Bacon, eggs, hash browns, all delusions of the hungry backpacker while munching on cold granola and instant oats, tears added for a bit of flavor. That is, until they discover the lightweight MSR Windburner Skillet, perfect for expanding possible dining options on the trail.
Designed to work in conjunction with the MSR Windburner stove (review here), the skillet simply sits on top of the Windburner stove. The skillet utilizes a built in heat diffuser to distribute the heat from the burner evenly across the cooking surface. This and the careful regulation of flame and oxygen allows the Windburner to simmer, which isn’t possible with the stand alone Windburner kit. The skillet itself is 8 inches in diameter, is constructed from anodized aluminum, includes a removable handle and weighs 8.5 oz. It retails for $69.95.
What I liked
The skillet does a good job of evenly cooking food. This is possible thanks to the large diffuser welded to the bottom of the cooking surface. This adds predictability and consistency to cooking, opening up a wide range of possibilities. I’ve found it possible to cook meats, including eggs, sausage and pepperonis, as well as pancakes and even hashbrowns with the help of a generous coating of olive oil. Through some experimentation, I’ve even found it possible to make a delicious backcountry pizza using naan bread, lightly buttered and slowly cooked in the pan like a piece of Texas toast with the sauce, cheese and meats on top. It worked great without burning the bread, and even melted the cheese. It’s very useful for boiling water too, bringing water to a rolling boil in no time. It’s convenient that a single device can be used to cook such a wide array of meals, including the simple dehydrated meals.
For a skillet, it’s pretty lightweight and packable. Just over 8 oz isn’t going to win any ultralighters hearts, but it’s certainly worth the weight if you’re doing moderate millage and prefer to have a hearty breakfast. It packs away fairly small, and I’ve found it to take up the least room after filling it full of clothes or fabric, sliding it against he back panel of my backpack. The handle easily detaches too, allowing it to be stashed elsewhere, although I don’t recommend leaving it home to shed weight.
Having the skillet option adds extra functionality to the already impressive Windburner Stove. Adding the ability to simmer, fry and saute opens up a whole world of dining possibilities that extend far beyond dehydrated spaghetti. Grilled cheeses, pancakes, quesadillas, grilled hot dogs, stir fry, and much more suddenly becomes viable solutions to a hungry belly.
It cleans up pretty easily after most meals. Generally, a quick wipe down with a camp towel or a rinse of water is sufficient to tidy up. Even after burning potatoes to the bottom of my skillet while doing some experimenting, I was able to simply add water, bring it to a boil, and voila. No more stuck on potatoes. The burnt on potato simply lifted up and with my spatula I was able to remove the residue and continue on to my next adventure.
Combined with the Windburner, the skillet system proves to be very fuel efficient. It sips fuel and maintains a solid purple flame (an indicator of a pure burn without soot waste), maximizes the amount of heat one can generate while cooking, which saves fuel and weight as you’ll be unlikely to need a backup fuel canister. Even on a nearly empty can, sloshing around like a slushy when shaken, I was able to cook a full dinner and breakfast the next day, while still having a bit of fuel leftover after I made it home.
What I didn’t like
The skillet is only compatible with the Windburner stove system. The diffuser on the bottom of the skillet sits directly onto the stove’s grooves and somewhat locks in place, using the diffused heat of the Windburner to scatter the heat along the entire surface. This diffusion prevents warping, and with a thin stove like this, that’s pretty important. So, unless you already have a Windburner stove in your closet, you’ll have to pick that up first before this is useful or risk damaging your pot. Thankfully, MSR does make a traditional skillet too, which comes in at about the same weight. So if you have a more traditional stove like the Windpro 2 or similar, you have an alternative if you’re not planning on investing in a new stove.
The skillet does not have any form of non-stick coating on it. While this was likely done to improve the durability of the stove, it will pose some challenges while cooking some meals. Sticky items like noodles, potatoes and such will take come extra care. Backcountry chefs will want to make sure to use lots of oil or butter to ensure that things don’t stick. In my experience, starchy foods have a tendency to stick to the surface, so plan accordingly and cook at the lowest temperature you can.
When running very low on fuel the stove has some trouble with simmering. The stove will likely sputter out out unless you open up the valve and let more fuel out to keep the flame lit, which only allows for boiling or higher temperature cooking. This is more of a factor and a limitation of the fuel canisters themselves and their reliance on internal pressure to operate than any fault of the skillet, but it’s something to consider when planning your meals as cooking things like pancakes and hashbrowns will get tricky at low fuel.
The skillet is surprisingly stable too. Initially, I was concerned about the skillet tipping over, dumping my foot and scalding my unsuspecting hands along the way. Thankfully, this isn’t an option. The way the skillet sits onto the stove, with a slip sliding into a couple of grooves, allows the pot to sit in place without moving around at all. It can be rotated easily once in place, but the wide feet of the Windburner’s feet create a base that’s stable, reliable, and allows for worry free pan frying even with a heavy meal cooking inside.
It’s amazing what you can do with a skillet in the backcountry. Just having the option of grilling or simmering food wildly expands the possibilities of what can be cooked on the trail. This skillet makes this possible with the consistency and efficiency to make carryong one in worth while. It’s simple to use, clean up is easy, and it weighs little enough to be carried along on most moderate length backpacking trips. The construction quality is impeccable, with the smooth anodized surface and high quality aluminum/plastic handle, meaning it will sustain it’s usefulness after years of use. If you’re hungry for something more than rehydrated chili mac, look no further. The MSR Windburner Skillet is an excellent addition for anyone who already owns the Windburner Stove, and a solid for those who are looking for an entirely new kit too.
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I wanted to send a special thanks out to MSR for their continued support and for providing this excellent piece of equipment to review. We couldn’t do this without their help. Thank you so much! Our full disclosure can be found on the about me/contact page.