1. SEASON YOUR OVEN
If you want to create a non-stick surface in your shiny new camp oven and also want to avoid your camp-cooked meal tasting like cast iron, you must season it well before use. It will also help maintain the longevity of the camp oven, and prevent rust.
All you need to do is coat the camp oven in cooking oil and heat it over a high temperature for at least an hour – this can be your campfire, home oven or even a hooded barbecue. This procedure should turn it nice and black and then you’ll know the job is done.
For even better results, repeat the whole process a second time, clean, and you’re ready to cook!
2. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
A camping trip with a crowd of tired, hungry people is not the time to try out your camp oven for the first time – or even to try out new recipes. No matter how good a chef you are at home, cooking a smashing camp oven meal requires a whole different set of skills and lots of practice. Keep your repertoire nice and simple until you’ve mastered the basics – stews, damper, etc – then look at branching out into more complicated meals like roasts, etc.
3. COOK OVER COALS, NOT IN THE FLAMES
Coals burn much hotter than flames and it’s easier to maintain a more consistent heat, which is vital when cooking any type of meal. So plan your evening accordingly, and make sure you’ve got time to burn your campfire down to embers before you need to start cooking.
It doesn’t matter what type of campfire you build, but the wood can make a difference. Hardwood will create a more consistent temperature and will burn for longer than soft woods, so try that, especially in the early days if you’re still learning.
If you’re in a hurry to get dinner underway, use smaller pieces of wood that burn down faster.
4. POSITION THE COALS CORRECTLY
Cooking with coals can be difficult, as there’s no way to keep a consistent temperature – or to even know what the temperature is! It’s best to start off slow, as you can always make the fire hotter later if you need to – but if you go too hot too early, you might end up eating bread and butter for dinner!
For roasts, you’ll need coals both underneath and on top of the camp oven to create even heat.
For baking such as damper or breads, put the majority of coals on top of the camp oven, rather than underneath, to prevent your dough from burning.
Stews should be heated primarily from the bottom, with only about a quarter of the heat coming from the top; and to fry or boil, all the heat must come from underneath, so don’t bother with coals on top.
5. CLEAN AND STORE YOUR CAMP OVEN CORRECTLY
Contrary to popular belief, you can wash your camp oven in soapy water – as long as the oven’s been properly seasoned first. And once you’re done, rinse thoroughly, dry properly and apply another thin layer of oil to re-season.
If you prefer the more ‘authentic’ method of camp oven care, simply wipe out your camp oven with a damp cloth once you’ve eaten, and while the oven is still warm. You’ll still need to ensure you’ve dried it properly, as rust is a camp oven’s worst enemy.
There’s no right or wrong way to store a camp oven for transit or a long stint packed away – just ensure it’s clean and dry. And if you’re travelling, make sure it’s packed low, tight and secured well to avoid it becoming a missle!
MEET THE AUTHOR
An RV journalist working across Australia’s premier caravanning and camping magazines for the past five years, Laura is also a judge at the annual Best Aussie Vans awards. She has been camping in the great outdoors since the of two, when she was packed, by day, into a Toyota LiteAce van and, by night, into a brown canvas tent with her parents and two siblings for an extended trip around the vast playground that is northern Western Australia.