Who could ever forget about C-Rations?  Well, my friends, let me refresh your memory and tell you everything you need to know but have forgotten about those wonderful meals.

This is the official Quartermaster’s description of C-Rations used in Vietnam

“The Meal, Combat, Individual, is designed for issue as the tactical situation dictates, either in individual units as a meal or in multiples of three as a complete ration.  Its characteristics emphasize utility, flexibility of use, and more variety of food components that were included in the Ration, Combat, Individual (C-Ration) which it replaces.  Twelve different menus are included in the specification.

Each menu contains: one canned meat item; one canned fruit, bread or dessert item; one B unit; an accessory packet containing cigarettes, matches, chewing gum, toilet paper, coffee, cream, sugar, and salt; and a spoon.  Four can openers are provided in each case of 12 meals.  Although the meat item can be eaten cold, it is more palatable when heated.

Each complete meal contains approximately 1200 calories.  The daily ration of 3 meals provides approximately 3600 calories.”


OK, now that your memory is refreshed, do you remember how you cooked your C-Rations.  Well, with a STOVE you made, right?  It was reported in the media that each soldier in Vietnam had a hot meal each day.  If I remember correctly, we used heating tablets in our stove to heat a can of whatever (no ham and lima beans for me) – well I guess that qualifies as a hot meal.  Do you remember your special recipes?  Those wonderful recipes that you made up so the C’s were more palatable.

My favorite recipe was to get a can of bread from the B-3 unit and a can of cheese from a B-2 unit; open both cans but do not take off the lid; place both cans in an empty B Unit box; light the box on fire until it burns completely; remove the bread and open it; pour the melted cheese over the bread and voila a toasted cheese sandwich.  Ahh, comfort food in the middle of the jungle.

But wait there is more…

In 1966 during the Vietnam war Brig. Gen. Walter S. McIlhenny son of the 2nd company president of McIlhenny Company from his experiences with C-Rations as a soldier during WWII came up with the idea to send soldiers copies of the Charlie Ration Cookbook filled with recipes for spicing up C-rations with Tabasco Pepper Sauce wrapped around two-ounce bottles of Tabasco Pepper Sauce along with a handful of a P-38 type can openers all in a waterproof canister. It was illustrated by Fred Rhoads.

How about viewing a real C-Ration cookbook.

65 thoughts on “C-Rations

  1. Now I know why I lost 40 LBs. in Nam and why I don’t like fruit cocktail to this day.In the last part of my “tour”, it was pecan roll and coffee. Did you see how expensive they are on Ebay?
    Doc Shyab

  2. Dear Mr. Childs,

    I cannot tell you how happy I am to have stumbled across your post! I’ve heard so many stories of my father’s childhood in Vietnam; How he’d rush out to the roadside and beg American soldiers for their B-Unit snacks, or how he, along with his brothers and cousins, would rummage through the wilderness in hopes of finding c-ration meals, but I was never quite able to picture the things he described in my mind.

    These simple treats brought so much joy to my dad; It has sparked a lifelong love in him for them even to this day (the canned peanut butter and fruitcake to be exact). I would like to extend a huge THANK YOU to you, and every single veteran for your honor, your valor, and for sharing what little you had with my father and our family. These things have left a deep impression on him, and he recalls to those memories fondly, despite the trying period his country was facing during that time.

    I was hoping you could help me identify a certain piece of equipment that soldiers used to cook/reheat their meals during the Vietnam War. My father told me that it was a food container, made of stainless steel, where the lid doubles as a frying pan of a sort, and the strap handle could extend into a handle for the pan (I hope that made sense..). The container itself had 2 compartments. My dad knows what it’s called in Vietnamese, but has no clue what it is in English. Might you, or anyone else have an idea? Any leads would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you again!


  3. Dear Chrissy,
    You are describing a military mess kit, but they were not used by most GI’s in Viet Nam.

    Most used their canteen cups, which nested on the bottom of 1 Qt. canteens inside a canvas or nylon cover attached to web gear or ruck sacks, or the actual cans that C rations were canned.

