How and what to cook on a wood stove

While most things about living in Nova Scotia are just wonderful dealing with Nova Scotia Power is definitely not one of the good things. Power outages are widespread, long lasting and often in circumstances that really add up to just regular storm. We are fortunate enough not to live on one of the problem circuits. Typically when it does go out in a weather event it’s out for about 24 hours. But we are extremely lucky. It’s not unheard of for people to have no power for 4 or 5 days and even longer than that. In the last two years we have 5 customers that have installed uninterrupted power supplies at about $10 000 plus tanks to deal with the problem. As we look at building a new home a Generac is pretty much a given too. 

When the weather is up and there is a pretty good chance we will lose power I’ll often make a stew just in case. That’s pretty much where my wood stove cooking experience starts and ends until this month. We lost power for 3 days in the last storm and we had company including a very picky 5 year old riding out the storm’s after effects with us. I spent a lot of data and battery bank power looking up how to and what I could cook on the wood stove and I mostly got it figured out. With running the generator, filling the stove and keeping every thing happening I didn’t get a chance to take pictures along the way. So these are 100% recreations and stock photos.

Why cook on the wood stove?

My answer is pretty obvious one is that you need to eat and lots of the other options are less convenient and many are unsafe. There’s nothing like warm food in your belly in a storm. Most people who die in prolonged power outages do so trying to heat up food or keep warm. The real killer is not hypothermia but rather carbon monoxide poisoning. Anything that’s designed to run outside your home (or while camping) is allowed to have incomplete combustion and therefore releases carbon monoxide. People die by running propane BBQ’s, heaters and other outdoor fuel burning things in their home. Here’s the thing though you don’t even have to bring it indoors to kill yourself. There are deaths when people use them in their garages or even too close to an open door. If you’re gong to use these things to cook in a power outage use them the same way you would when the lights are on.

But who wants to go out into freezing temperatures in the snow to make soup if the don’t have to? No one that’s who! And with the tips here you can cook almost anything safely inside your home if you have a wood stove. In a winter outage you have to keep the stove going anyway why not use it to cook? We’re still thinking hard about the home we would build and how we would deal with power outages. We’re weighing the pros and cons of a generac and or solar with storage but an old fashioned wood stove hits most of the needs and is the most cost effective option. Just make sure to have it inspected by a WETT certified technician regularly to make sure you’re burning safely.

General tips

The first thing you’re going to want to do is to get an idea of how hot your wood stove is for cooking. This likely isn’t something you’ve thought about but there is a pretty easy way to figure it out. That is by leaving a pot of water on it (maybe in different places) with different fire conditions and see how hot it gets over time. In general it takes a lot longer to cook anything this way but you certainly can get a covered pot to boil on the wood stove. So you might find that as soon as you serve one meal it’s almost time to start the next one, especially in the dark. Remember I said you can use a wood stove to cook not that the reality of doing it wouldn’t be exhausting. In general you will get the hottest cooking temperatures from a fire that has just finished flaming and is red hot coals. You can greatly reduce cooking time by keeping what ever it is covered either with a lid or tin foil. One that always gets me is the fact that the whole entire pan is going to get super hot so make sure you keep oven mitts handy. While lots of people recommend cast iron since it’s thicker and the heat will be more even for wood stove cooking. It’s not necessary, anything you use on your range will work. Honestly if I could have anything it would be a brand new non-stick pan as I find that things tend to stick more when cooking them on the stove. Finally cooking especially with fire is dangerous and made harder by trying to do it in the dark. Candles are dangerous especially when you’re moving around with hot pans so make sure you have a good safe light on hand. If you want to be prepared for a power outage there are a few affordable things you can keep on hand to improve your quality of life.

Things to keep on hand

  • Instant coffee or a French Press
  • Oven mitts
  • Tin foil
  • A really big cheap pot lid for frying pans (also good for grease fires on regular days)
  • A battery operated standing light to keep by the stove
  • Some pans that fit well on the top of your particular stove

Using a wood stove as a cook top

This is the easiest option, in this case you’re literally just going to put your pan on top of the stove as you normally would. Usually this will take longer than you’re used to but you can get things to brown on most stoves. Really the less fancy your stove is the better this will work. You’ll want to cover things that you usually wouldn’t on the stove top to cut down on cooking time or get them to really cook at all in some cases. Here are some Ideas for foods to make this way.

Easy:

  • Soups and stews (expect these to take about half a day so start early.)
  • Pasta noodles
  • Rice
  • Boiled potato dishes
  • Scrambles eggs
  • Chili 
  • Coffee!!

More advanced

  • Grilled cheese
  • Pancakes
  • Bacon and eggs
  • Steak and meats
  • Sautéed veggies

Using a wood stove to bake

When you want to simulate baking on a wood stove you might find that putting the pan directly on the stove is actually too hot. You’ll end up with stuff that’s burnt on the bottom and raw on the top. Depending on the design of your wood stove you might not have the lateral space for the cookie sheet. I recommend trying this method with biscuits and see how that goes when getting to know your stove. In most cases you’ll want to elevate your baking with non combustable risers a few inches off the surface and for sure cover your dish with foil shiny side in. I use a couple of bread pans to elevate my cookie sheets but how far you need to rise will depend on the design of your love and the fire you have burning. An even bed of very hot coals is ideal though. Here are some ideas for what to bake using this method:

  • Biscuits
  • Nachos
  • Cookies
  • Scones
  • Bread
  • Casseroles
  • One pot pasta dishes
  • Pizza
  • Muffins
  • Baked potatoes
  • Cornbread
  • Roast chicken (make sure to measure the internal temperature or cut it up, or both)
  • Brownies

Not recommended: using a wood stove as an oven

You might be tempted to use your wood stove (or even fireplace) as you would a campfire. Basically by opening the door and sticking food in. While it might be tempting to bake potatoes in there or roast marshmallows it’s not a good idea. Pulling things in and out with tongs is a recipe for spilling coals or things on fire out into you home. In a storm that includes a power outage it’s a terrible time to start a fire since first responders are already busy and might have a hard time getting to you.

Also these devices are meant to operate with the door closed. Just throwing wood in can mean some smoke escapes and that can depend on your stove or even your chimney design. Wood stoves like other appliances also have some degree of incomplete combustion but because they vent through the chimney its safe to use indoors. Opening the door a lot or for an extended period of time is a carbon monoxide, smoke and fire risk!

In the past I’ve really only had to make one meal per power outage and that was stew. If the power was flickering a lot I would opt for a stew and if I had to finish it on the stove I would. Plus it was an opportunity to make dumplings and who doesn’t love that? What are your favorite things to cook on a wood stove because with the way storms are going these days I might need some more ideas. Leave it in the comments below!

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