Cooking in the Outback

Using a Camp Oven

Eating is imperative whether camping or not and eating usually involves cooking. Camp cooking need not be confined to chops and steaks cooked barbecue style. Having the right equipment will make camp cooking much easier. Once you have mastered the art, a great range of tasty dishes can be produced.

The camp oven is part of the dinky-di Aussie's essential camping equipment. They may be made of heavy cast iron or of spun steel. Cast iron holds an even heat for considerable periods. This is important when cooking on coals. Cast iron is an appropriate material for use when cooking over an open fire. The main drawback of cast iron is the weight and their tendency to shatter if dropped or transported incorrectly.

The Bedourie oven originated in western Queensland and is made of spun steel. It traditionally has a lid which becomes a frying pan when turned upside down. Being made of spun steel, it is lightweight and compact. Heat transfers quickly and more intensely and more care is needed if food is not to be burnt.

The camp oven can be used to cook bread, dampers, bread, stews, pot roasts, and almost anything else.

Outback Cooking In A Camp OvenCredit: Wikimedia

Camp Ovens
Place the oven on or over the main fire while it is empty. A tripod or grate is ideal for this task. This is to get it nice and hot before you place any food inside. By getting the oven hot first you won't be drawing heat from the coals just to heat the oven. If you are cooking meals that require most of the heat to be coming from the top, then make sure you get the lid of the oven hot also.

If baking or roasting, when the oven is hot place it on a thin bed of coals a little way from the main fire and put in your food. Place coals on the lid.

If the recipe requires browning, heap coals in the centre of the lid to produce a more concentrated heat.

Bedourie ovens tend to cook better if they are placed in a shallow hole with coals on the bottom and half buried up the sides with hot ash and embers and some coals on the lid.

When baking, place a trivet or cake rack inside your camp oven. This allows the heat to circulate better and helps avoid burning the food on the base of the oven.

The type of wood you are burning for coals will dictate how often you need to replenish coals under and on the lid of the camp oven.

Try to minimise how often you remove the lid. Check on dampers and bread after 20 minutes and roasts after 30 to 40 minutes. Excessive lifting of the lid allows heat to escape and resulting in longer cooking times.

Camp OvenCredit: Wikimedia

When cleaning, never pour cold water into a hot cast iron oven as it will probably crack. Always use warm or hot water. Take care not to drop cast iron camp ovens on hard surfaces such as rock or concrete. Cast iron is brittle and will easily crack.

To check the temperature in a camp oven place a piece of newspaper or paper towel inside the oven for approximately 5 minutes. The rule of thumb is: paper black and smoking – the oven is too hot; if the paper is a light brown to yellow, the oven is moderate to hot, if the paper is cream or pale yellow, oven is slow to moderate. When cooking on damp or wet ground allow extra cooking time.

Roasting in a camp oven is no different to roasting at home. The difference is that you need to check the heat of the coals regularly to make sure the meat is cooking evenly. The best way of doing this is to ensure that there are plenty of hot coals ready so that when you check the meat every 30 to 40 minutes you have some new coals to place on the lid and shovel in around the oven. A bag of barbecue briquettes will be handy to supplement your coals.

Cooking times depend on the size of the meat and the heat of the coals so check meat regularly.

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Make sure the camp oven is well oiled. Place the oven over the fire and get it nice and hot. Place meat in camp oven and cover. Place oven in hot coals and shovel coals on the lid. Depending on size, cook for 1 to 2 ½ hours. Cut vegetables into serving sizes and add in the last 40 to 45 minutes. Before carving, stand for at least 5 to 10 minutes for the juices to flow out and the meat to firm. Cover the meat with aluminium foil to keep it warm. Serve with meat and gravy or sauce. There is now a large range of instant gravies which can be easily created by adding boiling water to the gravy mix.

To roast a chicken, remove neck and giblets from the cavity of the bird, rinse thoroughly and dry with a paper towel. Brush the bird with melted butter. Roast the bird breast side up for 15 minutes in camp oven over the flame. Turn the chicken over and place camp oven on coals. Cook for 50 to 60 minutes. The chicken is cooked when a skewer inserted into the thigh runs with clear juices and when a leg rocks easily in its socket.

Stewing in a camp oven
Stews and casseroles are best cooked with slow to moderate heat and cooked over a long period of time. Generally the longer the better for stews. Beef and lamb especially, will tend to be much more succulent and tender with long, slow cooking. This is handy when travelling on a budget. When stewing get the oven nice and hot, add the meat to brown in the hot oven then add the other ingredients. The camp oven can then be set on a light bed of coals or hung over a low fire on a tripod or grate to cook gently.

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Baking in a camp oven
When baking in a camp oven, it is best to place tins and trays on a trivet. This lifts the cooking tray off the base of the oven helping to alleviate the problem of having too much concentrated heat on the bottom and allowing the heat inside the camp oven to circulate around the food. Although providing good results when using cast iron camp ovens, this method is almost essential when baking in spun steel ovens which have thinner bases that conduct heat more quickly.

There is little that can compare to eating a pot roast baked in a camp oven, sitting round the camp-fire and with the stars blazing overhead.