How to cook on a wood stove.
Written and lived by Stephanie Dayle.
Wood stove cooking is something we did when I was a kid. I grew up 15 miles outside of a small rural town, the power lines were old, pre-World War II, I was told. The power would go out during storms in the winter and during storms in the summer, sometimes for seemingly no reason at all. The longest outage I can recall was over two weeks, but it was never an ’emergency,’ and life went on. This may sound backwards to some people, but to us it was normal. During these times I helped my mother cook soups, stews, casseroles, French toast and pancakes all on our wood stove.
As an adult living in a rural area, it was really important to us that we have wood heat. It’s an ideal source of back-up heat and it provides an element of self-reliance that was a must for us. Since few newer homes come with wood heat anymore it was necessary to install a wood stove when we purchased our property. I happen to prefer the performance and versatility of a standalone wood stove (see picture on left) and they are usually very easy to cook on so that is what we got, but you can cook on some insert wood stoves too (an insert wood stove is different from a fireplace, see photo on the right). My mother did all her cooking during power outages on the top of an insert wood stove; you just need a somewhat wide flat surface on top.
If you are fortunate enough to have wood stove heat, here is how you can get started cooking on your own stove.
Start with some cast iron cookware. I recommend everyone having a couple of cast iron frying pans and at least one flat bottom dutch oven (also known as a kitchen oven – click here for an APN article on choosing and seasoning a dutch oven). Cast iron has a better heat tolerance and is kinder on heat distribution than other cookware, but if stainless is all you have you can cook with stainless steel frying pans and pots on your wood stove too. Another option is enamel cookware. Enamel cookware has a good heat tolerance, a great reputation for easy campfire cooking and cleaning. The only cookware I would avoid completely would be thin aluminum pans or Teflon. A trivet is a great tool to have to help regulate the cooking temperatures, however in a pinch, a stone tile can also be used for this purpose. Trivets are also used inside the Dutch oven to keep the food from baking to the bottom of the oven.
We have a two-step Englander free-standing wood stove. This gives me two different temperature surfaces. The top surface works better for slower cooking and the bottom surface works better for things that require more heat such as frying, boiling water, or cooking popcorn. It is a very large wood stove rated to heat 3200 square feet, it often drives us to open windows in the in the middle of the winter. As you can see in the picture we have outfitted the flue with a magnetic temperature gauge, now this not as handy as an oven thermometer, but it’s better than nothing and requires no electricity. It tells me what the temperature on the outside of the pipe is.
Wood stove cooking is best done on a wood stove when there is an established fire in the fire-box. When a fire is newly lit initially the stove will be too cold for cooking and then can heat up and become too hot very quickly, therefore a slower more controlled fire is usually best. To maintain a nice fire for cooking add a piece of wood or two every so often throughout the day instead of letting it burn down, and then filling the fire-box full of wood again. I have found that the ideal flue temperature for cooking is around 200-250 degrees F for our stove. Depending on the stove design, size and fuel being burned, each stove will be different on how it will cook. Keep in mind the actual temperature on the inside of the flue is higher and the thermometer only reads the outside temperature on what could be a double walled pipe.
Here is an easy recipe to try on your wood stove. Other easy things you can try on a wood stove include stews, beans, pancakes, French toast, soups, and popping popcorn!
Wood Stove Dutch Oven Beef Roast (serves 4)
- I use a 4 or5 quart flat bottom dutch oven for my wood stove slow cooking.
- 4-5 lb Beef Roast (we used a chuck roast), the size of your dutch oven will dictate the size of roast you can use.
- Your favorite dry rub spices (seasoning salt, pepper, garlic powder, etc…)
- 1 TBS of olive oil
- 1 Small onion
- 2 – 3 Dashes of Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 Can of beer
- 1/2 Cup of beef stock
- 1/2 Package of bacon (or whatever is left in the fridge)
Take a beef roast out of the freezer the day before you actually want to cook the roast and allow it to thaw. Do not thaw it in the microwave.
An hour before cooking apply the dry rub (spices) to the entire surface area of the roast, then let it rest prior to cooking. Brown the roast with a large cast iron skillet on the stove top using a tablespoon or two of rendered lard, tallow, or your favorite cooking oil. This will improve the flavor and and look of the roast. Grease will splatter on your stove; this will not hurt your stove, it is not the end of the world, and will most likely burn off later.
In the bottom of the oven place the trivet, onion, olive oil, beer, Worcestershire sauce, and beef stock.
Place the beef roast in your oven sitting in those liquids on top of the trivet. Top the roast with chunks of raw bacon. Add the Dutch oven lid and closely monitor how the roast begins to cook. If it seems a little too hot add a trivet or stone tile under the Dutch oven, if it’s too cold remove the stone tile or trivet, if it is still too cold, move the oven to the lower cooking surface if you have one.
Only after all the easy options have been exhausted do you tinker with the stove, closing the dampers down to lower the temperature output and opening them up to increase the temperature output. Remember wood stoves are not instant so if you open the dampers up to increase the cooking temperature, it will take some time for the temperature to actually go up, so do it gradually.
Slow cook the beef roast on the stove for 6-8 hours. Think ‘crock-pot’ cooking. Occasionally rotate your Dutch oven to insure even cooking, try to avoid removing the lid too much. Using a meat thermometer check the temperature of the roast before declaring it done, it should read between 150-160 degrees F. Remove the roast and put it on a plate for serving.
Serve your wood stove beef roast with some homemade mashed potatoes, canned peas (which you can also cook on your wood stove) and maybe the rest of that beer! Enjoy! If you are wondering where you can get that cast iron tea kettle (click here), we use it as a humidifier while the stove is going during the winter.
I am aware that there have been rumors that the EPA is going to tighten or already has tightened regulations to restrict the use of wood burning stoves. I have seen many fear inducing articles about it. However, it has not happened yet. Click here to see the actual current EPA wood heater compliance monitoring program. Click Here to see the actual current particle emission standards on the EPA’s Wood Heater Regulation Page. Air quality regulations in addition to what the EPA currently recommends and building codes vary from county to county so it’s important to check with your local country government before purchasing and installing a wood burning stove.
Why do I refer you directly to the EPA site itself and not the “Burn Wise” site which you see so many articles linked to?? Because Burn Wise is propaganda (my opinion), it is website designed and published to push the ultimate agenda of cleaner air through eliminating wood stoves. Burn Wise is deliberately confusing and scary to read through, it is designed to convince manufactures and the public that tighter controls are needed and headed your way (and they may in fact be, but not right now).
Wood stoves are not polluting our air. Of the highest pollutant sources out there, wood burning stoves don’t even make the list (source). They are a keystone of self-reliance and any attempt to eliminate them or reduce their usage in an effort to some how “reduce air pollution” is fool hardy at best, a malevolent attempt to force dependence and compliance at the worst and should be sharply discouraged by the power of your voice and vote. I linked to the actual EPA regulations above because that is what is currently in force.