Fire it Up!
A Guide to Woodstove Cooking
Reading Time: 5 minutes
By Jenny Underwood – Last winter saw the coldest temperatures that we’ve seen in several years. And with that, we were stuck inside because, with ice and snow-covered roads and temperatures barely reaching a high of five degrees F, we honestly weren’t thrilled about going outside at all. And let me tell you, we kept that woodstove hopping! That led me to try cooking on our woodstove.
I had always dabbled with cooking something on the woodstove. I think I had cooked a total of four times in the seven years we’ve had it. Frankly, I was scared of cooking on it because I didn’t want to fail. But with the nasty weather, I got bored and decided to take the plunge. And let me tell you, it’s now my new favorite thing to do.
First off, I want to be clear: my stove is for heating, not an actual wood but of the skin still took 15 minutes. That being said, it cooks amazingly! My first attempt was with marinated fajita-seasoned steak strips with baked potatoes. We were completely in love with this “new” way of cooking. Not only were the steak strips delightfully tender and full of flavor, but the baked potatoes were tender and fluffy with a slightly smoky flavor. The meal was superb! What amazed us, even more, was how easy it was and how little work was required to cook on our stove.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far about woodstove cookery:
1. Cooking on a heating stovetop is easy and imparts a unique flavor to foods and a moistness that isn’t present on my electric range. The food doesn’t dry out and burn, it cooks slower, and it smells divine while it’s cooking.
2. There is a sweet spot for high-heat cooking and since we use a stovetop thermometer, it’s always when the gauge is in optimal operating range. It still cooks if it’s lower, but is extremely slow and the food might need to be covered. Also, if the stove reaches the higher end of the operating range, it cooks a bit too fast and pops the grease or oil onto the stovetop. Since we like to keep our stove just a little above the beginning optimal range, it works perfectly for cooking with little extra effort.
3. It’s possible to bake on top of a woodstove with just a little tweaking. We used a Dutch oven with legs, covered with a steel box over the top. In this, we successfully made a strawberry jam buckle. It was delicious and disappeared within a very short while. I also made a pizza in the Dutch oven with just the lid on. It cooked great, but I did put it in my oven for an additional three to five minutes to brown the cheese. If I had the steel box, I probably could have skipped this step.
4. While it’s possible to cook pretty much anything on my wood stovetop, I decided not to fry things like fish or boil pasta because of the excessive splattering and tendency to boil over. I did get some oil that splattered on the stovetop so I took an Envirocloth® to the spots and the majority came off. Still, if you’re very picky you may want to use a trivet (an iron tripod or bracket for a cooking pot or kettle to stand on).
5. Plan ahead, because as a general rule, it’s a slow cook. For example, my baked potatoes took anywhere from one hour (on very high heat) to three hours (at the beginning of the operating range). I cooked my steak strips for an hour, but longer is better if you like them well-done. Bacon was of course a bit quicker, but still took 15 minutes. I honestly didn’t mind the time factor because as I said, it was pretty low-maintenance cooking.
6. It may be necessary to rotate foods on top of the stovetop for optimal cooking. A great example of this is baked potatoes. I wrapped mine in aluminum foil and found it worked well to turn them over every 30 minutes to prevent a blackened side on the skin. The blackened skin didn’t seem to affect the potato, only the skin.
We were able to greatly explore woodstove cookery over the rest of the winter. Here are some of the dishes we made with great success:
Baked potatoes: Scrub potatoes, cut off any bad spots, and cut a few slices into it to let out steam or pierce with a fork. Wrap well in aluminum foil. Cook on the woodstove top for one to three hours. Check for doneness by carefully unwrapping the top and piercing with a fork. Serve with toppings of your choice.
Steak Strips: Marinate steak strips overnight in your choice of marinade. We did fajita seasoning. Place a deep cast-iron skillet on the stovetop and pour in steak. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally. Add small amounts of water if necessary. I found I needed to add water one time about 30 minutes before they were completely done. Check for doneness by cutting with a fork, as it should be fork-tender when done. Serve on fajita wraps, over rice, or over baked potatoes.
Bacon: This one is super easy and tastes fantastic! We use thickly sliced, naturally cured turkey bacon, so it didn’t get as crisp as pork bacon. Simply add your bacon to a heavy cast iron skillet and cook until it reaches the crispness you desire. I turned mine with a fork and cooked it uncovered.
Fried potatoes: These turned out great. I put olive oil in a deep iron skillet, added chopped potatoes, and turned to coat them. Then I seasoned them and put a cast iron lid on them. I checked the potatoes every 15-20 minutes and stirred two times in the hour that I cooked them. They had an amazing flavor and slight crispness. Everyone loved them!
Pizza: I first prepared a sourdough crust (thin crust) but you can use any thin crust. I oiled a Dutch oven and laid the pizza crust inside, then covered it with sauce, cheese, and toppings. I then placed the lid on and cooked on the stovetop for an hour at a little above optimal operating temperature. I checked it every 20 minutes. I then removed the lid and finished it in my regular oven at 425 degrees F for five minutes. If I had the steel box I used on my cobbler, I would have simply removed the Dutch oven lid and baked the pizza in my makeshift oven. It was delicious!
A few notes about cooking on the stovetop: I used cast iron pans exclusively (which I do as a general rule anyway) but if you use a lighter pan, you will probably need to watch more closely and tend to it more frequently. Some pans might be completely unsuitable, such as glass pans. To make the oven on top of the stovetop, place a skillet on a trivet and cover the whole thing with a larger pan (such as a roasting pan turned upside down). It is also possible to use a Dutch oven that has legs in place of the trivet. We had a steel welded box we that used to set our Dutch ovens in for outdoor cooking and we turned this upside down over the Dutch oven on our woodstove.
There are so many things left for me to try on my woodstove such as bread-baking, using the inside of the stove to bake, and one day getting a pipe oven. It’s exciting to try new things and to be successful at it. I encourage you to give woodstove cookery a try!
Originally published in the November/December 2021 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.