If you’ve ever been around a campfire and someone is cooking something delicious you will know that feeling of excited anticipation for the feast to come under the stars. Instructor Marita Hills knows this feeling all too well as she loves to cook outdoors. Marita (Winner Great Aussie Camp Oven Cook Up 3rd Best Roast in 2015 and 2nd Best Roast in 2016) shares some of her brilliant hints for creating the best bush cook that you have ever eaten before in the outdoors.
Hints and tips by Marita Hills
A hobby worth perfecting!
Just over 4 years ago I brought my first camp oven – a 4.5 quart oven – to try on a family camping trip. Even though some of the first meals I cooked didn’t turn out well I was hooked on bush cooking! Later that same year at a camping expo, Ranger Nick’s camp oven cooking demonstrations inspired me to keep learning.
I bought a second and bigger 12 quart oven and made a fire pit in the backyard at home and started cooking and learning the art of bush cooking. Now I have 7 ovens including 2 antique ovens and have cooked all sorts of things including cakes and Christmas puddings. Here are some tips I’ve learnt over the years for creating some great bush cooked meals.
Heat Control and Cooking
When I watched Ranger Nick’s demonstrations this was something he talked about a lot. As I practiced more it was easy to see why. It is the most important thing that you have to get right! Here are some tips on how to become a heat control pro.
- Get a roaring fire going and pre-heat the camp ovens next to the fire before cooking in them. Treat it like you are cooking something in your inside oven which you pre-heat before cooking. This is more important when you are using cast iron ovens as they heat up slower than spun steel ovens which heat up pretty quickly. Once the camp ovens are heated they are ready to cook in.
- Placement of coals. Depending on what you are cooking will depend on where you place the coals. If you are cooking a roast or baking, place more heat on the top of the camp oven rather than the bottom. This helps prevent burning the bottom and helps the heat circulation within the camp oven. You can also place a trivet or have a layer of rock salt on the bottom to help prevent burning. However, if you are cooking a stew, boiling water or deep frying you will want your heat on the bottom and possibly cooking over the flame.
- Testing the heat. Trying to tell if it’s hot enough can be hard and more so when doing a roast or baking. Hold the back of your hand above the camp oven – if you can hold it there for a good couple of seconds it’s usually hot enough. It’s definitely too hot if the camp oven is turning red or blue like I did once (see top photo) which ended with a very black-bottomed pumpkin damper!
- SPECIAL TIP: To get awesome crackling put a little extra heat/coals on top than normal.
Cleaning can be as simple as giving your camp oven a wipe out with paper towel. This can then be followed with a light oil. Make your cleaning even easier by lining the camp oven with foil before cooking. That way it is as simple as pulling out the foil and wiping it out.
If you do have to get burnt stuff off a butter knife is my tool of choice. Another option is steel wool which also works well. Whatever you do don’t put cold water in a hot cast iron oven as this can cause it to crack! This is fine to do in a spun steel oven though.
Is it okay to use dish-washing liquid?
A big question is to use or not to use dish-washing liquid in your camp oven. This has been debated amongst the camp oven community for years. Some say that the dish-washing liquid breaks down the season and can ruin the flavour of the food. Others argue using it makes cleaning easier and shouldn’t effect the seasoning of the camp oven because of the heat involved. I generally don’t need to and just clean with water. As long as the camp oven is dry and lightly oiled at the end it is good to go.
I hope these tips have been useful. Now get the fire going, start experimenting and see what works for you.
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