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Monday, October 18, 2010

My first real coal cooking experience

This was my first experience actually using my rigged up camp oven.

I had underestimated how hot coals can get. Hot coals are, well, hot.

I used self lighting charcoal, and later learned that it's not recommended because it burns out quickly.

Kingsford brand regular charcoal is recommended.

I put my chimney starter made out of a coffee can in a disposable aluminum pan, and put the coals in.

Since I was only going to 300 degrees, I used 17 coals-- 5 for the bottom, 12 for the top.

Most dishes will be 350*, and in that case, the number of coals is twice the diameter of the camp oven. For example, 12 inches = 24 coals.

*Just as with regular oven cooking. In the kitchen = Out of the kitchen.

Usually 2/3 of the coals go on top, 1/3 on bottom, unless you're frying (all on bottom), or broiling (all on top), or boiling.

When boiling, have the lid on, with the coals evenly distributed.

When frying, boiling, or broiling, you're going to need more coals than normal.

And since those coals are bunched closer together, they lose heat much faster, so have extras ready.

Be sure you clear everything flammable, before you light the charcoal!

After the flame died down, I lifted the chimney starter with tongs, and let the coals fall into the pan.

Then I set 5 coals under* the trivet, put the pot on the trivet, let it heat up, then put the food in.

*For the coals on the bottom, it's best to lay them out in a ring around the outer edge.

For this first test run, I took some already cooked beef stew and heated it up in the pot. For the next run, I intend to actually cook something.

Then I put the lid on, with the chain, inserted the lid lifter*, and set the rest of the coals on top**.

*You put the lid lifter in first and leave it in, so you don't have to maneuver around hot coals.

**If you are preheating the lid for baking, you set it on the lid stand and apply the coals. Then when it's ready, carefully move it to the pot.

The chain helped keep the coals on, but I can see where a flat lid with a lip would be more stable.

The pot stayed on coals for an hour.

Every 15 minutes*, you rotate the pot 1/4 turn clockwise, and the lid 1/4 turn counterclockwise. Another reason to have the lid lifter in.

*This is to prevent hot spots.

This first run went without a hitch, I didn't drop any coals, nothing caught fire.

The food did not burn, and tasted just like it would have if I reheated it in the oven in cast iron.

When you're cooking with coals, eventually the heat decreases, and you have to add more coals.

So how do you know when to do that?

My guess is to figure out how long the dish will take vs how long the coals stay hot.*

*Coals average 1 hour burn time, but it depends on how cold and windy it is outside. You can measure the temperature by using the hand test.

**Self lighting briquettes burn out quickly - don't use them. Kingsford stays hot longer.

I had access to a kitchen sink, so cleanup was no problem. But when you're in the middle of nowhere, you might want to line your pot with aluminum foil, to make cleanup much easier.

It's cheaper than disposable liners. Some people use aluminum cake pans.


  1. This kind of cooking is very addictive :p As my wife glares at the 6 DO's under the counter :p

  2. Just cook her something yummy and maybe she'll forgive you...

  3. Like when my counterpart found my french bread pan in the oven... now I have to make him some french bread... but I don't mind, that's why I got it