How to Make a Cardboard Box Oven
Thanksgiving is the time to fill your home with family, friends, and delicious food. But then you have dishes to wash, leftovers spilling out of the fridge, and relatives scattered about in a food coma.
Why not do Thanksgiving a little differently this year and move it into the backcountry? This excerpt from A Fork in the Trail by Laurie Ann March teaches you how to MacGyver a fully-functioning oven right at your own campsite.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
You are probably thinking the same things we did when we first tried this—will a cardboard box oven catch fire? Will it reach and maintain a hot enough temperature to roast a turkey? The first time we tried it, we were really skeptical because it was late fall and cold enough to snow, but our turkey dinner was brilliant and became a yearly tradition. We’ve since cooked everything from turkey to apple pie. Several years ago, to satisfy our curiosity, we tested the interior temperature with a pyrometer and were surprised to find that the oven was very accurate. This is a fun project for the whole family and works incredibly well. You can even fold down the oven and reuse it several times. To make the oven, you need the following supplies:
• 2 wire coat hangers or 4 feet of sturdy wire
• 1 large cardboard box that closes completely
• 1 wire rack, that fits comfortably inside the box
• 1 aluminum pie plate (large enough to hold 10 charcoal briquettes)
• 1–2 rolls heavy-duty aluminum foil
• 8 marble-size stones
• 1 bag presoaked charcoal briquettes (10 briquettes for every hour that you will be baking)
• 1 pair pliers
• 1 pair barbecue tongs
• 1 utility knife
Locate a box that is large enough to fit what you will cook and the wire rack. It should be large enough so that whatever you are cooking has at least 6 inches of clearance above and below the rack with the box on its longest side. Lay the box on its side and cut 2 holes (each approximately 1 inch by 3 inches) into the back, a few inches off the ground, for ventilation.
Line the interior of the box, including the flaps, with heavy-duty barbecue foil. Fold some foil over the ends of the flaps to help keep it in place. When the box is completely lined, poke a sharp knife through the foil at the ventilation holes, and fold the foil over the edges.
Cut a 20-inch section out of each of 2 coat hangers or sturdy wire—these will support the cooking rack. Bend each piece of wire into a large U shape. Lay the box on its side again. Note the height at which you would like to position the wire rack to cook your meal. Remember that you need to leave about 6 inches between the bottom of the rack and the bottom of the box.
With one hand holding the foil lining in place and the other hand holding the wire, carefully poke both ends of the wire through one side of the box. The bottom of the U will be on the outside of the box and the ends will be inside. To secure the rack inside, bend the edges of the U -shaped wire upward with a pair of pliers. Repeat on the other side of the box using the second piece of wire. Set the rack on the wires and check that it is secure and level. If it isn’t level, adjust the other side as necessary. When the rack is secured properly, it holds the foil in place, and both the box and rack will be quite stable.
Place the stones in a circle (6 inches wide) in the bottom of the box. Preheat 10 charcoal briquettes (see instructions below), and place them in a disposable pie plate. Put the plate on top of the rocks. Carefully fold the box flaps in and place a piece of wood or a rock against the opening to keep it closed. If the box slides when you do this, put a tent stake or two in the ground behind it to secure it.
How to Preheat the Charcoal Briquettes
Build a campfire before you start cooking. Place the briquettes in the fire to preheat them about 10 to 15 minutes before you need them. When you’re ready for the charcoal, use barbecue tongs to remove it from the fire and transfer it to the pie tin inside the oven.
The briquettes stay hot for 1 hour; so if you are cooking something like a roast or turkey, you will have to replace the briquettes every hour. Be sure to start preheating each batch of charcoal 15 minutes before you need it. Each preheated briquette adds another 35ºF to the cooking temperature—so 10 briquettes equals approximately 350ºF. If you need to increase the temperature, simply increase the number of preheated briquettes as necessary.
When using 10 preheated briquettes, cooking times are the same as for a household oven set to 350ºF. If you are cooking something like a roast or poultry and want to catch the drippings for gravy, put the meat inside an oven roasting bag and in a roasting pan. If you do not rip the foil, you can reuse the oven several times. If you do not plan to reuse the oven, separate the foil from the cardboard, and recycle the materials or dispose of them properly.