    Potable water ( without iodine tablets mixed) was difficult to obtain in the field. It was often supplied by water trailer or inflatable bladders from helicopters (called water buffaloes) because they were black rubber, and placed on a Gerry built wooden stand surrounded by sandbags to prevent shrapnel or small arms fire from penetrating and emptying the water.

  4. loved getting the ham and eggs or beanie weenies pound cake with a melted John Wayne bar over it was heaven crackers were really funky l thought…. l drove a 5 ton dump and heated meals for everybody on the manifold a hot can of SOS in your belly goes a long way towards boosting your spirits. l would buy and eat them today if someone was to make ’em…. On the rare occasion when we got a fresh bag lunch sandwich some kinda fruit and a couple boiled eggs it was egg salad time what a treet….

  5. yes crissie it was a mess kit one side flat other side had two compartments and you had silverware so to speak. Most were tossed because they didn’t want to clean them or carry the extra bulk in favor of the canteen cup which fit around the canteen and in the pouch plus it made no noise while you were walking around compared to the rattle of the utensils in your mess kit…

  6. I use to take chip BBQ beef and cut the lid open, set the lid back on top, put the can back in the box and light it on fire. Hot BBQ beef.

  7. The 4 meals I remember are 1- chopped ham and eggs 2 – beans and wieners 3- ham and lima beans 4- beefsteak and potatoes. The last two I couldn`t eat and they found botulism in the beans and I almost starved . made it somehow

  8. Opening a claymore , take a ball of c 4, light it
    and heat a canteen cup of water and it provided you with quick hot water or c rations.
    after this became the way of doing it. Blocks of c 4 began to be available, this spared claymores. I know heat tabs were around but c4 burned hot and fast.

      • It? Military explosives? Military explosives are designed to go through combat. They are not any where near as sensitive as civilian explosives.
        George Newport dynamite and dirt merchant Combat Engineer

  9. We would take the white bread can open a tiny hole in it and put a few drops of water in it…hold it over a ball of C-4 to instantly steam it…open the can cut the bread add peanut butter and jelly, and wow warm peanut butter and jelly sandwich on hot bread. Marines were not great cooks, but they were inventive.

    Doc Jeep
    3rd Bn 7th Marines

    • wished I’d known that neat way of PBJ. I’d get an onion from FSB mess tent and chop them up into whatever meat I was eating, thank god LURPs became widely available for the 2nd half of my tour because I just couldn’t stomach C’s other than the fruit.

  10. I have great memories of C-Rations. My father was in the Korean War and war in Vietnam, near the end of his 20 year military service in the US Army. We have a great picture of my father, brother and i with our pup tent set up in the back yard cooking C-Rations on my dads small portable 1 can cook stove. We took them camping, my sister wanted corn dogs, which the bears ate as they passed thru our camp. Yes of course the C-Rations survived the bears.

  11. In the aviation community we’d take a can of biscuits, poke holes in it, pour some JP4 into it, and voila – a stove!! It woul heat a bunch of c-rats.

  12. Old Marine. In Vietnam I was with Regional and Popular Force troops in Rung Sat Special
    Zone (450 sq miles of mangrove). My Vietnamese would give me a rice ball, or a cooked and salted ballof chicken, or some fish with Nuoc Maum – sometimes I carried a can of chili when I could get it at the PX in Saigon. Food was of secondary importance. Water was critical. I would start out with a half gallon portable bladder and it was gone by afternoon. I was at minimum weight then. You can live a long time on just water, so I do not recall being hungry. I do recall being thirsty.

  13. HI ED- nam 69-70- remember c-rats well. got there 170 pounds– left at a 110 pounds. always seemed to get to to the carton last an last was trash eating. c-4 was the best for heating, some 4th inf. guy came by and collected all our heating tabs said they caused cancer.– I WONDER IF HE DIED FROM AGENT ORANGE.

