Friday, March 30, 2012

A Swedish Reflector Oven - Part 1

A reflector oven that practically is a work of art. It exudes
precision, ingenuity, and craftsmanship.

Many moons ago, I wrote about a reflector oven that I had received last year to use on my canoe trips. Well I have finally gotten around to putting my thoughts together for a review on this amazing contraption. I've always been a minimalist in terms of meals out in the bush. My focus had always been about getting the most out of my time in the wilderness, so I was adverse to wasting time slaving over meal preparation, cooking, and then of course cleaning. Consequently, I needed incentive to head back to civilization after a canoe trip, so savoury fresh meals were saved for after the trip back home. However, with time, my stoic philosophical approach to 'wilderness experience' steadily faltered.

I blame my breakdown (both psychological and gastronomical) to fellow paddlers and non-paddlers alike who joined me on my canoe trips. When they cooked their fresh meals, I was at their mercy when the fragrant aromas wafted over to my nostril as I dug into my bland-tasting meal. Not that I ate terribly, but is there any comparison when someone is cutting into a juicy steak while I had macaroni and cheese to console me? Ketchup, hot sauce or salsa packets only go so far. Times have definitely changed as I not only take better tasting meals, but look forward to using things like this reflector oven to enhance my tripping and gastronomical experiences.

Even when the reflector oven is collapsed, you can't help
marvel at the beauty in its simplicity and  form.

First off, some background information in regards to this slick reflector over. It was designed by a fellow named Svante Freden across the big pond in Skara, Sweden. I say slick because the unit (main body) is all one piece and collapses into a compact shape for easy packing. Every reflector oven I've seen previously had to be assembled because it is made of multiple pieces. That fact alone prevents it from being as compact and robust when packed as this unit. Svante obviously took a lot of time and thought in designing his oven and it really shows in the details. First off, it is made of aluminium to keep it lightweight, it has a built-in handle, integral hinges, rivets instead of screws, and most importantly, no sharp edges! Each of these ovens are made by hand (by Svante himself) and even comes with their own serial number. Lastly, it comes with a strap to keep it all together.

Without any doubt, who wouldn't want to proudly stamp their
name to this kind of product. I can definitely
say I own the 2778th oven! 

Here are the hard specs for this oven. It weighs in at 800g without the strap. Collapsed, it is in the shape of a pyramid with the point cut off. At it's long side it is roughly 33.5cm across, the 2 sides are 26.5cm long, and the short top side is 14cm across. Lastly, incredibly it's only 1cm deep, talk about being compact. At this size it can easily fit into any pack. I usually put it in the barrel sideways and stack items on either side. However, if you have a wannigan, it will go in perfectly with all the other kitchen accessories. One thing I personally do is put it in a stuff sack to keep it from dirtying other stuff in the barrel, as you will find with use, some soot will eventually get on it. That's pretty much it, simple, compact and most importantly, works awesome.

To clearly show how compact this collapsed oven becomes, I've
put a Canadian penny in front of it for reference.

So how does a reflector oven work?

Heat is obviously needed to cook or bake food, but it can be done in various ways through either conduction, convection or radiation. Reflector ovens are specifically made to utilize radiant energy, which transmit through the air much like light-rays. The sun is a prime example of a heat source transmitting radiant energy. We feel it warming our skin, despite the fact the sun is very far away. In this way, a reflector oven works by capturing and redirecting radiant energy and concentrating it in a specific area, where the item to be baked is placed. The only other part in this equation is the heat source. For this application specifically, we are looking at your typical camp side fire.

The key to baking with a reflector oven is to have a good fire, for two reasons - lots of radiant energy and consistent heat. The last thing you want is for the fire to wax and wane. Just like the oven at home, you need consistency in heat output (therefore temperature) in order to get good results. Around a camp fire, it's near impossible to set a temperature, but if you can keep the fire going steady (in size and strength), the temperature fluctuations should be fairly linear. A robust camp fire (with lots of flames) also delivers ample radiant energy, which is crucial for the reflector oven to work effectively. For this reason alone, you need to make sure the flames dance lively in front of the oven. Lastly, it goes without saying that you should have ample firewood before you start. Be mindful that the wood is all dry, because once you start, even one damp piece of wood can throw the fire (and flames) off, thus setting you back.

The best results from a reflector oven come from a
healthy fire with a generous flame. 

How to set the reflector oven up

Most reflector ovens are fairly easy to figure out and set up, but not nearly as clever and easy as this one. Not only does this oven look great, but its form has function as well. Here's how: First remove the strap that holds it together. Pull up on the handle to expand and open the oven as each of the individual panels are held together by hinges. Push back the rear centre piece, slide the latch into the notch to secure it, and all that's left to do is slide the wire rack through the outside holes and viola, in less than a minute, it is ready to go. Yes, it's actually that quick and easy! This reflector oven can fit up to a 9" round pan or square 8" baking pan. There is also 2 sets of holes where the wire rack can slide into, depending on the height requirements of whatever you are baking. Here's also a video below of how to set it up.

In part two, I will let you know how it worked, any advantages/disadvantages to other reflector ovens, and where you can get one.