Whether you live off grid, have a homestead, or live in the city, in my opinion a wood stove is an essential addition to the household. If you happen to have one already, there are several things you can do in order to maximize the use of your wood stove.
The first and most obvious function of the wood stove is for a primary or secondary source of heat. In fact because I live off the grid, the wood stove is my only source of heat. This works well because I have easy access to an almost unlimited source of firewood.
Even if you live in the city or you are otherwise grid connected, the wood stove is a great back up system. If the grid goes down for days to weeks due to a major storm or a natural disaster, you at least have an alternative source of heat. This has actually happened to me on several occasions. The last time was when I was living in South Carolina. An ice storm took out the utility grid and power was not restored for 10 days.
Besides a source of heat, the wood stove can be used as an endless source of hot water. There are several ways to make this happen, some easier than others.
The easiest and less expensive way, is to always keep a large pot of water on top of the stove. A large stainless steel stock pot, a hot water bath canning pot, or a turkey frying pot are good options. The downside too using a hot water bath canning pot is that these are usually made of enamel ware and will start to rust after about a year. The advantage to using a turkey frying pot is that it has a built in spigot.
I keep two large pots of water on my wood stove all winter long. This means I always have about 10 gallons of hot water instantly available.
Another alternative means of hot water is to install copper pipes on the outside of the stove which constantly circulate water to and from a storage tank or water heater.
Mother Earth News has a great article on building a hot water heating attachment.
You do not need an expensive wood cook stove in order to utilize your stove as a cooking surface. Depending on the shape and size of your stove and firebox, the top surface is naturally going to have variations in temperature. In my experience, the area closest to the stove pipe is going to be hotter. The outer edges of the top surface, especially close to the door, is going to be cooler. You can take advantage of this depending on what you are trying to cook.
You can also use the side of the stove as a warming rack. I repurposed an old grate from a grill and placed it on top of the wood stove. It hangs over the edge about 6 inches. This is used as a warming area so that food is not exposed to direct heat from the stove.
By far the best cookware to use on the wood stove is cast iron. It is so versatile. Cast iron cookware can be used on the wood stove, in the wood stove, over a camp fire, in the oven, as well as on your regular stove. Although I think cast iron is superior, stainless steel and enamel ware are also good choices.
Believe it or not, I use my wood stove as an oven on a regular basis. Since I use the stove about 7 months out of the year as a heat source, I may as well use it as an oven. This saves me a considerable amount of propane.
The best way to do this is to first get a good bed of coals or keep a low fire burning in one corner of the stove. Wrap food items, such as potatoes, in aluminum foil and place them on the opposite side of end of the stove.
A more efficient way to do this is use a small dutch oven. I place bread, potatoes, soups and stews inside the dutch oven and put it inside the firebox.
However you choose to do this, the food has to be rotated on a regular basis. This will help to cook the food evenly since the heat source is on one side instead of underneath.
Another alternative is to place the food on a rack on top of the stove and cover it with the lid from the large roasting pot. The rack prevents direct contact with the surface of the stove. The large lid captures the heat in a confined space causing an “oven effect”. I have baked bread using this method. I just placed an oven thermometer under the lid to monitor the temperature.
The best way to accomplish this is to use a rack system that is designed for use in the oven. This usually consists of a drip tray and stackable racks. For best effect, the racks need to be enclosed to retain as much heat as possible. I have experimented with using aluminum foil to enclose the racks and also just leaving this open. Both was are sufficient for drying food. I have been successful drying fruit and jerky by using this method.
There are so many varieties of wood stoves it is hard to say that one product is far superior than another. However, if you are going to use your wood stove as an alternative means of cooking, obviously you want a stove with a large top surface area and a large firebox. The style of wood stove that is my personal favorite is the step top. It seems to me that this design gives you greater surface area and a greater temperature gradient for various types of cooking. I have a step top stove in each cabin and both have served me well.
I hope this helps you to maximize the use of your wood stove.
Go off grid and live well,
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