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The heart of a country kitchen, the cook stove.

Country Cook Stove

If you have the notion that you’d love a cook stove or wood stove in your home’s kitchen, there’s a few things I want to share with you.

The Cook Stove Is The Heart of Your Country Home

Yes, it is wonderful to get off the grid, even if by just a little. Home heating and home cooking uses up a lot of electricity every month, so you’ll be saving money by switching over to a wood cook stove. Likely that was your first thought anyway.

This vintage country cookstove has served the family for many years and a few generations.

This vintage country cookstove has served the family for many years and a few generations.

Next you’ve probably thought of the presence a wood stove evokes. That back to basics, country living, quality of life, feeling. People gathered around the wood stove, the smell of fresh baked bread. A house that says “quality matters”. Life isn’t rushing. Food isn’t prepared to be fast and ‘good enough’. A cook stove’s presence gives the impression of patience and caring.

That’s good stuff. If you’re going to be using your woodstove for cooking, you’ll find that meals take a little longer than if you were cooking with an electric or gas range. Especially if you’re starting from a cold stove where there hasn’t been a fire burning all day long and a frozen roast.

The Elements of A Wood Stove

All wood stoves operate the same way, although there are some peculiarities among the different brands. You’ll find in each a firebox and dampers.

The firebox is most often found in left corner of a woodstove and is loaded up first with news print or plain paper, then small bits of wood (cedar if you have some), and then larger pieces of wood. Remember to leave air space for circulation within the fire box. It is much more efficient to keep a small fire burning than a needing to build a smoldering or raging fire every few hours.

The dampers of your woodstove could be anywhere, but they’re easy to spot. There should be a chimney damper (not necessarily on the chimney) that moves the smoke out of the woodstove and into the chimney. The other damper is your oven damper (used to let the warm air into the oven portion of your stove). You really need to consult your owner’s manual if you have one, and experiment to find the right positions.

You’ll get a feel for it after you’ve lived with a wood cook stove long enough – how far open the dampers are for the type and maturity of each fire will soon come naturally to you – I promise!

Get Cooking on That Wood Stove!

You get to cook on the entire top surface of your cookstove. You’ll get a feel for this as well, moving your pots and pans around to the hotspots as you need it.

Plus, of course, cooking in the oven part of your stove. Some have temperature gauges (even the old ones), but again, you will need to experiment and get a feel for your stove. You can also pick up an oven thermometer for a few dollars in the meantime.

Recent Woodstove News

All wood stoves (except cookstoves, furnaces and fireplaces) purchased in the United States must now comply with a EPA Phase II Wood Stove Emissions Regulation. This regulated Federal standard requires that every new wood burning stove be tested and passed for low particulate emission.

The good news is that the newest, high efficiency, EPA Approved, wood stoves are exempt from any municipal or city level burn bans that local air quality authorities may impose during episodes of high airborne pollution.

However, different states, provinces and municipalities have their own sets of restrictions and regulations. Please check with your local authority on this matter. For instance, some states have adopted even further standards regarding woodstoves and cook stoves.

  • Washington, for instance, requires that all wood stoves in new homes draw combustion air into the firebox from outside the house.
  • In Ontario, Canada similar measures are being enforced – and not just for new homes, but any new wood burning furnaces as well!

Why is this?

Well having a fresh-air return through cook stoves, fireplaces and woodstoves eliminates possible health problems. We breathe oxygen-poor air during the winter months – usually because our families are spending far more time indoors. Then we add the closed window and re-circulated air problems – because our homes are now so wonderfully insulated that no fresh, cold air is added into our homes. When you compare this modern way of life to the drafty, older, days-gone-by homes when fresh air would sneak in through all the cracks – you can see why there’s a problem. Fresh air has little chance of sneaking into our modern houses. This is why we need the heating air return to draw cold air in from outdoors.

Discovering Wood Stove Troubles

When your wood stove is in operation, go outside and have a look at the smoke color. This is a great way to check for efficiency or signs of trouble.

If a lot of black smoke is coming out your chimney it’s a sure sign you’re burning something toxic to the environment.

If a lot of light colored smoke is coming out of your chimney, your fire isn’t burning efficiently. Adjust your air intake and you adjust the efficiency of your fire.

Older Woodstoves

If you are using an older model woodstove, there are a few things you can do to decrease pollution and increase efficiency.

  • Burn only aged firewood. Split your wood and allow it to air dry, also known as seasoning the wood, for 6-12 months.
  • When possible keep a small fire on. It’s better to ‘feed the fire’ many times through the day than to build one raging or smoldering fire. Small fires give more heat, burn more efficiently and don’t smoke out the neighborhood or woodland creatures.
  • Burn only bio-degradable materials. Burning plastic, chemically-treated wood, glossy paper magazines, or anything other than seasoned wood and newsprint can make the smoke coming out of your chimney (as well as the air circulating through your home) toxic.

Small wood stove that could hold a pot of stew on the top.This article on country cookstoves is one of the first articles ever posted on GoodByeCityLife – originally July 19, 1999. It has recently been updated during a site makeover from a revised edition on August 23, 2009. Learn more about dampers and wood burning stoves.

If you just need a little woodstove for the country cabin, check out this cutie!

About Laura Childs

Country Living enthusiast Laura Childs was a downtown city girl for many years before heading to the hills to live a sustainable lifestyle, raise her daughter, get back to the land, and learn the time tested traditions of a simpler era. Throughout her farm life adventures of raising animals, working from home, home schooling her daughter, and being more green, Laura Childs has been sharing on the GoodByeCityLife website through articles and personal musings since 1998.