply kick back with a good book. The water was still moving but I didn’t get it off the stove at rolling boil. But 2 hours later when I opened it up to pour the rice out. I stuck the thermometer in the water and the water temperature was hovering around 185 – 190 degrees. I’ve cooked rice in 1 ½ hrs. more than once. And depending on how fast you want to cook then here’s a bit of information that needs to be mentioned. It’s called “priming” your thermos. I didn’t prime it this go around in the cool of winter in an old house I live in. So that alone will cause your cooking time to be a tad more. To “prime” your thermos simply run hot tap water or pre-warmed water into your thermos (if you have the water to spare to do this, if not, no
worries), cap it and let it sit while your food items and water that will be going into the thermos for cooking is in the process of starting to boil on the stove.
This will warm up the thermos and stainless steel side walls prepping your bottle. When your food on the stove starts to boil pour the priming water out of the thermos bottle or save it in a container & when it cools down you can either drink it or use it for you next go around with your thermos cooking. But this pre-heating action will prime the thermos and your water from the stove will stay hotter even longer if you need it too & your cooking times will be noticeably faster especially in the winter.
* – Pintos – It’s best to pre-soak your Pinto beans (or other large or hard legumes) either over night or while you’re gone to work for the day (1 cup is a plenty good meal for one person). Cover your amount of beans with about an inch (or tad more) of water in a cereal bowl and you’ll be fine. You can just boil up the hard legumes after a good pre-soak and toss them into the thermos for the next days munching or several hours later in the day or evening to eat. They will cook also without pre-soaking but will have a firm texture usually (if you don’t pre-soak them). It really depends on how long you leave them in the thermos. If you like that texture then by all means go for it. But if you like the softer texture of beans like I was raised up with in a slow cooker crock pot or mom tending a boiling pot for hours on the stove top having to monitor the water level, using energy you might not be able to spare, then you need to pre-soak your Pintos. They will cook up quite nicely then. After pre-soaking over night or throughout the day while you’re gone to work. Toss the beans in water and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling pour all contents into the thermos and seal immediately. Cap tightly and place the drinking cup on loosely at least. Let them cook over night for your next day’s lunch or boil them up in the morning after a nights soaking to have for an early dinner that same afternoon. Pre season them with your salt, garlic, pepper, onions, spices, deer meat chunks, smoked turkey pieces, whatever your hearts desire. When you pre-season any food you put it in the thermos it will be all soaked in and already & tasty when you’re ready to eat. And what liquid you don’t use immediately will be a tasty treat when you want to drink a warm/hot drink in the winter time.
How much salt? How much garlic or other spices? Whatever you would normally used to season a nice large bowl of chow is what you should use. Everyone is different in the amount of seasoning they prefer. Just use what you normally would for a large bowls worth of eating and you’ll have a starting point to use. If you need more, then after it’s cooked, add more to your liking. This isn’t a article on recipes nor a cook book. It’s a basic starting point for you to use to get you on your way to using less energy both utilities and human & to free up time for your self without having to maintain a constant awareness that a burner is on while around the house or when you leave the house.
With the heating energy you used to boil beans for a long time in a regular pot on the stove, and the energy you might use in conjunction with baking up some sweet corn bread, you could be just putting your attention & effort into the corn bread more so since this method allows the thermos to be cooking the large legumes that only took you like 5 minutes to bring to boil, 15 seconds to pour them into the Thermos, 5 seconds to cap it & about 2 seconds to lay it on its side and walk away. Maintenance free cooking basically is what it boils down to (no pun intended).
Some might be thinking why not just put them in the crock pot and when you get home they’re ready to eat. Remember, we’re talking about energy savings and efficiency here. Limited power usage & water usage. Not having an electrical appliance on while you’re away from home worry if your house is going to burn down while you’re gone. It only takes a few minutes to boil the water for this type of cooking in your thermos and you’re done with energy consumption. What if you had no power? If you can build a fire just even long enough to boil the required amount of water then you’re still good to go and can cook in your thermos.
