Cozy wood stove cooking
December 13, 2021 4:58 AM   Subscribe

It's wintry out, the sofa is comfy, and the wood stove is humming along. When we're using the wood stove for heat anyway, is it nice to use it for cooking/making anything in particular? Note though, a pot on top doesn't simmer, and the temperature inside is inconsistent.

We use the wood stove as our primary source of heat on most cold days. When we tap our one sugar maple, we do the initial reducing on top of the wood stove. I really like that -- it's just so cozy. Until then, is there anything similarly lazy or fun or delicious to make using the wood stove?

If using the wood stove for it is just more trouble than making it using regular kitchen appliances, I'm not as interested -- we do also have the latter.

A pot on top sometimes steams or has some bubbles on the bottom or sides, but it doesn't reach an actual simmer (even with a lid on). A thermometer on the side door says it cycles between about 250F and 600F depending on when we last added a log and whether we're trying to get the house warmer or let it cool down. It's got a catalytic combustor, in case that’s relevant.
posted by daisyace to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I grew up with a wood stove and we only ever cooked chestnuts on it, in a very thin pan.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:11 AM on December 13, 2021

Best answer: My gran wrapped apples stuffed with butter, sugar and cinnamon in foil, and threw them into the stove when there was a thunder storm and we had to shut off the electricity. I haven't tried it since she died, I think she went by smell regarding when to take them out. Potatoes in foil are an option too.
posted by mumimor at 5:13 AM on December 13, 2021 [7 favorites]

Marshmallows or s'mores or crumpets!
posted by DarlingBri at 6:01 AM on December 13, 2021

Best answer: I have a wood stove that sounds similar to yours, and it doesn't get/stay hot enough to reliably cook things on top. It does work beautifully for re-heating things like breads/pastries (i wrap them in foil and put them on top), as well as to melt butter for various dipped-in-butter things. Depending on your mess tolerance, things wrapped in foil and put in the stove definitely works. My woodstove doesn't have a large apron around the front of it, so the ashes fall everywhere, but ymmv. If you're just looking to up the cozy factor, toss some orange peel and cinnamon in the pot of water you have on top...even if it doesn't get to a full simmer, it will still smell delightful!
posted by csox at 6:03 AM on December 13, 2021 [9 favorites]

We've definitely done spiced cider on top - smells lovely, no need for it to come to a boil, and is delicious.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:12 AM on December 13, 2021 [7 favorites]

When I was sick at home from school as a kid, my parents, who would both be working, would leave a pot of soup/stew/chowder to reheat on the woodstove for me to serve myself from when I was hungry. I remember at least once a beef stew (or maybe New England boiled dinner) and at least once corn chowder.

Gosh, I must have been 8? 9? The joys of being a rural "latchkey" (we never locked the doors...) kid.

So, from that, reheating liquid based leftovers.

and +1 on the orange peal on top!
posted by chiefthe at 6:38 AM on December 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Just last night I heated up some storebought naan on the woodstove. The directions say to put it in a 400 degree oven for 3-4 minutes, an obvious considerable waste of energy. I just laid the breads on the flat top of the woodstove and flipped them once or twice. The stove doesn't need to be super hot for this to work.

I have not tried this, but I imagine that mixing up the ingredients for any slow-cooker dish, like a soup, chili, stew, etc. in a cast-iron Dutch oven and just leaving it on top of the stove all day would work just fine — the ups and downs of the stove temp wouldn't matter, not would the fact that it never actually boils. It would be kind of like sous-vide, only with less precision.
posted by beagle at 6:46 AM on December 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

Also came here to suggest adapting slow cooker recipes and using a Dutch oven on top, ideally starting with ones that only require the low setting.

Also I'd start with vegetarian recipes until you get comfortable with how it works, otherwise you may end up with meat that is tough.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:08 AM on December 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

At a fly-in fishing lodge in the Canadian woods, our host slapped slices of white bread against the woodstove at breakfast time.

A moment later he poked them with a spatula and they fell off, perfectly toasted on one side. Once slathered with cheap margarine, we had to fight his little kids for them. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:12 AM on December 13, 2021

I'd be tempted to try caramelizing onions (granted, I like the smell).
posted by trig at 7:17 AM on December 13, 2021

Our cabin is equipped with a wood-fired furnace and cooking stove that are both going pretty much continuously when we're there, and there's a little cast iron top on the furnace which is basically worthless for simmering anything. Although I guess this speaks to the efficiency to which it transfers heat to the pipes. The kitchen stove basically cooks all the meals when it's cold enough to fire it up, and then you have to learn the zones of the top and how to throttle the fire.

Growing up we had a woodstove in the living room that always had a kettle on it, just for some warm water, and some potpourri my mom would put together in the summer time with rose petals and lavendar and whatnot.
posted by St. Oops at 7:20 AM on December 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: With adapted Dutch oven/slow cooker/crockpot kinds of stews and things, is there a reliable way to stay on the right side of food safety without the pot simmering?
posted by daisyace at 7:32 AM on December 13, 2021

My woodstove has a burner plate on top, intended for cooking. I have cooked flatbread, just to see if I could, and have put a pot of soup on when the power was out. Mostly, I put on a water kettle for humidity.
posted by theora55 at 7:56 AM on December 13, 2021

Best answer: Couple things to note here. Your stove is probably covered in stove blacking, which needs to be thoroughly cleaned before you put any food directly on the surface. It also sounds like the stove surface isnt getting all that hot if you can barely simmer water, probably because you aren't maintaining a hot enough fire and the stove isnt designed to be cooked on. My stove is the same way. The surface gets hot, but not hot enough to, like, saute anything.

