When you think about off-grid cooking (i.e. cooking without electricity or your house’s gas line), most people think about either a stove hooked up to a gas bottle (like propane), or cooking over an open flame. Maybe you’ve even got a Sun Oven and don’t need a fuel source. With the first two methods you might be able to stock a good quantity of fuel for an extended period of time, but a bunch of propane bottles or a stack of firewood is going to take up quite a bit of space.
What if you’re in the middle of a rainstorm? It’s going to be hard to start a fire outside. What if you need to cook at night? Your Sun Oven is going to have a slight problem there… And what if you are in a SHTF scenario where you want to stay undetected? The light and smoke from a campfire can be seen for miles in some cases, and there’s almost no way to cook over a wood fire indoors unless you have a fireplace specifically designed for it (but you’d still be generating smoke).
What if you could cook indoors in an actual oven (not just a tiny backpacking stove), and get four hours of cooking time from a fuel source that takes up about as much space as a VHS tape? (Please don’t make me feel old by asking “what’s a VHS tape?”!) You could store weeks’ worth of fuel in the bottom of a dresser drawer. Enter the HERC (Home Emergency Radiant Cooking) XXL Oven by Titan Ready USA.
Here is what it looks like in the box. As you can see it folds down for easy storage and comes with a handy zipped storage bag. Since the oven is not permanently assembled, it breaks down easily and stores flat in the bag.
The oven is made of sheets of 18 gauge laser cut brushed stainless steel with interlocking tabs. It clicks together similar to building a set of Lincoln Logs – just insert the tabs into the slots.
There are step-by-step photographs provided, but you won’t need them after the first time you’ve assembled the oven.
Here is a close-up of one of those interlocking tabs.
You can see how easy everything goes together.
Here is a shot of the oven half-way put together.
Here is the bottom part of the stove going on.
More easy tabs fitting through the slots on the bottom.
The oven also comes with five heavy baking stones . I would NOT store the stones in the bag with the oven – it’s going to make it very heavy, and possibly scratch the oven and chip the stones. This oven isn't something you’d be tossing in your bug out bag, so having the stones stored separately isn't an issue.
Two stones are stored in the bottom to keep heat in the oven.
Then three slide into the top of the lid keep the heat from escaping and reflect it back onto the surface of the food.
Even for our first time, it took less than 5 minutes to assemble the HERC.
The candle holders go together as easy as the rest of the stove.
The candle holders fit directly below the two bottom stones, so they heat up and provide your main heat source.
To light the oven, you simply need to prep your candles, insert ten into each candle tray, light them and slide underneath. The tealight candles are prepped by trimming the wick so that it only extends about ¼” above the top of the candle. You trim the wicks to provide a nice steady flame – if you've ever seen a candle where the flame is flickering, this is due to the wick being too long.
A steady flame will provide a better heat source. Once you've lit your candles, you can’t blow them out and relight them. Because of this, you’ll want to plan out your cooking – cook your main dish first, then maybe cook a dessert, then use the last bits of heat to heat of some water for coffee, cocoa or even doing your dishes.
Remember that your fuel source – candles – are made of wax, and wax melts in heat, not just flame. If you live in Texas like we do, you probably don’t want to store your candles in the attic or the garage!
Using 20 tealight candles, you can get about 4 hours of cooking time after a 20-minute pre-heat time. This works out to a cost of about 30 cents per hour, depending on the cost of your candles.
There are actually two types of tealight candles – poured and pressed. Both are in little aluminum cups of a standard size, a little over 1” across. The poured candles are create by melting the wax and pouring it directly into the cup, while the pressed candles are cut out of a larger sheet of wax and just dropped into the cup. You can tell the difference by simply shaking the candle – if it wiggles (or even drops out) of the cup, it’s a pressed candle. Supposedly the poured candles burn hotter than the pressed, but we only had the poured variety to test. Ikea sells the pressed kind, so we’ll be giving those a try soon; if they do burn a little less hot they might work well for slow cooking..
