Spun Steel Camp Oven
Within a few-meter radius of any campfire, you’re likely to find a spun steel camp oven sandwiched between clumps of coal or sitting over a low flame. It’s certainly given the typical cast iron a run for its money in recent years.
The ol’ cast iron may have been the favorite of US pioneers, but the itinerant lifestyle of drovers in West Queensland eventually saw the flaws of the hefty cooking utensil.
As tough as those things were, they can break or crack. Carried via saddle, cast iron was highly prone to damage from drops or from bumping into other cast iron cookery.
With the help of some enterprising drovers, something uniquely Australian was born: the spun steel camp oven. They were also called bedourie ovens or simply bedouries; named after the town in West Central Queensland from where they were first made.
Unlike cast iron, spun steel camp ovens are significantly lighter, making them perfect cooking tools for the wandering man. When dropped or struck against a hard surface, the spun steel oven suffered only dents, which could also be hammered out.
Today, this inherent durability is a reason why steel spun ovens have increasingly become essential in the bags or trucks of those who love camping, trekking, and prolonged stays deep in the bush.
Another reason is their weight and portability. A typical spun oven – made of carbon steel – can weigh 3 times lighter than a cast iron camp oven with a similar capacity.
Thus, they’re incredibly portable and won’t put as much strain on you when trekking. Cooking, especially when you’re moving the oven around the fire, would also make for easier work.
The lighter material also means spun ovens warm-up and cool down much faster than cast iron. Getting to cooking will then take less time especially if you’re more into quick meals, or reheating pre-prepared food.
Some might think that the oven’s cool-down time isn’t really of note. But if you’re making brekkie the morning of, a swiftly cooling camp oven means you can pack up, break camp, and hit the road well before noon.
The difference in heat retention and material thickness does bring its own challenges, especially when you’re used to cast iron. Spun steel camp ovens won’t cook as evenly and you might have to get around hot and cold spots while cooking.
The cooler months might also make cooking a little trickier since the drop-off from hot to cold spots will be steeper. Unless you’re using a gas stove and a wind breaker, keeping a steel oven hot might be difficult.
In addition, a spun steel oven’s fast heat up means you’ll need to get your ingredients all ready and prepped before placing the oven over the heat.
These points are not drawbacks per se. You can, of course, get the same results as you would from a cast iron. It will just require a different technique and some time to get used to.
The spun steel ovens versatility also makes it a favorite among many. A set will usually get you 3 cooking utensils: a pot, an oven, and a pan that doubles as its lid. Although the latter can also be found as a griddle/lid combo on some cast iron camp ovens, it’s not as common a trait.
The smoother surface of a spun steel oven also lends to simpler cleaning and maintenance. Food stains or any surface rust scrub off easily. The same also makes for faster drying and, thus, easier storage.
Spun Steel Camp Oven Pros
- Lightweight and portable
- Tough: drops and bumps will, at worse, only dent the material
- Heats up and cools down fast
- Easier to maintain and storage
Spun Steel Camp Oven Cons
- It’s low heat retention may be a problem for those who expect an even cooking/heating experience.
Unlike cast iron, you’d be hard-pressed to find a spun steel oven smaller than 10 inches. However, it’s low weight certainly makes up for the fewer size options.
Cast Iron Camp Oven
Despite dating back to the 17th century, cast iron cookery is still a mainstay in any kitchen – indoors or out. So, don’t be quick to think Bedouries will push these iron hunks to obsolescence.
There is a good reason why we’re still using cast iron to sear our steaks and slow-cook our roasts. They last. And with a little care, they could very well outlast you. In fact, you might know someone who’s received a family heirloom in the form of a cast iron dutch oven or skillet.
The Dutch Oven, brought by settlers and pioneers, was adopted by early Australians and came to be simply called the camp oven.
And with the rigors of the outdoors and the wear and tear of cooking in the bush, a sturdy cast iron camp oven will always have a place whether it’s on a gas stove, hot coals, hanging over a fire, or literally inside the flames of a bonfire.
Of course, modern Dutch Ovens and Camp ovens are now categorized separately, with the former seeing more home use while the latter is mainly for the outdoors.
Camp ovens are characterized by their long metal handles for hanging and their flat, sometimes flanged, lids for piling on hot coals. You might also see camp ovens with three legs effectively eliminating the need for hanging over the fire.
