During the warmer months we cook our food outside either in our Sun Oven or in our wood-fired earthen “Stoven”. As the name suggests it's a combination cob oven and rocket stove.
Our first summer on the land was a busy one with all the major repairs that needed doing on the house so we cooked on a simple rocket stove built from bricks. It was awkward, inefficient, and smoky but it got the job done for those few months. Last year, as we figured out our systems and got to know our house and land, we created an outdoor kitchen on our front porch. I had learned some about earthen rocket stoves from Ernie and Erica when they came through town (the “Good Stove” was one model) so was excited to embark on creating our own. I had the following goals in mind:
1. efficient with fuel use
2. pleasant to use
3. kept smoke away from the cook
4. didn't get pots sooty (I loathe soot)
The first model was beautiful (I was so excited about it that I even plastered it) and was an accurate re-creation of the “Good Stove”. I added some four inch stovepipe as a chimney to get any smoke away (goal 3). It burned beautifully with that hearty and satisfying “rocket” thrusting sound as it pulled flames horizontally across the length of the stove and under my pots (goal 1). However, in my attempt to be soot-free, I sunk two thrift store pots into the cooking holes instead of leaving them open. As a result, they did not get hot enough as the flames passed by them and I could barely fry an egg. So much for my first attempt.
The second was a variation where I replaced the two pots with a cookie sheet atop the burn tunnel. This was moderately better – still great draw and efficient, smoke (the little there was) going away, and a little hotter but boiling water took forever. Onward and upward.
For the third and fourth models I gave up on keeping my pots and pans soot free and created an earthen oven and rocket stove hybrid I have come to love, that we call, “The Stoven”. It is an efficient, pleasant to use, and smoke-free outdoor cookstove that has the benefits of both oven and stove. From these four designs I learned a heck of a lot about how fire behaves and how it interacts with earth. Fire is truly magical and I am so glad I get to cook with it.
What I wound up building is essentially a small cob oven with a chimney out the back, a fuel feed on one side, and a grill mounted in the middle over the burn pit. It's from rocket stove learning that I designed the fuel feed on an angle so it would accept the variety of sticks we use as fuel and generally self-feed (as the sticks burn, gravity brings them further into the burn pit). I built a cob ledge on the inside to hold an old round barbecue grill above the burn pit (it's removable for easy clean-out) and that and the opening are big enough to accept both the cast-iron frying pan and the large pot we use for cooking (have your pots and pans to measure with while you're building). Oh, I also used a lot of old and banged up bricks to make the base and thereby save on the amount of cob I had to make.
With cooking we get the flames from below for quick heat and then as the mass absorbs heat after a short time, we also get an oven affect. As a result we can cook an omelet or even French fries without even turning them over. It's awesome! It's amazing! It's the Stoven!