Friday, June 29, 2012

Cooking without Electricity: Cardboard Box Oven

This post is the second in the series: Cooking without Electricity.

Yes, it is possible to cook in a cardboard box! I first learned of this technique two years ago but never had a chance to make or use a cardboard box oven. I saw the instructions on the blog Safely Gathered In. This link will take you to the original post. Today, I'll describe how I made this oven (using the guidelines from Safely Gathered In) and the lessons I learned.

To start, you will need the following items:

  • A cardboard box to cook in (a box with a top works best)
  • Aluminum foil (I used heavy duty)
  • Three coat hangers (be sure to use metal without a plastic coating)
  • Scissors
  • Wire Cutters
  • Stapler (not shown in picture)

Start by lining the box with aluminum foil. Smooth out the foil as much as possible because if you bunch it up, the top won't fit well.  If necessary, use some staples to keep the foil from moving around.

Next, straighten out the three coat hangers. These will be the oven rack.  Poke a hole in the side of the box to insert the coat hanger .(I just used the hanger to poke the hole.)  Aim for about half way down the box.  I measured the center point on the box and then inserted the hanger about 3/4" up from the center.

Now, secure the hangers and clip off the excess with the wire cutters.  I wrapped mine as shown below.

Tuck the ends under each other.  Bend the final hanger the other way and tuck it under the first two.  Here is a picture of what it looked like when I was done.

See the half-circle hole in the box above the 'in' in print?  I poked a hole in the aluminum foil here to allow gases to escape when cooking.  The final product looked like this.

made a coffee cake from a box mix of Pillsbury Quick Bread. I just followed the recipe on the side of the box. 

The directions said to bake the coffee cake at 375 degrees. I used charcoal to actually cook the cake.  I read on the Internet a few years ago (on a few different Internet sites) that one briquette heats to about 40 degrees.  So, I placed nine briquettes in an aluminum foil pan and lit the charcoal. For safety sake, I lit the charcoal on my grill rather than on the ground.

I had a difficult time geting the charcoal to light so I added a few more briquettes and tried again.  The second time did the trick.  I actually ended up with 11 briquettes. When the charcoal was ready, I placed the pan in the oven - sliding it in between the hangers.  If you use this technique be careful not to spill the charcoal.

A few quick notes on safety:
  • Don't place the cardboard box oven on the grass or on anything else that could burn. 
  • Don't use it inside because after all, you are using charcoal. 
  • Follow the safety directions and caution statements on the bag of charcoal.  Use common sense here.  I placed mine on a big cinder block on my patio.  I also placed a cookie sheet under it. 
  • Please be sure to never leave the box unattended.

Here is the coffee cake going in to the oven.

Place the top on the box and let it bake.

And, there you have it! Coffee cake without using your oven!

Since this was the first time I tried cooking anything in a cardboard box, I have noted some lessons learned:

  • Use a pan one size larger than what is called for in the recipe.  No matter how hard you try, you will not place the hangers level with each other.  A full pan will lean in one direction and some of your contents will spill out.  A larger pan will hold it all in - all you might get is a slightly lopsided cake.
  • Eventhough I have seen 'one briquette equals 40 degrees' listed in a few places on the Internet, I don't think it is true.  I had to cook the cake a bit longer than the time spelled out in the recipe. Next time I will add a few more pieces of charcoal.
  • Five minutes before the cake was done, it started raining (unexpected pop up shower).  I had to go out and stand there with an umbrella to keep the cardboard box dry.  If at all possible, don't try this if there's rain in the forecast.
  • I was quite surprised when the box didn't get overly hot to touch.  I guess it was the aluminum foil holding the heat inside the box.
Cooking in a cardboard box may not be nearly as efficient or effective as using the kitchen oven, but it does give you a quick, easy way to cook when other options just aren't available.  A great alternative in an emergency that can be used in the summer or winter.

If you liked this post, you may also like others in the Cooking Without Electricity series:

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