Zombie Apocalypse? Be Prepared With a Hobo Stove

When the zombie apocalypse comes, I’m happy to have a Girl Scout in my corner. A standard of survival training for Boy and Girl Scouts since I was a Tenderfoot, hobo stoves use recycled cans to make an easy, efficient, and portable cooking station for use when camping, during power outages, or when you need to grab a quick bite before throngs of zombies descend to eat your brains. This week, my niece, a Girl Scout and zombie lookout, helped me construct our own hobo stove.

Assembled using a tuna can, a cardboard box and old candles or paraffin, a “buddy burner” provides a quick and efficient heat source for cooking in the field. Small enough to tuck into a backpack, buddy burners are an easy choice for camping, but a surplus supply stored at home can also come in handy for those times when a blackout threatens to put the kibosh on dinner.

But what’s a burner without a cooktop? Hobo stoves, made from large recycled cans perforated to allow airflow, provide a stable, windproof and fireproof housing for buddy burners with a level top on which to cook and even a damper to control the cooking temperature. Pork and beans may be a camping staple, but with a hobo stove, everything from lasagna to stir fry becomes campsite cuisine.

Tip for packing: Hobo stoves take few tools and just a couple of minutes to make, so you can pack a full can and construct your stove on-site after you’ve used the contents. Gourmet aspirations aside, ours was, in fact, full of pork and beans.


Step 1

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Take an empty tuna can and mark a piece of corrugated cardboard at the height of the can.

Step 2

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Cut strips from the cardboard and roll into a tight coil. Keep adding to the coil until the diameter is just large enough to fit inside the tuna can. The number of strips you’ll need will depend on the size of your cardboard sheet.

Step 3

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Pack cardboard coil into tuna can as snugly as possible. The tighter the can is packed, the longer the “buddy burner” will burn.

Step 4

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Melt wax from old candles or store-bought paraffin and pour slowly over the cardboard. Once full, wait a couple of minutes and re-fill after the cardboard has soaked up the wax. Repeat if necessary until completely saturated. Allow to dry completely and store in a cool, dry place until ready to use.

Step 5

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Open a #10 can (a #10 is 7” tall by 6 ¼” wide), empty the contents and flip over. Along the closed end, make 6 holes around the rim using a church key.

Step 6

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Using tin snips, make two cuts in the bottom (open) end three inches long and spaced four inches apart. Bend outward to open the damper. This can be closed or opened (using gloves) while cooking to control the heat.

Step 7

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Our hobo stove is ready to go! Heading into the wilderness with this handy cook station among our provisions, “roughing it” just got a whole lot easier. Except for the zombies.


  • Tuna can
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Old candles or paraffin
  • #10 can


  • Scissors
  • Church key
  • Tin snips
About Mick Telkamp 


A former Midwesterner living in North Carolina, I write about my adventures in backyard chicken-keeping and suburban homesteading over at HGTVGardens, and my exploits in the culture of Southern cooking ...

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5 Responses

  1. Billy says:

    Soak the cardboard in some used oil with just a tablespoon parafin in with the oil, let dry roll up and put it in the tin, recycled oil from a fish and chips shops works best. :-)

  2. Melissa says:

    Should you include a wick to light?

  3. Marian says:

    I'd be afraid to use something like this. Is not dangerous?

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