Cooking over a fire

Why go to all the trouble?

Fires are a lot of work. Gathering wood is a big chore. Chainsaws are loud and scary. Splitting logs is backbreaking. No wonder modern man uses alternate ways to heat and cook. Fires make a big mess too. Leaves and bark scatter across the floor and then there's taking out the ashes. Bending over a low hot fire is a back strain. Dust coats everything. With all the obvious drawbacks to woodstoves, many people think it's well worth the time and effort.

Some of us who already went to all that trouble to get some good coals going think the natural next thing to do is to cook something on it. I'm one of them. I have an additional reason too. This is my only stove, it heats my home. I live in interior Alaska and all winter I have to keep a fire going 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Eating food cooked on a woodstove or over an open fire is a much anticipated event. That's because some things take a lot longer to cook over wood flames as compared to a gas or electric stove and oven (or a microwave). But if you've got fire, patience and a few good tools, you can cook and bake many of your favorite meals.

I have a small Drolet Hunter's woodstove designed for small cabins and large tents. It used to hold a fire for about 4-6 hours. The manufacturer advises against using this model for full-time use. I've been burning it steadily in my tents since August 2006 and it carried me through two winters that dropped down to 50 below zero. It's now showing signs of splitting apart at the seams. It's been an awesome stove that overperformed it's intended mission, and it was well worth the $200.00.

For baking I now use a Camerons' Smoker. Designed for cooking fish over a campfire. This little cooker is the best garage sale find of last summer. It's a big pan with inside racks and a handle, about 10x15 inches and maybe two inches tall with a piece that slides over the top.

Not intended as a cookbook, this Instructable includes a sampling of a couple of the recipes I've made that were edible.
manstrom4 months ago
makes me miss Alaska.
Hi TentLady! Thanks for all this - helpful & appreciated. My husband & I live on a mountaintop in Western NC, entirely off the grid, with wood-stoves upstairs & down. The upper one is for heat only; we cook downstairs, & I have a propane 3-burner set on the porch outside, for when it's not too windy to cook outside. My question is how you bake on your wood-stove, or do you use the smoker for all your baking? We've been up here a year now, learning from ground zero, & baking has been a real challenge here. He loves breads & wants sandwiches, etc. (I do make great flour tortillas, as we LOVE Mexican food, & you just gotta have tortillas for that - gotta gotta gotta). Ok, so, how to you do it? I've learned to make biscuits & roll them extra thick, & flip them when browning on the bottom, in a heavy cast iron lidded Dutch oven or skillet. Yeast bread was a big fail, but the birds & raccoons enjoyed it. If you used a smoker, did you modify it somehow? There's one here but the firebox is tiny. We cut all our own wood here, & like you, I'm stronger than when we started on this adventure. It's not easy but it sure is beautiful!
Ok, enuf chat - plz share inside tips on exactly how you get your baking done - my husband is holding his breath. Much appreciated! Melissa
PS, for those interested, Solutions From Science offers lots of great off-grid products (like power packs & solar-bulbs, God-sends for us up here).
Hi, how much dried milk is added? An amount isn't listed.
karoles3 years ago
very handy input for living in a hungry, chilly january in greece!
so glad to have found you!
jscruggs14 years ago
Thanks for this, it's very helpful. We'll be cabin camping this weekend--first time doing so on our own--and I need help knowing how to get the fire started, etc. I appreciate your expertise.
AlaskanTentLady (author)  jscruggs14 years ago
you're so welcome! hope you had a great time camping and ate some good food. nice of you to write.
EEEEWW!! that egs?
AlaskanTentLady (author)  sthealthraider5 years ago
Yes they are. Salmon eggs (or roe) are what our friend Amanda from San Franciso calls "brain food." She eats them raw and I tried one last august for the first time. The eggs explode like a juicy pomegrant (sp?) in your mouth, and are quite tasty after soaked in sea salt and marinated in salt water.
noelle_tan6 years ago
Wow! That's a whole lotta eggs.
AlaskanTentLady (author)  noelle_tan5 years ago
Yeah we just started saving a few this past summer, used to throw them all in the dog slops.  Too bad we can't sell them for caviar. :)
achollowell5 years ago
I see in one of these pictures there is a fishing machine I havn`t see one in years there were some on the east coast where I live in north Carolina for catching herring in spring
AlaskanTentLady (author)  achollowell5 years ago
Yes, that's a fishwheel. I actually looked up the history of it online a while back and found one account that claimed it was invented by the ancient Chinese and brought to Europe  first and then patented in the USA by two men from North Carolina. There was something about a second patent filed in Washington State so it may even be court record. This account says it was introduced to the Ahtna Indians by the white men who came up the Copper River in the 1870s.

