The Art of the Wood-Burning Cookstove

Warm up your home, hearth and heart by cooking on and heating with a wood-burning cookstove.

| December 2004/January 2005


This King Kineo cookstove belonged to Scott and Helen Nearing, the legendary homesteading couple known for their philosophy of simple living.

Photo courtesy Lynn Karlin

The wood cookstove is an icon of rural America as powerful as the split-rail fence and horse-drawn wagon. Whether it’s the solid, traditional look of cast iron, or the eye-catching gleam of nickel plate, just a glimpse of a cookstove can elicit feelings of nostalgia and, for many, a longing for ownership. So enduring is such a cookstove’s appeal that even today you can buy new models that are in almost every way replicas of the ones your grandparents and great-grandparents might have used. In fact, it would be hard to find a truly modern wood cookstove, even if you wanted to buy one.

These old-fashioned stoves still attract a loyal following, and it’s easy to understand why. Cookstoves combine stove-top cooking, baking, water heating and home heating, all in a single appliance that is steeped in tradition and powered by a readily available, renewable fuel. As with so many combination devices, cookstoves perform each function with varying degrees of competence, but if the following owners and users of antique and new wood cookstoves are any guide, the problems that do arise are easily overlooked. These folks are smitten.

Cooking with Wood

In the big country kitchen of Cordelia Kaylegian’s century-old home in North Henderson, Ill., her ‘Glorious’ cookstove occupies a place of pride. Built decades ago by the Wehrle Co. of Newark, Ohio, the stove is resplendent in its butter-yellow and beige porcelain finish. It is typical of most cookstoves in its arrangement of basic components: The firebox is on the left, the water reservoir is on the right, a baking oven is between them and the warming oven is above. She found the stove through a newspaper ad several years ago, and paid $450, about one-tenth of the cost of an equivalent new wood cookstove.

Kaylegian uses her ‘Glorious’ for cooking and for making the pies and cakes she sells at local farmer’s markets. Although she also owns a gas stove, Kaylegian says she finds baking with the wood cookstove more satisfying and enjoys the flavor the wood smoke adds to the food. “Breads taste so much better, and so do stews that simmer on the back of the stove.”

Some cookstove owners find the ovens difficult to bake with, because many cookstove ovens do not heat evenly, and can produce “hot spots” that make pot or pan placement critical. But there are many tricks to using a cookstove, and Kaylegian knows her share. One strategy is to place a pan of water in the oven near the firebox, which absorbs some of the excess heat from that part of the oven. Also important is the type of wood that is burned; Kaylegian uses mostly oak, a slow, clean-burning wood, and stays away from quick-burning pine.

Provided it is in good condition and used correctly, just about any cookstove will do a fine job of baking.“The only thing I don’t have the nerve to bake in the oven is angel food cake,” she says.

9/30/2014 11:35:44 AM

Growing up my grandparents cooked solely on a wood cook stove and I always dreamed of having one. Now that prices have gotten so high when it comes to heating and natural gas alternative methods are becoming much more important. Wood cook stoves are very beneficial not only in long term but in short term as well. Take the Kitchen Queen Wood Cook Stove for example that not only allows you to cook but also heat your home and water (if you want). I recommend using when purchasing a wood cook stove. Not only do they offer great prices but they also have amazing customer service. During the month of October they are offering a deal where if you spend $3,200 you get a $100 off coupon. To get to their site simply follow this link:

2/22/2007 10:04:11 PM

I have used a wood cookstove since 1972. It has been the Joy of our kitchen We love the warmth and the food cooked on it. It doesn't just cook our food, it simmers it with love. I also have an electric stove for summer but, much prefer to cook on the wood stove. The reason that I found your site is that my stove top has spills and spots and I want to know the most effective way to clean it. I don't want it like new, just clean and tidy looking. thankyou, jan MOTHERE EARTH NEWS RESPONDS: You can learn how to refurbish an old cook stove by reading the following archived article from our web site:

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