Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wood Cookstove Tools of the Trade

The longer I have cooked on a wood cookstove the more I have come to realize the importance of a few good cooking utensils.  I find that I turn to the same pans and skillets over and over because of their superior performance both on the stove top and in the oven.  Using my stove has been an education, but the lessons I have learned are invaluable.  It has afforded me the opportunity to refine my techniques while I gather appropriate tools - before I really NEED them.  Here is a partial list of what I have learned.....

Cast Iron is your friend.  The beauty of cast iron is that it durable and perfect for use both on the stovetop and in the oven.  It cooks evenly and holds heat well - and after it has been properly seasoned, withstands the high heat of a wood cookstove remarkably well.  I have a variety of cast iron in many shapes and sizes.  Skillets by themselves are a workhorse, but coupled with a lid, they are indispensable.  I use skillets for all manner of stovetop dishes, but I use them extensively in the oven as well.  They are perfect for cooking a Frittata on the stovetop and finishing in the oven.  When I make pizza in the cookstove, I always cook it on the stovetop first.  Wood cookstoves are notorious for browning or even burning the tops of your baked goods while leaving the bottom white and gooey.  The answer to this problem is cooking on the stovetop first and popping in the oven for the final cooking and browning.  Cast iron is perfect for this.  Not only does it perform well on the top of the stove, but equally well in the oven.  In addition to numerous skillets, I have a cast iron Dutch Oven.  The Sheepherders Bread recipe I have just fits into my Dutch Oven and cooks to golden perfection when covered with the lid.

German Pancakes

Roasting pans.  The wonderful thing about roasting pans is that they have lids.  One thing that I quickly learned was that things brown long before they are cooked through.  You either have to buy truckloads of tin foil, or you have pans that you can cover to slow the browning process.  I generally bake until the top is golden brown and then cover with a lid.  This allows whatever I am baking to cook all of the way through but not become a charred mess on top.

Cake pans with slide on covers.  Just like roasting pans, they have a cover.  One of the biggest challenges in wood cookstove cookery is keeping the tops of your foods from burning.  Covers also keep moisture in casseroles and other dishes.  Wood heat is very dry.  Covering your dishes while they cook slows the evaporation.

Pie Shields.  Just like cast iron lids, roasting pans and cake pans with covers, pie shields will keep your pies from becoming burnt offerings.  It is amazing how a tiny, thin piece of metal protects your crusts from becoming inedible.

Tin Foil.  O.K.  I just had to say it.  Some of your pans just don't come equipped with lids.  As you can tell, my main concern while cooking on my cookstove, is keeping the tops of all my cakes, pies, breads and everything else from becoming blackened soot.  A few rolls of tin foil are worth their weight in gold!

Pear Pie
One final thought regarding cooking on/in a wood cookstove.  Most wood cookstoves have non-standard oven sizes.  My folks have a cookstove with a rather small oven.  Mom has had to search high and low for skillets and pans and cookie sheets that will fit in her oven.  Had she not been diligent in her search now, she may very well have been in for a very big, not-so-pleasant surprise at the End of the World as we Know It.

Wood Cookstove Cookery is an art and a science.  It is a challenge that is well worth the effort.  Having the proper cookware will be the difference between success and sheer frustration.


  1. No wood cookstove in this house, but plenty of cast iron and roasting pans, many pieces have been inherited from my mother and my grandmothers. These tools of the trade will last for generations if properly cared for. Gotta love that value!

    I'm admiring the shiny surface of the oven rack. Do you clean it often or is the heat from the fire enough to burn off any soot?

    Oh, and those biscuits look so delicious (photo #1). I could go for one right now - slathered in butter and honey. YUM!!

    One benefit (for most of us) of cooking with cast iron is the trace amounts of iron that we ingest from it.

    Sure will be happy when your wood cookstove cookbook comes out. :)

    NoCal Gal

  2. Yes, excellent article!

    We have acquired a coal cookstove. It's in pieces in the garage right now. We're wondering about keeping it or selling it in order to get something bigger and that uses wood

    I don't know anything about coal.

    Any advice?

  3. Great post. I am a lover of cast iron.
    Book? What a great idea!


  4. Enola Gay,

    I have been cooking on a Pioneer Maid for 25 years. How interesting that I have not seen this problem in my baking. I get pretty even heat throughout the oven, do not have a problem with excessive browning as you describe, and overall prefer cooking on this stove above all others I have used.

    Often enough I will remove the oven racks and place my roasting pan directly on the oven floor, cooking until browned as you describe and then covering. Pies I bake on the rack moved to the top. Bread gets baked on the rack in the lowest position.

