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How To Cook MREs (with and without the heater)


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Last Updated: May 17, 2021

Originally designed as military field rations, MREs are tasty, filling, and don’t require any special cooking equipment. Technically, as they’re pre-cooked, you can eat them cold, though we’d recommend heating them if you have the option.

Military MREs come with a flameless heater for warming your meal. If you’re buying civilian MREs, it’s worth checking the product description as heaters aren’t always included.

In this article, we’ll tell you how to cook your MRE with or without an MRE heater.

Preparing Your MRE using a Flameless Heater

The heaters included in MRE packs are very simple to use. All you need is the heater bag, your MRE, and an ounce or two of water.

Some ration packs come with a sachet of water specifically for this purpose. Because the water you use to heat the MRE doesn’t come into contact with the food, it doesn’t need to be potable.

Here’s how to use your flameless heater:

  1. Tear open the heater bag and place your food pouch inside.
  2. Pour water into the bag up to the fill line.
  3. Roll down the top of the heater bag and tilt it to make sure the water fully activates the heat pack.
  4. Place the heater bag into the cardboard carton your MRE came in and prop it up at a slight angle, so the water doesn’t run out, and heat can rise through the pouch. The cardboard acts as an insulator to stop heat from escaping.
  5. Leave it for 10-15 minutes.
  6. Remove the meal pouch from the heater bag and open it up. Give the food a good stir to make sure the heat is distributed evenly. Your meal is ready to eat!

6 Ways to Heat MREs Without a Heater

If you don’t have a flameless heater, you don’t need to resign yourself to eating cold beans. There are plenty of other ways to cook your meal, depending on what resources you have to hand.

Option 1: Boil the Pouch in Water

You can boil the pouch on your cooker at home, on a camping stove, hobo stove, or over a fire. Just add some water to a pot and once it’s boiling, remove the MRE pouch from its cardboard carton and place it in the water. Your meal should be hot in a few minutes.

Option 2: Empty the Pouch and Heat the Meal Directly

As the meals just need heating through, you can simply empty one into a saucepan to heat on a stove or empty into a microwaveable dish to cook in the microwave. You could even heat it in the oven, though you may want to add a bit of extra water, so it doesn’t dry out.

Option 3: On Hot Rocks or Coals

If you have a fire but no pot or water, it won’t take long to heat your meal. Remove the MRE pouch from its carton and place it on the lip of a fire pit, on hot rocks, or in the embers of a fire. Don’t place the pouch directly in the flames or on white-hot coals as you may burn through the bag.

Option 4: On Your Car Engine

Remove your MRE from the cardboard packet and place it on top of a warm car engine. The heat from your car will warm your dinner, and the robust packaging will keep oil, dirt, and fumes from affecting the food inside. You could also try balancing it on top of the tailpipe to heat.

Option 5: Use the Sun’s Heat

It may not be the quickest way to cook your dinner, but if you’re out in the heat of the day in the desert or are unable to light a fire, then using the sun’s energy could be your only option. Placing your MRE on a dark rock or a metal surface will speed things up.

Option 6: Warm it Next to Your Body

By this point, you may be getting desperate. But if it’s winter and all else fails, try putting your MRE down your jacket, next to your skin or base layer. Your meal will be lukewarm rather than scalding hot, but that’s better than freezing cold!

Check the Date on Your MRE

Contrary to what many people think, MREs have a relatively short shelf life compared to other types of emergency food. If you buy military surplus rations, then this shelf-life could be even shorter.

Before cooking your MRE, read our guide to MRE expiry dates and how to check your meals are still fresh.

Here’s where you can buy cheap MREs online.

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