Sunday, July 31, 2011

Grilling on the Wood Cookstove

One of our favorite types of cooking to do on our wood cookstoves has always been grilling--especially during the winter.  It's a long ways from winter around here with highs in the 90s, but we don't own a regular grill, so we used the Riverside Bakewell in the summer kitchen to grill beef filets for our Sunday noon dinner.  I think grilling on the cookstove is particularly efficient because the same fire that you use to grill can accomplish multiple other cooking tasks.  As with most cooking on a wood cookstove, it is all about the rhythm.  Here is what I did today.

The first thing that I did was put the defrosted beef filets in a marinade that I concocted.  Nancy could tell you the name of the Jersey/Simmental cross steer that made the ultimate sacrifice in order to provide us with the filets, but I've forgotten.

Second, I started the cookstove in the summer kitchen the way that I always do.  When the fire reached the point where I could put larger pieces of wood on it, I was a bit more discriminating than usual about the kind of wood that I added.   Cooks seem to pretty much universally agree that the best way to cook meat on a wood fire is to cook it using coals because they provide a more predictable and even intensity of heat and there is little risk of coals imparting a smoky taste to the food.  Of course, hickory would probably be the ideal wood to use because it is coveted for the flavor that it gives to meats.  We don't have hickory available to us here, though, so fruitwood is my best choice. 

Digression: I'm told that my great-great grandfather always used silver maple to smoke pork, so I feel comfortable using it, too, when it is available.  Maple is less ideal than fruitwood, however, because it is generally lighter and therefore doesn't provide a long-lasting bed of hot coals quite so easily.  End of digression.

I would caution against considering Mulberry a suitable fruitwood for grilling.  I think that Mulberry, while a good wood to burn, has acrid smoke which would render any food that was exposed to it quite unappetizing.

On this particular occasion, I used some small pieces of ornamental pear that my parents cut for me after they lost the tree in a storm last year.  Isn't that one of the beauties of a wood cookstove?  What would ordinarily be carted off as garbage created by a storm can be used to cook a complete meal.

While these pieces of wood were initially burning, I started cooking the meal with my pots arranged as you see below. 

Beginnings of dinner on the wood cookstove.
The larger pot at the back was half filled with water coming to a boil for the sweet corn.  The pot at the front is our potatoes.  The coffee pot and teakettle are full of water to absorb extra heat from the cooktop.  The firebox door is open for taking this picture so that you can see that we have a rapid fire burning.

Sweet corn has just been added to the boiling water at the back of the firebox.

Once the potatoes had come to a boil, I had to cock the lid a little so that they didn't boil over.  I didn't move them away from the firebox right away because I wanted them to cook as quickly as possible in the beginning because they would be moved away from the firebox in a little while.  Once the water for the corn had come to a boil, I put in the ears of corn--which I had stolen from the raccoons, by the way.  It is quite clear to them that they own the patch and I am the interloper.

I put the lid on the corn and moved the potatoes to the back of the stove where they continued to boil, but less rapidly.  I then removed the lid over the front part of the firebox and placed over it a grill salvaged from a long-defunct Hibachi.  We saved the grill for just this sort of cooking.  The marinated steaks are then put directly over the fire.  I try to be very careful that the steaks do not rest over any part of the stove's cooktop because their drippings will make a mess on the iron that may eventually smoke into the room as it burns off.  Smoke resulting from drippings that go into the fire is carried out the chimney.

I suppose that one could cook the steaks sufficiently just like this, but in my experience, three undesirable things can happen at this point: a) the usual draft of the stove is spoiled, and cool air rushes right past the cooking meat to the fire, slowing the cooking considerably, or b) if the chimney to which the stove is connected has a slow draft, a lot of smoke escapes into the room, and c) at the very least, the sides of the steaks don't cook as thoroughly as I like them to.  For these reasons, we place a lid over the steaks that we are grilling on the cookstove.  The lid also adds a certain measure of safety in preventing sparks from escaping the fire into your house, although I have never had a problem with that while grilling.

The lid that you see in this picture is used solely for the purpose of grilling on the cookstove.  It came from a very thin stockpot that bit the dust some time ago, but it is perfect for this type of cooking because it is large enough to fit completely over the grill and tall enough to accomodate a fairly thick cut of meat.  A word of caution here: the under side of this lid looks like it has been used to grill meat, and no amount of scrubbing so far has successfully changed this, even though it feels clean.

By this time, the fire was reduced to just coals, so I scraped the coals to the front of the firebox so that they were all under the steaks.

View of the firebox from the feed door on the left side.

Even though the coals were all in the front of the firebox, their heat was sufficient to bring the sweet corn back to a boil and continue cooking the potatoes.

You can see that I had to move the potatoes closer to the fire after the fire had died down, to keep them cooking as quickly as I wanted them to.  For this picture, I had taken the lids off everything, but with the lids on, both the potatoes and the corn were at a pretty fast boil.

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the final meal once it was plated.  You'll just have to take my word for it when I say that it was delicious--especially the steaks.

Some side notes: 

1. If the coals begin to get ashy on the top and cool down, simply stir them a little with your poker; the ash will be knocked off, making them radiate more heat again.

2. To cook larger amounts of meat, I have used the same timing/rhythm with the side dishes, but removed both lids over the firebox as well as the "T" and placed a rectangular rack from a gas grill over the fire.  For a lid, I used the liner from an old electric roaster.  Of course, you want the firebox to have a full bed of coals in this case.  I once cooked steaks for about a dozen people on the Qualified Range in the dead of winter that way.

3. In the absence of good firewood for this purpose, I have used charcoal in the cookstove in order to grill like this.  I was disappointed at the large amount of charcoal that was necessary to achieve a high enough heat, however.

4. All chimneys are different, and the same chimney can behave differently in differing weather conditions.  I have found that it is sometimes necessary to at least partially open the oven damper to prevent too much smoke from entering the room while grilling.  This can make difficulties if one of your side dishes is baked and it hasn't finished cooking before you begin your grilling.

If your wood cookstove is one that has removable lids, I recommend giving grilling a try sometime.  I have to admit to feeling quite smug in January when we have treated ourselves to a grilled steak without ever having to brave the cold outdoors.

1 comment:

  1. Great idea! Never tried it before but going to give a go! Looks delicious!