Cooking with the MSR Dragonfly

So we did a FamJam car-camping trip this weekend and wanted to try out some cooking vs relying on pre-cooked stuff or buying take out.

Initially was going to use the vintage Coleman 2-burner stove gifted to me by my father-in-law, but last week at home I couldn’t get it to fire up, and ran out of time to mess with it.

I’d been into The Radical Edge checking out backpacking stoves and was thinking about buying a MSR Dragonfly to use for family car-camping trips as well as maybe bike camping trips with 3-4 of the kids and was attracted to it’s versatility – small packing size, but still big enough to cook for a larger group – and it simmers. Was hesitant to plunk down the cash on a liquid-fuel stove as I’ve never used one, and luckily enough, Brian mentioned that they rent them – why don’t I just try one out? Bing. Done.

So then I went online searching for recipes – of which there’s bazillions. After pondering the tastes and logistics of various ones, then factoring in ‘will my kids eat it’, I decided to actually just use a recipe that we make often at home on our gas kitchen stove. As we’d be car camping with a cooler for a short period of time, having to cart fresh ingredients and keep them cool wasn’t an issue like it might be on a longer, more minimalistic trip. Sausage and pepper pasta wins the day.

Brian had sent me off with a quick primer on stove use and about 3/4 a container of liquid fuel and assured me that would be plenty. On Friday afternoon before leaving the house I fired up the stove real quick just to make sure I understood it’s operation and called him with a few questions, then packed it up to head out.

Saturday evening was the target cooking evening, which worked out well since there was an open-fire ban on due to weather conditions, so we wouldn’t have been able to cook in the fire pit.

I prepped all my ingredients and fired up the stove. I had a little bit of trouble lighting it at first, I think due to the fact that I hadn’t primed it enough, but eventually got it going. One thing about the stove that set me off at first (and that I actually called about from home) was how loud it is. I was a little bit used to this from using my MSR Micro Rocket stove, but this one is actually considerably louder than that. Once I was assured that, yes, it’s ok if it sounds like jet engine, that’s normal, I got used to it and was actually sure that, no, it’s not going to blow up.

After starting up and getting over the jet engine noise, one thing Lyn commented on was how close the fuel bottle was to the burner. It seemed unnerving that it should be that close to the heat source. I pointed out that the fuel hose was that long so it must be ok, but it did make me wonder though. I would check the side of the bottle with my hand periodically and it wasn’t getting that hot, so I surmised that it must be ok, because it seemed that the majority of the heat from the flame was focused upward, not outward and if the canister needed to be further away, they would have made the fuel line longer. It also occurred to me that in the future I might use the windscreen provided with the stove to keep heat from the canister as well – it wasn’t windy at all that day so I hadn’t thought to use it.

Then I got cooking.

Since I was cooking for 6, I brought pots/pans from home as nothing ‘backpacky’ would hold that much. First up I cooked up my sliced sausage. I found the volume/simmer control on the burner worked really well, allowing me to control the temperature quite precisely. Once my sausage was done, I removed from the pan into another pot, left the burner running, and then dumped my onions and peppers and sautéed those a bit in the same pan. Once they were good to go, I set the whole pan aside and threw on a pot of water.

We were using a big pot from home and making two packages of pasta, so it was a considerable amount of water I needed to get to a boil. The stove took longer than I thought it would to get the water to a boil, and it never got really rolling but it got there. This could have been due to 2 things:

First, I was kinda hesitant to open up the stove full blast, as I wasn’t sure if it should run that long at full tilt or whether that would cause problems.* At this point I’d been running the thing almost half an hour straight. I didn’t know if the burner would take it or not. Also, I was a little leery of how much fuel I was using/if I would run out, but I didn’t really think it was a good idea to pick up the bottle and check it with the stove running, so left it alone, and ran just a little below full blast, thinking it might conserve fuel. (Note, in the end, I probably ran the stove for a little over an hour straight and I think I used about 1/3 of the fuel I had in the bottle.)

Second, if I’d used the windscreen mentioned earlier, even though there was no wind, it probably would have minimized some heat loss and been more efficient at focusing the heat on the pot.

Eventually though, I got my water boiling, dumped in and cooked my pasta. Drained that, dumped in some olive oil, the sausage, peppers, onions and 2 cans of diced tomatoes and then simmered/mixed it all again for a few minutes to make sure it was all hot to serve.

Dumped into some ‘bowls’, topped with parmesan and was good to go. Everyone said it was as good as home. Even if they hadn’t, 2-3 servings each said so anyway. We had brought some bread that we were gonna do up with garlic and cheese to make garlic bread in a foil packet on the fire pit while we cooked, but due to the fire ban, we just ate the bread with butter instead.

Overall, I was really happy with the stove and will probably pick one up at some point in the future. Though the drawback compared to something like the Coleman is that you only have one burner to cook with, there’s really no comparison, since they’re two different kinds of stoves. The Dragonfly is way more packable, yet still delivers a huge punch and excellent heat control and could easily be supplemented with either another Dragonfly, another burner stove, or the Coleman itself. As far as what I’m looking for, it would be a great addition to our family gear as something that could be used in tandem with the Coleman or as a stand-alone stove for more minimal outings.

*When returning the stove, my buddy at the shop confirmed that the Dragonfly is an 'expedition level' stove commonly used at places like basecamps and such, often for extended periods to boil copious amounts of water for camp. He said running it full bore, even through a whole canister of fuel shouldn't be an issue.