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Q:

What's your take on the Outback Oven?

What's your take on Backpacker's Pantry Outback Oven? Does the Outback Oven really bake well and also conserves fuel for cooking traditional grub? After a zillion meals of mac and cheese, ren, gorp, and dried fruits, the Ziplocs carrying the food start looking more appetizing then the food within. The idea of dining on hot cinnon rolls, fresh pita bread, pot pies, or (gasp!) brownies does make me wonder if the Outback Oven really works or if it's just another ravenous hikers delusions? Ed Beaudry Laurel, Maryland

A:My take on the Outback Oven is this: It's the greatest contribution to backpacking cuisine since freeze-dried spaghetti. In the right hands, it utterly transforms campsite cooking, surpassing even the much heavier Dutch oven in versatility and quality of output. Most readers know its basics: It's really just a non-stick skillet with a fitted lid, a heat shield at the bottom, and a hood that goes over the whole contraption. Placed on a stove, it becomes a convection oven, which uses the flow of warm air, not just heat, to bake food. Anything you'd bake in an oven at home, you can bake in the Outback Oven ($65 in the ten-inch model)—bread, biscuits, pizza, brownies, frittatas. Really, the only limit is your chef's imagination.

Two caveats. One, it won't work on a stove that has the burner above the fuel canister —- only with stoves that have the fuel bottle off to the side. Secondly, you'll note I said it works well "in the right hands." It's a little delicate, and takes some skill and practice to get the hang of how to get the temperature set right. If someone thrashes around in the home kitchen, an Outback Oven isn't going to solve many problems.

A range of premixed meals are prepared for the Outback Oven, such as Chicken Pot Pie ($6.75) and Blueberry Scone Mix ($5.75). The main-course meals are designed to feed two, although in my experience that's a little light. What I recommend is that you skip the premixed stuff and learn to adapt home recipes for the Outback Oven. Even if backpacking, a basic selection of items -— flour, baking powder, salt, a little olive oil, some tomato past -— put you on course to really upgrade your menu. For short trips where you want to have a special meal, you can pack prosciutto, cheese, eggs, all sorts of things for pizza or a special breakfast. Take a look as well at the grocery shelves for many good pre-mixed foods as well; they're cheaper than the stuff you buy in the camping store.

Bon appetit!

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