Saturday, November 17, 2012

Roasting a Turkey in the Wood Cookstove

My parents will be hosting our family's Thanksgiving celebration this year, but Nancy and I have hosted it several times since we have been married, and it is certainly one of my favorite meals to cook.  Of course, the centerpiece of most Thanksgiving dinners is the turkey, and the last one that we roasted in the Qualified Range in 2010 was the best one yet.  Fred, one of our neighbors and a longtime family friend of my mom's side, was a guest at our dinner that year, and he raved about the turkey.  He swore up and down that the reason that the Turkey was so delicious was because it was cooked in a wood cookstove.  I have read that some people believe that foods cooked in the oven of a wood cookstove are better than those cooked in modern ovens because both electric and gas ovens are vented, whereas the ovens on wood cookstoves are basically sealed when the door is shut.  The thought is that this helps keep the flavor in the food.  All theories aside, 2010's bird was fantastic, and I want to share how we cooked it.

I didn't have the energy that year to get all of the pies baked on the Wednesday evening before, so Nancy and I had gotten up early to bake the pumpkin pies.  I tend to keep the oven pretty hot for pie baking (see my post about that here), and our timing was such that when the last pie came out of the oven, it was imperative that the turkey be put in right away.

To prepare the turkey, I used a Reynolds oven bag, following the directions on the box for shaking flour inside the bag before putting the turkey in and cutting slits in the top of the bag.  Then, I rubbed butter all over the top of the bird to add a little flavor and encourage browning.  I sprinkled the top of the turkey with salt, pepper, paprika, and probably some Mrs. Dash.  We stuffed the turkey's cavity with part of the dressing that we made according to our family's tradition (I'll blog about that sometime).  We sealed the bag and put it in the oven, which was running at about four hundred degrees at that time.

Just before putting the turkey in the oven, I had fueled the fire, so the oven continued to run hot for at least the first forty-five minutes that the turkey was in the oven.  The turkey developed a beautiful, golden brown crust right away.  After that, we let the oven cool to about 325 until the turkey was cooked, timing it according to the directions for the oven bags.  Ideally, you want your turkey to be finished cooking about a half hour before your meal is to take place.  A meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast should register 180 degrees.

We then spooned the stuffing out of the turkey's cavity and mixed it into the rest of the dressing.  The turkey was permitted to rest for at least fifteen minutes; then it was removed from the bag to a platter for carving while all of the wonderful juice that it had been swimming in was made into gravy.

At every Thanksgiving dinner we've hosted, as soon as the turkey is out of the oven, I add quite a bit of small fuel to the fire and return the oven to about 400 degrees in order to dry out the dressing a little, brown the marshmallows on the top of the sweet potatoes, and cook the gravy.

Making sure that the turkey gets a chance to brown well while it is roasting also helps to ensure that the turkey gravy will have an appetizing color.  If your gravy is too light to be appealing, though, don't despair.  My grandma taught me that a little coffee added to the gravy aids in giving it good color and is usually undetectable as far as flavor goes.  If no coffee is already made, I've seen her put a few granules of instant coffee into the gravy to get the same effect.  Trust me on this one; if you do it right, no one will be the wiser.  Just remember to always taste the gravy as you are making it, adjusting your seasonings to fit your palate.

If, while the turkey is cooking, the top of it begins to brown too much, just lay a couple of pieces of foil over the top. This may be necessary because most wood cookstove ovens are hotter at the top than at the bottom. If the turkey is cooking too slowly, it helps to remove the stuffing from inside the turkey and cook it separately from the bird.

An additional consideration that a wood cookstove cook must make while cooking Thanksgiving dinner is the fact that there is usually a large pot of potatoes to cook along with other top-of-the-stove side dishes.  Generally, when I'm using extra large vessels on the cooktop, I keep a hotter fire because of the extra BTU's needed to heat the larger pots.  However, the hotter fire would result in the oven being too hot for roasting the turkey.  Thus, I always have to remember to put the potatoes and other sides on earlier than I normally would because they will take longer to come to a boil.

The only pictures that I have of any of the turkeys that I have roasted in a wood cookstove are some that my aunt took in 1999.  This was actually the second turkey that I had roasted in the Qualified range.

Thanksgiving 1999's roast turkey at the Qualified.  Note the large
stockpot of mashed potaoes over the firebox.  The other two pots
are carrots and green beans.

Man was I young then!  I don't look anything like that anymore.

Making the gravy.  The potatoes have been removed from the
range for mashing, and the two vegetables have been moved to
the coolest part of the cooktop because they are finished.
Astute blog readers will notice that the stovepipe angle in the pictures above is not the same as in other pictures of the Qualified Range.  When these pictures were taken, the Qualified had only been installed in our current house for a few months (I had it installed in our little rental house next door for about a year and a half when I lived up there).  I hired a professional to line the old kitchen chimney with stainless steel and install the Qualified in my present kitchen in the summer of 1999.  He configured the stovepipe so that it had a very direct route to the chimney, which is what is recommended to optimize draft.

However, I didn't like the look of the funky angles, and it was difficult to take the pipe down and put it back up for routine cleaning, so I changed it after a while.  We didn't install wall protection behind the stove until 2005 (a year after Nancy and I married), so until then, the stove stuck out into the kitchen quite a bit further in order to meet the clearance requirements.  In fact, the wall protection was installed on the weekend before Thanksgiving that year because Nancy and I were hosting, and we wanted to have more room to work and for our guests to travel through the kitchen (Have you ever noticed how people tend to gather in the kitchen during get-togethers, even when they aren't helping with the meal preparation?).

Hopefully, our kitchen will be finished by Thanksgiving of next year so that we can host the celebration again.  I'm looking forward to cooking a really large meal on the Margin Gem since it is so much bigger than the Qualified and has a warming oven to boot.


  1. Hi, Jim. I'd like to talk to you about the Margin Gem. I can't find a contact email. Could you email me? I don't want to post my email address, but if you click on my website, you can easily find my contact info. Thank you.

  2. Looks like a yummy and cozy Thanksgiving!

  3. Replies
    1. Hi, Richard! I'm sorry I didn't see your question earlier today. Thanksgiving dinner was at my parents' house this year, and so I hadn't been on the computer today.

      Anyway, basically, the amount of time that a turkey takes to cook in a wood cookstove is the same as the amount of time that it takes in a modern stove as long as you are maintaining the same oven temperature.

      We follow the directions on the Reynolds roasting bags, and roast at 325┬║ for however long they say to for the size turkey that we have.

      I hope your turkey was good and that things went well for you!

      Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Can you put the turkey on the bottom of the oven instead of on a rack? I can't imagine it fitting any other way.

    When you use wall protection, how much clearance do you have to provide in the back?

    1. You certainly can put the turkey on the bottom of the oven. I take the rack off its holders in the middle of the oven and lay it on the floor of the oven so there is a little air space between the bottom of the oven and the roaster.

      When you use wall protection, you need to have 18 inches between the back of the stove and the protected wall. However, the back of your stove may be equipped with a heat shield if it is a newer one. In that event, you need to consult the operator's instructions to find out what the manufacturer has certified as the minimum.

      Best wishes!

    2. Thank you so much for responding! I absolutely love turkey and eat at least one huge bird every year. So I sure didn't want to give it up.

      Have you ever done any canning on your wood stove? That is my other question. If I only had a wood stove, how hard would it be to do water bath and pressure canning?

    3. I have probably canned more on a wood cookstove than on an electric or gas stove. If you can do a label search on this blog, you'll be able to see about 20 posts that discuss canning on a wood cookstove. It is very rewarding and cost effective (just really hot if you have to do it in the house during the summer months).