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HeaterMeals: Heat & Eat Anywhere
These Self-heating Meals are Pretty Cool
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I spent this past week hunting central Florida's opener of general gun season for deer. While I didn't connect on a buck, I did get the chance to try out something called HeaterMeals. These are pre-cooked, sealed meals similar to the MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) which feeds the US armed forces in the field. In fact, MRE's are heated by the same flameless food heater, which is what makes HeaterMeals so unique.

Billed as "The meal with a stove inside" and "The meal that heats itself," HeaterMeals are unique and portable. Each meal contains a sealed entree of 12 to 13 ounces; a foam tray with an iron & magnesium "Zestotherm" flameless heater; a package with plastic fork, napkin, salt & pepper; and a pouch of salt water for activating the heater. No refrigeration is needed, and they boast a shelf life of 2 years. The plastic forks, and sometimes knives, provided, are of good quality.

My Dad and I each had three of the meals on evenings after hunting all day when we were too beat to cook anything. Preparation is fast & simple: open the box, being careful not to rip it (you'll need it again), remove fork/napkin packet, rip open the pouch of salt water, dump it in the tray containing the heater element, replace entree package, and slip it back into the box. Close the box, place it on a surface that won't be harmed by a little heat (we used a plastic cutting board), and find something to do for 14 minutes. After a few minutes, you'll hear the heater begin to sizzle and bubble, as it reacts with the water. Steam begins to pour from the corners of the box. Fourteen minutes later, remove tray from box, carefully (it's hot!) peel the plastic off the entree container, and eat.

We found that keeping the food warm is no problem, as we left the food atop the heater as we ate. The heater was still hot enough to burn skin, so again, take care. I'll briefly run through each meal in the order consumed, relating our experience with, and opinions of, each.

Mushroom Gravy, Mashed Potatoes & Beef
This was the first meal I had, and I'd have to rate it the best. It required no additional salt & pepper, and was pretty tasty, with pieces of "real" beef instead of the "chopped & pressed" variety. At 13 ounces, it was fairly filling, as were all the meals, though a hungry man might need a little something on the side (this is true for all the meals).

Green Pepper Steak with Rice
This was Dad's first HeaterMeal, and the one he enjoyed the most. I didn't care for the taste that I had, mainly because I don't like green (bell) peppers very much. I also don't like water chestnuts, which were also present, but again that's a personal preference. Plenty of flavor, and again it contained chunks of real beef.

Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, & Flame Broiled Turkey Breast
This meal was good. Its gravy is similar to the mushroom gravy mentioned above, and was quite tasty. The turkey was a disappointment in that it was a flat, oval piece of chopped & pressed turkey meat, with much of the turkey flavor processed out of it. Still, after I cut it up with the plastic knife provided and mixed it up with the potatoes & gravy, I enjoyed this meal.

Hearty Breakfast (Potatoes, Gravy & Sausage Patty)
We never were able to determine exactly what was "wrong" with this one, but it was by far the least enjoyable of the meals. Dad chose this one, and he finished it by virtue of sheer willpower coupled with hunger. I had a small bite of the sausage, and wasn't sure I could finish eating it. The best we could determine was that the strong taste that turned us off must have been sage in a prodigious amount. The food was not in any way spoiled, and consumption was not followed by stomach ailments of any kind. This meal is safe to eat, but we didn't find it enjoyable. It also could have used a knife to cut up the sausage.

Homestyle Chicken & Noodles in Gravy
This meal turned out to be more of a hearty chicken soup than anything else, which was good. This was the blandest of the meals we had, and I had to add salt & pepper to a HeaterMeal for the first time. The small packets provided weren't sufficient, but a dash or two from our own shakers flavored it up just fine. Plenty of chunks of unadulterated chicken in this one.

Spaghetti With Meatballs
This one made me remember my childhood, when Spaghetti-Os were one of my favorite snacks. I still like them, and Dad enjoyed this meal, which is very similar in taste to Spaghetti-Os. The meatballs are small & bite-sized, and this meal was good & tasty.

Overall, I would rate HeaterMeals as pretty darn good for what they are, which is convenient, self-heating food you can take almost anywhere. They'd be good for an all-day sit in the woods waiting for the Big One, or just a convenient meal at the end of a long day. HeaterMeals sell for $3.99 each, which isn't bad. You're paying for the self-heating feature more than the food, and you don't have to keep them iced down as you would many other foods. I know I would buy more of them... but not the Hearty Breakfast.

-Russ Chastain

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