Camp Oven Cooking – Made Easy

For a number of years I’ve been enjoying camping and often had quite simple meals that were easy to cook. One time, a freind’s brother brought a couple of old school cast iron camp ovens and cooked a couple of roasts and veggies. It was fantastic. For years I thought about buying an oven but always struggled with justifying the size, the weight and the effort. This was further compounded when we had kids and our packing space in the car was further reduced.

Camp Oven Roast - One Hour / Kilo

Camp Oven Roast – One Hour / Kilo

However, as we started camping more and for longer periods of time the temptation to enjoy camp oven cooking became to much. But, what I realised is that their are options and ways to make it easy.

Oven Types

The first thing you should consider when buying a camp oven is what type you want to purchase. There are two;
  • Cast Iron
  • Spun Metal
Comparison of their features and benefits.

TopicCast IronSpun Metal
Weight3Is not a friend of the cast iron camp oven. A decent oven will weigh in at between 8 – 12 Kg’s.8Definitely an advantage to these ovens. I have a 9″ and a 12″ oven and both of them only weight 6 Kg’s in a heavy canvas bag.
Heat Retention9As cast iron ovens are thicker, they are less vulnerable to wind and maintaining temperature. They have a definite advantage here.5This is one weakness with the spun metal ovens. If they are in the breeze, the oven will quickly lose it’s temperature on one side. It’s easily solved by taking them away from the breeze (behind a barrier or in a hole).
Warm Up / Cool Down3Being thicker, and cast not transferring heat very well, these ovens take longer to warm up and get to temperature. This is the same when cooling down. So if you like to cook and move, this may be something to consider. Also, you can’t (or shouldn’t) put a cast oven in water to cool it down as the cast can explode with the sudden temperature change.9A spun metal oven is very quick to warm up due to the thin walls. In fact, I often don’t warm the oven and hear the roast starting to sizzle within one minute of putting the coals on. They also cool down a lot quicker and can be dropped into a cool stream for washing if you like to cook and move.
Handling3Cast iron ovens are robust, but their weight makes them heavy and clunky to handle. Hot and clunky to me equals higher risk of accident.8These ovens are easily handled with their light weight. I don’t even have fancy lifters, just a set of gloves that came with the oven.
Cleaning6These ovens are not completely smooth due to the casting process so can be a little harder to clean completely.8The smooth surface of the spun metal makes these ovens very easy to clean without harsh rubbing or washing liquid.
Quality5 I know people will be passionate about their cast iron ovens. However, just keep in mind that most of these come out of China these days. So while historically, cast iron ovens were extremely durable, many of the cheap ones available today are not what they used to be. There are many stories of new ovens cracking due to poor casting and exploding because of air bubbles in the cast. If you buy one, pay a bit extra and get a good one.9These ovens are simple and made really well. At least the brand I purchased are made here locally in Australia using Australian steel. You can see the quality in these ovens. I’m sure it won’t be too long before their being knocked off as well.
Cost9Anywhere from around $50 – 150. Also can get many of them second hand.4Anywhere from $100 – 200. Not as many available second hand as they haven’t been around as long and not carried by many retailers.

In my opinion, if you can afford it purchase a spun metal oven. I know plenty of people will read this and argue for cast iron. However, quality, weight and time to warm up / cool down all add extra hassle that’s just not worth it. And you can take two spun metal ovens for less than the weight of one cast iron oven.

Cooking with your oven

If you’re like me, you enjoy the thought of a great meal but don’t necessarily want to be working on it for hours. Everything I’d seen about cooking with camp ovens involved working a fire for 2-3 hours to get good coals that are suitable for cooking with your camp oven. While I’ll admit, there are times when you’re camping when this isn’t a big deal because the location lends itself to the collection of abundant timber and lazing around the fire. But there’s other times where there’s just better things to do – like fish!

Heat made simple

This is the situation I found myself in.  So one time I tried using heat beads instead of the fire. Needless to say they worked a treat and it was simple. The first time I did it I was in the bush. So I could stack some rocks and stack the head beads in the middle which made it easy to start. The second time I was at the beach and had nothing to stack the beads in. It took me 40 minutes or more to get them all glazed over which wasn’t cool.

So I looked for a head bead starter and found a cheap one on Amazon that folded neatly. I think it cost $40 delivered.

The head bead starter is small and compact which makes it easy to squeeze into a gap in the car. Unfortunately it just doesn’t fit inside the camp oven meaning i have to remember it! 🙂 Lighting is a breeze using a fire starter. Drop the fire starter in, light it and then just stack the beads on top. The starter concentrates the heat while providing airflow so it will be roaring in a few minutes.

If I light this before preparing the roast, the time it takes me to peel a few vegies, dry the roast and oil everything will see the heat beads glazed over and ready to go. One thing I have noticed is if you leave them in too long then it takes a bit out of the heat beads. I’m assuming this is because of the intense heat that the starter generates. Just don’t leave them in their for an hour – they should only need 20 minutes max.

Camp Oven - Prep Roast and Add Veggies

Camp Oven – Prep Roast and Add Veggies

People often ask whether I put all my vegies in with the roast at the same time. I do – I find they’re always cooked through and soft without being burnt. Depending on how full you’re oven is, keep the carrots away from the very top as they are more susciptible to getting a slight browning on them. They won’t get burnt – just asthetics (important to kids or at least mine)!

When cutting up the vegetables with this approach, don’t cut them up too small. As you can see carrots are peeled and cut in half. Potatoes the same. From a half pumpkin I’ll cut three times across the short way and then in half again. Put the roast in first. Prepare the roast with oil and salt to set the skin off. As you put the veggies in put a little oil on your hands and rub it on them while stacking. It should look like the image above.

When I first started cooking with a camp oven I made the bottom of the oven too hot. The signs of this are the juices being burnt and charcoal forming on the bottom of the oven. You can tell there’s too much heat in the bottom if your oven looks more like a pressure cooker with steam pushing through the lid and the oven. It means you’re boiling the juices. Not only does it spoil the taste but also makes cleaning the oven harder. Cleaning will most likely spoil your oven’s seasoning due to the scrubbing to get the charcoal off so you’ll have to season it again.

It’s much easier to manage this when using heat beads. I find about 8 – 10 on the bottom is perfect. I’ve also had trouble with the bottom beads / coals getting cool once cooking has started. I beleive this is because they struggle for air flow when the oven goes on top. So where possible I use a few rocks to elevate the oven and allow air flow. As rocks aren’t always handy, I intend to make a small steel ring with three to four feet so I don’t have to rely on mother nature. Drop the oven on top and then place 18 – 20 head beads in the lid as per image above.

I allow 1 hour – 1 hour 15 minutes for every 1 Kg of roast in the oven. It seems reliable – especially when using the constant temperature of the heat beads.

Camp Oven Roast - One Hour / Kilo

Camp Oven Roast – One Hour / Kilo

There you have it. Vegies cooked through perfectly. Skin of the roast has good form. I want the shank of this roast right now. 

Variations to the above

When we’re away we use our camp ovens for a number of different meals. These include; 
  • Roast
  • Pizza
  • Damper
  • Scones
When cooking Damper’s, Pizza’s etc it’s important to put less heat on the bottom of the oven and more heat into the top of the oven. I always use a trivet in my oven but I find with these meals it tends to burn the bottom. Using heat beads as a guide, I would use say 4-6 heat beads on the bottom and increase the number on the top correspondingly 22-24.

Good luck – look forward to hearing your tips / thoughts on how you go.

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