Want to up your outdoor cooking skills? A woodland oven is cheap and easy to make, and will produce culinary delights for years to come…
Recently I had to cater for a large group of people. The plan was to have a fire with a large cast iron pot full of vegetables bubbling away and a kettle suspended from a tripod. This didn’t leave enough room to slowly cook the meat. I needed a solution. The answer came from a nearby barn, which had an old metal dustbin in the corner and a piece of old iron drain pipe – just what I needed to make an impromptu oven. Here’s how to make your own:
1. Nail the location and get digging
Pick the perfect spot: Against a steep 1m bank away from any tree roots is ideal. Build your fire downwind of the prevailing wind direction.
Once you’ve chosen your location, start digging. You need to dig a hole roughly one metre into the bank. The hole should be shaped like a keyhole with the top cut off and sloping slightly downwards from back to front. Line the bottom part of the hole with bricks or stones.
It is really important to make this bit deep enough as this is where you are going to light a fire. If it is too shallow then your fire won’t draw properly and you’ll be tending it non-stop. The walls of the fire pit should be about as high as an upturned brick.
2. Create your oven
Put the oven together. The bin should sit on the top of the bricks and be sloping down slightly. It should be easy to remove and replace the lid, with no obstructions. Place the drain pipe (ensure this is metal as plastic will melt) behind the dustbin, ensuring it is not lying flush on a brick. It needs to draw the heat and smoke along the bottom of the bin and up the back.
3. Finishing touches
Next, cover the bin with some straw and mud, followed by the soil you dug from the hole. This will insulate the oven and help keep an even temperature. Then find a thin but sturdy 4-5ft stick, about an inch thick, along with two sturdy wooden pegs about 2-3ft long. Put the rod through the handle of the bin lid. Batten the pegs in on either side of the oven, level with the opening, so that they can hold the rod and lid in place.
4. Fire it up!
Get your fire wood cut and stacked well before you want to start cooking. Light your fire and warm up the oven. Place your food on a tray and pop it in the oven. Try to resist the temptation to take a peek. If you do the heat will escape and it’ll only take longer. It needs a bit of practise, but the results are fantastic. Bon appetit!
Get the oven really hot the first time you light it so that it is ‘burnt in’. If smoke seeps up through the top, cover with more soil.