Having lived in Broome, for 15 years, camping on long white deserted beaches among the sand dunes and red cliffs was a regular pastime. This is where my (and my husbands) camp oven skills came into practice and, with cook-offs with friends, I (we) quickly mastered the craft of camp oven cooking! Each camping trip became a ‘one-up-man-ship’ of who could ‘wow’ the crowd.
There is nothing more satisfying than preparing, cooking and then proudly serving a meal in the great outdoors when camping. And the only way to achieve this is by cooking your favourite stew or roast in a camp oven over hot coals.
You are not even restrained to stews or roasts. Other one-pot favourites that you cook in the oven at home such as casseroles, soups, curries and even pizza can be cooked in a camp oven. You can even take it one step further with breads and puddings! Try a chocolate self-saucing pudding, sticky date pudding, or my specialty; bread and butter pudding without raisins! (Watch this space…)
Many people are daunted by the prospect of cooking with the lack of heat control, but like all cooking, you learn by trial & error and it does take a little practice and patience.
Did you know that Mt Barney Lodge hires out 9 quart camp ovens for only $10? – book ahead now to reserve a camping spot and a camp oven for a whole new camping experience.
How to cook a roast & vegies with REAL GRAVY in a camp oven.
Equipment you will need:
- A camp fire with plenty of extra fire wood,
- a shovel,
- a cast iron camp oven (I recommend a 6 – 9 quart), seasoned,
- heat proof or welding gloves,
- dust pan brush (recommended),
- a large hook (or large tent peg. We’ve even used pliers!),
- long handled wooden spoon,
- long handled tongs,
- carving fork and knife,
- metal skewer,
- large serving spoon or basting syringe,
- tin foil,
- large enamel plate or large metal/enamel roasting dish,
- tea towel,
- small bowl
- whisk (recommended for successful gravy) or fork.
Allow half an hour cooking time per half kg of meat. Ie; a 1.5kg chicken with stuffing will take a minimum 1 ½ hours to cook. A 3 kg beef roast will take a minimum 3 hours.
Roasting Hints and Tips:
- For your first foray into the world of cooking a camp-oven roast, start with a leg of lamb. You can’t go wrong!
- A leg of lamb is tastier cooked longer and slowly! Hint – Using a sharp knife, ‘stab’ the meat creating about 6 slits and push in slivers of garlic and small stalks of rosemary before roasting. This will also add to the flavour of the gravy.
- I choose not to use a trivet, you want all the scratchings to make the tastiest gravy! One trick I have learned is not to put too many coals under the oven as this can result in the juices drying out and everything burning to the bottom of the oven. Place more coals on the top.
- If you use a fattier meat, it is less likely to dry out and will make a nicer gravy. You may prefer to use a trivet so that the vegies are not sitting in the fat. You can spoon or syringe off any excess fat later before making the gravy.
- I prefer not to add water during cooking as it can end up stewing the vegies. Enough moisture will come off the meat and vegies during the roasting process.
- The secret to pork crackling in a camp oven is to have the top of the pork (rind) as close as possible but with-out touching the bottom of the lid. A ‘shoulder’ of pork is the best (and most moist), and make sure you score the rind and rub with salt and oil before roasting.
- Over-cooked beef in the camp oven will be tough. If you like your beef slightly pink in the middle, roast no longer that the ½ hour ½ kg ratio.
- Roast chickens are tastier with stuffing. Use the biggest chicken you can buy, they are less likely to dry out during cooking.
- Have one person in charge of the fire and another in charge of the roast! Nothing beats a team effort..
- Your favourite roast meat (see hints above) – the size will depend on the size of your camp oven.
- Camp Oven: A 6 quart oven will easily fit a large chicken and a 9 quart oven will fit a 2 – 3 kg of beef, pork or lamb. The meat should not be a snug fit. ie the meat should not completely touch the sides of the oven, and you need to have room to put in onions and vegies. Or use 2 camp ovens, one for the meat and one for the vegies. Hint: the more room in the camp oven, the more of a ‘roasting effect’ you will have, and the yummier the gravy!
- Cooking oil or lard. I prefer using lard – it is tastier and cooks at a higher heat.
- salt and pepper (optional)
- 1 large onion – peeled & left whole (adds flavour to the gravy)
- a few garlic cloves left whole with skin on (optional, but adds flavour to the gravy).
- medium size potatoes – peeled and cut in half
- carrots left whole or cut in half
- your favourite vegies suitable for roasting including additional onions.
- Plain flour or cornflour
Fire Preparation and method:
- The secret to success: Availability of HOT COALS and lots of them! Many people make the mistake of thinking you need flames….WRONG! You are NOT cooking sausages on a BBQ or char-grilling a steak.
