How to Cook on a Woodstove: On Top and Inside

When I think of the quintessential homestead tool, I think of a wood burning stove.  A homestead house is just not complete without a fire blazing in the wood stove on cold winter nights.  Transitioning to heating with wood is a wonderful place to start when learning to be self-sufficient.  But nothing says homesteading like learning to cook with wood.  And even though my family does not have a wood cookstove in our house, I am able to do a lot of cooking on our little wood stove meant for heating.

What?!  You don’t have a cookstove?

Heartland Oval Wood Cookstove $7,400

I’ve been asked why I do not have a wood cookstove in our off grid house.  That’s a reasonable question when my goal has always been to cook with wood as much as possible.  There are several reasons why we chose our heat stove over a cookstove.

  1. Cookstoves are expensive.  Have you seen the prices of some on the market today?  They are beautiful, but so expensive.  One of the more reasonable is the Baker’s Choice stove made by the Amish.  I recently talked with a woman who owns one and she couldn’t be happier with it.  But it’s an investment!
  2. A cookstove takes up a large amount of room in the kitchen.  It’s not impossible, but some reconfiguring needs to be done in order to install a wood cookstove in a modern house.  We have a manufactured home and the kitchen is built with standard cabinets.  We would definitely lose storage room in order to install a cookstove.
    Baker’s Choice Wood Cookstove $1,795
  3. An additional stove is usually needed for heat when using a cookstove.  This is not always the case, but usually a cookstove is built for cooking and is not an efficient heat source.  Two stoves were not in our budget.  When we purchased our stove, our goal was to get the most efficient one for the price.  We love our stove because we can stack it full with wood, close the damper, and it will burn all night!  We wake up to a warm house and coals in the morning.

For all these reasons, we settled on an efficient little True North stove from Pacific Energy.  We love it!  It cost us less than $1000, it’s compact, and it gives us very efficient heat.  It is the only source of heat that we have in our less than 1000 square foot house.  It may not be intended for cooking, but it can get the job done.  If you have the desire to cook on your regular wood stove, I’m here to say that it is possible.

Cooking on the Surface of the Stove

Cookware is probably the first thing you think about when cooking with wood.  Over an open fire, it is best to use cast iron.  That’s not really a consideration for cooking on my woodstove because the cookware never comes in contact with an open flame, so I can use anything that I would use on an electric or gas stove.  Even so, cast iron is my cookware of choice.  I use stainless steel for boiling water and making rice or pasta.

Stainless steel pots and kettles. I use these to heat my hot water supply for the day.

The top of our woodstove is big enough to hold two large pots or a few smaller pots.  When I have a good roaring fire going, the surface gets hot enough to boil water in  about 25  minutes.  It’s not as hot as turning a stove burner on high.  And it can take a while to get the surface hot once a fire is started.  It’s not a matter of lighting the fire and being ready to cook.  Some patience is required, but that’s okay with me.  I can generally plan lunch and dinner in advance and get it on the stove in plenty of time to cook.  Breakfast is another story!  It’s the only meal that we prefer to cook on our propane stove in the winter.  But it doesn’t use very much fuel to fry up some eggs for our family.

Learning to control the heat while cooking has taken me a little practice, along with some trial and error.  The hottest that the surface ever gets is when I have a full fire going and the stove damper wide open.  The hottest place on the stove is in the middle next to the stove pipe.  With a full fire going, this is the best place to boil water and cook food that needs the highest heat.  Because my wood stove gives off what I would call a medium low heat on an electric stove, I often don’t need to think about reducing the heat.  But if I do, there are several ways that I can do it.  Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Let the fire burn down.  This is the most obvious, but not always possible.  After all, this is the only heat source for our house!
  2. Place pots and pans further away from the center of the stove where the temperature is slightly cooler.
  3. Close the damper on the stove.  This cuts off the air to the fire and makes the wood burn slower so the fire isn’t as hot.  This is certainly not the solution if something is burning because the temperature will not drop immediately!  But if you want to slow cook or warm leftovers, it can work well.  I generally only use this option if the house is getting too warm and I need to decrease the burn of my fire without putting it out.
    My Lodge enamel dutch oven sitting on top of a trivet.
  4. Use a trivet.  This is my favorite method for reducing the heat.  I use metal trivets that I have had for a long time, but I believe cast iron would be even better.  They must be metal with no wood or plastic parts.  I simply set my trivet on the surface of the stove and place my cookware on top of the trivet.  This works just like a crockpot.  When slow cooking all day, I usually use my enamel cast iron dutch oven, but any stainless pot will work.  I also use the trivet method for warming up leftovers.  It’s a very low heat, so it generally doesn’t even require stirring!  But like all other wood stove cooking, it takes some time.  I usually put my leftovers on the trivet at least 15 minutes to half an hour before I want to eat.  It’s not a microwave!