With their thick walls and heavy lid, cast iron camp ovens are unparalleled in their heat distribution and retention. Thus, they’re an easy choice when it comes to slow roasts, bakes, and stews.
Although warming up takes some time, cast iron ovens can reach and hold higher temperatures. So, if you’re keen on searing a standing rib before roasting or applying just the right amount of crust on a steak, cast iron is the way to go.
With a cast iron camp oven, you’re also getting a baking experience that is much closer to a standard home oven. That snug and chunky lid mean all-around heating and the trapped steam, which are essential for braising thick cuts of meat, and baking bread.
Cast iron camp ovens might, arguably, be the more forgiving and enjoyable cooking utensil. However, its heft and weight might just be enough to put some people off. Traveling with a cast iron oven in the car may not be a problem.
But if you’re planning a long trek deep in the bush or multi-day camping, a heavy utensil that requires adjusting around a fire, cleaning, and packing will quickly take a toll on anyone.
Bigger groups necessitating bigger, and thus heavier, cast iron camp ovens will also be a point of concern.
Cast iron camp ovens have been slow roasting over campfires for centuries and will most likely continue to do so. Just take care not to drop it. Due to its brittle nature, cast iron tends to crack or even break with enough impact.
Proper maintenance and storage also come hand in hand with owning a cast iron camp oven, or anything cast iron for that matter. Unlike the smoother walls of spun steel, cast iron has a naturally rougher surface due to its manufacturing process.
Thus, cleaning and drying may take a little more elbow grease. And you do need to dry it completely. Any moisture left on the surface will be prone to rust.
Trust us, removing rust and reapplying a new layer of seasoning is no easy task.
Cast Iron Camp Oven Pros
- Can last a lifetime, if properly maintained
- Even heating
- Superior Heat retention
- More forgiving for beginners
Cast Iron Camp Oven Cons
- Can quickly rust if not dried thoroughly
- Bulky and heavy
- Can shatter if dropped on a hard surface
- Takes longer to heat up or cool down
Market prices range from $35 for a 2-quart cast iron oven to $115 for a 12-quart variant. Ovens that sport legs will most likely fetch for a higher price.
What you should think about when choosing between a spun steel or cast iron camp oven?
Before settling on a spun steel or cast iron oven, you’ll need to consider three points: weight, cooking preference, capacity.
Ultimately, you can get the same results whether you’re using a spun steel camp oven or one in cast iron, though the technique will differ.
Thus, the first point you should consider is the weight difference between spun steel and cast iron. At similar capacities – such as 5-quart cast iron and a 10-inch spun steel oven – the cast iron option will be at least double the weight.
Cast iron might excel and sears and roasts, but will it be worth lugging around for a long trek or camp sesh over several days?
On the other hand, lightweight spun steel should be a breeze to transport and use, but will it cook that stew for ten or bake that loaf as evenly as cast iron?
Once you’ve decided on weight, It’s really more about how and what you cook more than the camp you’re in.
Again, both spun steel and cast iron can be used for any dish. However, certain food does lend itself better to one camp over the other.
Spun steel will excel at quicker dishes like breakfast food and stir-frys while cast iron may be the better option for slow and low stews or dishes that need high and sustained heat.
Both options can give you delicious eggs and bacon but using cast iron will take more time and more gas. Both can bake bread but spun still won’t give you the even browning or sealed steam of cast iron.
Both spun steel and cast iron cast ovens come in a variety of sizes. You’ll just need to consider how many people you’ll be cooking for.
When looking at spun steel, you’ll need to check for inches or liters. Meanwhile, cast iron capacity is often labeled under quarts.
Here’s a rough guide to their equivalent capacities:
|In Liters||Cast iron||Spun Steel|
|3 – 4 L||4.5 quart||8 inches|
|5 – 6 L||6 quart||10 inches|
|7 – 8 L||9 quart||12 inches|
|9 -10 L||10 quart||14 inches|
|11- 12 L||12 quart||16 inches|
For a family of 4, aim for a 5 to 8-liter camp oven. If you’re trekking with a group of 20, best opt for a 9 to 12-liter oven. And for the solo traveler, 3 L will do you just fine.