… It’s both.
One thing on my “it would be neat to do list” is build a box oven. I used one at a Girl Scout camping training back when Katy was in first grade and thought it was pretty neat. We went to a Girl Scout camp expo and one of the booths was box-oven cooking and they were making biscuits. Heath had never seen one before and also was impressed.
So I finally got around to it. Katy will be volunteering at Girl Scout day camp week after next and they’ll be doing outdoor cooking so I figured we could make one and then give it to the camp director.
This isn’t a tutorial so much as a what-we-learned-along-the-way.
First. Get a bigger box. If you think it’s big enough you might want to look around for something slightly larger.
Second. Cut the right flaps off. I cut off the outside flaps not thinking and the inside flaps don’t meet in the middle. RIP box.
So I got another box and got the right flaps cut off.
We covered it in Reynold’s grill foil. I wasn’t sure what to use for an adhesive so I asked some Girl Scout leaders with much more experience and these were the suggestions:
Nothing, end the foil outside the box.
Nothing but if you absolutely have to, staples.
Scotch tape but only on the outside.
Duct tape. I had considered this but was worried it might melt or shrink. Apparently it doesn’t though.
I went with the aluminum tape.
So I had my supplies:
It was for sure a two-person job. And the no-tape method was not working for us. We wrapped, overlapped, tore foil, folded it over, taped and taped some more.
It was pointed out that you don’t need to cover the outside unless you are covering up the liquor logo on the box! The main thing is to make sure the entire inside is covered. If any cardboard is showing, you are at risk for starting a fire. While it may be pretty exciting it will surely ruin whatever you are cooking.
Then it was onto the inside. I looked through several tutorials trying to figure out how to design the inside. You need hot coals, something to put the food on and a way to separate them. I finally decided the soda can rack would be the easiest. We didn’t have anything but eight-ounce cans around the house, which are too small, and my husband probably didn’t want me pouring his root beer down the drain, anyway. So I bought tall cans of energy drink at the grocery store and poured it down the drain. I filled the cans about a quarter full with playground sand to weigh them down.
There are several options for racks. I didn’t have anything handy so I just went with a disposable foil cookie sheet wrapped in some extra foil to cover the sharp edges from cutting it. I also decided to use a foil pie pan to hold the coals. Remember what I said about a bigger box? Neither one fit and had to be cut down to size.
Some of the tutorials had the pan with the coals directly on the bottom of the oven, others had it elevated. I decided a little air circulation would be good. I wrapped an empty canned chicken tin in foil (I couldn’t quite get the whole paper label off and didn’t want it exposed.)
So this is what we ended up with.
I added one other thing I haven’t seen on any box oven. I bought a thermometer. I just was curious to see how hot it really got.
Now we needed to decide how to close the oven. We had a top flap and bottom flap and used two eyes and an S-hook to keep it closed.
It gapped open. You need some gap or when you open it you’ll be hit with a blast of carbon monoxide, plus the coal needs oxygen. This might be a little too much, though.
Now our oven was ready to go. We’re having record high-temperatures in Georgia so starting a fire in the driveway sounded like a good idea.
We burned a few charcoal briquets in a foil roasting pan and with the wind, went through an embarrassing amount of matches. I’ve never had much luck with American charcoal, the stuff I learned to use in Singapore was so much easier to light and stay lit. Although this easy-light stuff is better. And this works better when you have an actual campfire. A chimney would have helped, too.
What are we missing? Oh yeah, something to bake! The orchestra sold frozen cookie dough for a fund-raiser and we have three boxes of it. We made Butterfinger cookies.
Each charcoal briquet is supposed to be 35-40 degrees and the cookies had to bake at 325. We used seven coals. According to my thermometer the temperature hit 400 degrees really quickly. I wasn’t sure about pre-heating so we decided to do that. After it quickly got hot, we opened the door and put the cookies in. (Note: that S-hook gets forevermore hot so use tongs or something move it.) The temperature dropped to 300 degrees and never did get much hotter. We added a few more coals. The cookies that were supposed to bake in 12-14 minutes took about 20 minutes. We opened the door to check a couple of times and lost some heat.
They finally baked.
As we were packing up the oven and cleaning up I noticed this brown spot under the chicken tin.
So after that first try we though about what we could do differently next time. The first issue was the brown spot. We added two layers of foil to the bottom with yet more tape.
The cookie pan worked OK but it didn’t have any support in the middle. I started looking around at what we had and found that one of my cookie cooling racks was a good size. A little short from side-to-side but workable. I thought about wiring it actually to the sides of the box but then decided to stick with cans.
And the door. It just wasn’t real practical. It gapped way too much and having to hold the top part up was kind of a pain. So I cut one flap off, taped it to the other and covered the whole thing in foil. Then it was weak in the middle so I added a strip of cardboard from the first box to the middle to shore it up some. The next dilemma was how it should open and close. If it opens from the bottom you can easily put a rock or something in front to keep it closed but then you have to hold it up while you put stuff in and out of the oven. Closing it at the top meant dealing with the hot S-hook. In the end the top seemed to be the best.
So we had another trial run. This times we made Cinnabon cookies.
Everything went fine until we tried to close the oven. The rack stuck out just a tad far in the front and we couldn’t close it as much as we would like. Also, the legs on the rack need to go, they get in the way.
This time we skipped the pre-heating and put the coals and cookies in at once. It never did get much over 300 degrees. I don’t know if we were letting too much air out or just need more charcoal. We couldn’t add more, we didn’t burn enough. The cookies baked in 20 minutes and were perfect.
Except for it not getting as hot as would like and the legs on the rack it all went really well. Still not real thrilled about the lid, though. And I was contemplating using a hacksaw to cut the rack down to size.
As I was packing everything up to store in the garage, it hit me.
A flash of genius
A bolt of lightening from God.
Put the lid on the top! The lid closes flat with just a little gap for air, no need for a fastener and everything fits inside.
This is what we’re doing next time. (The rack is upside down because the legs are in the way, they are coming off.)
So all-in-all I think we did pretty well. I’d like to have a little bigger oven and get better at covering it but this works just fine.
Update: I donated the oven to the Girl Scout day camp where Katy was volunteering. The director said it was the first box oven they had that didn’t catch on fire.