Cooking Inside the Firebox

This is a little more tricky than cooking on top, but it just takes a little practice.  Unlike cooking on the top, you will need to have the proper cookware.  Cast iron is a must.  I do not use anything but well seasoned cast iron skillets and dutch ovens (no enamel) inside the wood stove.  Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Cooking inside the firebox is really only possible when you don’t have a roaring fire.  You want heat, but you don’t want your food to burn!  A bed of good hot coals is the best.  When I want to cook in the firebox, I build up my fire so that it is good and hot and let the wood burn down to coals.  The picture to the right is what you want.  Then using my fire shovel, I push the coals to the back of the firebox.
    My camera did not do these coals justice. They were burning very bright and hot!
  2. Make sure to add the right amount of water.  Some liquid will evaporate during cooking.  But you don’t want to add too much that your dutch oven boils over and you have a mess.  If I am making a roast, I will fill the dutch oven half way with liquid.
  3. Consider keeping your dutch oven elevated so that it is not sitting directly on the bottom of the firebox, or use a camp style dutch oven with feet.  I use a small cast iron skillet flipped upside down for this.
  4. Always cover your food.  Whether it is with a cast iron lid or even just aluminum foil.  This helps the outside of the food not to burn while the inside is cooking.  When baking potatoes, I cover the bottom of my dutch oven with aluminum foil, nest the potatoes inside, put another piece on top, and then put the lid on.  I also use this method for winter squash.
  5. Check on your food once in a while.  The temperature is probably much higher than the normal 350 degree cooking time when you put your food in, but as the coals burn, the temperature will decrease.
  6. Plan ahead and keep the temperature of the house in mind before you start cooking.  If the house has warmed up and I no longer need my fire for heat, I will leave my dutch oven inside as the coals go out.  It’s a great slow cooker and keeps the food hot until you are ready to eat.  If I need to keep my fire going, I will pull out the dutch oven and add more firewood.  If the food is not done, I’ll keep it warm on top of the stove and put it back inside after I have some good coals again.  Of course this is not a good method for baked goods.

Speaking of baked goods, that’s another article!  I plan on experimenting more with baking inside the firebox this winter and I will definitely share the results with you.  So if you have the same concerns about a cookstove that we did, but still want to be able to cook with wood, I’m here to say that it is possible.  It just takes a little practice to figure out what works.  For more information about our wood stove, see 9 Things I Love About Our Wood Stove.

Also, to see my wood stove cooking in action, check out this video.  I’m making a cream of jerusalem artichoke soup with veggies harvested from our garden.

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About JaimieB

Jaimie lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead known online as An American Homestead. They live with their two sons and her parents Tim and Joann on 50 acres located deep in the American Ozark Mountains.

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  1. Ah man! I rally wish we had a wood burner like you! We have a tiny boxwood stove, but you can bet we still cook on it when we can!

  2. Jaimie, Your article reminded me of something that I had seen in MaryJanesFarm Magazine about an attachment for a woodstove for baking. I looked online instead of digging out my old magazines and found Baker’s Salute. Check it out. They are made in America. It is a baking box that fits above the stove and uses the heat from the stove pipe to bake. Have a great day. Mary


  3. I love our woodstove. We have a Lopi and it has 2 levels. The first level is like yours and great for cooking on and the 2nd level keeps things warm. I keep a pot of steaming water on top of our woodburner at all times. There is no better heat that a woodstove in the cold Buffalo, NY winters!! Never tried slow cooking in my cast iron dutch oven so I may try that now after reading your post!! Thanks! Tina

  4. I have the same Pacific Energy woodstove here at home and a larger model in our cabin. I think food tastes better when cooked in a cast iron Dutch oven inside the woodstove! I prefer the ovens with legs in the woodstove because it lets oxygen flow.

