STORIES THE VIEW UPSTREAM By: Keith ''Catfish'' Sutton 5 Easy-to-Prepare Reflector Oven Recipes Try out these delicious reflector oven recipes and learn why they can jazz up your shore lunches Although the reflector oven isn't used as often as it once was, it's a great culinary tool that allows shore-lunch cooks to bake delicious foods quickly and easily. (Photo courtesy of Keith ''Catfish'' Sutton) It seems like few people use them nowadays, but reflector ovens are wonderful gizmos to carry along on days you want to prepare a shore lunch. They are simple to use, relatively inexpensive (about $90 or less) and do a professional job of baking biscuits, pies, cakes, cookies, pizza, casseroles, fish, meats and other delicious foods. Imagine the incomparable flavor of just-caught, butter-broiled trout savored on the bank of your favorite fishing stream, or the lip-smacking aroma of apple pie baking on a backcountry float trip. With a reflector oven, imagination can become reality. The reflector oven I use, a lightweight aluminum model made by a company called Reflecto, is a compact 11” x 8” x 1/2” when folded and weighs a mere 1.5 pounds. It easily fits in a chow box to carry in my boat and requires less than a minute to assemble or disassemble. Its services compensate for its relatively slight additional weight, and almost anything I prepare in a Dutch oven can be ready quicker using the reflector. Dutch ovens, you see, require a bed of hot coals for proper cooking. Reflector ovens, on the other hand, work best with a high, flaming fire. No need to wait for the fire to burn down to coals. No need to trample the forest looking for hardwood fuel. A pile of conifer branches feeds the fire quite nicely, and in minutes, you’re preparing a baked feast your friends and family are sure to love. How the Reflector Oven Works The principle by which reflector ovens work is simple. Heat from the open fire is reflected onto the food from the shiny interior of the oven. The slanting top and bottom of the reflector direct the heat toward the top and bottom of the pan of food being baked, allowing it to brown evenly on upper and lower surfaces. If the cooking temperature seems too hot or too cold, you can move the oven backward or forward to adjust it. If the food cooks unevenly on the sides, you just rotate the pan. The best fire for the reflector is a teepee fire built to the height of the oven’s cooking shelf. If two reflector ovens are available, you can place them across the fire from each other so the ovens are facing. This provides maximum reflection of heat. Cooking Tips When cooking with a reflector oven, a certain instinct must replace the clearly defined formulas of conventional baking. Variables like air temperature, wind velocity and fire design can make things difficult for the inexperienced camp cook. But by following a few simple tips, much of the frustration of reflector oven baking can be eliminated. Begin by selecting a flat surface on which to place the reflector oven and build the fire. If necessary, make minor adjustments to compensate for ground that slopes or is bumpy. Next, gather an ample supply of small wood for the fire. Sticks 1 to 2 inches in diameter are best. Larger wood should be split. Softwoods like pine burn hot and fast, ideal for reflector oven cooking. Collapsible designs make some reflector ovens flimsy and prone to overturning. Nothing’s worse than seeing a baking pie accidentally dumped in the ashes when an oven collapses. Be sure the oven is stable when you set it up, and avoid bumping it while cooking. Place food on a piece of foil or in a pan that fits the shelf of the reflector oven. I like to use small, inexpensive, aluminum pie pans or casserole pans that can be purchased at many discount stores. When you’re ready to cook, position the oven near the fire. Knowing just where to place the oven so it heats to the right temperature is the key to good cooking. The best way to determine the cooking temperature is to place an oven thermometer on the food shelf. But you also can guess the temperature with reasonable accuracy by holding your hand just in front of the oven. If you can hold it there for seven to 10 seconds, the temperature is near 200 degrees; six seconds, 300 degrees; three to four seconds, 400 degrees; one to two seconds, 500 degrees. You should, of course, do this with great care to avoid burning yourself. After your gourmet camp dish has been cooking for about five minutes, check the food to be sure it’s cooking properly. If the top is browning faster than the bottom, the fire is too large. If foods are browner on bottom than on top, the fire is too small. Make adjustments as necessary. Carry two thick potholders or heavy gloves for moving the oven and handling the food. Most reflector ovens also have a hinged top or back that can be opened now and then to check the food. Now that you know how to cook, all you need are recipes to try. Here are some of our family’s favorites that are sure to produce smiles from all the hungry campers on your next trip. Cheesy Garlic-Butter Biscuits Recipe Yield: 6-8 biscuits Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 10 minutes Ingredients: 2 cups Bisquick baking mix ⅔ cup milk ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese ½ cup margarine or butter, melted ¼ teaspoon garlic powder Directions: 1. Mix Bisquick, milk and cheese until a soft dough forms. Beat vigorously 30 seconds. 2. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto a sheet of lightly greased aluminum foil cut to fit the shelf of your reflector oven. 3. Bake 8-10 minutes or till golden brown. Mix margarine and garlic powder; brush over the tops of the warm biscuits. Easy Cobbler Serves: 2-4 Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 15-20 minutes Ingredients: ¾ cup melted butter 1 cup sugar 1 cup flour ⅔ cup milk 1 large can sliced fruit Directions: 1. Pour butter in 8-inch-square aluminum casserole pan. Combine sugar, flour and milk. Pour over butter. Add fruit. 2. Bake until golden brown. Little Pizzas Yield: 1 mini pizza per English Muffin Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 15 minutes Ingredients: English muffins Pizza sauce Grated mozzarella cheese Your favorite pizza toppings Directions: 1. Lightly brown muffins in the reflector oven. 2. Spread pizza sauce on each half. Sprinkle with cheese and your favorite toppings. 3. Heat on foil or in a pan until the cheese is bubbly. Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Raisin Cookies Yield: 12-18 cookies Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 10-15 minutes Ingredients: 1 cup sugar 1 ¾ cups oats 1 ½ cups self-rising flour 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 cup raisins 1 egg, beaten ½ cup melted butter 1 tablespoon molasses ¼ cup milk Directions: 1. Before leaving home, mix in a large zip-seal plastic bag the first five ingredients. Add the remaining ingredients before cooking, and combine thoroughly. 2. Drop by spoonfuls onto greased aluminum foil. 3. Bake until browned. Baked Apples Yield: 1-2 apples per serving Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 30 minutes Ingredients: Apples Sugar Cinnamon Butter Directions: 1. Wash and core apples, preparing one or two per serving. 2. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon inside the hole, then add a pat of butter. 3. Put apples in a greased pie pan and add a little water. 4. Place the pan in a reflector oven, and cook until the apples are tender, about 30 minutes. In conclusion, reflector ovens can be purchased preassembled and ready for your next camp bake-off. I’ve owned several that I bought from various companies and especially like the lightweight reflector oven by Reflecto. Other websites where you’ll find reflector ovens for sale include campfirecookware.com (Maine’s Sproul Baker Reflector Oven) and oldscoutoutdoorproducts.com (Old Scout Reflector Oven).