Wednesday, October 1, 2008

How to: Make a Cardboard Box Oven

Did you know that you can make a cardboard box into an oven that works just as well as your oven at home? You can! And with this type of oven, you never have to worry about what to eat when the electricity goes out.

You need:
1 cardboard box (for this method, it needs to have a slide-on top, like a box that holds reams of paper. See pictures)
matches (or a lighter)
aluminum foil
1 round aluminum pie plate (or anything to place your charcoals in)
3 wire hangers
scissors or a knife
whatever food you want to bake

Line the inside of your box and lid with aluminum foil. If you'd like, use a sponge and dab some Elmer's glue around the inside and cover to hold the foil in place (this is especially useful if you plan to keep your box oven, and not just make a new one in an emergency).
Once that's done, use some scissors or a knife to poke three holes in a straight line on each end of the box, about halfway down from the top. You'll see what these are for in just a minute.
Meanwhile, straighten out your three hangers.

Put the three straightened hangers through the holes. These will act as a shelf to place your food on.

Next, bend your wires so that they will remain taut inside the oven. We don't want heavy food bending the wires and sitting directly on the charcoals.
This step might be kind of difficult, so you may want an extra pair of hands and some pliers.

It doesn't have to look pretty, it just has to work! Next, poke some other holes in your box so that oxygen can get in and gases can get out. Now, we actually did NOT poke extra holes in this particular oven, because by the time we finished making our wires taut, our three holes we poked in each side had become fairly large, so we figured they were enough. If your holes on the side remain small, use your knife or scissors and poke a few holes on the top of the box, and maybe one or two on each side.

Next, let's turn up the heat!
Place some charcoals in your round aluminum plate. Each charcoal briquette supplies 40 degrees of heat, so 9 briquettes will give us a 360 degree oven.

Light your briquettes with the matches or a lighter (it will probably take a few matches. Be sure that each briquette burns).

Let the briquettes burn for a while...

Until they look like this! Then you're ready to go.

With your tongs, pick up the hot plate of charcoal

And slide it carefully between your wire shelf onto the bottom of your box.

There! Use the tongs to straighten out the charcoals and spread them out a bit.
Meanwhile, put together whatever you want to bake. We're making an apple spice cake that my mother-in-law had in her pantry - just add water!

Place your food on the wire racks
And cover with your oven top.
Now just set the timer like normal, or watch the clock. Note: If your recipe calls for a longer baking time (more than 45 minutes to an hour), you will probably have to switch out your charcoals around the 45-minute mark.

Do not use your oven on a wooden deck or on grass, or anything flammable. We are cooking in a concrete deck. Never use this oven indoors.
Time's up! Let's see how it looks:

And..... It's done! Carefully life the pan out of your oven (use hot pads!) and enjoy!

If your three-month supply consists solely of pantry items like we suggest, you truly can live comfortably with no electricity. Just prepare the (baking) recipes we've provided on our site, use this oven, and you're set! You can bake anything in this oven. My mother-in-law has even baked an entire turkey in one. Be creative! And don't forget, you can store this oven along with your food storage so you don't have to keep making one every time you need one.  Making a cardboard box oven would be a great family activity, or even something that your youth group could do.


Ann Marie said...

I LOVE THIS! This is something I have never seen before, so I am very exited to try it out!

Darlene said...

Thank you for your blogs! They are great. I need to redo my 72 hr kits. I haven't checked on them in a while and I'm sure kids have gotten into them and removed stuff.

I would like to make a couple of suggestions on the oven.

First one is that you should use uncoated heavy-gauge wire hangers for these ovens. Hangers with a coating, especially a plastic one will have the coating burned off as it cooks, releasing gases that you probably do not want in your food. It can affect the taste of the food as well as put dangerous toxins into the food. You do not need to bend them all together. Unless you're trying to cook something VERY heavy - like a full size turkey, 3 wires across and bent in an "L" shape with the leg facing downward will hold the food securely.

Second, do NOT use any glue inside the boxes. Again, the heat will make it release toxins.

