If you are a vandweller, car camper, flight attendant, trucker, or business traveler you probably have had to cook meals on the road. Today, I’ll be reviewing the Sabotheat Smart Oven with an emphasis on vandwelling. However, the information will be useful for any person who needs to prepare meals without the benefit of a formal kitchen.
The classic way to cook in a van is to use a butane or propane stove. These devices are proven, work well, and heat fast. However, they consume fuel that may be expensive or hard to find when you are camping in the wild.
Another way to cook has been to use the van’s house battery system. As these power banks have become more powerful it has become feasible to cook with induction cooktops and microwaves. However, these high draw devices quickly flatten a van’s power system if it is not robust (i.e. expensive) enough.
There have been a number of low wattage 12 and 120-volt devices that have been around for a while, and some new ones, like the micro-small electrics from Dash can do everything from poaching eggs to making mini-bundt cakes.
The Hot Logic Mini and the Road Pro Lunch Box Oven are two gadgets that have stood the test of time; they approached low-wattage electric cooking from two ends of the spectrum.
The Road Pro runs off of a standard 12-volt car outlet and can reach 300 F, which allows for real roasting and baking. It uses about 145 watts/hour making it compatible with most 12-volt car outlets and is a favorite among truckers who can load a meal into it and have it cook their food while they drive from point A to point B. In addition, its low power consumption makes it possible to use it with a relatively small solar generator/solar panel setup. I have cooked raw chicken in a Road Pro in less than 90 minutes (145 watts x 1.5 hours = 217 watts used). Naturally, there are many foods that require less cooking time than that. A heat-resistant cooking vessel is necessary when using these devices, and most find that disposable 8” loaf pans work well.
The Hot Logic Mini approaches heating food a bit differently. It is a small collapsible heater that can be purchased in both a 120 volt and a 12-volt version. It only uses 45 watts per hour, so it is very solar-friendly. Although it is marketed as a “mini-oven” it is more of a collapsable slow cooker that is permanently set on low. It heats to a maximum of 160F, which is a food-safe temperature. It is possible to cook some raw foods in the mini in addition to heating up already prepared dishes. The mini is not only popular among van dwellers, but also flight attendants who may live for days in a hotel without access to a microwave.
Since the Mini only heats to 160 F degrees there is no chance of fire, and you can even heat foods directly in their cardboard or plastic boxes. Like a slow cooker, the Mini is time tolerant. Do you have to leave your food in it for an extra hour or two? No problem.
Recently, I saw YouTube reviews of a new collapsable “mini oven,” the Sabotheat Smart Portable Oven. This should not be confused with the Sabotheat Mini Portable Oven, as that device seems to be a clone of the Hot Logic Mini.
The Smart Portable Oven had a few features that I thought could be useful for both vandwellers and other travelers. Notably, it has a controller that contains both a timer and a six-level power adjustment. At power level one it uses only 30 watts, and at power level 6 it consumes 110 watts. Because of this, I thought that the Sabotheat Smart Portable Oven could serve a dual purpose role. When using it on its lower power setting it could function similarly to a Hot Logic Mini. At its high setting, I thought it might perform similarly to a Road Pro Oven, and allow baking and roasting. However, both of these assumptions are incorrect.
The power level control controls the rate of heating, but not the final temperature. Eventually, the hotplate will heat to around 260F. This will happen very slowly at level 1, and faster at level 6. If you are very careful it could be possible to heat up something in cardboard or plastic on levels 1 or 2. However, if you forget about your food you could have an internal melt-down and fire in the oven. Therefore, Sabotheat advises that you only use metal or heat-resistant glass when cooking. Further, they don’t want you to use tight-fitting lids for the same reason. This is an advantage of the Hot Logic. Since you can use tight-fitting lids in the Hot Logic you will prevent spills while on the road. By the way, the SabotHeat Smart Oven advises against mobile use.
The Sabotheat can reach 260F, but not the 300F that the Road Pro Lunchbox Oven reaches. This is a Road Pro advantage when you want to roast or bake something. I have made quick mixes and cornbread in the Road Pro. The top doesn’t brown, but the results are perfectly edible. I tried to make a Jiffy Mix in the Sabotheat, and it was a disaster. After 3 hours the top of the cake was still gummy, while the bottom was over browned. The cake was inedible.
I also tried to heat liquids at level 6. After 2.5 hours the temperature of the liquid got to 195F. Hot enough to make some instant coffee or to heat up a can of soup, but not hot enough to boil water. The hotplate itself was very hot, likely well over 200F, but the tip of the probe on my instant food thermometer was too narrow to measure its actual temperature.
The bottom line is that the Sabotheat Smart Oven is a useful device, but it is not a replacement for the Hot Logic Mini or the Road Pro. If you have either device there is no reason to upgrade. The Sabotheat Smart Oven can’t achieve the 300F of the Road Pro, so it doesn’t get hot enough to bake. No matter what heat setting it is set to, its hotplate will eventually reach around 270F which makes it too hot to heat up plastic or cardboard containers (like you can in the Hot Logic).
I am aware of flight attendants who like to directly heat up their home-prepared meals in FoodSaver bags, however, these may melt with the direct heat of the Sabotheat. It may be possible to use a lower heat setting combined with careful timing to mimic a Hot Logic Mini, but you would have to do that at your own risk. Why not just use the Mini which has a proven heating ability, and won’t melt your food containers?
The Sabotheat is a decent product that comes in both a 110 and 12-volt version, but I think existing devices are already available and do a better job.