A Review of The Wenzel Aluminum Mess Kit
By Jason Wagner
Ask any person on the move and they’ll tell you that it’s rather impossible to carry around your entire collection of traditional (and beloved) skillets, sauce pans, woks, griddles and of course, your 15 inch cast iron melee weapon/skillet. The feather footed survivalist will have to find an alternative. Thankfully, that alternative has been around for a rather long, long time; the mess kit. This, or any other mess kit isn’t going to perform like your fancy non-stick cookware that you no doubt enjoy every day, but it works and it works well for what it’s worth. That was the short version; continue reading for the longer version.
As with any other product, I immediately and eagerly ripped into the packaging. Upon completion of said destruction, I was happy to see a shiny aluminum mess kit, all neatly protected with wrapping paper. That was fun, but I do believe that it’s time to get to the meat and potatoes, eh? Or better yet, how about we cook some meat and potatoes? Yum.
Performance 8.3: Cooking performance, that is. Aluminum isn’t so much a great cooking metal, but given its affordability and weight, it suffices. To be more specific, aluminum works well enough as a cooking surface, but it just isn’t anything to write home about. Anything that’s been cooked over aluminum will taste pretty good, and given a low and steady heat, aluminum will perform similarly, albeit inferiorly to cast iron. Because we are talking about thin, aluminum cookware, having ready access to cooking oils, such as the venerable soybean oil will help to discourage sticking. Cooking with high heat is discouraged, lest the food stick to the aluminum, with is definitely a fine example of the lesser qualities of untreated aluminum as a cooking metal.
Durability/Ruggedness 8.0: Well, aluminum is considered a soft metal, but don’t mistake that for it being a weak metal. So long as the metal isn’t literally ruptured, it’ll most likely be good to go. Dings, for instance; no matter how great a ding you’ve inflicted upon your poor aluminum pot/pan/what-have-you, that very same ding can be…dinged back into shape. Forgive me for that pun, will you? This particular piece of aluminum cookware should last for, well, it should last for quite a long time given some proper care; just don’t expect it to match the longevity of your cast iron skillet or anything. Beyond its raw strength (or lack thereof) aluminum makes for a fairly corrosion resistant material when treated with a reasonable level of care.
Ease of Cleaning – 8.0: You know, it cleans easily enough for something that isn’t coated in a potentially carcinogenic non-stick coating. Much akin to everything else, a pre-soak is sometimes required, but what’s new? One of the nicer things about this mess kit is that you can clean it with the more brutish cleaning methods without any real worry whether or not you’ll be ruining it. An example of that would be the use of a gritty sand to scour away heavy buildup/soiling. The using of a heavy grit would be out of the question for Teflon coated pots and pans, or even the more rugged porcelain enameled ones. For the record, don’t even consider tossing these pups into a dishwasher. A dishwashing machine will utterly disfigure the appearance of the aluminum. Given that these are, lone and behold, aluminum they won’t look factory-new for too long, but there is no single way to kill their appearance faster than washing them in a dishwasher. More importantly, I don’t know if using the dishwasher will harm the integrity of the metal, but given how the appearance is negatively affected, it’s best to avoid the dishwasher altogether. Besides – we are a rugged people, right? We can most certainly be bothered to wash some things by hand!
Portability – 10/10: The entire kit, from the skillet to the cup is ridiculously lightweight. While it may be (is) painful to think that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to carry your cast iron with you, this entire kit is half again as light as the smallest of cast iron skillets, so I think that you’ll be able to cope. The thing that really holds the kit together is, well, literally the thing that holds the kit together; the individual components of the kit can be layered and secured with nothing but your hands and the provided screw & fastener. A nice touch is the included storage bag to keep things neatly together. Speaking of the storage bag, the storage bag is surprisingly rugged and I fully expect it to last quite a long time.
Health Concerns – 2.0: Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not one of those tin foil hat types that hides under a solid-wood bed, terrified for my life from all of the malicious things that the government/corporations put into the food, water and building insulations. With that being said, there are some associated concerns with using aluminum as your sole method of food cooking. Chiefly among these concerns are that cooking food over aluminum might raise your very long-term risks for certain types of cancer. Note that while aluminum might pose some risks; there isn’t a definitively established link between food prepared on aluminum vs other cooking metals and cancer, but there’s enough of a link to be somewhat concerned.
Overall Design – 9.7: Everything, every single component neatly collapses (nests) into each other like one of those Russian dolls for the maximum in space-saving efficiency. My main concerns revolve around the material used and the gauge of the metal, yet, with the price being what it’s compared to other available market choices, I think that I can overlook all of the concerns.
Versatility – 8.9: Yeah, while I do suppose that virtually any cooking fuel can be used with the aluminum, there are a few things to note with this particular set. The aluminum isn’t thick by any stretch of the imagination, so don’t pre-heat it with a strong heat source for any significant length of time. Beyond that, avoid extremely heavy direct heat contact; an examples of this would be a stoves burner set to power boil.
The Weak Link – 3.0: Well, plural, I mean, there are two weak links. First, I think that the pot handle is a somewhat frivolous design aspect; unless the contents are perfectly level inside, holding the pot by the handle is very likely to result in a spilled (wasted, obvious, right?) meal. My second gripe revolves around the cup; yes, that’s right – inferior quality cups sometimes get me into a real tizzy. Everything else (except my other complaints…) about this Wenzel mess kit are spot on. Why oh why is the cup made out of plastic? I love aluminum cups. I love aluminum cups so much that I have a collection of them. Sure, aluminum cups tend to go from scolding hot to ice cold, but for what they’re worth, they work more than fine. I don’t know, with everything else being made of aluminum, I would of liked an aluminum cup that could be nested right in place of the plastic cup. I guess the primary reason I’m infuriated, well, displeased is that the cup will go a long time before the rest of the kit; especially if the cup is stored anywhere near the sunlight.
Final Review – 9.0/10: Hmm, do these product pictures look familiar? If you’ve perused more than a few of my posts you’d know that I like to use these. Given my, err, enjoyment of these fine mess kits, it’s my belief that you’ll enjoy using these as well. Whether you buy this Wenzel mess kit, or a similarly designed mess kit, you’ve made the right choice. Having the right mess kit for the apocalypse is much like having a gun; sure, the perfect gun is out there, but any gun is miles better than no gun at all. It’s a bit of a shame that this is made in China, but then again, what isn’t made in China nowadays? For what its worth, I’ve owned at least four of these and none of them have disappointed. Evidently, the quality control at the Chinese plant is quite good. I hope that they aren’t using slave labor, though, that always causes me a feeling of first world guilt. In the best of all worlds you will be able to hunker down wherever you live and weather the apocalypse from the comfort of your own home; enjoying all of your high end, heavy as lead cookware. Of course, if it were the best of all worlds then there wouldn’t be an apocalypse to begin with, which is why you really should hurry up and buy a mess kit, any mess kit. As with any other product, I’d buy one of these, just to make sure that they work for you. Assuming that you like this mess kit as much as I do, it’s my opinion that you should buy one, or maybe even two mess kits for every member of your household.