Cooking Off Grid With a Wood Burning Stove

Gaye LevyGaye Levy | Jul 3, 2019

As much as I enjoy reading and learning about living off-grid, nothing interests me more than off-grid cooking using a wood burning stove. Sure, there are rocket stoves, and all sorts of grills available for use outdoors but it is a big, beautiful, antique-style wood-burning stove sitting in the kitchen that captures my imagination.

Alas, at present I do not have the space to add a full-sized wood burning stove to my modern kitchen.  That does not preclude my desire to learn as much as I can about off-grid cooking using wood and biomass.

Today I am thrilled to bring us one step closer to learning our way around an off-grid kitchen.

Cooking Off Grid With a Wood Burning Stove | Backdoor Survival

Some of you may remember the article One Man’s Perspective From Living Off Grid.  In it, you were introduced to Ron Melchiore and his lifelong commitment to living off the land.  Much to my delight and to our benefit, today his wife, Joanna shares her experience maintaining and flourishing with an off-grid kitchen!

The Off-Grid Kitchen

For over 30 years I’ve been faced with meal planning and preparation while living off-grid. My husband’s book Off Grid and Free-My Path to the Wilderness, has a short chapter devoted to our wood burning cookstove but I’ll elaborate on some of the finer points of my off-grid cooking experiences.

I grew up in a typical house and learned how to cook and bake with an electric range. When I met Ron, moved to Maine and began homesteading, he already had an antique wood cook stove set up in the kitchen and I learned how to use that stove to cook and bake. Believe it or not mastering the wood cookstove was not that difficult.

When we moved to a remote lake in the wilderness that’s accessible only by float plane, I remained committed to cooking with a wood stove. An electric stove was out of the question due to its high energy consumption. A gas model was of no interest either. Cylinders of gas need to be purchased and flown in by bush plane, an expensive proposition. If propane ever becomes in short supply or unavailable, we’ll be completely unaffected.

Since we are surrounded by acres and acres of firewood available free for the taking, a wood cookstove is by far the most practical choice for us.

WIlderness Canning on a Wood Stove | Backdoor Survival

Wilderness canning on a wood stove

I use my kitchen woodstove every day, spring, summer, fall and winter. I do all of my canning, baking, and meal preparation with this appliance. The stove was brand spanking new when we bought it 16 years ago. It came with a warming oven, water reservoir tank attached to the right-hand side and a water jacket installed in the firebox.

This means the stove is plumbed so water pipes run to the firebox and then back out to a 45-gallon hot water storage tank. Every time I make a fire to cook, can or bake, I’m also heating our home’s water so that we have hot running water at both sink faucets and the shower. What an off-grid luxury! The set up is also very efficient as I’m getting the most I can out of each piece of firewood.

I have a set of good quality stainless steel pots with heavy bottoms in various sizes ranging from small saucepans up to stock pots. But my favorite cookware is cast iron.

I have an assortment of skillets passed down from Ron’s Grandmothers and my Mom which range from 6″ up to 12″. The largest pans hang on hooks from the ceiling on either side of my stove for easy access. Depending on what I’m making, I’ll employ several Dutch ovens differing in size from 8″ to 13″ in diameter. The biggest Dutch oven accommodates our Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas ham. After butchering, I also use it to render fat scraps prior to soap making.

My most prized cast iron piece is my antique waffle maker. A ring holds the lidded waffle iron in such a way that I can pivot the waffle iron back and forth so both top and bottom of the waffle cook evenly over the open fire. What a neat device! A muffin pan, griddle, and corn stick pan round out my cast iron collection.

Seasoning cast iron assures a non-stick surface and keeps the cooking vessel from rusting. Seasoning is the process of baking on a thin coating of grease. I use either oil or shortening. I wouldn’t trade any of my cast iron for Teflon or T-fal coated pans.

