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For solo campers or military enthusiasts, a mess tin is a secret weapon for boosting morale. There is nothing like a hot meal in getting you through a cold, wet night. I have fond memories of heating combat rations in a mess tin during mandatory national service in Singapore.
I've slowly started getting interested in hiking, acquiring gear like the GRAYL GEOPRESS Purifier, to not only cover my bases when in the wilderness but in a doomsday event.
The recent addition of a Trangia Mess Tin made me seriously study how to use and maintain the mess tin. I'm used to kitchenware maintenance, such as the Butter Pat Heather cast iron pans, but a mess tin is clearly highly different in its maintenance needs.
How to Prepare your Mess Tin
Before you use your mess tin, there are a few ways you can prepare your mess tin for a better cooking experience.
Prevent Cuts from Sharp Edges of Mess Tin
The edges of the mess tin are sharp. If you run your fingers across it, a cut is almost imminent. The first thing you want to do is sand the edges of both the lid and the body of the mess tin.
Just take sandpaper and sand along the edges until they are smooth to the touch. Wear gloves when doing so to avoid getting cut by the sharp edges.
Get Rid of Aluminum Smell
Because of the material, mess tins give off a metallic smell. To reduce the smell, you should season your mess tin before use. Seasoning also helps make it easier to remove stains and burnt food.
To do so, pour the water used for washing rice into a large pot and bring it to a boil. Then, put your mess tin and the lid in and simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
If you don't have a large pot, you may simmer the liquid directly in the mess tin.
Note that this will cause discoloration of some mess tins. I don't mind this since it's going discolor with use anyway.
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Do's and Don'ts when Using your Mess Tin
Unlike your kitchenware, mess tins are not treated in a way that lets you use them in any way. There are a few things you should remember when using your mess tin.
- Use the mess tin directly on strong flames
Doing so will burn a hole through it. Use it over small fires or away from the flame.
- Use baking soda
The akali in the baking soda will react with aluminum to turn black.
- Use it in a dishwashing machine
Similar to using baking soda, dishwashing detergent made for the machines might have akali that will cause the mess tin to turn black.
- Heat the handle
The rubber on the handle will warp if you heat it.
- Use it in a microwave
It will catch fire or even blow up. DO NOT use it in a microwave under any circumstances
- Use metallic sponges
Metal sponges or even metal cutlery will scratch mess tin. You want to use wooden or plastic cultery with your mess tin, such as the Trangia T-Spoon.
- Cook with the lid
The lid is made of the same material so you can cook with the lid in the same way. You can use something like the Trangia Pan Handle to lift it up.
- Use it in an oven
Unlike the microwave, you can use a mess tin in an oven or toaster, which is perfect for baking.
How to Clean your Mess Tin
No matter how well you season your mess tin, it's almost inevitable that the surface will turn black from burnt food. These stains might be tough, but the last thing you want to do is scrub them with a steel sponge and risk scratching the surface. Here's the right way to clean your mess tin:
Removing burnt-on food from a mess tin
- Add water to fill up to wear the stains are and then add two tablespoons of vinegar and let it simmer.
- The burnt surface will become soft as it simmers so use a chopstick to see if it can come off easily.
- Leave it to dry somewhere where the sun shines for about a day or two, up to a week if weather is cloudy.
- Last but not least, use a soft sponge and a mild dishwashing soap to remove any remaining burnt-on food. Be careful not to scrub too hard or risk scratching the surface.
Removing soot stains on the bottom of a mess tin
- Scrub with a soft sponge and dishwashing soap.
- If step one doesn't work, put the mess tin in a pot with a vinegar and water solution at a ratio of 1:5. Bring it to a simmer and simmer the mess tin for 5 minutes.
- Take it out of the pot and let it completely cool down. Then, scrub the stain with a wet melamine sponge. Something like this would work great. Try to wet the sponge thoroughly to reduce the risk of scratches.
- Once all the black stuff has been taken off, give it one last wash with dishwashing soap and a soft sponge.
In exchange for the lightweight and low cost, it needs much more maintenance than a regular non-stick pan. Take care of your mess tin and it will take care of you.