- Build a fire at least 1 – 1.5 meter square, it needs to be big enough to continually produce coals. Ensure you have plenty of space around your fire, you will be cooking next to the fire, not on it. Learn how to build a fire like a pro here. Slowly feed the fire with large pieces of wood until good flames form and all wood is burning.
- In the meantime, rub the meat with oil or lard and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of the oil or lard into the camp oven and put the meat into the oven. Put the lid on.
- Using the shovel, place about 1 – 2 shovel loads of coals on the ground right next to the main fire. Place the camp oven with the roast, on top of the coals and then using the shovel place another load or two on the lid of the camp oven. Make sure the wire handle of the oven is sitting up over the oven. Add more wood to your main fire.
- Within about 15 – 20 minutes you should start to hear the meat sizzling. Do not be tempted to lift the lid to take a look! The heat will escape.
- Allow your main fire to slowly burn down (about half an hour) or until you have a good base of glowing red coals. Do not feed with more wood at this stage.
- At about ¾ of an hour, put on the heat proof gloves, scrape as many of the coals from the lid with the shovel and then brush away any remaining ash. Using the hook or tent peg, take the oven off the heat and place on a heat proof surface (not the plastic camping table!). It is best to drag the oven away from the fire on the ground if no suitable surface available. With the gloves gently take the lid off being careful not to let any coals fall in. (Be sure to place the lid upside down without getting the cooking surface dirty or sandy). At this stage you will be able to gauge how fast or slow the meat is cooking. Using the tongs, gently twist or move the meat with-in the oven.
- Pop in the onion. (If the meat was 2kg or lighter put the in vegies as well). Using the spoon or syringe, baste the meat with any fat that has accumulated at the bottom.
- Place the lid back on.
- At this stage you shouldn’t need to replace the bottom cooking coals, however once you have put the oven back on the coals, use the shovel to put a fresh load or two of coals on the lid.
- Top up your main fire with more firewood.
- At about another ¾ hour, repeat step 7. Pop in the whole garlic cloves, potatoes, carrots and desired vegies including additional onions. Using gloves and the shovel, put 1 shovel load of coals on top of the cooking coals, put on the oven and then top with a shovel load or two of fresh coals.
- At another ¾ hr (or at the recommend cooking time/size ratio) remove as per step 7 . Using the metal skewer, prick the meat until skewer is half way through the meatiest part. Remove the skewer and if the juice comes out clear, the meat is done! If juice comes out pink, it will require more cooking time. Except beef, it means it will be cooked to perfection!
- Prick the vegies, and if soft, they are ready too.
- Using the wooden spoon squeeze the roasted garlic cloves and remove the skin.
- It is quite OK to remove the vegies first or meat first if done.
- Place cooked meat and vegies in the metal roasting dish, cover tightly with a few layers of tin foil and wrap with a tea towel to keep warm and to rest.
HOW TO MAKE THE GRAVY.
- Take oven off coals and remove meat and vegies. Pour off any excess fat, and you will notice ‘scratchings’ from the meat and vegies stuck to the bottom of the oven. This is what will make the gravy tasty! I also like to leave some roasted onion in too. Leave oven to slightly cool for about 5 minutes. At this stage you may need to add fresh hot coals to your cooking fire.
- To the scratchings in the oven add about 1 – 2 cups of water. The amount scratchings will depend on how big the meat was. Place the oven back onto the coals, and using a wooden spoon, start to scratch the bottom of the oven. You will notice that as it heats up, the scratchings will easily come away and blend with the water.
- Gently simmer over coals until all scratchings have come away from the bottom. This is now the base of your gravy. Remove from coals.
- In a small bowl place about 2 tablespoons of flour and slowly add water while whisking with a fork (or whisk) to create a paste. (About the consistency of custard is best).
- Once the oven is off the coals and has stopped simmering you may like to remove the onion (I prefer to leave it in to add taste & texture). Gently pour the flour paste into the gravy base while stirring in with the whisk. (Using a whisk will minimise the chance of lumpy gravy!) Place your oven back onto the coals and continue to gently stir using the whisk. Your gravy will start to thicken as it comes to a simmer.
- Allow to gently simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. If you think the consistency is too thick, add a small amount of water (or wine!) to reach the desired consistency. If the consistency is too thin, add a little more flour paste.
- Season to taste and remove from the coals.
- You are now ready to carve up and serve! I like to leave the gravy in the oven and allow your guests to help themselves with a big serving spoon. Leave the camp oven near the coals to keep the gravy warm.
Recipe by Nea Holland, Office Manager at Mt Barney Lodge.
So how did you go? Share with us your recipes and photos, and camp-oven-roast stories (there are always a few!)
Want to put your cooking skills to the test? Book you camping spot HERE.