The Exploding Chinese Grain Puffer

    Exploding Chinese Grain Puffer – at Starr & Bullock Hardware

    By and large it is impossible to encapsulate my perspective of how you prepare for the absence of all the conveniences of our modern world. But this product comes pretty close.

    Think outside the box might be a way to describe it, but really you have to understand that there is no box. A peasant living in the recesses of a Chinese village, with no real electricity, no regular supermarket the way we think of them, and nobody to back his play, that guy understands there is no box. Because really, there is no box.

    When I first encountered this exploding grain puffer, a little bell went off inside of me that said “You know what? This is a prepping product, even though it may not seem like one.” It could be because I eat puffed corn cereal almost every morning with my yogurt, and frankly I have some put away in Mylar. Whole Foods kinds of things could disappear overnight if we do run out of diesel, or any of the other bad things that might happen. and I really like my cereal.

    So I bought a couple and tried them, and now I can make puffed cereal out of any whole grain. I already had a lot of whole wheatberries from LDS (and they are available again, and still a great deal). And I was able to get whole corn, millet, and even buckwheat from Central Milling and Honeyville.

    Normally you would think of popped corn, not puffed corn, and popping corn actually doesn’t puff when you use it in this. It pops like regular. I used grain corn. This is an open pollinated dent corn variety.

    I would never say that something like this is a core thing that you need of course. But it does reflect my overall perspective, which I am sure many of you have figured out already. I don’t see a single event that brings down the system and the conveniences of our lives. I see a gradual decline, where things start to become unavailable, lines get long, the government tries to implement price controls, and eventually you can’t get much of anything.

    Perhaps there will be some government deliveries of the basics. But that won’t last as the currency collapses and nobody will give up their stuff for dollars. That is when desperation going to set in, and the real violence will start. I don’t see us going Mad Max. But I do see a time when the conveniences of life go away for a long time.

    I have covered food a lot so I’m not going to reprise my advice. But the exploding puffer accentuates a point I have tried to make several times. Most of the things that will be extremely useful in such a time most people have never even heard of, let alone tried or owned.

    And what you have is what you have. Be it food, ways to cook, fuel, lights, etc. If you think this product is a little off the wall for a prepping column, I guess you missed my articled called “Hacking at Humans” where I argue that everyone should own a battle ready broadsword, or at least a katana.

    Introducing the Exploding Grain Popper

    So what is this thing? It is a small version of a very common street vendor cooker you will see in the villages of China. You fill the pressure vessel with a grain, usually corn, and heat it up gradually over a burner until pressure builds. The PSI is generally well in excess of 100PSI, and the vessel is a thick piece of cast steel, though some I have seen seem to be cast iron. Then you violently open the lid with a level, and the grain, now puffed, flies out of the cooker into a bag of some sort.

    This pressurized vessel may seem small, but they make them half the size. I made about 4 ounces of corn in it. The same goes for rice and most other grains.

    Then they sell the puffed grain to passersby. The spectacle of the explosion and the giant cloud of steam brings the people in, and the whole thing has become a folk tradition kind of thing for at least a few generations now. I don’t see how the system could be that old, because it relies on a silicone gasket to wrench the container sealed, but I suppose there could have been a Bakelite model back in the day.

    The street vendor models are much larger than this guy. They puff several pounds of grain at a time, and are in excess of 50 pounds. There are hand crank large ones and motorized large ones. But I did not cover them for this round because I have no idea if you guys will be as excited about this thing as I have been. They will most likely be in the $700 range for the hand crank and $1,200 for the electric, and they come with either a propane burner, or one meant for anthracite coal.

    The cap has a silicone washer inside of it. You screw the lid down with the provided wrench.

    In the video I do a batch of corn and one of rice. I later did millet that day. But I have not yet tried wheat or buckwheat, or rye or spelt or any of the other wheat type grains. But I’m gonna!

    The puffer comes with a double wick alcohol burner. And this is sufficient heat. The first batch, from a cold state, takes about 15 minutes to come up to pressure, and starting from hot, subsequent batchers are under 10 minutes. The small propane burners I covered a few weeks ago also work well, and are less susceptible to wind.

