Before we start, I’ll level with you. I’m a vegetarian and have been for a long long time now. A lot of vegetarian food doesn’t grill well, so I wasn’t expecting miracles here. A lot of vegetarian food also looks a bit weird when grilled, so again, low expectations.
How would you live a camping stove that can also charge your phone, light your campsite, brew your coffee, and grill your sausages?
It seems a little too good to be true doesn’t it?
Well it’s a thing. Biolite make it, and a little over £200 the kit can be yours.
So, now you’ve picked yourself up off the floor, I did say £200 – although if you just want the stove alone you can get that for £119.
In the kit you get the burn chamber, the brains of the system – the fan and charger, a kettle, coffee plunger (thus turning the kettle into a cafetiere), a rather sweet little light, plus the grill and it’s own cover lid (which doubles as a splendid tray/platter).
Assembling the basic stove is easy – a clever foot system stabilises it and also raises it off the ground, whilst also locking the generator/fan unit onto the side.
The generator has an inbuilt four speed fan which blows fresh air into the fire, whilst using the heat from the fire to charge it’s internal battery.
On the front of the generator are three rows of lights – the first red lights are the fire temperature. Second are a strip of four blue lights indicating the fan speed. Finally on the right are a strip of green lights which indicate the charge status of the inbuilt 3300mAH battery.
Behind rubber covers at the bottom and underneath are two USB sockets – on the front is the USB A charging socket for charging your devices, and underneath is the Micro USB socket so you can charge the internal battery – but you don’t actually need to – more on this shortly.
The fire burns solid fuel – twigs, sticks and pellets are recommended. Charcoal is not. I loaded it up with twigs and some hickory pellets and dropped in one of the included firelighters, pre-lit.
Now at this point with my Kelly Kettle I’d be waiting for something to happen, watching it burn out, and then starting again. Not so with the Biolite. After about a minute of flames licking the internal fan started up – and that’s where the magic started! Within a minute the entire top layer of material was burning nicely and the heat was building.
After about three minutes I put the grill assembly onto the side, being careful to make sure the fan/generator unit isn’t covered over. The two fold out legs, whilst looking flimsy, actually make for a very good solid cooking surface – even on the soft detritus of the woodland floor.
Closing the access lid on the grill forced the flames to start heating up the perforated metal underneath the main grill and the heat spread nicely across it.
So, I loaded it up with a couple of veggie sausages and some veggie bacon, and watched it cook. I was surprised how even the heat was and how well it cooked. Veggie bacon is usually rather disappointing over coals, but because it’s technically radiant heat the bacon stayed moist, and the sausages didn’t dry out or go hard as veggie sausages usually do on a barbecue.
The temperature can be controlled by changing the fan speed using the button on the front. Low created a good slow burn which cooked very evenly.
I did lose a little of the bacon through the grill, but that’s the fault of the veggie bacon. The sausages, as you’ll see, actually look rather good (and they were!).
So what to test next?
Well an egg, obviously. Except that I’m not very good at cooking eggs. I didn’t share a photo because my fried eggs always look scrambled. That’s why I usually scramble them on camp. Again though, my skillet pan worked perfectly. The heat dissipation was very even and the control of the temperature was perfect with the fan speed regulating it very well.
After my disappointing looking but tasty frambled egg, well it’s coffee time!
The included kettle is a superb design. With a thermoplastic lid with silicone seal, fold out insulated handles, it’s well thought out – and it can also be used as a cooking pot for beans or soup, or for boiling eggs. There’s also an included coffee filter plunger and handle for those who like their ground coffee.
Filling the pot with a cup of water and then fitting the lid I started the kettle boiling. The instructions recommend using a high fan speed for a quick boil so I turned it to full. Sure enough up came the flames out of the sides of the kettle!. 400ml approx boiled in a little over three minutes – not bad! A bit of ground coffee into the water, a few minutes standing, and then the plunger came into action to create a perfect cafetiere coffee.
A definite win for the coffee pot!
So the final test? Light was beginning to fade so I fitted the included USB light and filled the kettle up with a full litre of cold water. Over the hickory pellets and twigs mix and with the speed of the fan on full I started it going and timed it to a rolling boil. 7 minutes 50 seconds. For a litre! Very impressive.
Cooking – thoughts
I really love it. I’ve been a Kelly Kettle fan for a while now, but I think this may be my new stove of choice on camp – with a few caveats…
It’s bulky – if you bring the full kit it’s huge – the grill fills a pannier, before I even put the rest of the kit in; but if you’re willing to do without the grill then it’s a similar size to my old Kelly Kettle.
Secondly, unlike the Kelly Kettle, you can’t boil the water at the same time as you cook, although you can put a pot on the grill surface and heat to water I didn’t manage to get a boil going that way.
So what about the power?
So the power pack is the reason you’d buy this, then? It’s unique selling point? Well I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the USB brick is small, slow, and slow (I said slow twice). For about an hour of fire the brick gained 5 lights and showed full. Charging my Samsung Fold 3 with it gave me about 40% charge before the final light showed red and the charging stopped. At this rate you’re looking at 4+ hours burn time for a fully charged phone. The brick also charges slowly – my phone took 1 hour to gain that 40%! Normally 40% comes up in just over half an hour.
On the other hand, running low powered LED light strings with it or the included led lamp will give you good long run times.
So essentially, think of it as top up power rather than living off grid power, although with a solar panel and a little more thought off grid with a smartphone might be a possibility.
£200+ is a huge price to swallow, but what you’re getting is reliable sustainable cooking with the bonus of a little power generation every time you cook.
The grill works very well, the kettle is a great design. It’s a good cafetiere, and the fan system generates good but controllable cooking heat.
But £200… and that’s the killer. It’s a lot of money, considering you can get a full Kelly Kettle, Ghillie Kettle, Trangia or Jetboil kit for under half that – and the ridiculous size of the grill pretty much precludes that piece from lightweight camping – but if you’re going for a few days or if you’re pulling your gear in a trailer – and you can justify the price – then get one. You won’t regret it!
Verdict – 🟡🟡🟡🟡🟡🟡🟡🟡🔵🔵 8/10 – superb cooking, let down by the high price and the lacklustre USB power pack performance.