  14. just outside of Da Nang, we were working with the KMC. We learned how to cook rice in an ammo can and that “Ham & MF’s” with greens, heated and served hot over the rice with some kimchee as a condiment was a decent meal

  15. I was in Vietnam with the Marines from 68-69. We got C’s from both the old menu (1950’s and early 1960’s) which included such delectable stuff as ham & mothers, beef & rocks, canned bread and so forth. The new menu (late 1968 onward) included good stuff like beans & weenies. The desserts and the B units got better, too. Everything was always better with Tabbasco Sauce to spice it up. Best dessert was peaches & pound cake, but you had to trade for stuff. Since I didn’t smoke, the cigarette 5-packs (except Chesterfields, which nobody wanted) came in handy for that. Since C’s were pre-cooked, they didn’t need to be heated up, but it helped. The heat tabs gave off exhaust like tear gas, which could drive guys out of a tent or bunker, so a little C-4 was just the thing – burned hot and clean, and no danger of exploding because C-4 was a stable substance. You could boil a canteen cup of water with a pea-size ball of it in 30 seconds. The coffee, sugar, creamer and hot cocoa came in paper envelopes. Usually the coffee, sugar and creamer had to be worked over with a bayonet pommel to reconstitute it into powder. I mixed the cocoa powder, coffee powder and creamer in hot water for a tolerable beverage. Everyone I knew always had a “John Wayne” (P-38) can opener on his dogtag chain and a plastic spoon in his pocket. When I first got to Vietnam and was assigned to an infantry battalion in the field, I started eating C’s three meals per day. It was such a shock to my system that I had diarrhea for a week! Same when I came out of the field and started eating mess-hall chow regularly. We used to make stoves by using a can opener to open up the two sides of a small can on both sides (which were then pushed in).

    • Army here, ’67-’70, most of ’70 spent in Vietnam. These reminiscences take me back. One thing I remember about C’s was the fruit. When I was in there were four: apricots, pears, fruit cocktail and peaches. all were palatable, but the peaches were outstanding. They were the best canned peaches I’ve ever had. If you lucked into the peach can, you could trade it for almost anything. I’ve often wondered since who made those peaches and if their product is still available. I’d buy several cases in an instant.

  16. Army here, ’67-’70, most of ’70 spent in Vietnam. These reminiscences take me back. One thing I remember about C’s was the fruit. When I was in there were four: apricots, pears, fruit cocktail and peaches. all were palatable, but the peaches were outstanding. They were the best canned peaches I’ve ever had. If you lucked into the peach can, you could trade it for almost anything. I’ve often wondered since who made those peaches and if their product is still available. I’d buy several cases in an instant.

  17. Prayers-Love and GREAT BIG -Thank you to ALL Military personnel (still here or passed) and their families for serving our COUNTRY. I say all and families because a Military person has or had people waiting for them and worrying about them. SO, GOD BLESS YOU ALL

  18. Spicy Beef, One of my favorite meat dishes in a case of C’s. Only down fall was it was instant “heart burn”. Fortunately I was able to run down a medic with some antacid. I always enjoyed the pears and it went great with the pound cake. I don’t recall eating many of the meals warm. The blue heat tabs emitted a gas that would burn your eyes and c-4 was harder to locate for us. I do remember about a week after I was out in the field we received a case of onions by mistake. Even for me being a FNG they were a treat but I didn’t appreciate them as much as the old timers did.

    I remember the first c-ration meal we received. It was a “luck of the draw” right after we went through the gas obstacle coarse at basic training. I got ham and eggs. I had a couple bites but couldn’t get the rest down. Then there was the white worms in red sauce. Never ate either one of these meals while in country.

    Must have been around 2006 I was surfing the web trying to find guys I served with and to my surprise I found a website from the unit I served with, 1st bn 22nd inf, 4th inf division. Here’s a few of the photo’s from my page: http://1-22infantry.org/pics4/richard.htm

    The only thing I find myself craving from time to time was the instant coffee with of course dry creamer and sugar although I think it was making it in one of the C ration cans that gave it that special flavor.

