I like to eat especially well when I’m cruising, and I enjoy the juxtaposition of roughing it in a small boat with fine dining while at anchor. I’ve done well with frying and sautéing on camp stoves, but I’ve missed baked goods. I have a camper’s Dutch oven that you cover with coals, but was never brave enough to cook with it when I had campfires. I’ve known about Coleman’s Portable Camping Oven for decades but had never seen one in use. It was time to give it a try; I bought one.

Photographs by the author

The three stoves used for testing the oven are, from left to right: a single-burner stove with a 1-lb propane tank; a portable butane gas range; and the Gas One Mini with the propane adapter.

For my first tests with the oven, rather than go the time and effort of finding a recipe, buying ingredients, and mixing up something, I bought a few tubes of prepared dough for cinnamon rolls and biscuits.

For baking trials, I used premade dough and followed the instructions as well as I could. After relying on the oven’s built-in thermometer for the first trial, I used an oven thermometer to get accurate readings. The disposable aluminum pie pan worked well and didn’t leave the rolls scorched on the bottom.

The cinnamon rolls require baking at 350°F for 20 minutes or until golden brown. For heat, I used a Coleman single-burner camp stove, the kind that screws onto the top of a 1-lb propane cylinder. The base for the cylinder kept the oven perched on top steadily enough. I lit the burner and opened the valve to its maximum setting. After 16 minutes, the oven’s temperature dial was at 340°F and there was no sign of it progressing to 350°F, so I put two cinnamon rolls on a foil pie pan and slid them in. The temperature gauge fell about 10 degrees while the rolls were baking.

I took a peek at about 10 minutes and the rolls had risen well and hadn’t been scorched by the high heat. At 12 minutes they were golden brown and ready to eat.

In spite of the quick bake, the rolls were fluffy, and the bottoms were as golden brown as the tops. I weighed the propane cylinder before and after baking and the combined 28 minutes of warming the oven and baking the rolls had consumed just 2.75 oz of fuel. At that rate the 1-lb canister of propane would, in theory, fuel 163 minutes of baking. (Nearly empty canisters don’t put out as vigorous a flame.)

Next, I tried my butane-fueled stove. I didn’t expect it to do as well—it has a smaller burner head and is quieter than the one-burner propane—but it brought the stove all the way up to 350°F in 16 minutes and continued raising the temperature. I put a new batch of cinnamon rolls in, dialed the flame down—a bit too far at first—then up again to hold at 350°F. Within 13 minutes, the rolls were turning golden brown. Cooking with butane consumed 2.3 oz over the 29 minutes. A full canister contains 7.8 oz of butane, enough for 98 minutes of baking.

I used doubled aluminum foil for baking the biscuits and, while it worked well in the oven, its flexibility proved challenging while removing the hot food.

The propane had delivered 10.2 minutes of baking heat per ounce, the butane 12.6 minutes per ounce. In the standard 7.8- to 8-oz canisters, butane costs 33¢ per ounce at current U.S. prices; propane in 16-oz canisters costs 58¢ per ounce. I was pleased that butane had the edge for both performance and economy as my butane stoves are the ones I use most often, and they provide a more stable base for the oven. Coleman made the oven for use on its classic two-burner stove, but it works fine with a single-burner stove that has supports long enough to span the 7″-diameter opening in the bottom of the oven.

The chocolate-chip cookies spread as they baked, limiting how many I could put in the oven at one time. The parchment paper worked well and didn’t scorch while baking, but it was slippery and should have been supported by a cooking pan with a lip. This batch got away from me and smeared hot chocolate down my shirt front on its way to the ground.

Finally, I tested the oven using my GasOne Mini as the heat source. The Mini is a dual-fuel stove and I used the adapter hose to hook it up to a propane canister. This time, I decided to bake some biscuits and to place an oven thermometer in with them to get a better sense of the internal temperature. In 12 minutes, with the burner going full blast, the oven’s gauge was showing a temperature of 300°F, but the oven thermometer was reading 350°F, just right for the biscuits. The instructions called for baking at 350°F, for 16 to 19 minutes or until golden brown. The biscuits were golden brown in 14 minutes and, like the cinnamon rolls, flaky right through and browned but not scorched on the bottoms.

While the biscuits were baking, I used my laser thermometer to check the temperature of the door around the oven’s gauge. The readings averaged around 155°F—evidently the gauge isn’t calibrated to take into account the cooling effect of the door. Also, it seems likely that the gauge’s readings will vary with the temperature of the ambient air—I did all my baking tests on warm summer days. An inexpensive oven thermometer set inside the oven would be the best indicator.

Folded, the oven measures 12-1/4″ top to bottom, 12″ side to side, and 2-1/4″ thick (not including the knob or rack). It weighs 7 lbs 3.3 oz.

I’ve been impressed by how well the Portable Camping Oven performs. When folded up it is smaller than a butane stove, it is easy to set up, and supplies even heat without consuming a lot of fuel. Now I just need to go roughing it with recipes and ingredients for baked goods.

Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats.

The Portable Camping Oven is made by Coleman and is listed at $37.99. It is available from many retail outlets and online sources for around $50.

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