Because we live so remote, we only shop twice a year. This means I make virtually all of our bread and other baked goods from scratch. Fortunately, anything can be cooked on or in a wood cookstove: yeast breads and rolls, coffeecakes, muffins, biscuits, sweet breads such as pumpkin and cranberry bread as well as cakes, cookies, pies and crisps. Roasts, stews, soups, casseroles and even pizza are all possible with a wood cookstove.

What do I cook and what do we eat?

I tend to make items that feature ingredients we grow or that grow wild. For example, we are surrounded by an abundance of wild blueberries and cranberries and I make numerous things with these fruits: blueberry muffins, pancakes, pies, and crisps; cranberry muffins and bread and of course cranberry sauce.

Through summer, we eat from the garden enjoying each veggie as it comes into season. First are radishes and early greens of lettuce and spinach, followed by peas, broccoli, zucchini and beans. By the end of summer, we are blessed with an abundance of corn, tomatoes, peppers and even cantaloupes. Our gardens yield such a bounty, I’m never lacking for the makings of a meal.

Wilderness Pantry Full of Goodness | Backdoor Survival

Who wouldn’t want a pantry filled with home-canned goodness?

This time of the year, the garden has long been put to bed, but it continues to feed us. Not just from the produce I’ve canned and frozen, but also from the good winter keepers stored in the root cellar: potatoes, carrots, celery, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.

We eat a lot of cabbage in the fall and early winter. It stores well, we love it, and it’s a versatile vegetable since it can be used in so many ways: in soups, as side dishes, in casseroles, as an entree such as cabbage rolls and in many salads such as various slaws. I’ve included one of our favorite cabbage recipes. I haven’t included measurements because in all honesty when I make this, I never measure. I just sprinkle on the seasonings. Figure one wedge of cabbage as a serving and go from there.

Baked Cabbage

Wedges of cabbage, core removed
Cajun spice( chili powder can be substituted)
Salt and pepper
Thin slices of fresh garlic
Bacon strips

In cast iron Dutch oven, put about 1/2″ of water. Arrange cabbage wedges in bottom. Sprinkle liberally with Cajun spice, salt and pepper.

Put several slices of garlic on each wedge ( we like garlic so I put 3-4 slices on each wedge but you may prefer less). Top wedges with bacon, about 1/3 to 1/2 strip per wedge. Cover Dutch oven with lid.

Bake 350 degrees 1 hour. Enjoy!

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Ron and his wife currently live 100 miles in the Canadian wilderness on a remote lake. As part of the back to the land movement that originated in the 70’s, they have spent their adult years living the homestead dream. You can follow and contact Ron and Johanna on Facebook or at their website, //www.inthewilderness.net/

The Final Word

After reading about how Joanna cooks, cans, bakes, and heats her home with a wood burning stove, I am super-fired up (no pun intended) about expanding my outdoor cooking repertoire.  Cooking with propane is one thing, but wood?  This is one more skill that hope to really master.

For those of you that are enamored with vintage wood stoves, or even modern wood stoves, you can find a bunch of really cool pictures over on my Pinterest page, Vintage Kitchens, Stoves and Sewing Machines.  Don’t blame me if you start to drool!

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye


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Bargain Bin:  Below you will findthe items related to today’s article as well as my cast iron favorites.

Off Grid and Free:My Path to the Wilderness:  After reading this article, I am sure you will agree that Ron and Johanna are the ultimate preppers.  Here is a link to his book which I am certain you will enjoy!

Making biscuits in a cast iron pan - Backdoor Survival

Lodge Logic Cast Iron Pre-Seasoned Drop Biscuit Pan: Biscuits with jam are one of my favorite comfort foods.  This is the pan I purchased for biscuit making and to me, it was worth the cost.

The Ringer Cast Iron Cleaner – Stainless Steel Chainmail:  I purchased one of these in October 2015 and it is friggin’ fantastic.  You will never ever have to scrub cast iron again.  I can’t say enough good things about this gizmo.  You want one.  Read my review here: How to Clean Cast Iron the Easy Way.

Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven:  I do own a number of large stock pots but for the most part, when making chili or stew I reach for my cast iron Dutch Oven.  Cast iron holds the heat and can be used indoors or outside over a campfire.  When the price is right (and they do fluctuate), I want to get one of these enameled cast iron pots.

Cast Iron Skillet with Hot Handle Holder: This purchase changed the way I cook. I use my cast iron cookware for everything from salmon, to bacon and eggs, to biscuits. Everyone needs at least one big beautiful cast iron skillet.  If you have any questions or doubts about using cast iron?  Read 7 Tips for Cast Iron Mavens.

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26 Responses to “Cooking Off Grid With a Wood Burning Stove”

  1. I have to say – my envy button is pushed. 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • You are welcome Donna. Thank you for your comment.
      Ron and Johanna

  2. What a gorgeous stove, and I love the set up with the water. I am beyond happy for Ron and Johanna. They’re truly living my dream.

    Reply
  3. Hello Tricia. Thank you for the comment about our stove and our life.

    As I wrote in my book, “Next to me, it is Johanna’s most prized possession. A bit of wishful thinking I guess. It is Johanna’s most prized possession!” 🙂

    Johanna certainly has the wood stove mastered. And the water heating is a simple thermosiphon loop setup which works well. All the best! Ron and Johanna

    Reply
  4. I have a couple questions.

    1) How do you handle cooking in warm weather? Even up in Canada there must be days that are warm enough you don’t want to heat up the house.

    2) How do you manipulate the heat for the pressure canner? I have enough trouble with my gas stove getting it hot enough to get the canner up to pressure in a reasonable amount of time and then lowering the temperature the proper amount to get the “jiggle” right. I do wonder if some of my problems are due to being over 1000ft of elevation so there’s a different set of rules.

    Reply
    • Hi AnnM,
      Thanks for the good questions. Yes we have warm weather up here. Fortunately the nights are cool and we have little humidity where we are in northern Saskatchewan. I just open all the windows all the way and sweat! On a really hot day, I may plan the day’s menus so I only need to have one fire in the morning.

      Regarding the pressure canner. I just keep shoving small pieces of wood into the firebox to keep a roaring fire going until the canner gets up to pressure. Then I slide it around the cook top until I find the “sweet” spot where the pressure stays steady. With a cookstove there are no burners as with a gas or electric stove. So the entire surface acts as a cook top that offers the cook a wide range of temperatures depending on where the cooking vessel is located.

      I hope that helps!
      Johanna

  5. Johanna you are truly an inspiration! Thank you so much for sharing. Your stove definitely made alot of jealous. 😉

    Reply
    • Hello J.

      Thank you for your kind words. I do hope to inspire anyone who is off-grid or thinking of going off-grid that there is a very viable option to a propane or electric range. Personally, I can’t imagine being without a wood cookstove in my kitchen.

      All the best to you! Johanna

  6. Thanks for the encouragement on cooking in or on a Woodstove. We have a Hitzer woodstove insert in our fireplace, I can cook on the top or inside with my cast iron cookware. I put my soup ingredients in a Dutch oven before I go skiing, and when I come home it’s done.
    Please keep these great articles coming Ron and Joanne. An alternative for summer cooking is an adobe mud oven.

    Reply
    • Good Morning Karma007,

      You are so right! Nothing beats a woodstove for the long, slow cooking of soups, stews and roasts. Old time cooks were doing the “slow cooker” routine long before the electric crock pot was invented.

      I was born and raised in Maryland where the summers are brutally hot and humid. Back in the day, some farms had a “summer kitchen” – a small building separate from the main house but often connected to it by a short roofed breezeway. This kept the heat generated from cooking out of the main house. Don’t know if any summer kitchens still exist, but a modern screened in version might be an option.

