A reflector oven is an antique cooking apparatus that are seeing resurgence today thanks to its adaptability, convenience, and overall efficiency.
These used to be a staple for every work camp and an awful lot of kitchens across the nation, but as their use was replaced by modern contrivances, it looked like these handy contraptions were destined for the scrap heap of history.
But no more. As it turns out, the old timers did in fact know a few things, including the best way to cook food using an open fire.
Although I am happy to see reflector ovens making a comeback, picking up one of these ingenious devices brand new can set you back a shocking amount of money considering how little material actually goes into their construction.
But a reflector oven is really more of a functional set of principles than a gadget, and that means you can just as easily make your own with a little bit of know-how and a passable understanding of physics.
In this article, we will be bringing you a collection of six DIY reflector oven plans from around the web.
What is a Reflector Oven?
A reflector oven is an ingeniously simple device, sometimes referred to as a tin oven. These ovens have few or no moving parts, and consist of nothing more than a container with a polished metal interior that is open, or opens, on one side.
In operation, the food is placed inside and the open side of the reflector oven is placed near and pointing toward a fire.
The radiant heat emitted by the fire is caught and reflected by the shiny interior of the oven, cooking the food evenly and quickly from all sides.
Reflector ovens can be as small as an individual serving or meal, consisting of little more than a dish or band intended to help food cook more evenly, or as intricate as a full size appliance to be used near a hearth.
Notably, reflector ovens are sometimes referred to as solar ovens and though the two are related they are not the same.
A solar oven, as the name suggests, is designed to take advantage of the sun’s rays as its primary heat source, and they are constructed and shaped accordingly.
However, some reflector ovens can be used with direct radiant heat from a fire or as a solar oven interchangeably.
Reflector Ovens are Great for Prepping
Reflector ovens have much to commend them for prepping, particularly when they are a compact, portable model. Even the most basic reflector oven provides a significant increase in efficiency when cooking with an open fire.
Able to evenly cook the food from all sides, you’ll use less fuel and save time over placing the food in some kind of container or pan and simply setting it in or near the fire.
Naturally, compared to portable camp stoves of the modern variety a reflector oven has no moving parts, no intricate components and no specialized, petroleum-based fuel.
If you have what you need to make a campfire of any size you can set up your reflector oven to help you take maximum advantage of what fuel you have.
Not for nothing, reflector ovens allow you better control and a greater margin of error during the cooking process. Most amateur cooks are in for a rude awakening when they try to prepare food over a legitimate open fire for the first time.
Heat control is more a matter of guesswork and when a fire grows particularly large it can be very difficult to place the food in such a way that it doesn’t get turned into charcoal itself.
Your reflector oven can easily be scooted closer or pulled farther away from the fire to granularly control cooking heat with ease. In some cases it can even be put on the charcoal themselves, like so:
These tools are adaptable, easy to set up, durable and much of the time portable, making them perfect for bug-in or bug-out scenarios. We have made a great case for the ‘why’, now let us look at our candidates!
DIY Reflector Ovens Designs
Our first set of plans is for two variations on the classic compact backpackers of it, sometimes called an emergency reflector oven because of its tiny overall size. Weighing a scant 15 oz and fitting into a common envelope when broken down, either variation easily snaps together when in the field so you won’t waste time getting ready for dinner.
One of the versions shown in the accompanying link actually has a hinged back plate that can allow you to safely and easily open up the oven to reposition, turn, or rotate food without coming between it and the fire.
This version is a little more advanced in the making, but is definitely compact and worth the extra investment. The basic oven has no moving parts whatsoever once it is assembled, but it is an easy build for even a novice DIY’er.
Regardless of which one you pick, you can take comfort knowing that this reflector oven can accompany you on any adventure or remain a permanent fixture in your bug-out bag with a minimum of fuss.
Next up is a medium sized reflector oven that is basic in design but shockingly effective, and one that can be made with a minimum of tools and very little experience thanks to the excellent instructions and walkthrough provided at the link above.
This reflector oven is sized to accept entire baking sheets worth of goods, so roasting larger cuts of meat or heating up multiple individual serving sizes is easily within its capabilities.
It is also notable for its strength and rigidity, and for the inclusion of two handles that will make maneuvering the oven even easier, and likely safer when it is hot.
At the end of the article the instructor mentions he wishes he would have put a couple of pegs on the bottom near the front to act as feet for better control over the angle and to allow hot air to circulate beneath the oven.
