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Wood stove cooking is a great way to let your fuel work double duty in the winter time. With a wood stove already running, you can save on stovetop electricity or propane. Wood stove cooking can be especially handy if the power goes out, or if you live off grid or are planning to live off grid someday.
There are a number of specialized tools you can add on to your wood stove to make cooking and baking easier, such as a chimney pipe oven, but even without retrofitting your existing wood stove, you can learn techniques for cooking on your wood stove just as it is.
Cooking on top of the wood stove, the heat comes directly from the bottom just like cooking on your stovetop. Be sure to use a thick bottomed pan or cast iron pan to distribute the heat evenly and prevent burning. Unlike the stove top, a wood stove takes a long time to cool down if you get it going too hot, and a thick bottomed one will help regulate the heat to prevent scorching. Keep in mind that you can remove the pan from the stove temporarily if things get out of hand.
There are three main groups of things to cook on a wood stove:
- Foods that require a quick burst of high heat.
- Foods that require a long slow simmer.
- Baked goods in a dutch oven.
Regardless of what you’re making, you’ll need to pay attention to how hot your wood stove is and monitor the fuel and damper carefully to successfully cook your food without burning it or undercooking it.
High Heat Wood Stove Cooking
Right as your wood stove is coming up to temp is a good time to cook quick high heat things. Cook these things before you close down the damper and allow your wood stove to burn more evenly with a slower more consistent heat. Early in the morning when you kick it on to warm your home, wait until it gets good and hot before cooking:
1. Coffee in a kettle, percolator or moka pot
6. Hash Browns
This initial high heat is a great time to get breakfast going with foods that sear in a pan in 2-5 minutes.
Later in the day when it’s time to reload your fuel, open up the damper and allow the wood stove to kick back and put a well-seasoned cast iron on top to sear:
8. Grilled Cheese
9. Fillet Fish caught that morning in your creek
10. Fried Rice
Slow Cooking Low Temperature Foods
During the day while you’re out working and the wood stove is dampened down and putting off slow consistent heat is a great time to slow cook on top of the wood stove. Anything that can cook with a slow simmer is a good choice, such as:
12. Braised Meats
13. Soups and Stews
14. Baked Beans
15. Boiled Potatoes or other vegetables
Dutch Oven Baking
Slow cooking in a cast iron dutch oven helps to mimic the effects of cooking in an enclosed oven. A dutch oven is made of thick material to help hold and diffuse the heat evenly throughout the food, to help give the effect of a long slow braise inside an oven even when the heat is only coming through the bottom.
Good choices for dutch oven baking are baked goods that cook through relatively quickly, so they cook completely well before the somewhat higher heat at the bottom begins to burn them.
Start by putting a well seasoned dutch oven or cast iron pan with a lid on the wood stove empty, lid and all. This will allow it to heat completely so that once the baked goods are added, the heat will be coming more evenly from all sides, just like preheating your oven. Cornbread is traditionally made this way by getting the pan and lid very hot before tossing in a good deal of butter to coat the pan and then quickly scooping the batter in before putting the lid back on.
16. Corn Bread
17. Drop Biscuits
18. Cookies (quick cooking varieties like thin rolled out cookies work best)
19. Dinner Rolls
20. Whole roast chicken on a wire rack placed inside the dutch oven
A wood stove is a great place to cook things down like apple cider for cider syrup or cider jelly, or very small batch maple syrup early in the season. Wood stoves naturally create a draft in your home which sucks air out through the chimney and naturally dehumidifies the air.
Often in the wintertime it’s a good idea to put a kettle on, even if you don’t need the hot water, just to keep the air from drying out too much. If you’re going to be doing that anyway, you might as well cook something down with a purpose. If you happen to live near the sea, this is a great way to passively harvest your own sea salt, humidifying the air while extracting salt without using extra fuel beyond what you’re already burning to stay warm.
Next to the wood stove can be a great place to keep things warm like mulled cider, a fresh pie or quiche or bread dough that’s rising. When you turn your wood stove on the first few times during the fall harvest season, it can also be used as a dehydrator. Hanging meat, vegetables or fruit over the wood stove will help to slowly dehydrate them as the stove warms them and lowers the ambient humidity and promotes airflow through the room. Even without actually cooking your food, you can still make good use of the wood stove to stay warm as well as fed in the winter.