Cooking With Wood

Learn about cooking with wood. The smoke flavor food gains cooked on a cookstove can be a new experience for homesteaders.

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    Spot basks in the warmth of my Kalamazoo, an antique iron cookstove friends rescued from a city dump two years ago . . . in near-perfect working order.
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    An intuitive cook knows when to feed the fire and when to stir or move the pot.
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    Dry, sap-covered pinecones are the best thing I know of for getting a fire going.

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  • Cooking with wood
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Cooking with wood may take patience but it introduces a smokey flavor to your favorite foods that only a cookstove can produce. (See the cookstove photos in the image gallery.)

Cooking on a wood fire can produce the finest quality food in the world. I have enjoyed cooking exclusively on wood for over 20 years. Nothing surpasses cooking with wood—the excellence of smoke-flavor—enhanced and gently cooked fare from a traditional cookstove.

There's a feeling of independence and empowerment that comes from relying on a local renewable fuel, particularly one that you can harvest yourself. My ax rings upon the block like a freedom bell, announcing my ability to work with the resources of the nearby forest to sustain my cooking needs. I can split up some kindling, light a handful of dry pine cones and have a fire raging and food frying for a quick supper or snack in just minutes. And so can you with the right know how and some careful preparation.

First thing you'll need (if you don't already have one) is a cookstove, and thanks largely to last year's unprecedented, Y2K-driven demand, there's more makes and models on the market than ever before (see "Cookstove Comeback" at the end of this article). If, however, you decide to hunt for a bargain among used cookstove's, make sure the one you choose is not worn out. The firebox is usually the first to go: it breaks down and burns up with use. Good grates and a tight fit are important to managing a fire and keeping it from smoking up your house. You'll also want to carefully examine the operational vents, dampers and ash box and check the oven and water tank for leaks. A big firebox is nice because it holds a fire longer, can handle bigger pieces of fuel wood and requires less tending. Large stoves also make it easy to cook for large groups or big eaters. Remember, you can always cook small meals on a big stove. Beginners, beware of unwittingly settling for far less than the best possible performance from your cookstove and fire. Ideally, your wood should be thoroughly seasoned, meaning well-dried One of the biggest mistakes beginning wood cooks make is choosing the wrong fuel. Hardwoods burn slowly and give a long lasting heat-perfect for "keeping" the fire after you get it going with a lighter-weight, lower-kindling-temperature species like pine. Lightweight wood such as pine or tulip poplar curates an enthusiastic, bright, hot and fast flame, excellent for getting your fire started and for quick jobs like boiling a cup of tea or frying an egg.

A good selection of wood-stacked according to size and type in easily accessible piles close to the stove—will give you the greatest range of ability to control and create exactly the fire you need for a variety of cooking situations. I recommend stockpiling a roughly 50/50 mix of hard and softwoods.

If at all possible, select and harvest the wood yourself. While this may seem an unnecessary chore, take my word for it: starting off with the right wood will make fast and easy work of the entire rest of the process.



Fall 2021!

Put your DIY skills to the test throughout November. We’re mixing full meal recipes in jars, crafting with flowers, backyard composting, cultivating mushrooms, and more!


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