US Mess Kit (Updated)

In yesterday’s post I quoted Horace Kephart’s comments on the suitability of the Boy Scout cook kit for short duration trips. The more observant of you will have noted that I stressed that this quote was taken from the 1921 edition of this book. This reason for this is that in some of the earlier editions of this book Kephart gives a different recommendation.
On page 27 of both the 1910 and 1912 editions :
Individual Cooking kits…This is not formidable. A frying-pan and a large tin cup, with the sheath-knife, are sufficient; though a quart pail is a useful addition. Instead of a frying-pan, for such trips, I like a U. S. Army mess kit, procured from a dealer in second-hand military equipments for twenty cents. It consists of two oval dishes of tinned steel which fit together and form a meat can 8 inches long, 6½ inches wide, and 1½ inches deep, weighing ¾ of a pound. In this a ration of meat is carried on the march. When the dishes are separated the lower one serves as a plate, and is deep enough for soup. The upper dish has a folding handle which locks the two together, and it makes a fair frying-pan.”
The US Army mess tin is another designs that has changed little since Kephart’s day, the same basic design being widely used for the better part of a century. Those of us of a certain age and background will recognise it as the design of mess kit provided in Action Man’s kitbag!

The above passage does a pretty good job of describing the basic kit. The frying pan is quite deep, allowing it to be used for cooking duties other than frying. It will probably take at least a pint of liquid (actually 600 mls!). The oval shape makes it long enough to take a reasonable volume of food without becoming excessively bulky. This is not really a kit for a pocket or belt pouch but it will fit easily in the majority of rucksack pouches.

The dish part, as already noted, has two compartments, each about 20mm deep. The one on my kit seems to be of slightly thicker material than the pan. It is possible that the two parts are from different issue kits. Some people dislike metal eating plates for being hot to hold and for allowing food to cool more quickly. On the other hand, this dish can also serve as a lid for the pan, conserving fuel, keeping dirt and insects out or just preventing moisture and heat loss when boiling, baking or poaching. The ring on the end of the dish allows you to raise or remove the dish when used as a cooking lid, although this is not the best arrangement and sometimes dips the other end in the pan. 
The ring on the dish has other functions. Slipped over the handle it allows both parts to be dunked in hot water as a single unit. The accompanying issue knife, fork and spoon set also had cut outs that could be slipped over the frying pan handle so all five parts could be dunked with one action. Cleaning of the mess kits in this fashion is described on this webpage and in this video
In the above site you will also see that the ring and the division down the centre of the dish allowed it to be placed on the handle so that the whole kit can be held as a single item when queuing in a chow line. We have seen this feature used in other mess kit designs.
Assembled properly the two components of the kit fit together snuggly and do not rattle. As Kephart notes, the interior of the kit can be used to pack foodstuffs. Placing the knife, fork and spoon inside was an obvious temptation but these had a tendency to rattle if not packed sufficiently. The two photos below also show what I believe to be the Army Arctic Canteen Cup. This appears to be a potentially useful cooking vessel.

There were several different models of these mess kits, the main difference being in their material of construction. Kephart’s was tinned steel while others were galvanized steel. Models of a later vintage and modern reproductions/ copies are claimed to be of stainless steel. The example I brought was supposed to have been stainless steel but seems to be of aluminium. Certainly it is much lighter than I expected, which was a pleasant surprise! The dish seems to be of a thicker material and it is possible that this is stainless steel. Both parts are non-magnetic, which eliminates tinned or galvanized steel. The handle is marked “US. WYOTT” which suggests this part is Vietnam Era. (Correction: An engineer friend of mine tells me mine is indeed thin stainless steel!)
The metal of the pan is rather thin, which can catch you out if you are used to cooking with heavier pans. Make sure the bottom is completely covered with oil and do not give the pan too long to warm up. If you like your pans to remain nice and blemish free you probably are going to be disappointed.
In conclusion, if you want a camping frying pan that has a good capacity but it easy to pack this is a design worth looking at.