      Thank you for stopping by and your kind comments.
      Johanna

  7. When I was very young, we moved from a midwest country home into town. Our farm neighbor, a widow in her 80’s, missed us and knew she wasn’t long for continuing to live on her farm, so she invited our family out for one last Thanksgiving dinner. All by herself she cooked a complete turkey dinner with all the fixings on her wood stove… and it all came out perfectly, and on-time together. It was the most amazing demonstration of self sufficient living that I still remember, sixty years later! She had electricity, but shunned an electric stove. She made her son cut her firewood every few months for the stove.

    Reply
    • Such a nice story and memory Hank. Thanks for sharing it with us. There’s something special about meals that are prepared on a wood cook stove. We just enjoyed another Thanksgiving turkey and all the trimmings a few weeks ago. All the best!
      Ron and Johanna

  8. I remember my Grandmother’s wood cook stove. It was huge! She cooked many delicious things on the top and the baked goodies were always just right. They had had an older large farm house and when the kitchen was remodeled Grandpa bought her a larger wood cook stove because she wanted to keep the wood stove. Kept the big kitchen warm and there was always a big tea kettle on the stove emitting the steam into the air. I don’t have room for that type of stove but I do have a large fireplace that I would like to know how to cook out of it if I had to.

    Reply
    • Hello Deborah,
      Thanks for sharing your fond memories with us. I remember during my early years in Maine visiting an elderly couple who had a wood cook stove in the farm house. She always had the teapot on and some goody coming out of the oven too.

      Depending on the fireplace setup, as long as it can be done safely, cooking in a fireplace would be much the same as cooking over an outdoor camp fire. When Johanna cooks over an outdoor fire, she uses cast iron cookware including skillets and dutch ovens in various sizes. Make sure the dutch oven lid has a rim on the edge where you can pile some coals on top in the event you want to bake something inside as an oven.

      Some of the old fireplaces used to have swinging arms and other clever devices to hang pots over the fire. Please consider a good fire resistant mat in front of the fireplace, some good heavy mitts and a handy fire extinguisher if you were to try using the fireplace to cook.

      All the best,
      Ron and Johanna

  9. Very nice article. I would like to know what brand of wood stove you chose. Also, if you ever move from your little house in the big woods, would you take your current wood stove with you? As single mom with 7 children trying to be self sufficient, I am currently thankful for electricity during canning season. In April, I take possession of our new fruit farm and there is a lovely cook stove in the post and beam house. I am looking forward to moving this stove to our cabin as the house won’t be able to be insured with it. A little over 30 years ago, I spent a summer up in your neck of the woods. It is a beautiful area. Flying out only twice a year would help insulate you from some of the social issues that abound. Do you have any like minded neighbors? Do you know of others who have also chosen a fly-in life in the north? Do either or both of you have a Ham radio licence or do you communicate with satellite phone? I hope you are warm and cozy this December!

    Cheers

    Reply
    • Hello B,

      How are you? We are doing well. Cold weather finally showed up here. Well below 0F for highs.

      The stove is a Margin stove, model GemPac from Ontario. Outstanding stove! The stove will likely come with us when we move.

      Neither of us are ham radio operators but I’ve listened to shortwave occasionally since I was a kid. We do have a real Iridium SAT phone for emergencies. But mostly, this computer/satellite is connected to a VOIP (voice over internet) phone which works well.

      We do not have any neighbors and the only time we see another human is when we come out twice a year for resupply. We are not aware of anybody else doing this in northern Saskatchewan.

      We’re sorry to hear the insurance company is making it hard to have the stove in the house. They can certainly be a real hassle and we have experience with that as well.

      Good luck in your new move to the fruit farm!
      Ron and Johanna

  10. Didn’t know to use coals on the top of the Dutch oven while cooking in a fireplace but that does make sense. If you cook over a campfire the process is the same. Thanks for pointing that out. I do have the fire proof mat, 2 Ove gloves and the fire extinguisher. Now all I need is the swinging arm handle to hang inside the fireplace. Our fireplace is not a gigantic as old times but there is enough room to cook a meal. We also measured the fireplace so I could pick up a camping grate with legs to sit things on to cook over the embers or warm water. To elevate this grate a little higher we purchased ceramic bricks, like used with small wood stoves. I have purchased a lot of cast iron but still need a second Dutch oven maybe next size up. Have a Happy Holiday and stay warm.

