If you find yourself needing to bake without an oven, whether you’re without power temporarily, living off-grid, or your oven meets its unfortunate demise, you’re no doubt wondering what your options are.
When I remodeled my cabin, I quickly discovered that the generator didn’t run enough power to fuel a full-sized oven, so I had to figure out how to bake the sourdough that my family has with nearly every meal. While nothing out there can completely replace an oven, I discovered a sure-fire way to get the job done.
How do you bake without an oven? In this type of situation, a Dutch oven or cast iron pot with a tight-fitting lid is going to be your best friend. You can use one of these tools to bake your food on a stovetop, in a fire, or on the grill.
How to Bake Without an Oven
Essentially, anywhere you can harness heat; you can use a Dutch oven or pot to create a miniature oven that works like a full-sized one.
Of course, humans have been working on cooking food for centuries, and we’ve figured out more than one way to get the job done. Even if you don’t have a stovetop or firepit and Dutch oven, there are other options ranging from re-purposing a microwave to building a DIY tandoor-style oven to bake your goods.
Baking in a Dutch Oven
Maybe you don’t have an oven, but if you have access to a stovetop, fire, grill, or hot plate, you can re-create the effect of one. All you’ll need is a cast-iron Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid.
The container doesn’t have to be fancy. You can use an enameled Dutch oven – known as a French oven – like this one made by Le Creuset. You can also use a raw cast-iron Dutch oven like this one from Lodge.
Either one works just as well, so don’t get too wrapped up in picking one. If you plan on cooking in a fire, you might want to use a Dutch oven with feet. It isn’t essential, but it sure makes the job easier.
If you don’t have access to a Dutch oven, a large, heavy-duty stainless-steel pot or pan can also do, but they don’t hold heat as well, so it may be more challenging to cook your food evenly.
The bigger the Dutch or French oven, the better. A 7-quart pot is big enough to cook a full-sized loaf of bread or a family-sized meal. You can still bake in a smaller Dutch oven, but it’s harder to keep the temperature at a steady level, and, of course, the food you bake will necessarily be smaller.
To bake with a Dutch oven, put it on your heat source with the lid in place until it reaches about 10 percent higher than your desired temperature on the interior. Typically, baking bread requires a temperature of around 350-400 degrees Fahrenheit. That means you want the interior to reach a temperature of about 390-440 degrees.
You get the temperature higher than necessary at first because the Dutch oven can’t maintain the same level of heat as a larger oven can. When you open the lid, you’re going to let a lot more of the heat escape than you would when you open the oven door.
Put the food that you intend to bake into the center of the Dutch oven. Typically, the food shouldn’t touch the sides of the oven, but for something like a cake, it doesn’t matter if it does.
Then, lower the heat to your desired cooking temp. If you’re using a stovetop, this can be as simple as turning down the heat. If you’re cooking over a flame or coals, you’ll need to either move the Dutch oven further from the heat or reduce the number of briquets or wood you have.
Let the food bake for the same amount of time that you would bake it in the oven, but you’ll need to keep an eye on things because it’s much harder to regulate temperature with a Dutch oven over heat than an electric or gas range.
Resist the temptation to keep opening the lid because you’ll let all the heat out, but be sure to check the food’s progress every so often by tilting the lid slightly and peaking in.
If you’re baking yeast bread, you’ll want to open the lid every so often to let the steam escape. This ensures a crispy, rather than chewy, crust.
The biggest challenge of cooking this way is to find and maintain the right temperature. With charcoal briquets, assume you get about 10 degrees of heat per briquet.
That said, don’t get too wrapped up in temperature. Unless you’re baking something super finicky, some variation won’t hurt anything.
Once the food is baked, remove it from the Dutch oven. If you leave it in there, it will continue to cook as the container cools, which could mean that you’ll burn your food.
Alternative Options for Baking Without an Oven
Let’s say you need a more long-term solution, or you’re looking for a quick method of baking without having to purchase a Dutch oven or start a fire. In that case, there are a few other make-do methods you can use.
Build a DIY Tandoor Oven
If you’re looking for a more permanent solution for a lack of oven, you can build a tandoor. A tandoor is a clay oven like those that have been used for centuries.
You’ll need three clay pots in progressively larger sizes, a few large, flat stones, some porous rocks like lava rock, and charcoal briquets. I like to use a 24-inch pot for my large one, an 18-inch pot for the medium, and a 12-inch pot for the small.
To make your tandoor, drill multiple holes into the base of all the pots. Then, cut the entire bottom off the medium clay pot, but take care to keep it in one piece because you’ll use it as the lid for your new oven.
Set the largest pot on a base made out of the large stones. The base needs to be stable so the whole thing doesn’t tip over, but you also want the tandoor to be off the ground, and the holes should be exposed so air can get inside through the base. Make sure the location you choose has at least 10-feet of clearance from any plants or buildings.
Fill the bottom of the large pot with about an inch of porous rocks and put the small pot inside, with the base sitting on the porous rocks. Then, put the medium pot rim down on the small pot with the base sticking out of the large container by a few inches.
If the bottom isn’t sticking out, add some more porous rock to the base until it does. The medium pot will overlap the small pot slightly, leaving you a little lip that you can use to prop a grate or food on.
Fill the rest of the large pot with more porous rocks. Now you can put charcoal in the base of the small pot. Finally, light the briquets and put your food inside. Place the severed base of the medium pot on the top to act as a lid.
A tandoor can get incredibly hot and is a relatively quick and easy way to bake without a traditional oven. In fact, baking in a tandoor is my favorite way to make flatbread, even if I do have a working oven nearby, because it creates such a delicious, unique flavor and texture.
Bake in the Microwave
A microwave isn’t as versatile as a Dutch oven or a tandoor, but you can still “bake” a few things in your microwave. You can cook things like cake, casseroles, or eggs. You can also dry herbs.
You may need to play around with your recipe to get things right. For instance, cake batter needs to be a bit denser and moister than traditional batter to bake well in a microwave. The bright side is that it only takes a few minutes to bake a cake or eggs in the microwave.
To bake herbs for drying, make sure they’re washed and totally dry. Wrap them in paper towels and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Of course, if your microwave has a convection setting, you’re in luck. Convection cooking means that you can bake anything in it that you could bake in the oven.
Bake in a Toaster Oven
A toaster oven is like a teeny-tiny electric oven. You can bake anything – in miniature – that you could bake in a full-sized oven. Most toaster ovens don’t cook as evenly as a full-sized oven, but they take a lot less power.
So, while I wouldn’t rely on one long term, they can be handy in some situations. I still use mine with my generator to bake pizzas and cookies and never have any trouble. I just make sure to frequently rotate whatever I’m cooking so that it cooks evenly.