Camp Oven FAQ

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Written By Jay Clatworthy

Off Grid Camping contributor.

Camp Oven FAQ

What should I look for in a camp oven?

When you decide to purchase your own camp oven, consider three important factors: Type/Material, design, and capacity.

Type/Material

There are primarily two camps in the camp oven industry: spun steel and cast iron. Yes, technically, aluminum camp ovens are also available. Its advantages, as well as limitations, sit somewhere between spun steel and cast iron.

However, aluminum camp ovens aren’t as popular and are often harder to find as well. So, we’ll stick with spun steel and cast iron. Remember though that a spun steel camp oven and a cast iron camp oven will yield very similar results in the end.

They will, however, require different cooking methods to reach those results. Also, their different materials will have their own advantages and limitations.

Cast iron, for instance, can reach high temperatures, has great heat retention, cook evenly, and effectively trap steam. Thus, they’re excellent for slow roasts, hearty stews, searing steaks, and baking bread. However, they do need time to heat up and cold down.

More importantly, cast iron ovens are at least 2 to 3 times heavier than a similarly-sized spun steel oven. It goes without saying that hiking for miles with a cast iron in your bag won’t be fun. Furthermore, cast iron can crack or break when dropped on a hard surface.

On the other hand, Spun steel ovens heat up and cool down fast. They’re light and easy to transport. Their lids can also double as a frying pan, which you can use directly over a flame.  For quick fry ups and simple roasts over root vegetables, spun steel oven will reward you time and again.

However, due to its thinner material, spun steel won’t retain or distribute heat as good as cast iron. So you’ll have to be aware of any cold or hot spots while cooking. Also, searing protein won’t be as consistent since spun steel can’t reach (and retain) the same high temperatures as cast iron.

Whichever type you end up buying, the most important thing to remember is to get a well-made, quality oven. For more info on the difference between spun steel and cast iron, take a look at our article here. <Link to Spun steel vs cast iron oven article>

Design

Whether your fixed firmly in the spun steel camp or stand defiantly with cast iron (or be a maverick with aluminum), they’ll each have specific design features that you should look out for. Naturally, anything with dents, deep cracks, or dags isn’t worth the time.

Start with the lid. It is after all that makes this otherwise large pot into an “oven”. A well-fitting lid on any camp oven is paramount.

It could be a ridged lid on cast iron that sits firmly on the mouth of the oven or a tight non-wobbly lid/pan on a spun steel oven. Although the dual-purpose lid is common for spun steel, it’s also available on some cast iron brands.

Make sure you get a camp oven with a sturdy, secure, and good-quality handle. Many roast and cast iron ovens have been needlessly lost due to weak and poorly-made handles. 

If you prefer to cook adjacent to the campfire more than hanging a camp oven above the flames, consider getting one with a spiral carry handle. It’ll give you a better grip and better insulation from heat.

Depth is another design point you should consider. Taller walls on an oven will be better for stews and seafood boils. Shallow camp ovens are better for braising, baking, and frying.

Capacity

Lastly, consider the size of the camp oven you’re buying.

For example, a solo or hiking duo will do well with a 4-quart cast iron oven or an 8-inch spun steel camp oven. Feeding a family four, however, will need at least a 6-quart cast oven or a 10-inch spun oven. For bigger groups, you’ll find ovens with 10 to 12-quart capacities in cast iron (14-16 inches for spun steel).

Does spending more money get you a better camp oven?

Not necessarily. Purchasing a camp oven from well-known brands like Oztrail or Hillbilly will get you great products at affordable prices. As far as we’ve checked, whatever difference, if any, is present in the more expensive niche, hand-forged camp oven brands, is negligible.

That said, one still needs to exercise caution when purchasing from generic brands that are most likely mass-producing thousands of camp ovens for lower prices at equally lower quality.

How do I choose a camp oven?

Apart from the factors we considered in the first question, the camp oven you choose should fit your needs and lifestyle as well as be readily available to you.

If you’re keen on quick 1-day bush treks with a few friends, then a 10-inch spun steel camp oven will be perfect. Are you into solo ultralight backpacking? An 8-inch spun steel oven will be both ultra-portable and versatile.

However, if you cook with cast iron at home and plan to feed a large family or groups of people, then slow cooking a stew in a 12-quart cast iron capacity might be what you’re looking for.

Which is better steel or cast iron?

As long as it fits your needs, you’ll be happy with either option and they will give you similar results.

Both spun steel and cast iron ovens have their own pros and cons. Each will be more suited to cooking a type of food more than the other.

Despite the many advantages of cast iron that we mention here <LINK TO VS ARTICLE>, it is much heavier than spun steel. On the other hand, spun steel is incredibly light and tough, yet it won’t give you the same even cooking you’ll get from cast iron.

If weight is not an issue, then you’d be better off making bakes and casseroles in cast iron. If the heft puts you off, spun steel is the way to go. It’ll take some practice to cook with it outdoors, but the learning curve is nowhere near steep.  

If you’re still on the fence between getting a spun steel or a cast iron oven, head over to this article. <Link to VS article.

What is spun steel?

