Magazine article Sunset

Cooking on a Woodstove

Magazine article Sunset

Cooking on a Woodstove

Article excerpt

Cooking on a woodstove The warmth and fragrance of a fire in a wood-burning cookstove suggest times gone by, but cooking this way, even on a stove designed for heating your home or cabin, can be practical today.

To support a pan safely, the stovetop must, of course, be flat. If your stove will hold a steady heat, chances are the surface temperature will often be between 300 [deg.] and 500 [deg.], a good range for cooking. Why not use this heat for cooking as well as comfort?

How to regulate heat on a woodstove

Though woodstoves lack the precise heat controls of modern stoves, you can regulate cooking temperatures on them.

Stoking the fire is the first step. Heat output depends upon the amount and kind of wood burned, and how much air mixes with the fire. More fuel generates more heat. You need an open draft to get started, then less to hold the heat. With reduced draft, the stove radiates more heat. (With space-heating stoves, it may not be practical to build a hot fire just for cooking--if that would disrupt the basic function of warming the air.)

Woods burn differently. In general, pine burns quickly but doesn't give off much heat. Tamarack makes a hot fire that burns at a moderate rate. Birch and oak burn slowly, producing strong heat; they make good fuel for a fire that lasts. Experiment with fuel woods available to you to get the kind of heat you want.

A stove's temperature often jumps several hundred degrees as fresh fuel catches, then drops as it burns. By adding fuel frequently in smaller amounts, you can temper this cycle.

To test the surface temperature of stoves or ungreased pans, observe how a little water dropped on the surface behaves. If the water beads and rolls while sizzling, the surface is 450 [deg.] to 650 [deg.]; you can easily bring foods to a boil or pan-fry them on this heat. If the water drops spread out slightly and sizzle steadily, the stovetop is 300 [deg.] to 400 [deg.] and hot enough to simmer or bake foods. If the drops of water flatten and bubble, cooking will be slow, but perhaps adequate for long-term steaming. (Keep in mind that foods also may spatter as cooked.)

A helpful tool, especially for stovetop baking, is a surface thermometer available at hardware or woodstove stores for about $15. The thermometers usually register up to at least 800 [deg.].

Wood cookstoves have cooler and hotter areas--you just slide the pan around to find the heat you want. Smaller stoves designed for heating have fairly even surface temperatures.

Pans to use, foods to cook,

more heat controls

Bottoms of pans used on a woodstove should be flat for maximum heat contact. If foods are simmered (soups, rice), braised or stewed (spiced pork stew-following; chili, apples), or fried (potatoes, chicken), you need heavy pans for even heat. Use cast-iron, enameled cast-iron, or heavy-grade aluminum.

For baking such foods as cornbread (page 198) or biscuits, you need cast-iron pans and lids, because both must be heated before foods are added; their released heat helps cook the foods and creates the "oven."

If foods are boiled or simmered in a lot of water, as with pasta, potatoes, or green beans, you can use a thinner metal pan.

Or if the foods are steamed or cooked over hot water, as with rice pudding or a custard, the water pan can be a light metal.

For maximum heat to stir-fry, you need a stove with round, removable plates, Lift off a plate and nestle a wok in the opening over a hot fire.

To reduce heat, elevate pan 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches on a metal trivet, wok ring, or metal rings (such as open-ended cans).

For low, consistent heat, use a double boiler or a steamer, or fashion your own steamer. Put foods in a heatproof container that will fit inside the steamer on a rack. (You may need to fashion a string harness on the cooking container so you can remove it easily from the steamer. …

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