Want to impress your mates and hone your outdoor cooking expertise for your next trip away? Master the art of camp oven cooking and you’ll certainly be invited back to be head chef at the campsite.
The beautiful flavours and textures you get from cooking with a cast iron camp oven are like no other, and even the simplest meals come alive when infused with that special camp oven flair. Don’t expect to master it on your first go but with a bit of practise, you’ll soon get the hang of it and be rewarded with delicious, mouthwatering meals.
In this guide, we’re going to talk you through the whole camp oven cooking process starting with preparing your oven and heating it to the best temperature. Then we’ll discuss the different cooking techniques, how to care for your oven, plus a whole lot more, so keep on reading for all the goods.
Once you get the hang of it, camp oven cooking will open up a new culinary world. Image: iStock
Preparing your camp oven
Preheat the camp oven on or in the main fire prior to cooking because if you place a cold camp oven on your coals, half your heat will be lost to heating up the oven instead of cooking your meal. A tripod is ideal for this task, or sit the oven on top of a barbie plate in the flames if possible. Don’t forget to heat the lid too!
When you’re ready to cook, you need to prepare a bed of coals away from the main fire to place the camp oven on. If possible, scrape or dig out a small hole the size of your oven to line with hot coals. This is not essential but can be handy especially if it’s windy.
Of course, by all means, leave the camp oven on your tripod above the flames, but cooking on coals is recommended for baking and roasting.
Prepare coals to cook your meal in your camp oven. Image: Mick Viller
Managing environmental factors
Keep in mind that the outside environment in which you are cooking will influence the temperature of your camp oven. Factors such as humidity, ambient temperature and wind will all have an affect and unlike at home, you’re not able to adjust the heat with a quick turn of the knob!
A great tip here is when you’re cooking on a cold or windy day, it will really help to lower your camp oven by digging a hole that’s just the right depth for the coals to be in, and try not to open the lid too much as the wind will blow away the heat.
A cold night will affect your cooking. Image: Ozpig
How to easily check the temperature of your camp oven
Gauging the heat required in relation to the amount of coals needed and converting it all to traditional oven temperatures, can be tricky at first but it’s actually quite simple. If you want to check how hot your camp oven is but don’t have a thermometre handy, then here’s a super simple way to do it.
Tear off a strip of paper towel or newspaper and pop it inside the hot oven on the top of a trivet to ensure you can accurately gauge the temperature. Then take it out and compare against the following:
- If the paper is cream or pale yellow, the oven is slow to moderate (180°C)
- If the paper is light brown to yellow in colour, the oven is moderate to hot (200°C)
- If the paper is dark brown, the oven is very hot (230°C)
- If the paper is black and smoking, the oven is too hot (250°C and over)
Use this chart to convert the amount of coals used to oven temperature:
Consider the type of wood you are using
Bear in mind that different types of wood will burn hotter than others, so even though you should try to minimise the number of times you remove the lid (as you will lose heat each time), it is important to check every now and then to make sure it’s not burning. As a general guide, check on dampers after 20 minutes and roasts after 30 minutes.
Some wood will burn hotter than others. Image: Hillbilly
Roasting in a camp oven
Place a well-oiled preheated oven on hot coals and add the meat. Cook the meat for 1.5-2.5 hours depending on the size of the meat. Vegetables like potatoes, onions, pumpkin should be added to the oven for the final 45 minutes of cooking. Throughout the cooking process, check the temperature of the oven every 30 minutes or so. Add more hot coals if required.
Fill up your campsite with the delicious aroma of a roast. Image: Hillbilly
Stewing in a camp oven
The longer the cooking time for stews the more tender the meat will become. Cook over a slow to moderate oven for 1-3 hours or longer as required.
The more time you spend cooking a stew, the more delicious it will be. Image: Ozpig
Baking in a camp oven
When cooking cakes and slices in trays and cake tins, it is best to put a trivet in the bottom of the camp oven. This allows air to flow around inside the camp oven and provide even cooking.
You can even bake a dessert for a campsite treat. Image: Ozpig .
Caring for your camp oven
It’s also essential to keep your cast iron camp oven in good condition for your next adventure by knowing how to clean it properly. When cleaning your camp oven always use warm water because cold water on a hot camp oven can cause damage.
It’s also essential to oil your camp oven after cleaning to prevent rust from developing. Although most camp ovens are fairly robust and durable, it’s a good idea to take care and avoid dropping them on hard surfaces. Keep yours nice and secure when transporting to and from the campsite by designating a special spot in your kit just for your oven.
That’s all the trips and tricks we have up our sleeve about cooking in a camp oven, if you have any hacks that you’d like to share for making the perfect meal in your camp oven, then we would love to hear from you.
What’s your favourite camp oven recipe? Let us know in the comments!
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