Thursday, December 16, 2004

Since you've got the wood stove going, why not cook with it

You might find that once you have a wood stove and a pile of wood ready to burn, that your plan of just heating with wood on the coldest days or weekends flies out the window. If you are at all like me, you would never keep your house at 75F if you were heating it with oil, gas or electricity. The guilt about wasting money would take all the pleasure out of lounging around the house in pajamas when it is -20F outside. If you cut your own cordwood from your own trees on your own land, it is a completely different story: As long as you are sure you laid-in plenty of fuel to get you through the winter, you will keep the stove stoked and the house warm. The physics of running a stove mitigate for running the thing hot and never letting it go out: First, you burn up a fair amount of fuel just getting a good fire lit and getting the chimney hot etc. Plus, kindling is the most labor-intensive fuel (more splitting). Second, once you have a really hot fire more of the incoming air is involved with combustion and thus less warm room air is pumped out of the chimney. A hot fire seems to need less fiddling with--you just toss a log in and it disappears. When you have a cool fire, you have to adjust the logs a lot and the fire makes more smoke. Because of all the above, you may find that your stove is running most of the time and is especially hot around time for making dinner. Even if you let it go out during the day, once you are home from work the first thing you will do is get the stove going. Be quick about it. Don't let the dreaded furnace come on and start burning dollars! Anyway, you have the thing running in the evening--so why not use it to cook with? Finally to the subject of this posting --We found that when the stove was good and hot, that we could boil water in about the same amount of time on the wood stove as on our electric range. So boil potatoes, pasta or steam anything on the stove that you would put onto the range. --We did fry and saute with the stove and it works fine, but there is a certain amount of splatter so I don't recommend this unless you don't mind how your stove will look: Blacked steel is the most common finish on stoves and it is kind of a mess, although not hard, to reblack a stove. I imagine that enameled stoves would be easier to clean. Cook inside the stove! Yes, the best cooking is done inside your wood stove! --Most often the exhaust pipe goes out the back of the stove but when you look inside the firebox you don't see it. This is because there is a diagonal plate of steel which is lowest in the back of the fire box and ends somewhere toward the middle of the firebox. I don't know the exact reason for this baffle but I suspect that it forces the flame to circulate inside of the stove rather than heading strait for the exit pipe. If the flame spends more time in your stove and less heading up the chimney, it gives off more heat. I point out this baffle since we used it to help us cook inside the stove. We would hang our food on skewers and hooks suspended from the upper lip of the baffle. If your stove doesn't have quite this design, I am sure that you will be able to improvise something which does the same thing--this is not rocket science. You can cook steaks, chops, sausage, whole or pieces of chicken and small roasts by just hanging them up inside the wood stove. First, you need to have the right kind of fire: The lack of flame is essential! Let the fire burn down 'till there are coals only. For steaks and chops you can leave some coals below the food, which will char the surface nicely. For more slow cooked items like whole chicken or small roasts, sweep the coals to the sides and hang the meat in the middle. You can bake potatoes the same way. The food will take much less time to cook than it would in your oven! There will be some trial and error involved. We cooked whole chicken in about 25 minutes, steaks in 5-8 minutes, chicken wings in 12 min and baked potatoes in about 20 min. You can make your own skewers out of coat hanger wire: You will get 3-4 hooks/standard hangar. Please pre-cook the hanger hooks before using with food as they are often coated with some kind of varnish or paint. An hour in the wood stove will clear that up. When you use your wire hooks, please clean them by hand--the dishwasher will turn them into a pile of rust. Steaks cooked by this hanging method will be different from what you are used to: A well-done steak will be much less burnt looking on the outside than one cooked in the standard way and will be more juicy and tender on the inside. The reason is that all the cooking is by radiant heat and hot air, not by being in contact with hot metal. Aside from saving on gas or electricity from using your wood stove to cook there are a couple of other advantages: First, there is some fun and adventure to this kind of cooking. Second, you can have the flavor of bbq in the dead of winter when your grill is covered in snow. The best reason for cooking in the stove is the cleanliness of it. The skewers and hooks are a lot less to clean up than broiling pans and grill racks. All the smoke and cooking smells go up the chimney instead of inside the house. We currently live in a house which is ill suited to wood stove heating and indeed lacks a stove. We do a lot of grilling year-round in the fireplace where we have a little Weber hibachi. We can enjoy grilled salmon in the dead of winter without stinking up the house.

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