Bush Cooking – another way to enjoy the fire
Bush cooking can add a lot of flavor and excitement to your camping experience. When we first started camping, we would light a campfire no matter the weather conditions. And as we gained more experience, we found that preparing a meal over the fire was even more enjoyable.
Over time, we’ve become really good (in our subjective opinion) in bush cooking and we want to share our knowledge with you.
Our ultimate guide to bush cooking covers everything from equipment and preparation to cooking techniques and recipes. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced camper, this guide will provide you with the information you need to cook delicious meals somewhere in the outback.
We’ll cover the basics of setting up a camp kitchen, including selecting the right cooking gear and essential utensils.
And we’ll share some of our favorite bush cooking recipes, including hearty stews, delicious grilled meats, and mouth-watering desserts.
Campfire – now always with a meal
Camp oven cooking has become one of our favorite ways to prepare meals while camping. For those who are not familiar with it, a camp oven is a heavy, cast iron pot that can be used to cook over an open flame or on hot coals.
The lid of the pot has a raised rim that allows hot coals to be placed on top, creating an oven-like environment.
The first time I tried cooking with a camp oven is a memory that’s still vivid in my mind, even though it happened ten years ago. It was a game-changer for our family camping trips, and it completely transformed the way we viewed campfires.
Don’t get me wrong, we still love to sit around the fire and watch the flames dance lazily in the night sky – we all love bush TV. But now we also have the added excitement of cooking delicious meals over the flames in our trusty Dutch oven.
There’s something incredibly satisfying about baking bread or roasting meat over an open flame and infusing it with a smoky flavor. It’s amazing how something as simple as cooking over a fire can take a camping trip from good to unforgettable.
Types of camp oven
When it comes to camp ovens, there are a variety of options available on the market, from those with legs to those without, flat or round bottoms, and even those with vibrant colors or made of plain cast iron.
For camping, a Dutch oven made of cast iron with short legs is the ideal choice as it helps keep the oven off the charcoal. Cast iron also provides consistent heating, which is important when cooking outdoors.
Once heated to the required temperature, the oven will keep it for a long time, so there is no need for constant additions of charcoal.
The heavy lid of the camp oven prevents steam from escaping, keeping the food moist and tender. Camp ovens come in different sizes, ranging from 8 to 16 inches, so you can choose one that best fits your needs.
Personally, I prefer to use a small casserole oven that was given to me as a gift by a family member. While it may not be a ‘proper’ camp oven, it works perfectly for me, and I have cooked many delicious campfire meals in it.
Ultimately, the best Dutch oven for camping is the one that works best for you.
What bush cooking equipment do you need?
I’ve tried many different types of equipment over the years, but this is my current tested setup that works for me in any situation:
- Dutch oven (small size)
- Potjie Pot (for larger family gatherings)
- Frying pan
- Heat resistant gloves
- Whisk broom
- Small shovel
- Wooden spoon
Make sure you have a good quality set of cooking equipment that will last you a long time. Consider the size and weight of the equipment and choose only what you need for your camping trip.
Start your fire early
Starting the fire is a crucial step in bush cooking, and it’s important to give yourself enough time to get the right amount of hot coals for your Dutch oven or other cooking equipment. It’s recommended to start the fire at least 30 minutes before you plan to start cooking.
However, if you’re using hardwood, you may need to start the fire even earlier as hardwood takes longer to turn into hot coals.
To start the fire, use dry kindling and paper, and build it up gradually by adding small sticks and larger logs. Avoid using green wood, as it produces a lot of smoke and doesn’t burn well. Once the fire is going, let it burn for a while to allow the wood to turn into hot coals
How to know when food is cooked and general cooking time
This one is tricky as too many factors are involved in giving a simple rule. In this case, I can say one word – practice. As with everything, there will be hit and miss experiences.
In my case, I learned quickly that during strong wind, charcoal is much hotter than normal, and my cake would burn black in a really short period of time. The type of wood can also have an impact on the temperature and time of cooking.
A general rule – I open my pot every 15 minutes to check the progress and estimate how long food it takes for food to be ready.
How to set campfire cooking
First, avoid putting too many coals around the oven or burying it in the campfire, as this can cause the food to burn. Instead, take one shovel of coals from the campfire and put it in a secure place away from direct flames.
Once you have a bed of coals prepared, place your camp oven on top of them. For a small camp oven, one shovel full of coals should generate enough heat to cook your meal.
To ensure even cooking, put some coals on the lid of the oven and spread them out evenly. It’s also a good practice to turn the pot 180 degrees every 15-20 minutes to keep the temperature even.
This is because some coals could be hotter than others, and rotating the oven helps distribute the heat more evenly.
But don’t sneak peek too often – otherwise, magic will be gone.
While it’s important to check on your food periodically, be careful not to open the lid too often. Opening the lid too frequently can cause heat to escape. Instead, try to limit yourself to checking the food every 15 minutes.
I replace coals underneath the oven when I see that the temperature is dropping. Keep in mind that you should keep your camp oven away from open flames, as this can lead to burned food.
Dutch oven care
Taking care of your camp oven is important to keep it in good condition and prevent rusting. Before using it for the first time, and periodically thereafter, you’ll need to season it.
Seasoning involves creating a patina on the surface of the Dutch oven to prevent food from sticking to it. It also helps to seal the porous surface of the iron and prevent rusting.
Finally, the camp oven gives food an extra flavour that you cannot get from any other type of pot. A well seasoned Dutch oven should look black. It happens because oil, when heated, forms a dark coating.
How to season cast irons
- Start by preheating the oven to 200 C
- Open all windows, as some smoke will be created during the process
- use a paper towel to rub a thin layer of vegetable oil inside and outside the pot and lid, making sure to remove any excess oil, leaving only a thin layer of oil (otherwise, catch on fire)
- Once the oil has been applied, place the pot and lid in the oven, with a pan or foil on the bottom to catch any drips.
- I keep a pot in the oven for around one hour. After an hour, turn off the heat and let the camp oven cool down inside the oven.
Seasoning process should be repeated regularly, especially after washing the camp oven.
Cleaning camp oven after use
- Don’t leave food in the oven after meal for latter on. Remove it right after it’s cooked, especially if its acidity food like tomato paste, otherwise re-seasoning will be required
- Remove any leftovers, I always user wooden spoon to do it
- Pour hot water in and boil it for a few minutes
- Let it cool down for a few minutes
- Scrap any remaining pieces of food using wood or plastic. It should be much easier now.
- Rinse the oven with hot water and repeat the process if needed
- Dry it immediately after cleaning to prevent rust
Last note – no detergents of ANY kind should be used to clean cast iron.
Safety is important when cooking over a campfire. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Keep kids and dogs away from the cooking area to prevent accidents.
- Don’t pick up camp oven lid with your bare hands. I’ve done it once (just grabbed it without thinking). That was a lesson I will never forget. Instead use heat-resistant gloves or a tool to lift the Dutch oven lid to avoid burns.
- Make sure the fire can’t escape, especially when its a windy day and sparks are flying. Keep the flames low and contained.
- Keep a bucket of water or sand nearby in case of emergency.
- Never leave the fire unattended and always make sure to fully extinguish it before leaving the area.
Last tip from my personal experience:
Please do not leave hot, freshly baked bread unattended at Mataranka Homestead Campground. There is a specialised gang of wallabies, birds, and peacocks that will quickly devour it, and they may even return the next day in search of any leftovers.
Happy bush cooking!
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