CAMP OVEN COOKING IN AUSTRALIA (COCIA®)

WITH 'THE CAMP OVEN COOKS' - DEREK & MAGGIE BULLOCK

CAMP COOKING

There are several ways of cooking over a fire when out in the bush.  You can use a barbecue plate, put your food straight on the coals or use a camp oven

The camp oven is a very versatile piece of cooking equipment.  There are camp oven cooks around who will tell you they can cook anything in a camp oven that you can cook in your oven in the house, and many will tell you the flavour is reputed to be even better.  The jury may still be out on that one but there is no doubt that sitting around a camp fire with the smell of woodsmoke and the sounds of the bush while your dinner cooks in a camp oven sure is hard to beat

Camp ovens have been around for many years and in many different forms.  In some countries they are still used over open fires to cook the family meal

Camp ovens come in a variety of shapes, styles and materials.  Walk into any good camping store and will see the main material being used today is cast iron although cast aluminium is also available.  Becoming more and more popular as people get to know about them are the spun steel range of camp ovens, particularly the Bedourie camp oven

Most people these days are restricted with finance but you can purchase a good cast iron or spun steel camp oven for a reasonable price at most good camping stores

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CHOOSING A CAMP OVEN

Cast iron camp ovens are generally the easiest to use.  They hold the heat well and need very few coals to maintain the heat.  The disadvantage is that they are heavy and can break if dropped

Spun steel camp ovens are somewhat lighter than cast iron and wont break if dropped.  The disadvantage is that due to the thin material they do need a little more care to keep the temperature right

My personal choice is the Bedourie spun steel camp oven.  I have been using the same Bedourie camp oven for over 25 years and have cooked many a great meal in it.  It has baked bread, damper, cakes, muffins, scones and roasts as well as a large number of different recipes.  One of the great advantages of the Bedourie camp oven is that you can turn the lid over and use it as a great frying pan

The Bedourie camp oven was originally made for the Bedourie Cattle Station in Western Queensland.  Station stockmen and cooks found that the heavy cast iron ovens often broke when falling off packhorses so they came up with a camp oven that was light and strong.  Aussie ingenuity at it's best

Whichever one you choose, read on and I will show you how to use it

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SEASONING YOUR CAMP OVEN

You need to season a camp oven before using it.  Seasoning prepares the inside surface of the camp oven for cooking assists in keeping the outside looking good and a well seasoned camp oven will provide many years of use

Cast Iron

I have heard of many different ways to season a cast iron camp oven over the years.  After much research and experimentation this is how I season them.  Your new camp oven will generally come from the manufacturer with a coating on it to prevent rust.  This need to be removed and the best way is with hot soapy water and a stiff brush or scourer.  After you have cleaned it dry it thoroughly

Wipe the inside and outside of the camp oven including the lid with a good vegetable oil.  I use first press virgin olive oil. Now you need to heat it.  I use a barbecue with a domed lid and season my camp ovens at 550 degrees Fahrenheit or 260 Celsius for an hour.  Switch off the heat and let it cool.  When it is cool again wipe the camp oven with oil and reheat it again for an hour

You can also place the camp oven in your oven at home or place it over a fire.  The important thing is to get it as hot as you can

A well seasoned cast iron camp oven will have a nice glossy non-stick black finish.

Here are some photos of my seasoning of a ten inch Lodge Camp Oven



The Camp Oven to be seasoned is the one in the middle. As you can see it is just grey cast iron



A good scrub with hot soapy water



Wiping inside and out with a good quality olive oil



Into the barbecue with the lid down for an hour at 500 degrees Fahrenheit/260 Celsius



The end result.  A nice seasoned Camp Oven

Spun Steel (Bedourie)

Spun steel camp ovens like the Bedourie require a different approach.  Once again the best way to do this is at home in the kitchen although my old Bedourie was done over the open fire.  First give it a good scrub in hot soapy water and dry it.  Place about a teaspoon of oil in the camp oven and heat it in the oven until hot.  Wipe the hot oil all over the inside of the camp oven as well as the lid.  The paper towel will come away all black.  Allow the oven to cool then repeat the process.  Keep doing it until there is no black residue on the paper towel

A well seasoned camp oven should never have food stick to the insides.  If this does happen, don’t scratch it out with a harsh abrasive.  Simply place water inside and put it back on the heat.  After a while any residue should come away from the sides and bottom

Food will burn on the bottom of the camp oven if you use too much heat.  If this happens and you do need to use a harsh method of removing it such as steel wool you will need to re-season the camp oven

Remember to always place the camp oven back on the fire to dry after washing it and then while still warm wipe oil over the inside and outside to prevent rusting

 

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USING A CAMP OVEN

Before starting to cook with your camp oven you will need a good supply of coals.  Naturally, different woods will give you different heats with some being hotter than others.  Experience will help but I must admit I have found that the worst coals you can get are from pine.  Pine produces a lot of heat for a very quick time but doesn’t last very long.  Good hardwood is generally the best

 

Always preheat your camp oven before you cook in it the same as you would the oven at home

 

When your camp oven is heated and you have your ingredients ready, take a shovel of coals out of the fire and spread them out to cover an area just a little bit bigger than your camp oven.  Don’t use too many as you don’t want to burn what you are putting in it.

 

Place the camp oven on the coals and place whatever you are cooking inside and replace the lid.  Place another shovel full of coals on top of the lid.  Once again not too many as you don’t want whatever you are cooking to brown quicker than the rest.  It doesn’t hurt to check as you go. If it isn’t browning as you would like it to simply put a few more coals on the lid

 

If it is a windy day you can dig a hole a bit larger than the camp oven and cook in the hole so that the wind doesn’t overheat things.

 

How simple is that?  Well, that’s what camp oven cooking is all about, simplicity

 

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USING ALTERNATE FUELS

 

Go to the section titled Charcoal As Heat for further information

Go to the section titled Camp Ovens with Gas for further information

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USEFUL CAMP COOKING EQUIPMENT

With cooking on an open fire you will always need the usual barbecue tools such as lifetrs and tongs.  To compliment your camp oven and to be able to cook a large number of recipes you will find a few extras helpful

One very important item in your equipment until you get used to using a camp oven is a small portable oven thermometer.  You can pick these up pretty cheap in the cooking utensils section in the local supermarket.  They are great for determining the temperature in a camp oven

Another very important item is a trivet.  What a trivet does is allow your food to be up off the bottom of the camp oven and let the heat circulate around it.  When baking things like breads, cakes and muffins a trivet is a must

You need a good set of camp oven lifters.  When lifting the lid off a cast iron camp that has a good shovel full of coals on it you need a lifter that is steady and wont tip the coals into the food.  These can be purchased from camping stores and are not expensive.  For the Bedourie style of camp oven you may need to make them yourself.  While the new Bedouries come with a handle I find that a lifter either side a better way to go.  Mine were manufactured for me

You will  need an assortment of pie plates, muffin trays, roasting trays, pizza trays, cake containers and bread tins depending on the recipe.  All these of course need to be a suitable size to fit in the camp oven

One word of caution is don't go to the local discount store and buy cheap because you wont get a quality item.  Always purchase good quality items

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