Whether the power is down, or you want to conserve energy, knowing how to cook on a wood stove is an essential skill that can come in very handy.
When we’re talking about wood stoves here, we’re not talking about wood-fuelled stoves like your grandmother (or great-grandfather, depending on your age). We are talking about the type of burner stove that you can have in the corner of your cottage, cabin or suburban living room.
These aren’t typically designed for cooking, but can pull double duty in a pinch. Here are my top tips for cooking on a wood stove:
- 1 1. Get Yourself Some Cast Iron Cookware
- 2 2. Buy Items You’ll Actually Use
- 3 3. Find the Hottest Surface Spot
- 4 4. Build a Hot, Lasting Fire
- 5 5. Be Adaptive
- 6 6. Keep your equipment handy
- 7 7. Use wood stove coals
- 8 8. Use That Residual Heat
1. Get Yourself Some Cast Iron Cookware
Whether you’re cooking on or inside a wood stove, you’ll need a few pots and pans that can withstand a more rustic surface. Ideal items to use are those that are made of cast iron. Strong enamelware like Le Creuset can also hold up very well. I’ve been using these to cook on my burner for over a decade, and they do just fine.
If you have the budget for some new pieces, I suggest investing in at least two of the following:
- all purpose shallow frying pan
- deep skillet with lid
- saucepan or small cooking pot
- Dutch oven
Each of these serves a different purpose, so you can decide what kind of cookware is best for your needs. Additionally, you’ll need to choose pieces that will work with your wood stove. Does your burner have a large, wide, flat top? You can then use any skillet or cooking utensil on top of it.
Conversely, if it’s a split-level surface (like mine), you’ll be taken to smaller objects. A 5 or 6-inch diameter saucepan can fit over almost any burner and is large enough to heat soup. In a case like this, a Dutch oven that fits inside the stove can be a nice complementary option.
2. Buy Items You’ll Actually Use
You should also choose pieces that help you cook the best you can. For example, do you and your family like things like pancakes, fried fish, eggs or bannock? If so, a shallow fry pan will be your new best friend.
Conversely, fry bread, chicken, and other things that need to be fried, they need to be in a deep skillet. Around here, soups, stews and casseroles are must-eats, so our go-to items are a saucepan and Dutch oven.
Buy items that fit your needs and that you are going to use. This is largely a given when it comes to self-reliance, but it applies across the board. Once you have a couple of cast iron solids, be sure to season them well and take good care of them. If you do this, they will last at least a lifetime, if not more. We are still using items that belonged to our great-grandparents. This is simply because everyone has taken good care of him.
3. Find the Hottest Surface Spot
There is always a “sweet spot” on every wood stove. This is the region that heats up the fastest and stays warm for a long time. However, every burner is different, so you’ll need to learn your appliance’s unique personality to figure it out.
One way to find it is to make a nice, hot fire and place a few different pots in different places. Check them regularly to see which one starts to boil first. That would be in the sweet spot!
4. Build a Hot, Lasting Fire
Those accustomed to caring for a wood stove know that some fires burn hotter (and longer) than others. For example, a slightly uncooked, thick piece of pine or spruce will burn slowly. This makes the stove ideal for keeping the stove burning overnight.
Conversely, if you’re cooking over the stove you want a really hot, dancing fire. To do this, choose thin hardwood logs instead. Several pieces about 3 inches in diameter will burn hotter and brighter than a giant log.
Needless to say, make sure you have a big pile of wood to keep this fire going while you cook.
5. Be Adaptive
What you are cooking over the stove will not necessarily cook evenly. As a result, you may need to turn it regularly or move it to different surface areas to keep the heat even. Alternatively, it may take longer to cook than you anticipated.
Cooking on a wood stove is completely different from a regular stovetop or oven. They have a steady, even temperature that you can adjust with a dial. With a burner stove, your adjustment should be manual. For example, you may need to remove a pot from the stove and place it on a nearby, heat-protected surface to cool for a few minutes.
I recommend experimenting with woodstove cooking to determine what works and what doesn’t. Do it regularly for fun. That way, when you need to do some really serious cooking, you’ll have a solid idea of what you’re doing. There are few things as frustrating (and demoralizing) as trying to prepare an entire meal on one burner without practice. Some things will burn, some will be raw, and all will be sad.
6. Keep your equipment handy
If you have mantelpieces or shelves, keep all of your cooking tools there within easy reach. As an example, I have hooks and nails so that I can hang spoons, spatulas and ladles from it. Herbs, spices, and cooking oils top the mantel, along with some stone mugs and bowls.
Keeping everything within reach means you don’t have to go to another room to get seasonings or servings.
Treat your burner area as if it were another kitchen. If you have the space nearby, I highly recommend a movable kitchen cart. You can move it around as needed, and it gives you a little extra surface area to work with.
Also, make sure you have proper hand and body protection when working on this oven. Since you’re dealing with a lot of direct heat, you’ll need oven mitts that are more insulated than standard kitchen versions. Those silicone ones won’t do the trick. Aim for wool oven mitts, whether you make your own with wool batting, or buy some, well, online.
This is because wool does not ignite when exposed to flame until the heat reaches 570°F. In contrast, cotton will explode at 255°F, while polyester melts at 150°F and ignites at 420°F. What would you like to have on hand while cooking? Absolutely.
7. Use wood stove coals
When you’re finished cooking on top of your wood stove, you can also make good use of what’s going on inside it. This is referred to as cooking in a “firebox” as opposed to a stovetop.
Once the cooking flames are extinguished, you’ll be left with some nice, hot, glowing embers. These are ideal for baking, as they help maintain a steady oven heat for a long period of time. You can either set up that Dutch oven of yours to bake something delicious or nestle in the coals.
For example, I wrap Hasselback potatoes in aluminum foil, put them in the embers, and cover them. After an hour, they are cooked and ready to eat. You can use this foil technique with corn on the cob, stuffed vegetables like peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. If you have some tried-and-tested campfire coal recipes, they’ll work just as well in your woodstove.
8. Use That Residual Heat
Get yourself a nice enamel or metal teapot and keep it filled with water, and on the burner whenever you’re not cooking on it. If you keep it there after cooking, it will use up the remaining heat. You’ll have nice, hot water for tea or coffee without heating the stove.
If you are not cooking on the stove, but the fire is still on, remove the lid of the teapot. A mist of evaporated water will help maintain your home’s humidity level. A wood stove is wonderful for keeping a home warm, but it can dry out everyone who lives there. Just keep an eye on the water level and top it up whenever needed.
You can even fill this teapot with ice in the winter and it will melt into your drinking water.
Play with different techniques until you find the one that suits you best. Oh, and be sure to check out the various resources on Pioneer Cooking Tips! You can discover some great recipes to try, and you’ll be a proper Woodstove chef in no time.
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Idea Source: morningchores.com