You should use HEAVY duty foil. If your foil is not wide enough to cover the box, then use a drugstore type fold along the length of the foil to join the two or 3 pieces together. You can use duct tape or glue on the OUTSIDE of the box, just not on the inside and you must cover all of the inside of the box completely. Otherwise the box can combust on you.

You can use any type of box on it's side and run the wires from side to side. The bottom of the box becomes the back of the oven. The front of the oven is either one side of the box (which means you have to have all 6 sides of the box) or the removable box lid with the bottom edge cut off so it is flush with the now bottom of the box. It still covers the opening, but doesn't have to be slipped underneath the bottom of the box. The box on it's side makes it easier to slip the pan of charcoal into it, add coals as needed and get the food in and out of it without having to remove the food to add coals. It also won't distort your wire supports. Remember that heat rises, so you really don't lose heat from the sides of the box.
We've made these with girls in Girl Scouts and we've made them in YW camp on their sides and they work very well.

Here is a link with some picture of different ways to make these boxes. http://odcooking.pragerfamily.net/boxoven.html


Julie said...

Great post! We had someone ask us about alternative heat sources the other day- we haven't "delved" into that one yet. I'm gonna link them to this post. Thanks!

Rachel said...

I never saw this before! Wow! Good work. Thanks for visiting my blog!

Heffalump said...

Cool! Would those hangers really hold a whole turkey? I guess it was probably more like a ten pound one. I'm used to thinking of twenty pound monster turkeys.
We'll have to try this out! What a great idea...

Hannah said...

Love the blog! I will be looking here often.

If you need me to design you a button, let me know!

Cecily said...

Growing up we would use just any regular box, cover it with heavy aluminum foil and lay a layer of heavy aluminum foil on the ground (shiney side always toward the food). The using old, empty pop cans we would make a rack with a wire rack. We would put our already hot charcoal briquets under the rack in a pretty even pattern then we would place the box over the rack carefully (so nothing was knocked down), and finally prop the box open with a smallish rock (for oxygen).

We baked bread, cookies, casseroles, pies, etc. with these boxes at YW camp and on family camping trips. It was easy and meant that we didn't need to spend a whole lot of time preparing. We got the box ready while we were heating the charcoal.

anissa ferguson said...

Hi there,
Thanks for the lead to your great blog I will for sure create a link for the sisters in my ward on our RS blog. Thanks for being willing to share!!!!

Sharron said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog and letting me know about yours. I will have to go through yours so I don't repeat stuff.

Is it OK if I put your link on mine to refer others to it? That was one of the main goals I had in mind to help others help themselves.

Thanks again

anissa ferguson said...

Absolutely.... I wanted to find a way to MAGNIFY my calling as compassionate service leader. I appreciate all that you are sharing.

riverwalker said...

Very well done photo essay on a great topic!


Lauren in GA said...

I am always, always impressed with your posts but WHOA!!!!!!! Extra Whoa!

Jim and Debbie said...

This is awesome! I sure would have loved to have this following the hurricane. I was dying to make some brownies or something, but no electricity meant we didn't have our oven. This would have been perfect. Thanks for the post!

Mrs. Mordecai said...

Wow, this is really, really neat! Thanks so much for sharing such a useful tutorial.

Carla said...

This can be reused, right? I think it is an awesome idea and would make a great FHE activity :)

Carolyn said...

Great idea. Great step by step pics too!!

Elaine said...

This is awesome! We are so going to try it for FHE. I might even try to get some other blogging buddies to give it a whirl.

kweenmama said...

Elaine sent her blogging buddies here and I am so glad she did. This oven is cool, I think we will be trying it at our next family home evening.

Awesome blog!

motherofangels said...

I like this idea...Although, I think your better to use hardwood briquets that last more than an hour. Also, I think they only account for 20 degrees each...Check the bag when you buy them!

Sue said...

There is a way to cook a whole turkey in a foil-lined cardboard box using a lightbulb (incandescent) for heat. Anyone know the details?

Philip said...