Once your candles are lit, you just slide the trays underneath the oven and let it pre-heat. There is a rail underneath the oven so that you know exactly where the tray should sit. The candles sit high enough up from the bottom of the tray that the lower edges will stay cool, allowing you to pull the tray out and re-light a candle if it goes it. Be careful though; after a while the candles will be nothing but liquid wax, so if you jerk the tray around you’ll spill the wax onto whatever surface you have the oven on. This isn’t a huge problem if you’re cooking on something like a granite counter top – just let the wax cool then scrape it up – but it will be more difficult if you’re on top of any porous surface like wood.
When your oven has heated for about 15-20 minutes (you’re heating the stones in this time), you’re ready to cook. Here is a cherry crumble going into the oven.
Here is the same crumble ready to come out of the oven. Notice the bubbling on the side.
Although the HERC ships with a probe thermometer I wanted to to get an idea of the surface temperature with this laser thermometer. You can see it's pretty hot.
Just about anything that can be cooked in your home oven can be cook in the HERC, as long as it fits (the inside cooking dimensions of the HERC XXL are 18" x 11.75" x 7.25" high). Although there is no temperature gauge the food cooks evenly since there is no cycling on and off like in an electric or gas oven. If you are an experienced cook you can generally tell when food is cooked by smelling it (my wife never uses a timer). You may have to pay a little more attention to the oven to hone this skill but because there are 20 open flames that's probably not a bad habit to get into when using the HERC.
It’s fine to open the oven for short periods every now and then to check how far along in the cooking process you are. The bricks in the lid will retain enough heat to bring everything back up to the proper temperature very quickly. Just be sure to use some type of oven mitt – the lid will be very hot when you’re opening it, and if you’re using a large pan inside it’s very easy to brush your hands against the sides as you’re reaching inside.
Once you’re done cooking, you can blow the candles out without even pulling the trays out from underneath the oven – it’s just like blowing out a birthday cake!
You need to be sure to keep someone in the same room; after all it’s an open flame. Also, according to the manufacturer, it’s possible that once the wax is completely liquefied, the entire surface could catch fire. If this happens, then you can use one of these included steel sheets – just drop it onto the tray to immediately snuff out the flame. Obviously these flames have not spread into a bigger flame to catch anything on fire. But this is how you would put the flame out if that were to happen.
Fire is out! Otherwise, it's easier just to blow the candles out like you would with any other candle.
Here are some cheese enchiladas before they went into the HERC.
I love the window.
Another great cooking job.
Here is a trick to cook two things at once. Here I wanted to cook some baked potatoes but I wanted to have them with bacon, so I stacked the trays. You need to use caution with doing this so that nothing can fall and disturb your candles burning underneath. If something did fall it could put your flame out or worse ignite a larger fire. These two pans stacked perfectly and I was not worried about anything falling. Remember, someone always needs to be in the same room as the oven when it is lit.
Did I mention I really like the window?
Here is the bacon after it's been cooked. (BTW: since we are vegetarians this is soy bacon)
This oven is perfect for a one pot spaghetti. Here is a before picture.
Here is the finished dish.
We had a great time cooking in the HERC oven – it’s simple enough to use that even the kids were able to set it up and use it. Now, since the oven opens from the top, it might be a little difficult for the shorter folks to see inside; you’ll want to either set it on something shorter or use a ladder.
One of the things we liked about the HERC oven is the availability and low price of the fuel. In a SHTF situation (or even in a case where severe weather is headed your way), there’s going to be a run on propane bottles and firewood from your local Wal-Mart or Home Depot. How many of those same people do you think will be heading towards the housewares section and stocking up on tealights? Even people who think to buy candles for a blackout will pick up the larger decorative ones first. Odds are you’ll still be able to find your fuel in a panic situation.
All of our testing was done indoors, but we’re hoping to take the HERC camping with us soon. Obviously a candle flame is more delicate than a campfire, so you’ll need to protect the candle trays from anything more than the smallest of breezes. I’m thinking the two plates used for snuffing out the trays could also be used to block the wind. I can’t wait to try fresh-baked cookies at the campsite!