How to Cook with a Wood Stove

Old world cooking at the Autumn Pioneer Festival.

Old world cooking at the Autumn Pioneer Festival.

See Also:

Pioneer Cooking

Making Broth on Your Wood Stove

Turnips Roasting Over an Open Fire

 

Choosing a Wood Stove

Our home didn’t have a wood stove when we bought the property in 2010. The entire house was powered by electricity. Now, we don’t live way out in the boonies and we don’t have a lot of problems with power outages, but there is always a chance that a winter storm could blow through and knock out the electricity for several days. So one of the first upgrades we made to our home was the addition of a wood stove for heating and cooking. After all, the reason we moved here was so we could be more self reliant.

Our house is small and there weren’t many places we could fit a wood stove. So I had to forgo the old fashioned cook stove I’ve been dreaming about. I would have loved to put in a stove like the one above from a pioneer cabin in Belvidere, Illinois. In fact, the spot where a wood stove made the most sense was a small corner in our living room. So we ordered a Regency wood stove that can be installed quite close to our wall without risk of burning down our house.

We are very happy with the heat that this wood stove puts out. And, although we can’t bake with it or put more than one large pot or two small pans on it, we are able to do quite a bit of cooking with it in the winter. If you have more room to fit a larger wood stove, you might want to consider one of the reproduction cook stoves available from Lehman’s. They are very pricey and are not the best option for heating a large home, but they will allow you to do a lot more baking and cooking all at one time. You can also add the option of a water reservoir that will allow you to keep water hot for washing dishes, making tea, or even filling a bath tub.

 

We save electricity and warm the house while the fire burns and the soup simmers.

We save electricity and warm the house while the fire burns and the soup simmers.

 

Cooking With a Wood Stove

Cooking with a wood stove requires some forethought. You don’t just turn on a burner when you want to scramble some eggs or make a pot of tea. The fire needs to be started ahead of time, allowing the stove to heat up. If you want to cook over high heat, you need to get the fire¬† stoked up with a good bed of coals. For frying, boiling, or canning foods, you will need a hotter stove.

For simmering soup or chili, reheating leftovers, or slow cooking foods, the fire will need to burn at a lower, but steady, heat for a long period of time. You can’t just put your meal in a crock pot and forget about it for the day. Wood will need to be added and you’ll need to pay close attention to keep proper heat levels and make sure your food doesn’t burn.

If you don’t have a cook stove with an oven, you can purchase one that will allow you to bake on top of the wood stove. Before ordering, measure the dimensions of the stove top to be sure it will fit. Purchase an oven thermometer to put inside the oven so you can keep the temperature close to what the recipe calls for. You don’t want to burn the outside of a loaf of bread and have the inside doughy and underdone. If you do buy a stove top oven, try practicing with it a few times. Build a fire to heat the house as you normally would. Place the oven with thermometer on the stove and just watch to see what the temperature is. You’ll get a feel for how much to stoke your fire, depending on what temperature you need for baking.

turnips roast

Turnips roasted in a foil packet on a bed of coals in our wood stove.

You can also let your fire die down to a bed of coals and cook foods in a foil packet with some oil or butter to prevent sticking. This is a great way to cook hamburgers and potatoes with some sliced onion and a sprinkle of salt. In the autumn and spring, when the weather is cool but not freezing, you might like to let your fire die down and cook right on the coals like this.

The Learning Curve

It takes time to learn how cook with a wood stove, so don’t expect perfect pot roasts and sugar cookies on your first try. Start out by heating water for tea, or making coffee with an old fashioned percolator. When you have a pretty good idea of how hot to stoke up the fire, try a new project. Simmering a pot of soup for the afternoon while you watch football or knit a sweater is another easy cooking project. Making pancakes for breakfast or a stir fry for dinner will be a little bit more challenging. You won’t want to build the fire up enough for this if the weather is still pretty warm. In the dead of winter, when the snow is blowing and the temps drop you’ll be happy to heat the house up for that.

cast iron

Cooking With Wood in the Summer

Most likely you won’t want to heat up your house with the wood stove for summer time cooking. If you’d like to cook on a wood stove during warm weather, consider constructing a summer kitchen like our ancestors used to have. That might not be realistic for most folks, so try cooking in a Dutch oven or on a grill over a campfire in your yard.

 

Cooking in a Dutch oven for our 4th of July picnic!

Cooking in a Dutch oven in the summer.

 

It’s a great feeling…

to have a wood stove and a good supply of firewood when the winter winds begin to howl and the snow blows. For most of my childhood our house was heated with wood. It was hard to go away for the day, but we didn’t have to worry about the power going out, leaving us shivering in the dark. I remember that Christmas seemed a little bit more special when we opened our gifts around the wood stove, with a tea kettle steaming and the cat and dog curled up on the hearth. We had to work hard in the summer and fall, helping load firewood into the trailer to haul home from the woods, then stack it in the basement for the winter. But it builds character to do some work…and I’m certainly full of character! Thanks to my parents for showing us that work is nothing to be afraid of and, if you plan ahead, you can be a little bit more self reliant in this modern world.

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