IT’S nearing 4pm on the first day at the Australian Camp Oven Festival in Millmerran as a large crowd begins to huddle under the marquee featuring stage two.
Standing before the crowd are three khaki-clad men who, complete with their broad-brimmed hats and ocker accents, look like seasoned bush-showman professionals.
Known as The Cast Iron Boys, Mick Viller, Nick Turpie and Ryan Hansen begin their cooking demonstration in a routine fashion.
Ever so naturally they explain the uses of various equipment and cooking tools, while providing modern insight into damper, stews and their signature dish – Coca-Cola and Smokey BBQ Spare Ribs.
As you watch, it’s hard to believe that just three years ago the group had never even touched a camp oven.
For Mick and Nick, who are school mates, their love affair with the style of cooking came about when they went to 21st party in the mountains of New South Wales where all of the catering was done using camp ovens.
Obviously the meal was pretty good, because Mick – the driver behind the group – was hooked.
“When we had our first camp oven meal, we thought ‘well let’s get into this’,” Mick said.
“So we bought our first camp oven.”
With Mick’s mum living in Millmerran, the duo were well aware of the Australian Camp Oven Festival.
So in true go-getter style, the pair set about practising to enter a team in the cooking competition at the festival.
“We would Google it all on the internet and Nick would be coming over so we could practise cooking in the backyard,” Mick said.
The pair found that a lot of the tutorial videos were American-based or were targeting at a much older audience.
So once their skills had improved, they started making their own videos to share on the internet – titled Camp oven cooking with Mick.
Soon enough, the Cast Iron Boys took off and two became three as Mick’s cousin, Ryan, threw on the khaki shirt as well, after their appearance at the 2012 Australian Camp Oven Festival.
Building a strong following on their Facebook page, the trio have now been picked up by a number of high-profile sponsors, allowing the Cast Iron Boys to travel around to more events.
Their biggest recent event was the Brisbane Caravan & Camping Super Show in June, where they conducted 30 demonstrations over six days.
Preparing to head to Bundaberg next month for an outdoor expo, the boys continue to run their website to engage with cooking fanatics who can’t make it to their live demonstrations.
And like all good chefs, the Cast Iron Boys are currently working on their first cook book.
But for the boys, the true essence of their work is not the public appearances, rather the genuine sharing of a passion for the humble pot.
“Our primary aim is to promote camp oven cooking and to encourage people to get into it,” Ryan said.
“A lot more young people are starting to get involved and that’s what we’re all about.”
Coca-Cola and Smokey BBQ Spare Ribs
The Cast Iron Boys have become famous for their signature dish, which is all about simplicity and flavour. Nick said that while people may think “yuck, why would you cook with coke”, the ingredient actually gives a sweet tenderness that you wouldn’t necessarily get just by boiling in water and stock.
1 kg of ribs
1 bottle of Smokey BBQ marinade
2 litres of Coca-Cola
1. Cut the ribs into small pieces while bringing the Coca-Cola to the boil in your camp oven.
2. Let the meat boil away for about 25-30 minutes until tender.
3. Take the ribs out of the pot and empty the coke out.
4. Thin the Smokey BBQ marinade out a bit with some fresh coke and lather the ribs in it.
5. Put them back in the camp oven on low heat so they can bake (with the lid on).
6. Re-lather the ribs every 10-15 minutes with more marinade before they are ready.
7. The ribs should be ready after about an hour.