 If you’ve ever seen or cooked on a wok, then you’ve most likely handled spun steel. As the name suggests, spun steel is formed via a spinning process on a form. For spun steel ovens, manufacturers typically use carbon steel. Unlike cast iron, which is forged and is typically heavier with thicker walls, spun steel is thin, light, and transmits heat much faster.

What is a bedourie oven?

A bedourie camp oven is another name for spun steel ovens.

Bedourie, now 1 of 3 towns in the Diamantina Shire in West Queensland was home to the first manufacturers of the utensil we know as the spun steel camp oven, or simply, bedourie.

Is steel stronger than cast iron?

The short answer is, yes, steel is stronger (more tensile) than cast iron, which is more brittle.

The long answer is that steel, in this case, carbon steel and cast iron are both alloys. Both metals contain carbon and iron.

Cast iron contains a higher percentage of carbon, which gives it a hard and brittle nature with high compressive strength. Hence, cast iron cookery is often forged and will resist bending or warping. However, they can crack or even break when dropped or knocked with sufficient force.

On the other hand, carbon steel contains a lower amount of carbon, which keeps it malleable, giving it more tensile strength. Thus, the same force that will crack a cast iron camp oven will only dent or bend carbon steel.

Does spun steel rust?

Yes, like cast iron, spun steel can also rust. Even more so if the utensils are not dried thoroughly after a wash or are kept in a humid and moist environment.

Although some brand new spun steel and cast iron camp ovens arrive “pre-seasoned”, It will do you well to apply another layer or two of seasoning to really seal in any gaps or thin layers of coating.

If you are looking at a rusty camp oven, skip to the cleaning question below tips on removing rust and keeping it from coming back

Do you need to season a pre-seasoned camp oven?

Not necessarily. However, most pre-seasoned camp ovens, especially mass-produced brands, are only done so minimally.

With use, this pre-seasoning can quickly rub off. So, If you want a sleeker, more non-stick surface that will stay seasoned for longer and prevent rust, then go for 1 to 2 (or even 3!) additional seasoning layers.

What is the best oil to season cast iron?

Use oils with a high smoke point, such as canola, peanut, soybean, rice bran, or sunflower.  Ghee or clarified butter will also work in a pinch. However, avoid using olive oil or oils labeled “cold-pressed” or “raw”.

As the name suggests, oils with high smoke points are those that can reach very high temps before it starts smoking.

Seasoning requires high temperatures as you are essentially baking-on the oil onto the surface of the camp oven, hence the importance of using an oil with a high smoke point.

How do I clean my Spun Steel camp oven?

For minimal cooking residue, use a dishcloth or smooth sponge soaked in warm soapy water. Afterward, rinse and dry thoroughly with a towel.

For hard-to-remove, heavy residue, fill the camp oven with water and heat up till water is warm. Use a wood or silicone spatula (or brush with nylon bristles) to scrape off the stuck-on food.

Once done, throw out the dirty water. You can then either dry the camp oven in your home oven or over a grill or, like earlier, with a towel.

Keep in mind that seasoning a pan will produce a lot of smoke. If you’re doing it in your oven, you might want to turn on your extractor fans and keep windows open.

Take note of your smoke detector as well. If you want to skip all that hassle, you can also season over a grill or barbecue outside. Cleaning rust, on the other hand, needs a different type of attention.

For light surface rust, rub off the rust with detergent water using the scrub side of a sponge. Scrub still smooth, this is key since any off-color (copper-y) on a used spun steel is fine and not rust.

When you’ve removed the rust, dry thoroughly, again either overheat or with a towel. The combination of scrubbing and detergent will of course remove plenty, if not all, of the seasoning, hence you’ll need to season the camp oven once it’s dried.

One advantage of drying overheat (either oven or grill) is you can quickly start seasoning once all the moisture has evaporated.

Using a thick cotton towel, apply a thin coat of oil as evenly as possible over the surface of the oven. Let it smoke. Once it stops smoking, you’ll know that the oil has baked on and you can now apply another coat of oil.

How do you clean a burnt camp oven?

If there’s a thick layer of burnt residue at the bottom of your camp oven, you’ll need to warm up the camp oven and let the residue soak in hot water.

There are two ways about this. You can fill the camp oven with water and let it come to boil on the stove (or coals/fire if you’re outdoors). Alternatively, you can pour boiling water into the camp oven and let it warm up for a couple of minutes.

Afterward, squeeze in some mild detergent into the hot water and scrub the bottom of the camp oven with a nylon-bristled brush. If the camp oven was sufficiently seasoned beforehand, you won’t need to worry about losing any seasoning with the detergent.

However, try to avoid steel brushes or harsh scrubs as this will rub off your camp oven’s seasoning. This isn’t bad, per se, but you’ll have to reapply the layers of seasonings once done.

Once the burnt residue has been brushed off, pour out the water and rinse out the detergent. Dry completely and apply a thin coat of oil onto the surface of the camp oven.

How do I stop my camp oven from rusting?

Keep it bone dry. Dry thoroughly and then some. Paper towels are great for this task, especially for spots that a hand towel may have missed.

Afterward, store your camp oven in a non-humid area or cupboard.  Keep an absorbent material like cardboard or kraft paper between pots and their covers to prevent moisture from building up and encouraging rust.

If you plan to use the oven soon, you can also lightly coat the inside with oil for another layer of rust protection.