Cooking on a wood stove requires a bit of patience at first, but the delicious rewards make the learning process well worth it. Having a wood cook stove or a wood burning stove will allow you to heat your home and cook food during a disaster where the power grid fails.
You can cook food or boil water on either type of wood stove, but there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to both. The fire box, which is the most important part of any wood burning stove or wood cook stove, is where the wood goes, the flames grow, and the hot coals–need to cook food–are created.
A wood cook stove will not heat a living area quite as well as a wood burning stove, but it will help keep the area warm while pulling double duty as a place to prepare food and boil water.
Wood Burning Stoves vs Wood Cook Stoves
Wood Burning Stoves
• Any wood burning stove with a flat surface on top can be used to cook food, even if the off-grid device was not specifically made to accomplish that task.
• A wood burning stove heats a home or a room more effectively than a wood cook stove, but cannot be used as an oven, like a wood cook stove.
• The top of a standard wood burning stove can typically hold up to three small cast iron pots or two large ones. The cooking surface on a standard wood cook stove can usually accommodate four large pots.
Wood Cook Stoves
• A wood cook stove can be used as a stove, oven, food warmer, and to help keep a room or small home warm.
• Some wood cook stoves include not only an oven for baking but also a dedicated reservoir for heating water.
• A wood cook stove might cost a little more than a wood burning stove, but not necessarily. The price difference will depend on the dimensions of each stove and the options added.
• Wood cook stoves come in multiple dimensions, from huge ones like the type that adorn Amish homes in my region, to units that are closer in dimension to a modern stove and can fit inside in small home or spacious kitchen alongside a traditional gas or electric range.
A large wood cook stove with a 21-gallon cooking capacity from Wood Cook Stove costs about $2,600. The model at this price point comes with one oven rack, but you can order additional oven racks. Some but not all wood cook stove manufacturers offer free shipping in the contiguous United States – these stoves are super heavy, so free shipping will save you a ton of money.
A warming oven will come in quite handy when preparing a meal for a large family or group during a long-term disaster. Bread and other food can be kept warm throughout the day so members of your group or family will have a hot meal waiting when they come in from doing chores.
How To Cook On A Wood Stove
To make sure you don’t burn your food, you need to allow the fire time to die down a bit before placing anything on the surface, except a pot of water to boil. Approach the timing of placing pots onto the stove like you would when preparing a meal on a charcoal grill.
Adjusting the damper on the stove will help regulate the temperature, but this is not a microwave or a conventional stove, so the change in heat will not happen immediately.
The center of the oven is typically the hottest spot, depending on where the fire box is located. On a wood burning stove, the box generally runs down the middle of the unit, but the center is still almost always the hottest surface area on the stove. Pots placed on the center or directly over the wood box will need to be stirred more frequently to prevent scorching.
9 Wood Stove Cooking Tips
1. If you are going to cook on a wood burning stove, it is best to use a unit with a chimney that comes out the back of the stove instead of one with a chimney that extends from the top. A top chimney set up reduces the cooking area and skews the heat when cooking. Remember, heat stability is key during the cooking process.
2. No matter how great the stove is, there is almost always one spot that gets hotter than the rest. This spot is where you will want to place a pot that needs to come to a boil or a skillet when frying.
3. If you fire does not seem to be getting hot enough to boil, fry, cook, or bake upon, try building it up by using multiple small logs up to four inches in diameter, as opposed to one large log that can take a long time to get burning.
The thinner logs will burn faster (the opposite of what you want when building a fire to keep you warm until morning) and will produce a more intense heat in a shorter amount of time. The higher the flames, the hotter the cooking surface will become.
4. You can usually hasten the cooking process if you preheat your cast iron cookware. Simply place the empty pot, skillet, or Dutch oven onto the wood stove while you are making the food so it will already be getting warm and ready to retain heat.
If you are cooking with enamel camping cookware and not cast iron, the bottom and sides of the cookware will heat up far more quickly, but will not retain heat as well throughout the cooking process.
5. Always use a firm fitting lid to help trap and retain the heat in the cook pot and increase processing time.
6. Rotating the food, and not just stirring it, will help it cook more quickly and evenly, and prevent scorching or even outright burning when you’re still learning how to cook on a wood stove.
7. An oven cooks by surrounding food on all sides with a steady, low heat. Using the same principle, you can create an oven on top of your wood heat stove. All you need is a cast iron trivet to elevate the food (working like the rack in a conventional oven).
The trivet will keep the food from coming into direct contact with the surface of the stove so that it doesn’t overheat or burn. Cover the trivet with a pot that is big enough to turn upside down over the food to create the walls of the oven and hold in the heat.
8. Purchase a cast iron trivet (or several) to use when cooking on a wood stove. This will allow you to essentially “turn down the heat” if the stove surface becomes too hot for something that is being prepared. You can place a pot on top of the trivet after it has been placed on the stove to allow air flow and space between the bottom of the pot and the fire box below.
9. It is possible to cook directly inside the fire box, but this can be both tricky and dangerous. Do not attempt to prepare food inside the fire box if you have a hot and roaring fire already established — the food will burn quickly.
If cooking inside the fire box, push the hot coals away from the cooking area, and use a Dutch oven with feet on the bottom so the cookware does not rest directly on the coals. Add a little extra water or other liquid to the dish to avoid scorching — but not so much that it boils over. Always cover the Dutch oven with a lid to prevent ashes or other debris from contaminating the food.
How long it takes to cook or bake a particular dish will depend less on the type of wood stove you are using and more on the heat and stability of the fire. Cookbooks and printable online recipes designed for wood stove cooking or camp cooking over an open flame will help guide you through cooking times.
But don’t rely solely upon the recipe as there is simply no effective way to measure the heat on most stoves. Use the recipes as a guide and assume it may take longer than suggested or that more stirring and food rotation will be necessary to get the dish to turn out right.
Outdoor and indoor cooking recipes, or even Dutch oven recipes, should serve as a useful guide when making bread, stews, soups, and other multi-ingredient dishes on a wood stove.