When used correctly a wood burning cook stove can be the heart of the house! Food becomes more than food when cooked on a flickering live fire, eagerly awaited by family and friends.
One important note: there are many guides out there discussing cooking on a regular wood stove. Meaning a wood stove used primarily for heating. Many of them come with a hotplate on top, usually very small, which can be used to warm up food and maybe even make scrambled eggs, heat up a cup of tea, etc. This is NOT real wood stove cooking and not what this guide is about. This is also not what our great-grandparents used to cook on.
This guide is about the real thing: cooking on a wood cook stove. You can unmistakably identify one by the presence of a baking oven, smoke bypass, and cook top. Everything else is kids play. This is the stove that kept families warm and sated for centuries. The one you were told not to touch when you were little. Look at you, you have grown up but the stove is still the same! And for the benefit of us all - will likely never change... Let's see if we are on par with our great-grandmothers, can we manage a cook stove as good as they?
Up Next: The Basics.
Step 1: Step 1: the Manual - What Is Where.
Welcome to the 19th century. There are no buttons. No touch screen. You can't connect your Ipad to it. A digital voice will not offer you the options menu. Instead, there is lots of cast iron parts, and a steel chimney.
Once your stove is installed you are ready to cook and bake. Here is a brief description of a typical stove: the firebox is in the top left. This is where you will make the fire. Usually its floor has a grate - wood logs will stay but ashes will fall through - which is what you want. Directly underneath the firebox is the ash chamber, sometimes it has a separate door, sometimes it there is one high door both for the firebox and the ash box. Ashes will fall here on their own and also when you rake the firebox and from time to time you will need to take them out and launder whatever you were wearing at the time.
To the right of the firebox is the baking oven. It usually has a rack in the middle to give you an extra surface for another pot or cookie tray. Many stoves have a warming chamber directly below it - this is just to keep your food warm, not as hot as the oven and the cook top. If your stove has a drawer you can use it for pots and pans, wood, and also keeping your food warm.
The cooktop is usually made from cast iron. The entire cooking top will be hot when you cook but many stoves have cast iron ringed burners, which is a great option to be discussed in next steps. It's a good idea to have a trip around the cook top to protect kids' curious hands.
Last but - oh so no least - the chimney bypass. Look closely just between the cook top and the firebox and you should see a handle which you can pull and push. Overtime this may become your best friend. Just one move with it and you can send the hot gases from the firebox all around the baking oven, heating it up. Open it and the reverse will happen - the baking oven will cool down and the gases will heat up only the cook top.
Up Next: Starting the fire.
Step 2: Step 2: Starting the Fire
Use kindling size hardwood logs. Oak, maple, apple are perfect. Make sure the wood is completely dry and well seasoned - at least 2 years unless it's kiln-dried. You can use firestarters (not liquid of course) or just newsprint to start your fire.
Make sure both the chimney damper and the smoke bypass are completely open!
Now, firebox door has an air control - to allow air in. Sometime a stove will even have 2 air control - one on the door and the other one under it or both on the door. They have to be completely open too.
When the fire gets bigger add a large size log. You should have at least 1 large log catching GOOD fire. Practice makes perfect... ))
Up Next: Using the Cook Top.
Step 3: Step 3: Using the Cook Top
If you need just the cook top of your present needs (no baking) then the bypass valve should be closed - the smoke should go from the firebox on the left directly to the chimney on the right and heat up the cook top on its way.
You will basically use the cook top just like you would a regular gas-fired range. You can regulate T by closing the air intake on your door and the chimney damper - this will make the T fall as the fire will be smaller. The reverse (more air = more fire) will bring the T up. Apart from this you will notice that the area directly above the firebox (left) is usually quite a bit hotter than the other side (right) with many Ts in between. A very useful tool is a handheld infrared T gauge - only $10 on ebay, you will not regret it! Just point it at the cooking surface and it will instantly tell you the T! (though this feels like cheating on this sort of appliance )) ). Inherently the stove does not have any way to give you the T of the cook top (unlike the baking oven, where it does have a T gauge). In the old days people used to throw a drop of water on the cook top and see it sizzle, thus their T gauge basically only had 2 gauges: hot and not hot...
Everything does take longer than a microwave, have patience, it will pay off. You can cook pretty much anything - stews, soups, steak, anything.
Now, if you have those cast iron rings they can be removed - one by one, depending on the size of your pot. And then your pot will be directly on live flames - for most heat. Use a non-glazed pot, preferably thick cast iron. Some smoke may enter the room but usually isn't a big deal, most of it still goes into the chimney because of the way pressure works. This is a very cool feature.
Up Next: Using the Baking Oven.
Step 4: Step 4: Using the Baking Oven
If you close the bypass you will force the hot gas from the firebox to go under and all around the baking oven which will in turn heat it up. Use it as you would your regular convection oven. If it gets too hot you can open the door to reduce heat. The side of the oven close to the firebox will get a lot hotter than the other side so... reverse your pot or cookie platter from time to time - take it out and put it back in after turning it, this will help the food cook more uniformly. You can bake bread, muffins, cookies, chicken, duck. The T is not enough for a real Neapolitan pizza though...
Next: Using the Firebox.
Step 5: Step 5: Using the Firebox
You can wrap potatoes in aluminium foil and put it inside the firebox among the coals.
But best of all you can use your stove as an indoor charcoal grill! Remove the rings from the burner directly above the firebox and open the firebox door. You can use both wood and charcoal. You can place meat on skewers directly above the opening in the cook top - just like you would outdoor, the meat will get smoked by the smoke rising from the firebox. You can use various fancy woods available online - apple, pear, hickory, peach, you will not believe the smell of your house later!
Some stoves will allow for a grilling rack to be placed directly into the firebox as pictured here. This will work just like a charcoal grill but...indoor!
Next: Enjoy Your Stove.
Step 6: Enjoy Your Stove!
A cook stove is much more than cooking! It unites, entertains, bring memories, and inspires story-telling!