  19. Hey Fred, I was with the same unit as you except I was in B Company, August of 69 through June of 70. I was always thankful that there was a medic around after I ate the Spiced Beef. Hot or room temp, either way I always got a major bought of heart burn shortly after consuming the spiced beef. I remember the first time we got to sample some C’s just after we went threw the gas obstacle back in basic training. I drew ham and eggs. The first and last time I ate that meal. With me it seemed the meals that were my least favorite when I first arrived in country were my favorite ones towards the end of my tour. There was a time shortly after making my second move to a new area we got resupplied with a case of fresh onions by mistake. Even then I ate one like an apple but the fellows that had been there longer made c rat stew and threw in the onions. I think the onions were gone in a matter of a few days.

    The only thing I miss was the instant coffee with the creamer and sugar. I always made it in a c rat can. It had a flavor I can not duplicate to this day.

    • yes i remember . you have any idea how the mean and beans were made have never found a close substitute for them. ate a lot as a kid . would love to find a rec for them now
      lemon aid powder was good with some descent tasting water

  20. I was a dog handler in Vietnam 67-68. My dog would not eat the ham and lima beans. Anything a dog won’t eat should not be consumed by a human.

    • lol guess I was not human. I do have a question the meat and beans I liked but raised on beans, I recently found and on line copy of the Us Army cook book. I could not find a meat and beans recipe. Anyone able to help me out?

    • so what did you feed your dog in nam? never gave that a thought until now. were dog rations and c rations the same thing? if so, what was the dog’s favorite meal?

  21. C-rats. Stumbled across this interesting site. I was a helicopter crew chief in 1967 with the 25th Infantry out of Cu Chi. A strictly utilitarian use of C-rations for crew chiefs and gunners on our D model Hueys was to replace the M-60 feed chute with a can of C’s. Ham and Limas was the favorite for this purpose. The can fit the input chute clip perfectly and provided a smooth curved surface for the linked 7.62’s to feed ammo into the M-60. Now you could use an ammo box with a thousand rounds instead of the standard ammo box and metal feed chute limited to 300 rounds. Good grief….that was 50 years ago and I had just turned 18.

    • Oh man, I love your story. I’ve read some books by Vietnam vets and it was also mentioned how to use a c-rat can for the m60. Also read a lot about their c-rat experiences too.
      Thanks for your service…

  22. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of these posted messages about C rations, even though I’ve never tasted even one bite of food from one of those cans. My dear father was stationed in New Guinea as a U.S. Army medic during World War II, and from him I learned what C rations were. He was not overly fond of them, but did eat to stay alive. It was a common thing to trade C rations for cigarettes. He would flatly refuse to eat canned Spam when I was a young girl, saying it reminded him of those C rations! My older sister, younger brother and I could only imagine what those canned meals tasted like. Daddy’s description was not very glowing! Sincere thanks to all of our military veterans who have bravely served our great country in times of war and ate their share of those C rations. God bless you all.

  23. U.S.A.F. 1966-’67
    C’s provided a good snack during night-time flight line work. Looked for the fruit cans mostly, but some of the other items were tasty too.

  24. I was raised on Spam in South Dakota and Minnesota since Spam is manufactured in Minn. To this day I enjoy Spam sandwiches!! I know, stupid MF but what the heck, its just ham. I spent my early Navy years aboard the Lexington in the South China Sea and the worst meal I can remember was Spam in fruit cocktail glaze!! Really putrid stuff, For anyone who was there I was with VF213 flying Demons, flying hydraulic leaks!

  25. Bill McD
    I was a high-speed radio operator (MOS 062) during the ‘peacetime’ years 1955-58, after Korea and before Vietnam. When we were operating our radio nets in the outback wilds of Fort Riley, KS, we’d put our
    C-ration cans inside our huge transmitter, and after a couple hours sending messages back and forth we could remove those cans and enjoy a delicious hot meal … e.g., my favorite, Ragout of Beef.

  26. Viet Nam most of ’68. Medevac. In and around Quang Tri with side trips to Hue, Khe San & Dong Ha.

    If I admit to actually liking and trading for ham & lima beans, does that imply I’m strange beyond? Just askin’…

    BTW: I grew up in New Orleans and knew many of the McIlhenny family. They loved hearing how Tabasco Sauce made even C-rats mostly palatable…

    • Hi Harry,

      I was in 1st Anglico in Nam 66-67.

