cooking with Pareto

The Pareto Principle is famously interpreted to mean that 20% of the people do 80% of the work.  More formally, it says that “roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes”.

I’ve been experimenting and I think it also applies to cooking:  80% of the cooking is done by 20% of the fuel.    There are several factors in play that lead to our general overconsumption of cooking fuel:

  • recipes are streamlined to fit better in the American lifestyle (a charitable view) - bring to a boil, allow to simmer with a timer running

  • recipes need to be dumbed down for the clueless (an uncharitable view)

  • boiling is a heuristic for measuring temperature without instruments.  Boiling isn’t magic, and boiling isn’t even required for disinfecting drinking water.

Note:  although I am not in dire need of heroic cooking/heating fuel conservation measures, it’s fun to experiment and it might come in handy if more SHTF.

my prior use of fuels

Before this winter I’d been heating with propane (Mr. Heater Buddy, Coleman catalytic).   This winter I started experimenting with electric contact heating, with varying levels of success.  At this very moment I am warmed by the electric vest mentioned in the article.

My cooking gear was a bit more varied.

  • main stove is a MSR Dragonfly (coleman fuel, unleaded, kero with included jet).

  • I also still have a Coleman Exponent multifuel stove ((coleman fuel, unleaded, kero with included generator) but parts are no longer available.  I will run it into the ground, I guess.  Maybe try the fettler’s generator renewal trick (heat the snot out of the gen with a torch)

  • standing propane camp stove

Coleman fuel hasn’t totally disappeared but it is harder to find.  I’ll start augmenting with unleaded, maybe mixing the two to minimize clogging.


I’ve started playing with using less fuel for cooking .  The biggest win seems to be bringing the pot to simmer only intermittently.   This morning’s “old-fashioned” oatmeal calls for a 5-minute simmer.  I brought it to a boil then shut it off, and brought it back to a simmer 2x over the next ten minutes.  Used about 45 seconds of simmer-level fuel each time to regain temp.  The resulting oatmeal was indistinguisable (by me) from the normal stuff, and used about 1/3rd of the fuel during the simmer phase.  It’s possible it would have been fine at 5mins but I’ve been bumping up cooking times by 5-10mins to adjust for the lower average temps.

Similar results with grits, malt-o-meal, pasta, rice dishes.   The texture of the grits and the pasta might have been a bit different, or maybe I was imagining things.   Or maybe normal variance in my cooking.

Flame height is another tunable variable.  The flame should be high enough that the vessel doesn’t waste a lot of heat re-radiating over time, but low enough that heat is concentrated on the bottom of the vessel instead of flames wasted by wrapping around the edges.

Next step:  I brew a lot of green tea and have been wasting fuel bringing the kettle to a boil.    Green tea should be steeped around 160F, so a thermometer stuck in the kettle neck should help me save fuel.  Maybe bring it to 175F to account for thermal intertia of the brewing vessel (a nissan thermos).  I understand coffee should be brewed around 190F, so stopping just before the boil should save fuel there, too.


New information has come to my attention.  Apparently there had been disruption to the supply of butane containers on amazon.

I also had a request to publish my fuel use info:

> > This varies wildly, but I'd say maybe 0.5 - 1 gallon of liquid fuel and maybe half of those big 20# propane tanks a month.  If it's nice outside I cook more outdoors on liquid fuel.  If it's crappy outside I cook more indoors on propane. > > > > > > I did the math once and 1gal of liquid fuel (coleman or unleaded) contains roughly the same energy as one of the big propane tanks.  The cheapest I see propane tanks is about $15.  Coleman hovers around $12.50 and the walmart version about $8.50.  Unleaded is under $3 in my location now, which makes it a bargain if I can keep the jets clean. > > > > > > > > I haven't been using much fuel for heating recently because of this experiment: > > > > > >