Is It Safe to Roast Marshmallows Over a Sterno Flame?

Cooking marshmallows over a fire is great fun. We usually do it over a BBQ or campfire. But what about a Sterno flame?

The question is, is it safe to roast marshmallows over a Sterno flame? 

The short answer is, Yes, it is safe- but there are precautions you should take. Sterno flames cookers are fun and unusual but require adult supervision and special care because of their special properties and unique characteristics.

I think you’ll love cooking marshmallows over Sterno cookers for the convenience and the novelty. Just make sure to follow these important safety tips.

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Is it Safe to Roast Marshmallows Over a Sterno Flame?

To cook anything using a Sterno flame, you need to understand a few things. Number one is the flame is going to be invisible in ordinary light. You can see the flame in darkness and under some colored lights. Know that the instant you light it, it will catch fire. It lights very easily and burns very hot. When you light it, you will hear the little “woof” noise that indicated ignition. During use, the can the Sterno jelly is contained in will become very, very hot. It may even become white-hot. Therefore, you MUST NOT touch the can with your bare hands until it is extinguished and cool. When you light the Sterno can set on top of a fireproof material on a level plane. If you share the cooking experience with children, make sure they understand that the Sterno flame is hot and that they should respect it as much as they respect your stovetop at home.

Characteristics of a Sterno Flame Cooking Can

A Sterno flame cooking can is aluminum. It is one and a half to two inches tall, about four or five inches wide, and it weighs only a few ounces. The fuel contains condensed rubbing alcohol, colored with a blue, purple, or green dye. These cooking cans will burn for up to three hours of continuous use. The flame is invisible in normal daylight and burns as hot as the burners on your stovetop.

What to Know About Your Sterno Flame

The most important things to understand about these clever and inexpensive devices is that the flame is invisible, the can is very light, and the can itself will be hot during use. These three properties together are the most dangerous things about it. Someone may touch the can or try to pick it up, thinking it is not lit. Picking up a lit Sterno will almost certainly cause burns to your hand and cause you to drop the can, which can be extremely dangerous. It is so light that you should not use it in high winds without guarding it with windbreaks or securing it to a heat-safe surface.

Sterno is a brand name. There are many kinds of cooking cans like these. There are even generic products that cost about $1 a can and work just as well as the brand name. But Steno has become a colloquial name for all such items. You can usually find them at Dollar Tree stores, other shopping outlets, and outdoor sporting goods stores.

How to Use Your Sterno Flame

Your first job is to make sure everyone present understands the characteristics of the Sterno camping cooker can. They must realize that it can be lit and yet not appear so. They should know that it can easily be knocked over because it is very light. Once everyone understands what you’re dealing with- especially any children- then you’re ready to begin.

Step 1: Set up a safe cooking area

This could be on a grill over a BBQ or on an existing campfire pit. Have a surface that is level and fire-safe to place the Sterno can on. Have a flat piece of wood handy to place over the opening to extinguish the flame when you wish to do so. It’s a good idea to have an oven mitt or fire-resistant glove if you need to touch the can while it is still hot. As mentioned, if there is high wind, do not leave the Sterno can lit where it can be blown over. The flame on these cans is quite strong and can only be put out reliably by depriving it of oxygen. Therefore, it can be quite dangerous if it is blown over. Finally, use tools long enough to ensure no one places their hands too close to the invisible flame, especially for children.

Step 2: Light the Sterno Can

Using a flat head screwdriver or similar tool, pry the lid off the can. Set the can aside since you will need it after use. Using an ordinary lighter or match, light the condensed alcohol. It will ignite quickly and easily, so be ready to pull your hand away quickly. Alternatively, use an extended lighter to stay away from the flame. However, less than a second of contact with the flame is unlikely to cause any harm.

Step 3: Use Your Sterno Can Responsibly

Bearing in mind the characteristics of Sterno cans described above, roast your marshmallows, hot dogs, or what have you with care. If you are using metal objects for cooking, avoid contact with the heated end.

Step 4: Extinguish the Can

Using a pair of pliers, you can place the lid of the can back on the opening to deprive the flame of oxygen and snuff it out. The can will still be hot for a minute or two but will quickly cool. Setting the stock lid on the can will extinguish the flame, but it will need to be hammered back into a tight position to prevent the rest of the condensed alcohol from evaporating. So you can let it sit for a few minutes or wrap it in a fire retardant fabric and stow it away. If you lose the cap of the Sterno can during use, extinguish the lighted jelly with a flat piece of wood or bury it. The contents will evaporate in a few hours without the lid, so if the top is lost, the remaining cooking fuel will not be worth keeping.

Step 5: Store Your Sterno Can Safely

If the can is exposed to sufficient heat to light it while sealed, it may explode. Always make sure your can is properly sealed and stored in a cool dry place.

We Found the Secret to Roasting Perfect Marshmallows

Sterno Can FAQs

Are the fumes from the flame toxic?

No. the accelerant is nothing more than condensed rubbing alcohol which is safe and nontoxic. It may taste strange if you are used to roasting over an ordinary flame, but it is still novel, convenient, and fun.

How long can a Sterno be stored?

Sterno can be stored for many years safely and without losing functionality.

Will the flame affect the flavor?

Maybe. The alcohol alone should have little effect on the flavor, but the dye used to color the fuel may detectably alter the taste. While not unsafe, you may find that you like it less than cooking over an ordinary flame. Still, the Sterno can is well worth a try.

Why is the fuel blue, green, or purple?

Coloring the fuel is a safety feature. The condensed alcohol is intentionally dyed so that if any unlit fuel spills out, you will easily see it. Because it is very easy to light, this is an important way to help users avoid lighting it accidentally.

In Conclusion

These handy cans are an excellent item for an emergency kit, for a camping trip, or for just having a fun mini-cookout in the backyard. They are cheap, safe, add very little to the weight of a backpack, and they’re fun. It’s a good idea to use them for fun occasionally just so that you will know how to use them while camping or during a long power outage.

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