      Gotta tell you that the ham and limas were the only c rat I couldn’t eat and I love normal ham and limas,but the c rat version were way too salty, we called them the heavies. You could take a rats head off at 20 feet with them.

      I grew up in Pensacola,and lived on tabasco sauce for my oysters and everything else, and while in Nam I came up with an idea for my own hot sauce for eating c rations with,and wrote it down in a notebook we kept our call signs and frequencies in.

      In 1976 I found the notebook in some old Marine stuff I was going through and I finally got to make the sauce,and it was pretty darn good.

      In 1988 a friend of mine who owned an oyster bar/restaurant told me that he liked the sauce and wanted to know if I would make him some for his restaurant,which my wife and I did .We hand wrote the labels on notebook paper and scotch taped them to the bottles ,and gave them to our friend.

      A couple of days later our friend David called and told us that there was a problem with the sauce. My first thought was that Crap,we’ve killed someone,but thankfully the only problem was that every bottle had been stolen off the tables,and he wanted to know if we would make him some more,which we did,and they were also stolen. That was when I had the idea to start my own sauce company. When I told my idea to my wife,she looked at me and said,”baby,you’re crazy !” And that’s how we started Crazy Jerry’s sauce company in 1989 with our “oyster,clam and everything else sauce”

      We just sold out all of our products in February 2018 except for this hot sauce,which we are going to sell as private label.

      If you read this and you would like to try it,just give me a call at 1-800-347-2823 and i would be happy to send you a free bottle.

      BTW, I did some shows with Justin Wilson in New Orleans.

      semper fi

      • Jerry. Thank you for the information on the sauces. Pleasure speaking to you. I will call and order. Thanks for your. Service. USMC. 3-1969 to Feb 1970. Hill 55 out of DaNang

  27. I really enjoyed reading these replies about c-rations and your experiences in Vietnam. I had 2 brothers in the military, one in the marines, one in the army. The one in the marines was stationed in ChuLai. I always wanted to be in the military but because I about cut my foot off as a kid, I could not get in. So, I have no military or Nam stories to tell, darn it! Hats off to all of you guys! And my brothers. Really love your stories.

  28. This was so insightful to read! Gentlemen, I was wondering if you ever ate at a local shack/stall in town or did you ever go fishing?

  29. Fishing? The Vietnamese will sit for hours with a homemade fishing pole fishing. We just throw a fragmentation hand grenade in the pond, which is usually a bomb crater, then all of the fish will come to the surface of the water dead.

  30. ham and turkey loaf and the peanut butter, our c rats came in a white case I remember the date on them then was like 20 years old in 1968, I liked the sterno heater, they were much better warm than cold.
    Mass-2 Marine attached to the 3rd Marine Div. Corporal.

  31. Steve Miller
    I was with the 15th Aerial Port Sq 1968-69, Da Nang. Our operation moved from the Air Force sector to the other side of the Air Base about a million miles away from our Mess facility. Within shouting distance of us was a huge Marine Mess. However, brilliant military minds said we could not eat there and our 12 hour shifts were intense preventing us from taking a journey to the other side. So it was c-rats for at least two meals a night. Mostly they were awful but I was lucky. I liked Ham and M..f… That meant I always had plenty to eat. Turkey packed in 30 weight motor oil was the worst.

    • I destroyed my taste buds eating my Mom’s cooking. I collect all of the C-Rats rejects and I have plenty to eat. I do not smoke so I save the small pack of cigarettes. Three? or four? to a pack. Little known or unpopular brands. Wait until they run out of cigarettes and trade them for C-Rats. Sometimes I auction off a pack of cigarettes and the highest bidder will give me a whole C-Rat meal.

  32. Read about all of these, noticed that none of you brothers mentioned using the tin of peanut butter as a stove. I was at Pleiku AB 67-68 and we used to open up the tin of peanut butter, take a match and light the top layer of oil, and it burned excellent!


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