That said, you could probably make mulled wine and cider, and maybe sous vide if you can maintain the water temp. I mainly use it to preheat big pots of water if I'm making stock or pasta so I dont have to heat it on my actual stove for much longer to reach a full boil. I also have a stovetop safe teapot that I set on the edge to keep it warm. I'll also use it to reheat pots of soup.

If your stove gets hotter than mine, here's an article on how to cook on it
posted by ananci at 8:05 AM on December 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you close the flue once you have a really good coal bed, the heat will stop leaving via the chimney and the stove surface will get much hotter.
posted by ananci at 8:07 AM on December 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Our woodstove can achieve a rolling boil and always has a [pouring] kettle on top. We have a cast-iron trivet to lift pots off the surface but keep them ticking over. The kettle fills hot-water bottles or cook-pans in the kitchen and acts as a hot-water storage/radiator. We start all kinds of boiling things off in the kitchen and then stove-top them to simmer. Have done fondue because the stove sits out into the room and can be surrounded by six seated people with long arms. I wouldn't cook chapattis on the actual top but have used a dry cast-iron "fry" pan to cook them there. Late season potatoes don't need tin-foil to cook in the ashes. Lavender, rosemary, bay-leaves, cloves to ring changes on orange-peel.
posted by BobTheScientist at 8:09 AM on December 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You really need to achieve a simmer, which I can't say if it's possible with your stove. I do a lot of cooking on my wood stove, and I load it with wood keeping in mind what I'm going to cook. Fast, hot-burning wood, filling it with more wood than you usually do, and trying to build up a good bed of hot coals are all things to try to get to a usable temperature.

Cooking on this kind of wood stove is always going to be inconsistent and maybe not for those beyond a certian point in the "can I eat this" spectrum for a lot of things.

Some things I cook on mine:

Beans, slow-cooked over half a day and multiple loads of wood.

Braises, most recently oxtail.

Things like polenta and quinoa and oatmeal that cook relatively quickly.

Heating corn tortillas, quick and easy and makes them so much better. Use a cast iron skillet to avoid stove black.

Vegetable soups, slow-cooked all day.

Cornbread, cooked inside the stove right between two lines of hot coals (after they've stopped smoking) in a cast iron pan. Really good. 5 minutes. If you get this to work, try pizza next. Even sourdough can be cooked this way in a dutch oven (expert method).
posted by joeyh at 8:13 AM on December 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The danger zone for food is up to 60C / 140F, which is well below simmering temperature. If a pot gets up above 60c (or even a little below that) then it'll be killing off the bacteria, so I'd put a pot of water on and see if it can get reliably above that range. 30-45C is the high danger zone, which makes sense - people-harming bacteria grow best at people temperature.

I'd start a slow cook by putting the Dutch Oven on the kitchen stove and browning meat and onions, which is important culinarily but also means that it'll be above the bacterial growth temperature when it hits the wood stove, rather than taking hours to do so. (Warm up liquids like stock or whatever in the microwave before adding to make triple sure).
posted by Superilla at 8:15 AM on December 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

If it's hot enough too cook on, don't burn yourself!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:27 AM on December 13, 2021

Best answer: I would put bread on it to rise. If you put bread on it, put something to insulate it from the woodstove below, so the bottom of the bread doesn't form a hard raw crust.

Yogurt is another option.

I would also leave a pot of water on it to evaporate in the heat as a humidifier.

It could be used to warm up the molasses so that it pours instead of being "as slow as molasses in January"

It could also be used for drying socks and mittens.

But actually cooking with something that doesn't get hot enough to make things simmer sounds difficult. It could probably be used to make a hay box cookery work more efficiently - for hay box cooking you make a big pot of something, such as stew, bring it to a boil and then but it into the insulated box and seal it tightly so none of the heat escapes. If your pot of stew is on your woodstove and insulated so the heat can't escape from the top and sides you could have the makings of a system that makes use of the woodstove heat to ensure it keeps cooking.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:33 AM on December 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Some variation of a tarte tatin might work. I would very thinly slice some apples and layer about an inch of thin apple slices with butter and sugar and cinnamon in a heavy pot, cook long and slow on the wood stove til it caramelizes (all day? Would smell great!). Then put a crust on top and finish in the regular oven, and invert to serve.

Also, it’d probably be lovely to keep a hot pot of an aromatic drink like mulled wine, apple cider, hot lemonade, herbal tea with fruit, spicy chai, etc. It would smell heavenly!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:37 AM on December 13, 2021

We've roasted yams in foil in my dad's woodstove.
posted by extramundane at 9:48 AM on December 13, 2021

Response by poster: Lots of great answers and I marked the ones I might try. Thank you! Next fire, I’m going to measure the water temp in a big pot and see if it stays over 140. I’d thought a simmer was needed for safety, so this potentially opens a lot of possibilities.

I could make a hotter fire, but with the catalytic combustor, even one log at a time gets it above 80 degrees in our little house after it’s been going for a while. Hence no simmering on top.
posted by daisyace at 7:29 AM on December 14, 2021

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