    If the ashes need to cool so I can shovel out the stove I like to cook a few things in Dutch ovens on the coals. It saves me time later.

  5. Enjoyed this. I have a Youtube video on the topic, but I think I am not as good a cook …

  6. Hi. Any ideas/ experience cooking on top of the stove in a dutch oven with legs? Seems like it would work better if there was some sort cast iron disk as thick or thicker than the legs are tall so it gets more heat… I saw some *thin* trivets on Amazon…

    • I would save the dutch oven with legs for cooking on the inside of the stove, unless you are just using it to keep something warm or cook VERY slowly. If you don’t have a flat bottomed dutch oven, any pot will work on top of the stove.

  7. I am heating with a wood stove I was just wondering if you ever baked anything with your wood stove.

  8. We wrap baked potatoes in foil with a few fork punctures and bake them in the coals. Just toss em in and retrieve with your shovel. Cheap, delicious, and efficient. We also keep a 12 qt pot on the stove top all the time for hot water for washing and bathing, as we have no running water during the winter. We heat 100% with wood in our Hearthstone stove, and live full time at 10,000 feet in an old mining town in backwoods Colorado.

  9. Just wondering if anyone has cooked with stoneware or earthenware pots inside of the fire pit

  10. I picked up an old Peninsular Garland kitchen range and love it. Took some getting used to for baking in the oven but have done homemade breads in it. The top has 6 openings to work with and regularly make breakfast and soups on it.
    Dreamed of owning one for a lifetime and came across this one on craigslist and couldnot believe the price.
    I can be found at chicken coop outfit on Facebook.

  11. You may be interested in building an earthen oven for baking outside (but under cover):

    In part 2, John advises which tools to use and bakes bread with the oven:

  12. I have been looking for a video where you built your outdoor grills (where you do your canning) and could Not find it. Please send me the link, I would like to build one. Thank you very much

    • Kim, We do not have a video show the making of the grill, but the inside dimension is 24″ square and three concrete block high. It is make shift and only lasted two years because the block is cracking and falling apart from the heat. We are currently making an outdoor kitchen and a new grill made with firebrick. Thanks

  13. Hello Tim
    A while back I watch a video where you grow worm or something like that to feed chicken. I am in riverside CA. I also watch the video where you all talk about leaving the city and move to ozark for homestead. We are ready to make the move. Could you please kindly refer a local realtor that you know or use in the past. We would like to homestead near by you guys as we have no clue what we are doing. We have lived in the city all our life and would like to change our lives with God helps and your help too.
    Please give me some tip on how to grow worms to get worm casting or worm poop.
    Thanks so much.

  14. Stephanie Varvell

    Hi Jaimie,
    Thank you for the info. We are retirees heading for the off grid option. We are looking at the Vermont Bun Baker. Did you consider getting the hot water exchanger?

  15. Can someone tell me if there are any books that specifically address cooking on a regular wood stove, not a wood “cookstove”? We have a Lopi Endeavor, it has two levels. As we are living in our shop I don’t have a traditional type kitchen and want to become efficient at cooking on the wood stove. I’m concerned about keeping the surface looking good (just cover it with Foil?) as well as gaining insight on temperature control. Lots of questions and a book would be very helpful. Even links for this kind of cooking would be great. I find most information is pertaining to an actual cookstove. Not what we have.

  16. Very helpful, looking forward to more

  17. We were Blessed today by an Angel! Someone gave us a gift today of the cast iron pot to cook with on our wood stove!! I’m sooo Grateful for this gift! I can’t wait to cook with it.

  18. Wonderful info on Jerusalem artichokes, they are good! Have you ever put clay pots filled with water on top of stove-to add humidity-we have used metal pots but I found these and am wondering if they would work…

  19. We also have a woodstove for heating that we cook with. It does have two openings for cooking, but we have to balance cooking and heating the house. I have put a lot of time in to learn to cook well on this woodstove, but I love it. I’m working on perfecting stove top sourdough biscuits right now. They are delicious! And to think I had shyed away from baking for the past 4 years!

  20. I’m wondering why there is advice against enamel coated cast iron for the inner cooking? I have a cast iron pot that fits perfectly inside my woodburner, but it is indeed coated with enamel. A great post! Thank you!

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