Hello! Your post came up in a list of suggested links (automatically put in by Wordpress) at the end of a post I just made on a rather similar method of cooking that I heard about on the BBC World service today. Except that this other method uses the sun as a source of heat. Thought you'd find it interesting.

Max mickle said...

In my junior high engineering class. We all had to make the solar cooker oven. Box, Plexiglas, aluminum foil. This design has been around forever.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if this would work by using hot rocks for the heat? In emergency the charcoal would only last so long, then you'd have to find an alternate method of heating the box. Maybe rocks could be heated in a camp fire, then inserted into the box for baking.

andrew said...

I was so intrigued by the idea of cooking in a box that I did an internet search (per Phillip's suggestion, for solar cookers) and discovered that many people around the world use solar cookers very successfully to cook without fuel. They appear to be very easy to make and use, and would be a great asset to have in an emergency situation, or even to use on a regular basis to save money. Charcoal would be handy for cloudy days, but solar seems like less work, less fuss. The real trick is finding recipes you like that work in your oven. Thanks for turning me on to this idea!

Jerry McConway said...

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Anonymous said...

The cardboard 'oven' idea is awesome! I was thinking though, my daughter takes 'metal shop' at school (she's getting a theater arts degree), and always has to have a 'project' do to...she already built me a tripod w/ pot-grill for us to take to Ren Faires...now I think I'm going to have her make me one of these. Do you think making it of lightweight metals would work? Would we still need to line with foil to get the reflective heat?

Hannah said...


I'm not sure if lightweight metals would work. I'm sure that the reflective heat from the tin foil is important, but wouldn't heat reflect off of metals? I really don't know. If you try it out, let us know! :)

Anonymous said...

This excellent instructions helped me make gluten free bread! It rose double the size that I normally make in an oven or steamer! I was thrilled to see it cooking. However, instead of a box, I used a huge stainless steel bowl to cover the bread and the smell of smoke was extremely strong. I probably need to wait for the smoking to stop in the coals next time before covering. Thanks for sharing your brilliant idea!

Sue said...

An easier way to do this is use a box from the liquor store. They usually cut to top on 3 sides, creating a flap. Pull out and cardboard divideres. Line the entire box in aluminum foil. Use 2pieces of coat hanger wire positioned 9" above the bottom of the oven. Get a piece of wire mess to fit on the wires to make a shelf. You can get this at the hardware store and they will even cut it for you. Now you have a sturdy shelf. Use a layer of stones (hopefully you will find some where you are camping, or bring some)on the bottom of your pie plate. This keeps the intense heat from burning the bottom of your box, even though it is lined. Now use your 9 charcoal briquets. Let them get fully gray before you start cooking. Enjoy!

Sue said...

I forgot to say, use a heavy rock to keep the door of the oven closed. Also try and find a reasonably level spot for your oven.

Mike said...

At a science fair this guy I know got first price for his solar heated oven.

Anonymous said...

For all the folks wondering about a more renewable or easier to obtain source of fuel for this oven. Charcoal is partially burned wood you could probably use some greenwood coals from a normal campfire, just let it burn down till there is hot coals left but no flames and keep the fire burning beside it. The coals from the fire while burning a little hotter will also burn out a little faster. You could use an equal amount of hot coals from a burned down fire and check on it after about twenty mins. to see if it has burned mostly out or push a metal meat thermometer through the top of the box to monitor the heat with and replace a few coals as necessary!

Sara Ballard said...

This is a fabulous idea! I just added it to my list for Cardboard Boxes Up-cycled!

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Anonymous said...

i don't know if anyone has noticed that matchlight charcoal gives the food a nasty flavor.( to me anyway)kind of tastes like lighter fluid. but to each his own.

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Nancy Today said...

What a wonderful oven! I never realized each charcoal gave off 40 degrees of heat! I have baked in a Dutch oven on the coals, but the idea of 9 on the lid didn't really mean much to me, why not fifteen, I thought. Now I see why! Thanks so much!

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Laura Sanders said...

I love this and have been using box ovens for years. I use metal bbq skewers instead of coat hangers as they are stronger and then I just store them in the collapsed box when not in use.