There are essentially two ways to bake in the great outdoors: reflecting heat from a campfire into a reflector, creating an oven, and trapping heat in a cast-iron Dutch oven by applying heat in the form of coals directly to the surface of the oven. Both have advantages and disadvantages and today we’ll give you a primer on each method.
Stand too close to a campfire and you’ll feel your shins toast a little. That’s radiant heat–the basis of reflective oven cooking. The basic idea here is simple: focus the heat where you want as evenly as possible.
A well-designed reflector focuses the heat evenly on the top and bottom of the pan holding your food. Otherwise, your oven will bake unevenly (horribly, actually), as if your oven at home lost one of the elements; you’ll get a burned top and a raw bottom.
A benefit of the reflector oven is its weight and compact size. A reflector oven doesn’t weigh very much, and when folded down flat, it takes up little space. So for those sensitive to weight and size, a reflector’s a good choice. Canoe campers can carry more than backpackers, so we who camp out of canoes love these.
For the best baking, I like to take well-burning logs and put them up on their ends, leaning against a support of some sort, often the inside of a fire ring if it’s large enough. To judge the temperature, hold your hand right in front of the oven and count rapidly…onetwothreefourfiveOUCH. The ouch at five means you’re at 350-375 degrees. An ouch at four is about 400-425 degrees. Three means charcoal for dinner. Despite the best intentions, there are hot spots, so use some tongs to rotate the pan periodically, or when you see a hot spot start to form.
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