This might just be a quality of life upgrade though, and you need not mess with it as this will work just fine resting on a stand or on the ground near the fire.
Additionally, the simple design and ample size of this oven lends itself to other modifications if you were up to it. One I might recommend could be the addition of a couple of holes in the middle of either side so you could insert a spit for the roasting of meat.
This could well be the ideal size of oven for general purpose use, just as capable indoors by the fireplace as it is outside by the campfire.
3. Homemade Collapsible Reflector Oven
Our next reflector oven plan comes to us via way of a highly informative YouTube video. This is another compact option that is suitable for outdoor, on the go use and the creator has even gone so far as to include a grill rack for supporting the food.
You might consider this an upgraded model of the basic, portable reflector oven reviewed above.
Also, I would like to point out the care at which the builder takes in polishing the interior surfaces of the oven.
This is far from a decorative choice, as the shinier you make the reflective surfaces, the more efficient they will be at redirecting radiant heat from your fire, thereby improving the performance of your oven.
Not for nothing, mirror polished surfaces are much easier to keep clean and taking the time to perform this step now will yield longer life and less effort in the long run.
Another thing, at the end of the video the builder actually puts his oven to the test by baking bread next to his campfire. It sure looks like it comes out perfect!
Properly constructed and used with a little bit of care and attention reflector ovens can be surprisingly effective, and you can obtain results from them that rival your electric or gas oven in your kitchen at home.
I love this next reflector oven because it is a great example of a field expedient, or super simple, variant that is nonetheless totally effective.
Supplies and tools needed? Some discarded sheet metal and tin snips, along with some recommended gloves for protecting your hands. That’s it!
This is something that could easily be whipped together in very little time by someone who had the basic plan in mind to produce a cooking appliance more effective and efficient than cooking over the fire by itself.
Just because it is a contingency option does not mean you’re going to give up much in the way of performance compared to the other, more intricate reflector ovens on this list.
The author notably leaves off any feet, holders, rods or skewers for supporting the oven or the food and instead relies on the equally field expedient use of stones to prop up and position the oven as well as the pan that he is baking on.
Just goes to show you that it is indeed all about principles when it comes to using a reflector of it, not about having the most “Gucci” off-the-shelf piece of gear or the most intricate design.
If that stuff makes you happy, go for it, but don’t forget what it is you’re trying to do with one of these things. Cook your food and cook it evenly!
An ingenious and elegant option from Sweden, this is a thoroughly modern take on the collapsible reflector oven, one that folds flat for storage and transport and just as easily unfolds and locks in place for use.
This recommendation is also bolstered by a thorough set of instructions with extremely precise measurements along with helpful tips for completing the build throughout.
Compared to the other portable ovens on this list, this foldable version might be superior because it will reduce the chances of losing or misplacing any parts while in transit.
It is also worth noting that the polygonal shape of this foldable oven means you’ll have to pay just a little bit more attention when creating the parts and you’ll also probably have to bust out your protractor.
Nonetheless, if you want an elegant, effective and supremely space efficient reflector oven this is the one to go with assuming you have the skills to fabricate it!
this is another ingeniously improvised reflector of it, and though it is one intended for use as a solar oven it is more than capable of being used next to a campfire so long as you are cautious to not get it so close that the Mylar backing of the space blanket used to provide the interior surface can begin to melt.
The rest of the components are all fashioned from natural materials or from gear and supplies that a typical camping backpack or bug out bag would already contain. This makes it a great option for implementation in a sudden and unexpected survival scenario taking place in the wilderness.
Despite its ramshackle appearance this oven proves to be nearly as effective as any of the others on this list, and more than capable of thoroughly cooking your food safely, if not cooking it to perfection.
Considering it uses survival blankets as a primary component, and survival blankets are cheap, you would be well advised to get a few practice revolutions in constructing this variant and trying it out so you understand its capabilities and limitations.
Reflector ovens are a venerable and highly effective cooking appliance that is adaptable to a wide range of settings and uses so long as open fire is involved.
By the fireplace or in the field next to the campfire, a reflector oven gives you better control, greater efficiency and generally far better results than cooking directly over fire as usual.
With some inexpensive supplies, a little sweat equity and one of the plans provided above you will soon have your own reflector oven ready for inclusion and your survival stash or packing into your bug-out bag.