While I'll not consider myself a master yet, I've gotten quite a bit of practice on my wood cookstove since we got it installed in January. I'm definitely more comfortable with it and am starting to learn how to get good results.
This is a very versatile piece of equipment. It cooks and it warms. Some days I've kept it going nearly all day, for the warmth. Other days, milder days or days I work outside a lot, I start a fire for each meal I prepare.
Learning damper control was important, both for starting fires and adjusting heat. This is different for each cookstove. Mine is a Heartland Sweetheart, and I admit I didn't like the bell style dampers at first.
|My stove has 3 bell dampers|
I've gotten used to them though, and the stove has fairly good control, though not nearly as sensitive as our Woodstock wood heat stove.
|Pancakes on the griddle|
The surface actually heats up pretty quickly, though a slow start is better for the cast iron itself. Even starting from a scratch fire, I can get cooking fairly quickly by removing plates and placing a pan directly over the fire. The firebox is fairly deep, so sooty pan bottoms are not a huge problem, unless I build a large, pot licking fire. An old Girl Scout tip for that, apply liquid dishwashing liquid to pan bottoms before using, so soot washes off easily.
There are two other ways to control cooking temperature. One is by placement of the pot or pan on the cooktop. The entire cast iron top can be used. After the stove is warmed up, even the surface farthest away from the firebox will keep soup simmering.
Temperature is also controlled by the dampers, which control air flow. Open dampers mean more air and a hotter, faster fire. Closed or partially closed dampers restrict air and slow the burn rate down. This means the wood lasts longer, but the temperature is lower. The oven damper can adjust stove top temperature as well as oven temperature.
|Oven damper control, here, almost all the way open|
When it's open, the heat is routed directly up the chimney. When it's closed, the heat circulates under the cooktop and around the oven. So I can somewhat adjust the temperature by adjusting the oven damper. If I want to turn "up" the heat, I close it. If I want to turn it "down," I open the damper to allow the heat to escape. The stove obviously retains more heat when the dampers are closed.
If the stove is used to heat the kitchen all day, getting a meal prepared is quite quick. Everything is pre-warmed and ready to go. I keep a cast iron pan or two on the cooktop. They stay quite warm this way, and are ready to use when I'm ready to cook. It's also quicker to heat the oven.
I have successfully used my stainless steel pots as well as my cast iron. With the SS however, food wants to stick to the bottom of the pan more quickly than with the cast iron, so I need to keep a closer eye on whatever I'm cooking.
The stove can also be used like a slow cooker. If I'm going to be keeping the stove warm all day, I can start a soup or stew in the morning, keep it off to the side and tend to it from time to time to judge its progress. I've used the oven the same way, "slow cooking" baked sweet potatoes.
|Hot, golden brown biscuits as they come out of the oven|
Getting the oven heated to a good baking temperature takes awhile if starting with a cold stove. In that case it's a plan ahead project. If the stove is already warm, then the oven heats to baking temperature in no more time than it takes to preheat my electric oven.
The thermometer in the door only registers the temperature of the door. I use a small oven thermometer inside the oven to check it's actual temperature.
Baking requires a good coal bed and larger pieces of wood for a sustained, even temperature. This is actually not as fussy as I first feared. 12 to 14 inch long pieces of hardwood at least 3 inches in diameter are good for this purpose.
At first I lamented that my Air-Bake baking sheets didn't fit in my new oven. I love them because they help prevent burned cookie bottoms. With a wood cookstove however, the heat source is on the side, not the top and bottom of the oven. Burning cookie bottoms (or tops) is not a concern with this oven.
I'm learning to worry less about precision oven temp, by adjusting cooking time. This doesn't work as well with baked goods, but does with vegetables, meats, and casseroles. I reckon it could be called a more intuitive type of cooking, which would likely drive some folks crazy. It's a different style of cooking I suppose, but one that I actually find easier.
Pizza? Well, since my beloved pizza stone also doesn't fit in the wood cookstove oven, I still bake that in my electric oven every Friday night!
I've also not tried to bake loaves of bread in my wood cookstove oven yet (too used to the bread machine!) I am understanding however, the concept of once a week baking ("bake on Saturday" as Ma Ingalls used to say). Especially in summer, why heat up the kitchen more than necessary? Bake everything once a week and get it over with.
On milder days, I let the fire go out between meals. Also I don't worry about it if I'm working outside for most of the day. It's just easier that way because even though it has a good size firebox, I don't want to be running in and out all day just to tend the fire.
The fire can be banked however (fill firebox with large pieces of wood, turn down dampers, and cover with ashes to slow the burn). A good coal bed and pre-warmed stove make it quicker to get the next meal going. I've not tried to bank a fire all night yet.
The stove does a marvelous job of keeping the back of the house warm, including our tiny bathroom off the kitchen. The ceiling fan helps push warm air out of the kitchen (we have high ceilings). The oven and warming oven doors can be left open to add even more heat to the room.
I stick my slippers or house shoes underneath anytime I have to go outside. The floor under the stove doesn't get exceptionally warm however, so these aren't as toasty to put on again, as one would imagine.
|Hot water with the turn of the faucet (up to 5 gallons worth)|
The water reservoir holds about 5 gallons of water. It is slow to heat however, so to have hot water requires that the stove be going most of the day. Still, it's wonderful to fill the dish pan without using the hot water heater! This is not potable water however, and cannot be used for cooking or tea.
When the water in the reservoir is hot, the stove retains heat longer.
When the days get warmer, I'll switch my cooking to my summer kitchen, a.k.a. the back porch. Eventually I'd like to get a solar oven for summer cooking and baking. Even farther down the road would be an outdoor kitchen. The hows and whens of that are still future tense. I'm gradually learning not to get too anxious about accomplishing anything like that. It's what the slow life is all about after all. :)
Wood Cookstove Cooking: What I'm Learning © February 2012 by Leigh at http://my5acredream.blogspot.com/