Say you’re going on a hunt or a hike, although a thermos is a bulky item and might be heavy in a back pack for some when it’s full of contents (this is where the pint size thermos shines), you could be presoaking your grain in warm tap water for hours in your thermos while you are on the trail or headed
to your favorite hunting site and when you’re ready to boil your water and start the cooking regiment. You simply pour the contents you’ve already got in your thermos into a sauce pan you might pack with you to cook in (heaven forbid you go into the wilderness without at least a cooking pot to boil water and make the simplest meal, go prepared). Bring it to a boil, pour it back into your thermos, seal it and let it cook a few hours. At the end of the day or next day (either way) you’ll have a full hearty, nutritious meal waiting for your stomach. Or you could pre-soak them the night before you go out and then just boil them up real quick in the morning before you head out and put them in your thermos and by the time lunch rolls around you’re ready to eat. It’s nice to have a hot meal with hot liquid in the dead of winter in the wilderness. So like I said this is all about less effort, less time stressing and more time saving energy and more time doing things you either need to get done or want to do.
Is this a cooking method I use exclusively every day? No, but it’s sure a nice cooking skill to have knowledge on and know how to do when the time comes and you need to do so to conserve energy and time.
There’s another food item that don’t weigh anything that you could carry with you that would make you a happy camper if needed in the cold or if you were stranded in the wilderness and just needed something good to fill you up and keep you going. And you can pack enough of this food item into one pocket on your back pack that would last you a week…..literally….and will fill you up. Our forefathers used it when crossing the mountain ranges. I’ll write about that simple food item soon. 90% + of you have it in your home right now.
Even so, as mentioned before, a thermos might be a tad bulky or heavy for some people in their pack. It could come in quite handy if things went bump in the night on your simple outing and you got lost in the wilderness or got turned around in the woods while out tracking game or trapping or just out hiking in a place you thought you were familiar with. If you had something to boil water in over a fire you’d have a item with you that can still cook with little effort on your part in which leaves you more time to construct a shelter, plan your way out and/or be able to cook some food for you while you are on your way out of the wilderness. Never know. They’re just another ‘lil handy item to have around.
Large legumes take the longest to cook this way from my experience, but not so long that it’s not worth it, that’s for sure. But then again I am a legume fan. About any bean is my friend. Look at it this way. What would you rather do? Spend a couple hours watching and having to maintain beans boiling on top of the stove for hours or in a crock pot for hours burning electricity or gas that’s costing you more and more? Or, simply do a tiny bit a preparation by pre-soaking your beans (pick out any floaters or items that float) during the day or over night while you sleep and simply toss them in a pot of water and bring to a boil in all of 5 minutes of your life then pour them into a thermos and be on your way? It doesn’t take long once you do this a few times to realize the efficiency of this system and costs saving benefits & amount of time you just freed up for your self while your meal is cooking in a thermos with no additional energy costs.
I’ve never put the “literal” clock to the amount of time it takes to cook large beans (legumes). I’ve always just done it either over night or early in the morning and let them cook for me while I’m gone to work. Either way, try a half cup of large beans first and see how your results turn out. You will know pretty quickly how you need to adjust anything if you actually do have too from there. You can toss in any veggie you think you’d like that requires really hot water for a while to cook them up and add some meat if you prefer. Real smoked turkey is great in beans & so is deer meat chunked up small. Salt, black pepper, fresh garlic clove. You pour that over some Indian fry bread or sweet corn bread, mmmmmm, if you don’t like that. Then I would have to think there’s just something not right with you
Other foods to consider are Wheat berries (wheat grain, seed). Let them cook overnight in your thermos and the next morning you will have a ready made hot cereal. If you like add cream or milk, brown sugar or honey, whatever you like. If you blend them like I learned from a person on line you wind up with a oatmeal texture hot cereal full of nutrients & will give you plenty of go power for the morning.
You can try out spaghetti noodles also. Don’t take long in a sealed container that 212 degree water just went in and sealed to maintain that heat for as long as possible. Break them in half and fit them in your thermos. Add your boiling water, cap it, set it on its side and walk away to do something else constructive while you wait a bit for them to cook up. Make up whatever sauce you want to go on them real quick while you wait.
Egg noodles also. You can make your own stew with egg noodles pretty simple. I take a hand full of noodles, deer meat (or turkey), new potatoes, carrots, peas (whatever you like). Season them in the pot of boiling water. Bring all contents up to boil & then pour them all into the thermos bottle. Cap it, lay it on its side & the next day at work have a steaming hot 1 quart meal of stew. Throw in a bullion cube too if you like. Won’t hurt.
Explore the ideal. You might find something you like and what all you can make. The sky’s the limit. So you don’t have to just use your thermos to keep your coffee hot or cold drinks cold. You can actually cook a meal quite easy in one. Hope it works out as well for you as it has for me. Just use some common sense & a tad of pre-planning & you’ll discover quite a few things you can cook in your thermos that will save you some time and energy. Have fun. BBB.