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What is a can cooker used for?

A can cooker, also known as a haybox cooker or a fireless cooker, is a simple and cheap way to cook food without using electricity or fuel for hours at a time. It works by bringing food to a boil, then placing the covered pot into an insulated container to continue cooking slowly using residual heat. Can cookers have been used for centuries to save time and fuel when cooking beans, rice, stews, and more.

How Does a Can Cooker Work?

A can cooker consists of an insulated container, often made out of wood, cardboard, fabric, or even hay, along with a lid. The inside of the container is lined with insulation material like cotton, foam, or crumpled newspaper to retain heat. Here is the basic process for using a can cooker:

  1. Bring your food, like a pot of soup or beans, to a rapid boil over a stove or campfire.
  2. Once boiling, immediately remove from heat and quickly transfer to the preheated can cooker, making sure the lid is on tight.
  3. Close the lid of the insulated container with the pot inside.
  4. Leave undisturbed for several hours while the food continues cooking from residual heat.
  5. Once done, remove pot and serve hot food.

The can cooker works by trapping the heat from the initial boiling inside the well-insulated container. The temperature gradually drops over several hours but remains hot enough to cook food thoroughly and safely without additional fuel.

Benefits of Using a Can Cooker

Cooking with a can cooker has many advantages:

  • Saves energy: After bringing to a boil, no additional fuel is needed so it conserves energy.
  • Portable: Can cookers are compact and easy to transport for camping trips or cooking off-the-grid.
  • Low cost: Made from inexpensive household items and require no electricity.
  • Slow cooking: Foods become very tender and flavorful with the long cooking time.
  • Safe: With proper pre-boiling, food cooks thoroughly even without monitoring.
  • Eco-friendly: Significantly reduces CO2 emissions compared to stovetop cooking.

By taking advantage of residual heat, can cookers can cook food for hours without the cost, environmental impact, or safety concerns of other cooking methods.

What Kinds of Food Can You Cook in a Can Cooker?

Many types of food are well-suited for cooking in a can cooker due to the moist, slow cooking environment. Here are some of the best options:


Dried beans become extremely soft and tender when cooked low and slow in a can cooker. Varieties like kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, and chickpeas work well. Make sure to boil sufficiently before placing in the can cooker.


For perfectly cooked rice, bring rice and water to a boil then transfer to the can cooker for fluffy grains. Both white and brown rice turn out well with this method.


Chili and stews benefit greatly from hour upon hour of simmering. The can cooker allows the flavors to meld without scorching on the bottom.

Root Vegetables

Hard vegetables like potatoes, carrots, beets, and turnips become fork tender when given enough time in the moist heat environment.

Soups and Broths

All kinds of homemade soups and stocks get richly concentrated flavors after an extended stay inside a sealed can cooker.


Tougher meats like brisket, pork shoulder, and chicken thighs shine when braised in the can cooker. They become fall-apart tender.

Baked Goods

Even some baked goods can be started on the stovetop then finished gently in a can cooker using steam. Options include bread, cornbread, and cheesecake.

Tips for Getting the Best Results

Follow these tips when cooking with a can cooker:

  • Completely preheat the can cooker before adding boiling food.
  • Make sure food reaches a rapid boil before removing from heat.
  • Quickly transfer boiling food into preheated can cooker and seal immediately.
  • Use a thermometer and only cook foods that can be safely held in the “danger zone” of 40-140°F.
  • Allow for carryover cooking after removing from can cooker before serving.
  • Avoid opening the can cooker until food is done for maximum heat retention.
  • Let pressure fully release before opening lid of can cooker.
  • Make sure food is piping hot throughout before serving.

Common Questions

How long does food take to cook in a can cooker?

Cooking time can range from 2-12 hours depending on factors like the size and density of the food and the level of insulation around the pot. Beans and tough meats take about 6-12 hours, while foods like rice and vegetables may cook in 2-4 hours.

Is it safe to cook in a can cooker?

Yes, can cookers are safe when used properly by bringing food to a full boil before placing in the insulated container and only cooking foods that can be held safely at lower temperatures. This eliminates any dangerous bacteria.

What can I use to insulate my can cooker?

Any material that traps heat works well for insulation like crumpled newspaper, styrofoam, cotton towels, foam, or even an old sleeping bag. Avoid materials that may absorb moisture or odors.

Can you adjust cooking time in a can cooker?

Yes, cooking time can be adjusted by varying the level of insulation around the pot, using a smaller or larger pot, or by checking periodically and removing when done to your liking.

Does food burn in a can cooker?

Food should not burn since no direct heat is applied after bringing to a boil initially. As long as the boiler is sufficiently preheated before adding food, burning should not occur.

Common Can Cooker DIY Designs

Can cookers can easily be made at home with simple, inexpensive materials. Here are some popular designs:

Cardboard Box

Line a sturdy cardboard box with crumpled newspaper, old towels, or other insulating material. Put boiling pot inside and close box.

Insulated Cooler

A small insulated picnic cooler works perfectly to trap heat. Line with towel and insert boiling pot with lid.

Sleeping Bag

Place boiling pot into a sleeping bag then wrap bag around tightly. The insulated fabric holds in heat well.

Hay Box

Construct box out of wood, cardboard or tin, fill with hay or grass clippings. Place boiling pot inside and cover with more hay.

Styrofoam Container

Reuse a large styrofoam cooler or shipping container. A few inches of surrounding foam insulation gets excellent results.

Review of Some Popular Retail Can Cookers

There are also many can cooker models available for purchase. Here is an overview of some top options:

Brand & Model Capacity Material Key Features
Wonderbag Non-Electric Portable Cooker 7 Quart Cotton outer shell with foam insulation – Comes in stylish patterns and colors
– Very lightweight and portable
– Insulated carry strap
Haybox Eco Thermal Cooker 5 Quart Nylon outer shell with cotton insulation – Durable, water-resistant exterior
– Foldable compact design
– Carrying handles for transport
Thermal Cooker Granite Ware 20 Quart Graniteware pot with insulating vessel – Large capacity
– Heavy-duty stoneware pot
– Keeps food hot up to 6 hours
Crock-Pot 6 Quart Cook & Carry Manual Portable Slow Cooker 6 Quart Plastic cooker with locking lid – Temperature control dial
– Serving spoon and lid-lifting handle
– Secure travel locking system

There are many excellent can cooker options to suit different budgets and needs. Be sure to select an insulated model with sufficient capacity for the dish you plan to prepare.


Can cookers are an energy-efficient, eco-friendly way to cook delicious soups, stews, beans, rice, and more without the constant use of fuel or electricity. The simple technology of bringing food to a boil then trapping heat allows for safe extended cooking times. With just a few household items, it’s easy to DIY an effective can cooker or purchase an affordable retail model. Experiment with can cooking old favorites as well as new dishes to take advantage of the moist, gentle heat for maximum tenderness and flavor.