Camp oven cooking is something we often read about or see on the various TV outdoor programs where mouth-watering tid-bits come out of the iron pot with monotonous regularity. There's no doubt the concept of camp oven cooking does seem to inspire the bush chef in all of us. However, the reality of using one of these items comes home – for the beginner when the lid is lifted and the offering is either uncooked or charred. How could it go so wrong?
We will be examining some of the pitfalls and how to set the oven up initially, so to avoid this sort of disaster.
The first thing is to select the right sized oven for the job. I have borrowed a couple of ovens from my local Great Escape Camping Company store in 4.5-quart and 9-quart to give an idea of what they can do.
The 4.5-quart is ideal for two people and the larger can easily accommodate over four people. It is essential to get a trivet and a lid-lifter as basic accessories for the oven. The trivet is a small shelf for the bottom so things don’t stick to the base. A lid lifter is useful to check on the progression of the food so you don’t have to rely on guesswork.
The demo units came in kit form with trivet, heavy-duty carry bag and lid-lifter all supplied. The large 9-quart kit retails for $49 and the smaller one for $37. The kit is definitely the way to go, and the carry bag in particular is very smart. It protects the external casing of the oven as well as being a handy bag to keep all the accessories together.
It is important to prepare the oven before its first use.
Clean the oven (at home) with detergent, rinse it thoroughly, and then give it a good coating inside and out with old fashioned lard or dripping. Then place the unit in your home oven at a temperature of 150oC for around ten minutes. Once it is cooled it should be ready for use as the cast iron is a porous material and will have absorbed some of the animal fat from the heating process. Surplus oil or fat should be removed before next cooking.
Camp oven cooking can be a bit of a science. Not rocket science, but still somewhat tricky due to the one variable we encounter firewood.
Timber from way, way, out west burns slowly with great heat. On the coast or up in the ranges the wood will burn far more quickly and without as much heat. To remedy this problem, work up a bed of coals and then use a long handled shovel to bring the coals out of the fire to place around the camp oven.
There is no sense in putting the camp oven straight into the fire. Even a moderate fire will have too much heat and will generally overcook the product.
Coals are the secret to good results. Sit the camp oven near the fire to heat it first, rotate every now and then to warm it uniformly. Shovel out a bed of coals to put the oven on, stacking some around the sides and even a few on top. The lids are recessed to allow coals to sit there with ease and the lids can be lifted thanks to their handles.
After around twenty minutes of cooking bread or scones, take a little look to see if your masterpiece has risen. To brown the top, shovel a bed of coals onto the lid.
The required time for browning depends on what you’re baking. Five minutes with the top coals is generally all that is needed to turn out scones or rolls. A loaf of bread usually needs ten minutes due to its mass.
It is important to remember that there will always be an element of trial and error, but these tend to be good guidelines.
Cooking with coals is the most reliable for all your camping meals but it does require a constant vigilance. For those of us that lack the attention required, there is a method of cutting-corners. I quite often use heat beads (the same as you would use on your home BBQ), it is especially convenient for letting a stew simmer for a few hours.
Get the fire going early and then throw in a good mound of heat beads onto the coals. Once these are burning well with ash showing all over them, use the shovel to transfer a bed of beads to the side of the fire. Stack the beads under and around the camp oven (including the top). The oven can be left for several hours to simmer and you can be certain of a good result.
The double jaffle iron is another handy bit of gear for the camp cook. Terrific toasted sandwiches will turn out of a lightly greased jaffle iron in around five minutes when it's placed on a small bed of coals.
Last but not least give the camp oven and jaffle iron a really good clean out on the return home. After cleaning use a light vegetable oil and it will be good as new for next time.Reads: 3097