    My fires are usually made with Doug. fir, madrone, and white or black oak. Once the oven temp comes up to the desired temperature and the stove is adjusted, a full firebox will provide even baking for more than enough time to bake breads and pies. My oven thermometer on the door was cross checked with one in the oven and proved to be very close to correct.

    Yes the cast iron is used extensively. I also use an enameled cast aluminum dutch oven rather than a plain cast iron dutch oven. My other cookware is mostly the older Corningware which performs well. All the copper bottom stainless cookware is saved for use on the gas stove in the summer as our summers are way too hot to fire the Maid.

    I also want to thank you for your blog. I follow it nearly daily and thoroughly enjoy your wit and wisdom.

    By the way, I am located in far Northern Calif mountains.

    Winston Bearkiller

  5. WB - "far Northern Calif mountains" Would that be the Siskiyous? An area I like to explore. or the Warners? Another area I enjoy. I live within the Mayacamas. No need to answer if you are concerned about an unwanted guest. I NEVER drop in on people - right, Enola?? ROFLOL

    NoCal Gal

  6. NoCal Gal, et al,

    No! I'm further south, in Trinity County. I say far NoCal mtns because most people think Sacatomato is NoCal. We up here think LA begins at hiway 20, LOL.

    If you want to talk, wbearkiller at yahoo dot com I'm usually around.


  7. Enola,
    I loved this post! Did I hear a book on wood stove cookery. Wonderful!

  8. I don't have a wood cookstove but we use a lot of cast iron. This is a little off topic but I have a question. My Grandma gave me a cast iron skillet. It is a long oval shape and was part of a set that belonged to my great-grandma. There was a handle that attached to each piece of the set. As the set got broken up among the 5 daughters, the handle got left behind and then lost. My question, does anyone know how I could get a replacement? My grandma was 83 this year. So this is an approximation of when it might have been used. Thanks for all the help.

  9. Winston, I live near Hwy. 20 and I hate L.A. I used to fish in the Trinity River as a young girl. Sure miss those trips - not many salmon now.

    Thanks for the reply.

    NoCal Gal

  10. Enola,
    I love my cast iron too! On a side note a link to your artical on canning bacon was brought up on they have a canning topic

    To Tricia , do you know the brand of cast iron? if so try contacting the manufactor to purchase a handle. Do you live near any Amish or a blacksmith? they may be able to craft one for you. Just a thought.

  11. @Tina, thanks. I haven't been able to find a manufacturer listed anywhere. Also, no Amish or blacksmith. At one point, my husband carved a piece of wood to fit and screwed it into the spot where the handle was supposed to go but it didn't last long. We used the skillet a lot on campfires. I guess my next option would be to try to find a blacksmith somewhere.

  12. My mother and grandmother used cast iron all the time when I was a kid, and my grandmother still has a wood cookstove, which i would love to steal. She doesn't cook with it much, although she does cook beans on it in the winter sometimes.

    I just found one of my mother's old cast iron skillets in an old outbuilding. It is a little rough and a bit rusty, but nothing a good cleaning and seasoning won't cure. I was awful excited over that find.

  13. IS THERE ANY WAY that a couple holes in the bottom of a cast iron rending pot can be repaired? Pot is probably 24" across. Someone drilled 1/4" holes in the bottom to drain soil for planting flowers.

    Thank you for your assistance.

  14. BonnBlu;
    Yes! There is special welding rod just for cast iron. The pot will have to be heated up to a certain temperature and then welded. The rod is expensive, but that much rod shouldn't be too bad. You will have to have a professional do your welding, or, if you know someone that can weld, they will just have to buy 1 stick of the special rod. You will have to try it too see if it will hold. Hope it works for you!!

    There is HOPE! Everyone else I'd spoken with said it's impossible cause it's "cast" iron.

    Wow! Thank you. You are a WEALTH of information and I appreciate your willingness to share.

    Blessings to you and your family.

  16. Enola,
    Husband and I pick up our first ever wood cook stove on Thursday. I'm gonna do this. I'm so excited about it, but at the same time scared to death to take on such a huge new learning experience. Stove will be at our ranch's barn for the time being (and we're still living at our home on the edge of a suburb - till our home is built this spring-summer). So I can take this one step at a time - playing with it this fall and winter, which will be a very good thing.
    btw, our solar WORKS (we built the panels ourselves!) and I couldn't be more thrilled to FINALLY have electric at the barn! It's better than "cool" to derive energy from the sun. Thank you, God!
    Thank you Enola, for being such a wonderful inspiration. We can do this.