I just got my first official permit to take fish from a wheel here.. I can get 500 a season for myself and my family. It's dangerous, and a lot of work when the river gets high, but not near as dangerous as dipnetting.
adome6 years ago
Dude you throw down in that. What do you do in the wilderness?
AlaskanTentLady (author)  adome6 years ago
Thanks adome, I'm a writer, and I'm not exactly in the wilderness. I live on a main highway with electric and phone lines. :)
Do you write food article 'cause these look delicious!
hi tentlady mabe you should start eating humans lololol after all there are plenty of them to spare over 6 billion of them hahahah, love the fire a lot,is the yurt realy very comfortable enuff for alaska, im in ireland myself dont know much about alaska, thank you for instructable
steadmanjon6 years ago
You need to invite us over for dinner. The food looks delicious. I've always wanted a wood stove, but don't know how to install it in my home. Anyway good instructable.
AlaskanTentLady (author)  steadmanjon6 years ago
You're welcome to join us for dinner anytime. Installing a woodstove isn't as hard as it seems, you could probably find someone to show you how.
AlaskanTentLady, I'm very impressed and inspired by your instructables. I recently found a 10 lb bag of Krusteaz of my own. After seeing this one on fireplace cooking it made me long for a woodstove even more, though currently I use propane for fuel. I am curious though about what you use for a water source. Its got to be tough with the freezing temperatures. Thanks for the knowledge and stay warm this winter!!!
We get our water from a community well and normally haul it home in 7 gallon plastic jugs. We also have a 35 gallon water barell for backup. Most Alaskans who haul water have 250 to 500 gallon water tanks on the backs of their trucks. I'm seriously going to study how to save the rainwater off the roof because even if we don't drink it I could use it for dishwater. Melting snow into water is a huge job but it can be done in a pinch. Thanks for the encouragment!
stacy81556 years ago
Tentlady, I live in North Pole, Alaska and I am new to having a woodstove in my home. I am trying more and more to live a subsistence type lifestyle. I am just starting (I live pretty well right now) and I wanted to start semi-small. I am going to start an indoor herb garden, and I am learning to sew... but cooking on the stove I already use to heat my house is by far the most practical way to move into a more self sufficient way of life. Thank you for the informative blog you posted, it's helped tremendously!
AlaskanTentLady (author)  stacy81556 years ago
How cool is that, thank you. I guess the point of my instructables is that we can just start doing things, and probably a lot more than we realize. We're working out the details for a company that features necessary, healthy, and functional locally made items. We think the trick to subsistance may very well be for us to go back to what all ancient people knew. You can't make everything yourself even if you stop buying what you do need from China. As the American system proved, societies thrive within a protected network of traders that includes crafters, builders, spinners, weavers, potters, welders, candlemakers, bakers (I still can't make croisants on my wood stove!), and really, who do we know who can make their own toilet paper and Qtips? I lived in Fbks for many years and I know a lot of people there who did exactly what you're doing and it made us all stronger, more capable people. Granted, we all went with the luxuries as we got older and could afford them, but I'm living proof that once you learn it you own it forever. There is nothing forcing us to buy neccessary commodities from the Empire so in that respect we are still free to form trade associations. I recommend learning one skill that will be of value to others and to have fun trying all of them while you're seeking your "gift." I absolutely believe we're all good at something, few of us are good at everything. Amazing though how good your own food tastes that you cook on a stove (and add your garden herbs to), even if it's half cooked sticky bread rolls, there's something really yummy at the core. Don't forget, Small sticks make a quick hot fire and it burns out so you can cool the room down a lot quicker too. Down in Kenny Lake a local lumber mill shaves slabs off the spruce log edges and sells it by 2 cords at less than 100. Look around up there for it, it cuts real easy, perfect for learning to use a chainsaw, and then it splits super easy and fast. Keep a hatchet right next to the stove and lay a flat piece of log on the floor to chop it on, cause sometimes you run out right when the stove needs to stay hottest. If you're ready to start dipnetting or running a fishwheel and canning Copper River Reds, come on down next summer and we'll all learn together.
gmoon6 years ago
Your pics are making me hungry...keep on tentin'. The photo of the salmon roe is amazing! (you can attach your replies to individual comments by clicking on the "reply" link, bottom right of the comment....)
AlaskanTentLady (author)  gmoon6 years ago
Thanks gmoon, I'm still tenting (although now I'm in a nice 20 foot yurt) and still learning new woodstove cooking tricks. Don't want to kill your appetite but I recently realized what a horrible smell and heavy, pungent smoke that emits from burning downed spruce that's been a home to ermine or other critters. That never happened before and I had no idea what it was. My friend Tim has burned wood in AK for 57 years..he explained it to me. :) What's amazing about the salmon roe is that most subsistence AK fishermen throw it away! It usually ends up back in the river or eagle, seagull or dog food.
Love the pics and general approach. Have you made a wood-fired sauna or hot tub? Susan in NW CT
I think I can imagine the "ermine effect.." ;-( Tossing the salmon roe seems like a lost opportunity. Do commercial fisheries harvest the roe?
AlaskanTentLady (author) 7 years ago
That's a grizzly bear spine I found when I went to check beaver traps last fall. I don't eat bears or people. It's way too messy. :) Thanks for the dessert idea. Sounds very yummy! I knew there was something simple for the pots in the fire and I couldn't remember what it is. Thanks a bunch for that tip... I've ruined so many pots.
no one eats people but a tribe on an island i forget the name of the island but its true.
inquisitive7 years ago
I saw the spine too-interesting. I used to work in a ticket booth that had a wood stove and loved to have a fire to cook lunch or toast marshmallows. My favorite sweet treat I discovered was to take a can of fruit (peaches/pears/apricots-canned pie filling is great) in heavy syrup and a dash of cinnamon, open can and cover and let set on the hot stove until it thickens and eat with graham crackers or on ice cream-YUM!
That's pretty cool. It looks like a messy place kind of... nice Instructable anyways.
Trans_Am7 years ago
If you rub a pot with dish soap before you cook over the fire with it, the carbon will just fall right off the pot.
billien7 years ago
I see someone's or something spine on the back ground that look kinda like human spine , you don't eat people do you :) lol Love your tent house by the way its really cool