Build and Cook With the Aladdin Oven

Learn how to construct an Aladdin oven and slow-cook delicious food that's well worth the wait.

| November/December 1974

Back in the late 1800's a fellow named Edward Atkinson devised a highly efficient low-cost cooker called the Aladdin oven . . . and the reasoning behind his invention is just as timely now as it was then.

By his own account, Atkinson became concerned with the economics of contemporary cooking methods after reading some statistics on the cost of living. It seemed to him that a disproportionate part of the household budget was spent on food and its preparation, and he began an investigation that was to occupy him over the next ten years.

Atkinson's studies revealed that the ordinary kitchen practices of the 1800's required the burning of far in excess of two pounds of coal for every pound of food processed. He published no comparable statistics for the use of wood, natural gas, etc . . . but it's obvious that the cooking techniques of the day were just as wasteful with one fuel as with another.

Today, although I have no current figures to back me up, I'm convinced that the same problem is still with us in a slightly different form. The electricity which is now so widely used in the kitchen is largely produced by the burning of coal and oil . . . and I'm not at all sure that this fossil-fuel-to-electricity-to-"modern"-appliance conversion is any more efficient than the end user's direct consumption of coal was in 1890. Hence my interest in a very-low-energy-consumption, but forgotten, 19th-century invention.

Atkinson's answer to the high cost of cooking was a device that enabled one pound of kerosene to do the work of 50 to 70 pounds of coal. It took its name from the heat source: none other than the familiar Aladdin lamp.

The Aladdin oven is really a very simple affair. As Fig. 1 shows, the cooker itself is merely two-thirds of a common wooden barrel (or some other container made of a material that conducts heat poorly . . . this being the factor that governs the oven's effectiveness). The drum is inverted over a sheet-iron table pierced in the center by a hole about 3 inches in diameter. The opening does not lead directly to the cooking chamber, but is closed off on the inside by a deflector made of tin (see Fig. 2a) . . . an arrangement which radiates heat into the interior without drying the food or tainting it with the products of combustion.

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