    Reply
    • Happy Holidays to you too Deborah! We are nice and toasty even though it is on the cool side at -17F. The campfire grate is a good idea. We have one for the outdoors. We have never used a reflector type oven but that might be worth a look too. Have a great day!
      Ron and Johanna

  11. Thank you for the interesting article. Ever since I was little I have loved the look of those kitchen wood stoves. I have never known anyone who has owned one and it was great to see how you use it and cook year round with it. The idea of living off grid is very appealing and I am impressed with your ability to live and thrive so remotely. Thanks Gaye, for bringing us such interesting and varied content!

    Reply
    • Hello Michele,
      Thank you for stopping by and for your kind comments. We second the motion to thank Gaye. We are grateful for the opportunity to share our life with her readers and it is gratifying that we have been able to have this nice banter.

      I believe Gaye has an upcoming promotion for our book in January?? so please stay tuned for that.

      We wish you all the best,
      Ron and Johanna

  12. My son and I are in the process of building a small off-grid cabin in the mountains for getaways, hunting, checking cattle, that sort of thing. I found a small wood cookstove on Craigslist this summer so we’ll be using it for cooking and for heating the cabin. We’re looking forward to cooking actual meals on it!

    Good article, Johanna! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Thank you Chuck for your thoughts. You are building memories your son will treasure over time. Enjoy that cabin and your cooking adventures!

      All the best,
      Johanna

  13. Hi everyone! My husband and I invested in a Bakers Choice woodburning cookstove. We had to purchase the warming closet and water reservoir separately. We even had to pay $40 extra for the cover lid for the reservoir. I love it. It uses less wood than our old cast iron woodstove. It looks great in my kitchen. I use gas in our conventional cookstove during summer. In winter I cook on the woodstove and also use the gas stove. It is the best of both worlds. We are living in a rural setting where we grow much of our produce and forage for a large portion of our fruits and medicinal plants. Our closest town has about 4,000 people. We raise all our beef, chicken and pork. We also raise rabbits.
    You have never tasted yummier chicken than baked in the oven woodstove chicken. It has its own flavor. The hardest to regulate for me is bread. The crust can get dark really fast. I would recommend this stove to everyone.
    I haven’t canned on my stove as of yet. But, who knows when it could become necessary? Love the information and sharing. Happy homesteading to all!
    Mechele

    Reply
    • Hello Mechele,

      We’ve heard of that stove and had a friend who had one. Sounds like you are well on your way to mastering the wood stove. Bread is tricky. As soon as the top starts to get brown, I lay a piece of foil loosely over the top to keep it from burning while the rest of the loaf bakes.

      We have the water reservoir too but rarely use it because we have the thermosiphon loop set up for hot water.

      Canning will be fine. The whole cook top is a heating surface and you’ll find just the right spot to keep the canner at the right pressure and temperature. Thank you for stopping by Mechele. Happy Homesteading to you too!
      Johanna

  14. Those cast iron wood burning stoves put off a lot heat for warming the home in the winter too. Growing a friend on mine had one in the living room and it provided heat for their entire open concept cabin. Looking back his parents was self sufficient preppers before I even knew what a prepper was.

    Reply
    • Thanks Joey for sharing. You are right. The woodstove puts out lots of heat. In our case, our cookstove cooks meals, heats the house and heats our hot water all at the same time.

      Sounds like your friend’s parents were actually homesteading from long ago. We started homesteading 37 years ago so prepping is a relatively new term. But anybody homesteading was in fact living a more self-reliant lifestyle, thus prepping.

      All the best!
      Ron and Johanna

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