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How to Speed Up Esbit Cube Cooking

You can increase boiling speed by increasing the rate at which Esbit cubes burn. Break one in half and stand up the two halves to boil water faster.
You can increase boiling speed by increasing the rate at which Esbit cubes burn. Break one in half and stand up the two halves to boil water faster.

Esbit cubes are solid fuel cubes used for cooking backpacking meals. Weighing just 0.5 ounces (14 g) each, they’re ultralight, you don’t need a container to carry them like an isobutane gas canister or alcohol bottle, and you can even ship them via ground transportation (in the USA), making them ideal for post office resupply mail drops. Esbit will burn at any temperature or altitude, and you can even snuff out a cube when it’s half-used for use at a later time.

One of the major complaints about using Esbit cubes for backpacking is the time it takes to boil water. If you watch boil time tests on YouTube (get a life, seriously), people report 2 cup water boiling times of 8 minutes or more using a 14 gram Esbit fuel tablet.

But there’s a simple trick you can use to drop Esbit cube boil times under 5 minutes by increasing the surface area of a cube so that it burns faster. Simply break a cube in half along the center scored mark and stand the two halves upright underneath your cook pot. Voilà! This boils 2 cups of water much faster.

I learned this technique from Jon Fong, the owner of Flat Cat Stoves, and I’ve been using it all year with great success. I was sold on using Esbit before I learned this trick, but being able to boil water faster is icing on the cake.

Here’s the video by Jon where I first learned this technique. In it, he provides a detailed description of the tradeoffs between speed and efficiency when it comes to cooking with Esbit. I’d also encourage you to check out Jon’s free Backpacker’s Cookbook if you want to try Esbit baking using a very low simmering flame. It is fun to experiment with during the winter months when the days are short and the nights are long and you want a hobby for camp.

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15 comments

  1. I didn’t know they were considered that safe to transport.

    Do they pack well in summer heat? No meltage or such?

  2. I’ve been using esbit exclusively for at least 5 years. Generally, I don’t mind the cook time, but on those occasions I want to speed things up I used 2 cubes.

    In effect, I was doing exactly what you describe. Only I’m wasting a cube. I end up taking the pot off and letting the flame burn out.

  3. I find that I need to double or triple bag Esbit tabs to control the fish odor. Is there some trick for lessening smell I don’t know about? Also is there a way to lessening the film left on cook pots from Esbit? I think they are a great option, especially for weekend trips but those two issues make them a less attractive option. Any suggestions welcome

    • The smell doesn’t bother me. I also keep my cubes in the pot in a plastic bag on the outside of my pack in a pocket. Perhaps that’s why.
      The film on the outside of the pot. That’s easy. Use a wood stove for a few trips (which will blacken the pot). You’ll never fret about having a black pot again.
      FYI – black pots are more efficient than clean ones….

    • Soaking the bottom of the pot in denatured alcohol will make it easier to clean the residue.

    • There’s no trick I know for dealing with Esbit smell or Esbit soot on pots. I suppose that you might be able to put the bagged Esbit in an air–tight tupperware-style container, maybe along with a little baking soda to absorb odor, but I can’t be bothered – I do stash the triple-bagged Esbit away from the sleeping bag and liner. Sooty pot gets stashed inside a plastic bag so as not to get soot over other gear.

      I just like not worrying about fluid spilling or “does the canister have enough it it?”

  4. A friend uses the Esbit cubes. It does take some time to boil water, for certain. I’ll have to share the tips with him.

    The drawback that I do not enjoy is the odor emitted by them. That being said, it’s a great way to save weight and they can be used for a fire starter in damp conditions.

  5. I’ve been using esbits exclusively for seveal years. I wasn’t able to ship them though after I had an extra box from a Yosemite trip – as soon as I identified them as flammable neither the post office nor UPS would ship them. Ironic because I had them shipped to me there via UPS, but apparently retailers can do that.

    I don’t mind the soapy/floral smell, or that they blacken my pot, but I hate the greasy residue it leaves on the bottom of the pot. It will stain clothes. Any way to get that off?

    • You have to read the USPS regs. they’re perfectly legal. Flammable isn’t a blanket term and has different meanings.But I can see how a post office worker could take a one sided view of it to be safe. I get Esbit cubes in the mail all the time from REI and Amazon.

      How to you get the residue off? You burn it off. I just wrap my pot in a cloth mesh bag and carry it that way forever.

  6. Not sure about other metals, but on my Stanley stainless steel cook set, a used tea bag works very well to wipe off the residue. Just have to scrub a bit and the ss cleans up really nice. Follow that up with another quick washing at home and it looks almost new.

  7. I recently bought one of the hanging Esbit burners from QiWiz to use with my Firefly UL. My first attempt to boil 600 ml of water didn’t achieve a boil at all. The cube burned out in 20 minutes and I had a pot of hot water. That would have been okay for a trail breakfast of oatmeal and coffee for me, but dinners do sometimes require boiling water. I consulted Robert and among his suggestions was this same thing – break the cube into two pieces. Sure enough, at eight minutes, I had a rolling boil. This was my first time trying Esbit and I have to say the smell was not nearly as bad as I was expecting. I may use it on an upcoming overnighter with our scout troop. I will have to perfect my fire steel technique, though. I barked my knuckle on the sharp edge of the Firefly a time or two!

  8. Very interested in trying Esbit, especially for winter…how do they burn in cold weather?

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