Using a wood cook-stove is not as easy as turning on the oven and pressing, “Bake”. There is an art to getting steady heat, without hot-spots and without smoke, so that you can bake the best crusty artisan breads, pizza and succulent, tasty meats with wood. But you can master this process with a little practice. Here’s some tips to get you on your way successfully.
1. Use seasoned wood.
Avoid burning paper and cardboard, except to get the fire started. Don’t use your cook-stove as a trash burning barrel it will damage both the stove, and the chimney.
Avoid burning green wood by getting your wood stored for the winter before Labour Day, in Spring is even better. If you get enough for two years in your first year, you will only need to bring home enough for one more year each year after that and you will always have dry wood to burn.
Although most households think they only need 3 to 4 cords of wood a year, our rule of thumb is to store 8 cords every year. In a cold, long winter you will go through 8 cords and in a mild winter just 3 or 4.
2. Keep the chimney clean and free of creosote build up.
Plan chimney maintenance in Spring and Fall so that you don’t have to climb on the roof in the snow or during bad weather. If you are burning seasoned wood, this will be enough to keep the chimney clean and give you good draw and perfect hearth fires. If you burn green wood, creosote build up is more likely and you may need to clean the chimney more frequently to keep the draw optimum and prevent chimney fires.
3. Your chimney should go straight up through your roof without any bends or elbows.
A straight up chimney, without elbow or bends is easier to clean and will give you a good up-draft. It is also less likely to develop dangerous creosote build up. If you are planning a new wood cook-stove installation keeping this in mind will save you headaches later.
4. Allow a layer of ash build up in the fire box to retain the heat and insulate — 2 to 4 inches deep is good.
Although you want to clean out the ash on a regular basis, keeping the ash cleaned up prevents the fire in the firebox from building up sustained heat. You need an inch or two of ash to insulate the burning logs and allow them to retain steady cooking temperatures. Once a layer of ash between 2 inches and 4 inches is achieved there is optimal sustained burning for long cooking times for baking breads or roasting meats. This will also improve your overnight burn, allowing you to get the morning fire burning by simply opening the draw — on stoves with a large enough fire box that they will maintain an overnight burn.
5. Clean out the ash pit when the layer of ash begins to affect the draw of air into the fire box.
Eventually the layer of ash is too deep and smothers the oxygen that the fire needs to burn. You will notice smoke escaping from the fire box through the stove lid and the damper knobs. At this point cleaning out the ash-pit, when the fire is cold, will improve the draw, give you more efficient fires and allow your oven to maintain its even cooking temperatures.
6. Clean out the ash around the oven when you clean out the ash pit.
Ash builds up around the oven in a wood cook-stove, as the combustion gasses circulate to warm the oven. This ash needs to be scrapped away to allow the oven to heat evenly. Your wood cook-stove should come with a rake to clean this area of ash. You can tell this needs to be done if your good fire fails to heat the oven. The stove should be cold when you do this.
7. Clean out the water reservoir regularly to reduce mineral build up.
Vinegar can be used to dissolve mineral build up. Scrub with steel wool. Then rinse thoroughly and refill with fresh water. We usually do this maintenance task when the stove is cold, the ash pit has been cleaned out and the oven scrapped of build up ash — about once a month in winter.
8. Spills on the cooking surface should be avoided.
Don’t let pots overflow on the cook surface as any spills will leave a mark as the minerals and starch carbonize on the cooking surface. Avoiding spills in the first place will make your cleaning job easier.
9. Scrub cooking surface with hot soapy water and steel wool once a week, while the stove is cool. Dry thoroughly. Some ammonia in water with soap can help cut grease build up. The manufacturer of your stove may have cleaning specifics, too. Be sure to read the owner’s manual before you start.
10. Clean oven and cooking surface with oven cleaner periodically
The oven on a wood cookstove generally stays pretty clean due to carbonizing of spilled food from the high oven temperatures often obtained during heating. Occasional use of oven cleaner on a cold oven will not harm the surface. Don’t use oven cleaner when the stove is hot as the fumes will overwhelm you.
11. Rub cooking surface with a saturated oil like tallow or coconut oil and bake it on to protect the surface from spills.
This will trigger your smoke alarms as the oil will burn and carbonize when you heat the stove. Its an important step so don’t avoid it. It acts in the same way as seasoning a cast iron frying pan. Its very important that this oil is a saturated oil that is food safe. Don’t use a liquid oil for this job, as the smoke from burning liquid vegetable oils is carcinogenic. Coconut oil, tallow or lard are safe to use.
13. Enamelled or painted surfaces should be cleaned with all purpose cleaner such as “Simple Green” to remove grease build up and fingerprints.
Wooden handles can be waxed with a mixture of beeswax, and linseed oil to protect them.
Following these tips should give you many years of enjoyment, and satisfaction from your wood cook-stove.
This is the 5th in a 6 part series on cooking with wood.
Part 1, “12 Practical Reasons Why Cooking with Wood Makes Sense”
Part 2 , “Wood Heaters vs. Wood Cook-Stoves: How to Choose”
Part 3, “Wanted: The perfect wood cook-stove”
Part 4, “Burning Desire: Wood fuels for cooking and heating”
Part 5, “Maintenance tips for your wood cook-stove”
Part 6, “Objection! Heating and Cooking with Wood is objectionable”
Did I miss anything? Do you have a wood heating experience to share with our readers? Leave a comment.
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