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MSR WhisperLite backpacking stoves are ubiquitous, but they lack a key function: the ability to simmer easily. How can you set a WhisperLite to simmer without having to constantly watch the stove and micro-adjust the fuel valve?

  • 3
    Not that this helps in your particular case, but MSR also makes the Dragonfly, a stove which does simmer. – Felix Jan 10 '13 at 20:58
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    @felix ...but which sounds like a jet engine taking off. I've tried to love it, but find the noise to be super-disturbing of my quiet wilderness experience. – Lost Jan 10 '13 at 21:24
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    Look at it this way... the noise keeps bears away (or lets them know dinner is ready, not sure which yet) :D – Felix Jan 10 '13 at 21:29
  • If you were to manage to get a WhisperLite to simmer, it wouldn't last long. The stove has to produce enough heat to vaporize the fuel in the coil in order to function properly. When it gets too cool, it starts to sputter, then just flames as liquid fuel drips out and fills the primer tray. – ShemSeger Sep 11 '18 at 19:41
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The short answer: don't. Edit: Instead of simmering on the stove, remove the pot from the flame and keep it insulated to retain heat. See @KateGregory's excellent answer for more details.

The long answer: you can reduce the pressure in the fuel bottle, and this will reduce the flow rate of the fuel.

This is done by pumping fewer times! The exact number will vary over bottle size and amount of air in it--how full it is.

After you brought your pot to a boil, using the stove at regular pressure as per the manual, remove the pot from the stove and turn off the gas valve. Once the stove is off, take a hold of the bottle, hold it up vertically, and carefully unscrew the pump to release the pressure. Do this carefully, and be sure there is no flame immediately nearby, because if the fuel vapour lights up, you are going to have a very bad time. Once the pressure is released, re-seal the pump on the bottle, give it one or two pumps, open the fuel valve and relight the stove. If your flame is still too strong, repeat this procedure with fewer pumps. Ultimately, it's the pressure in the fuel bottle that determines the flow to the stove.

The vapour coming out as you depressurize the fuel bottle can catch fire if you are not careful. You must be sure there are no fire sources nearby that will light it!

Given the risk involved, I think it's best to avoid doing this. I have been able to make fancy rice, soup, sauce, eggs, pancakes, and other types of meals that benefit from simmering on this stove with regular operation. An easy solution is to simply elevate the pot higher over the fire. If you know you will be in a setting that calls for long-term simmering, then an LPG stove will do a much better job of it.

Edit: Here's an article on how to do this, including a short video

  • The old Whisperlites with the metal valve assemblies were capable of simmering, I don't know why MSR got rid of that ability in the last few years. When I got a stove, I got an optimus nova for the metal pump and simmering abilities. – whatsisname Jan 8 '13 at 13:17
  • I'll edit the short answer to point in the direction of @KateGregory's answer, as it basically encompasses what I wanted to convey by "don't" but didn't know how. Basically, that your food doesn't have to be over a flame the entire time it's cooking. – Nisan.H Jan 8 '13 at 18:41
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    @whatsisname, I'm going to have to disagree with you that early whisperlites could simmer. I have a whisperlite from the first vintage. It every time I tried to use it, it has 2 settings: Off, and Hell. – Pulsehead Jan 11 '13 at 14:14
  • I've been using whisperlites since the 90's, they don't simmer when the pressure is low, they sputter, that's when you know you need to pump it some more. – ShemSeger Sep 11 '18 at 18:54
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When I get to the "simmer" part of cooking on the Whisperlite, I take the pot off the stove, put the lid on, and wrap it in a towel including underneath and on top. Whatever I am cooking will stay simmery for at least 20-30 minutes that way. It's great for making a sauce with dehydrated ingredients. While the sauce is sitting aside staying hot, I can cook pasta or rice with the stove. It's one of the tricks to eating well in the backcountry without taking a lot of equipment. Pasta with sauce over it, or rice with sauce over it, tastes better than a one-pot all-mixed-up meal. And if you have kids with you, you can accomodate their desires for more sauce, less sauce, or the sauce not to touch the starch. Everybody wins.

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    I'm a fan of answers that don't involve potential explosion of fuel canisters ;) – Russell Steen Jan 8 '13 at 14:45
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    +1 for alternate solution (I always cook pasta with the boil-then-let-it-sit method. Perfect every time.) – Lost Jan 8 '13 at 16:47
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    I really like this answer. It's similar to what I often do. Often I'll just preboil the water, then fry up whatever needs to be fried, dump the boiled water on it and set it aside to cook in its own heat. – Nisan.H Jan 8 '13 at 18:45
  • You can always bring it back to the boil after a few minutes, if you don't have much insulating material available and it cools too fast. This is more of an issue if you use lightweight synthetic towels as they melt easily. – Chris H Mar 9 '18 at 6:56
  • While this answer is probably as useful as it gets with the Whisperlite, it still boils down to "You can't simmer"... Fuel-efficiency-wise there really is not good answer. Either keep the stove running full blast or restart it often, both of which use lots of fuel. – fgysin reinstate Monica Sep 12 '18 at 15:03
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Use a food Thermos to retain heat and simulate a pressure cooker. Save fuel. Opens up the burner for cooking other dishes. Thermos can be used to carry other items when not in use. Cheers

  • Could you include a picture or link in your answer? I am not sure what "Thermos" is. – Paul Paulsen Aug 6 '14 at 14:15
  • @PaulPaulson a Thermos is a vacuum flask. Food types are wider (especially when it comes to the lid) than drinks types – Chris H Mar 9 '18 at 6:57
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As an alternate solution, if you are doing a lot of simmering and don't mind taking an additional piece of equipment, look into heat diffusers. There is even a company that makes back-country ovens based on the principle of heat diffusion and insulation. All these ovens are is a heat diffuser, a pan with a lid and a thermometer, and a cozy for the pan.

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While the depressurization trick does work very well, its also not necessary. I've used the whisperlite to simmer just by turning the flame down real low. You have to be very gentle on the valve and be looking right at the flame to gauge it, but it works.

Based on experience using this stove for 70+ days of trail work (breakfast and dinner each day).

4

After reviewing many blogs on this topic and running some experiments, I think I found something else helpful. I have an old Whisperlite from around 1999 or 2000. When Coleman gas could not be controlled, I cleaned it out thoroughly and switched to MSR Super Fuel. The Super Fuel is wonderful and I am able to control a steady simmer without problems on a clean stove. I also applied the low pressure technique (from the start) and works great.

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Part of my kitchen is 3 twelve inch gutter nails. When a pot needs to simmer, it goes on the nails, which act to increase the distance from the Whisperlite's flame. Lots easier than working to adjust the gas pressure.

2

To improve the simmer:

Remove one of the corrugated rings in the dome. Install the kerosene jet, but burn gasoline.

This results in a smaller flame at all levels, including simmer. Works great for small pots like the toaks titanium ones. Don't over pump to compensate.

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If you have extra fuel, extra water, and a spare frypan you can also use the double-pan technique.

Put the water in the frypan and then your pot in the water. The water in the frypan will buffer the temperature of the stove a bit more and if you turn off the stove it’ll buffer the cooling as well.

It’s hugely wasteful of gas and water though.

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