    The product comes with this alcohol stove, and you should only use the fuel you see here, available at Walmart and Home Depot. Otherwise your cooker will be layered with carbon. Be sure to replace the caps so your fuel does not evaporate away when you are done. It takes about 15 minutes for the first batch, and under 10 for subsequent batches starting with a hot cooker.
    I cannot give you advice on this product because it is clearly a use at your own risk kind of thing. I found that if I shut off heat around here, that by the time I got the popper bag on and popped it, the grain would puff without scorching. I like it scorched.

    I have to qualify all of that by saying that I am offering this not as advice, but as simply sharing my experience. You can involve yourself with this thing at your own risk, just as I have. And I have to admit that the first couple times, I was a little jumpy. I still have not even tried the large one, but they are all over the Chinese version of Youtube, and they seem to be reliable and safe as well. The street vendors even use them as quick pressure cookers for like a stir fry. And the models have been fitted with a pressure release so you don’t have to blow the top and explode your customer’s food at him.

    When it comes up to pressure, you pop the lever open with this included sleeve.

    For grains, blowing the top is the only option. But it is not as dramatic in practice as it seems. As you see in the video, when I use this I do not stop the pressure where it starts to redline on the gauge. They don’t really puff well at that line. I shut the heat off around 12, which is about 175 PSI. And from there it rises rapidly even with no heat, so by the time I blow the top, it is around 14. This gives the puffed grain a dark color, and they taste toasted. You could experiment with shutting the heat off sooner if you don’t like the toasted flavor. The cost of a batch amounts to about 4 ounces of grain, just a few handfulls.

    The top explodes open with a loud bang, releasing a cloud of steam, and filling the included bag with puffed cereal.

    I fill the vessel to about 2/3rds full. More than that and the grain tends to burn at the end of the batch a little. I don’t mind it. This size is the 180 gram size, so it will technically hold up to 5 ounces. There are version of this that are the size of a small egg, and they all work great. The Chinese display these as harbingers of wealth, and many of them are cast with a dollar sign in the sides.

    I prefer to scorch mine a bit. But this is how the corn looks when you are careful to turn the heat off before it starts to spike above 12, the equivalent of 175 PSI. This product is not for the light of heart.

    The product comes with the cooker, the ball bearing stand, the bag, a glove, and all of the tools you need to use the product and to take it apart and put it back together. The screws do tend to loosen up so watch them. But the pressure gauge is in there with teflon tape. This same afternoon I tried some beans, but they just steamed up the pressure gauge and burned in the cooker. But supposedly you can puff legumes as well. Maybe you just have to go really slow.

    I did corn and rice in the video, and later tried this unshelled millet. The shells break off and fall to the bottom.

    In the video I edited out a lot of my commentary. Originally I kind of went on and on as to why this was a legit prepping product. But I realized, if you get it you get it. And if you don’t, I hope nobody ever comes along to squash your box.

    Exploding Chinese Grain Puffer – at Starr & Bullock Hardware

    Paul Helinski

    Leave a Comment

    • Michael Ewry October 24, 2022, 8:06 am Reply

      Sounds neat! This could make a great Xmas gift.

    • Joseph October 24, 2022, 12:39 pm Reply

      This is an amazing product. Please direct me to where I can purchase one. Yes I would love to see you use the bigger one. I saw a huge one used in China and wished I had one.

      • Paul Helinski October 24, 2022, 1:53 pm Reply

        There are links in the description and the article. I will eventually try the big one, so make sure you subscribe to the Digest as I suggest in the video, not just the youtube.

    • Steven Z. October 24, 2022, 2:03 pm Reply

      I want one!!! The size you demonstrated would be ideal. I think the large one would be too big for most practical applications, unless you have seven kids.

      Great video.



    • Kirby October 24, 2022, 8:10 pm Reply

      I just ordered one! Would love to see the big one! Thanks for bringing cool stuff for us to see and try.