How to make a dogfood cooker.

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My newly completed cooker

One of the things that I like about the sport of dogsledding, be it competitive racing or just recreational running, is that it often requires the ability to make or adapt equipment to suit the individual needs of the musher.  I have made everything that we use, with the exception of sleds and harnesses.  However, last year, I helped make two of our sleds and I have sewn enough patches on our harnesses that I think that qualifies me in some way as having made them.

My latest project was an alcohol cooker – or dogfood cooker – and because it was very difficult to find resources with photos on the web, I have included my methods and photos here.  So, without further delay, here it is:

First, find a suitable metal, five gallon bucket.  If you are like me, this will take several months because the bucket has to be just right.  Paint buckets would have worked, but they usually were full of dried paint which I didn’t want to chip out.  Out of the question also were dented buckets.  Buckets that contained bolts and nuts may have worked, but they were either too wide or too tall and since this cooker is to be carried in the sled at times, size does matter.  You can enlist the help of friends, like I did, including them in your scavenger hunt and you can also petition the local paint store for a metal bucket but you are likely to be met with the same response I was, specifically, all the paint came in plastic pails.  In the end, I managed to get three buckets that contained insulation glue and they are perfect.  I cleaned out the glue and proceeded to the next step.  Eventually.

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The end result of my search.  Note the hole near the bottom: more on that further down.

Mingled in with my search for a bucket was the acquiring of a cake pan.  A round,  nine-inch pan fits perfectly in the bucket.  Some cake pans have flanges on them for handles, but this isn’t necessary, but if you manage to find a 10-inch pan it probably won’t fit in the bucket with handles.  If you are following my directions to the letter, then you must purchase the cake pan well in advance of the actual construction of the cooker and carry it around in the truck for a few months.   Do nothing with it; don’t even remove the stickers on it.  Just move it from front seat to the floor and from the floor to the back seat and from the back seat to the bed of the truck where it can work it’s way up to the front of the bed, under the dogbox, so that when you need it, you have to crawl all the way up there to get it.

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The cake pan and stand.  Read on for and explanation of the stand. 

Now that you have the pan and the bucket, you can proceed with the construction of the burner and burner container.  The burner container (bucket) needs to have four holes in it to allow for air flow.  It used to be that these types of cookers didn’t have the holes in the container, but then someone did a study on burn times and it was determined that a cooker with holes melts snow into water 33% faster.  So, now we add holes.

To make the holes, I used a two and a half inch hole saw that came in a cheap-o drill bit set I had.  Even though the metal of the bucket was not overly thick, I rounded out the teeth on the hole saw until it was a useless, smooth cylinder.  I then borrowed one – a good one – from a friend and finished making the holes.  I spaced them evenly around the bucket and trust me, you’ll want to smoothen them with a bit of sandpaper before you run your finger over the new hole.  Unless you want stitches.

I then made a base for the cake pan to sit on so that it is closer to the bottom of the pot that will be used to melt snow and heat water.  For this I used a thin piece of metal flashing I had left over from the chicken coop.  I cut it to size, wrapped it around the cake pan and then riveted it together.  There is nothing fancy about it, other than it being level on the bottom so my fuel doesn’t spill.

Last comes the pot.  This is to be used to melt snow and heat water, so it’s best if it is clean.  Also important in selecting this pot is that it has handles wide enough to sit on the bucket rim and hold it above the burner pan.  You might think it an easy task to find such a pot and perhaps it will be.  For me, it was not.  Afterall, it is a dogfood cooker, intended to get bashed around and unkindly treated so I was not about to (read: ‘allowed to’) spend any great sum of money on it.  It took me all day and three trips across town to find such a pot.  When my search had ended I had a 12-quart stainless steel stock pot, complete with lid that seemed duty-built to serve in my cooker.  For safety sake, I added an aircraft cable handle to the pot so I could pick it up without burning my hands because the flames lick the sides of the bucket over and above the pot.

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The pot.   

To fuel such a marvel of technology, I use methyl hydrate, a type of alcohol most notably used as gas line antifreeze and a solvent for thinning paint.  It’s inexpensive, lights readily enough with a suitable wick and burns clean and hot.  When I tested out my cooker, I put about half a cup of methyl hydrate in the burner pan and filled my cooker pot three-quarters full with snow.  In about three minutes, I had warm water.

So, there it is: a dogfood cooker.  Currently, I’m working out some kinks on a pressurized ‘stove’ for personal use.  Maybe I’ll post those pictures if and when it works.

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The cooker, taken apart. 

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3 Responses

  1. The pictures for your cooker aren’t showing up. Is it possible for you to email them to me? I’d like to make a cooker to show my elementary students during our Iditarod study unit. Thank you so much!

    • I’m sorry the pictures aren’t showing up. That post was several years ago now and I guess the host for the pictures drops them after a while. If you look on Cold Spot Feed’s website, they have a cooker very much like mine.

      • I’ve seen the one on that website. I was more interested in your step by step pictures.

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