Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Using a Pressure Cooker on a Wood Cookstove

When I worked as a local banker, my boss was a lady from Carson, Iowa, who is a lot of fun to visit with.  We enjoyed talking about food and cooking, and I'll never forget her telling me that she resisted getting a microwave oven for a long, long time when they became popular in the late 70s and early 80s.  As I remember, she finally caved under a great deal of pressure from her mother-in-law, but only used the microwave to reheat leftovers.

"I didn't need a microwave," she insisted, "because I have a pressure cooker.  I can cook things fast in it, which is why I call pressure cookers 'the poor man's microwave.'"

Microwaves are now standard equipment in the modern kitchen, but Instant Pots seem to be the current rage in countertop kitchen appliances, and one of their features is the ability to cook things quickly by using pressure. However, this is certainly not new technology; what is new about an Instant Pot are its safety features, automation, and some of its versatility.

Those of us who are cooking on a woodburning cookstove aren't exactly known for being the cooks who are taking advantage of the latest technological advances, though, are we?  That said, a carefully used pressure cooker can help us speed things up a little when we feel like it and add some variety to our cooking.  This was the case on Monday of this week when I had been out with a friend on a photography romp all afternoon and had nothing planned for supper when I returned home after 4:30.

I dug around in the freezer and found a package of country pork ribs.  I put them in the microwave to defrost a little (only because they had been packaged with waxed paper between them and I couldn't get it free) and brought my smallest pressure cooker up from its basement abode.  This pressure cooker was given to me by my aunt who had received it from one of my great-great aunts who had bought it sometime in the 1940s.  It came to me with its original instruction booklet which includes several recipes--what a blessing!

When cooking with one of these pans, the first step is usually to establish the pressure.  For the wood cookstove cook, this means that you are going to start the cooking process with the pan directly over the firebox.  You can see in the picture below that for what I was going to do I also put the rack in the bottom and added about a 1/2 inch of water.

Next, I inserted a small old Pyrex pan (I think it was the precursor to the Visions Cookware line) that I got from Nancy's grandmother.  Into that I put my three small pork ribs, which were still pretty frozen in the middle.

Over the ribs I poured barbecue sauce, which I made out of homemade ketchup and some barbecue sauce concentrate from Watkins.  In hindsight, I should have seasoned the meat more before putting the barbecue sauce on it because it was plenty bland.

I then put the lid on the pan, set the weight on the petcock to ten pounds of pressure, and moved the pan to the hottest lid over the firebox and began waiting for the weight to jiggle.

The jiggling began in a surprisingly short time, and then "the dance" commenced.  "The dance" is my tongue-in-cheek term for the movement of cooking vessels across the wood cookstove cooktop to adjust their cooking temperature.  High heat is right over the firebox, and lower heats are further away.  Instead of adjusting a dial, pushing a button, or tracing your finger over a fancy touch response induction range, you slide the pots and pans to the area of the cooktop which has the desired heat.

In a weighted-gauge pressure cooker, once the appropriate pressure has been reached (as announced by the jiggling weight), the heat needs to be reduced so that the weight jiggles a minimum of three to four times per minute but does not jiggle constantly.  You can see in the picture above that I wasn't stoking a raging fire, so I didn't have to move the pressure cooker too far away from the firebox in order to maintain the correct number of jiggles per minute.

A quick word about safety: I wouldn't recommend leaving a pressure cooker unattended for long periods of time on any cooking device, not just a wood cookstove.  The occasional short absence from the kitchen should be fine, however.

I'm sure the meat was cooked much earlier, but because I was busy with other things and because I knew that this cheap cut of meat would be made more tender by a longer cooking time, I let these cook for an hour, and then stuck a thermometer in them to be absolutely positive.

I don't know why I felt the need for the thermometer on Monday.  I think it was due to the fact that it was resting above the warming oven from a different project.  Usually, I would just have cut one open to make sure there was no longer any pink in the center.

The ribs were done, were fork tender, and we enjoyed them.

I should try using the pressure pan for more foods; usually I just use it for meats.  One of my favorite things to cook in it is tongue.  Let me know if you're interested in seeing that process!  Also let me know whether you use a pressure pan, and if so, what you cook in it.


  1. Hey Jim, the pressure cooker gets used on the cookstoves all winter. Meats, dry beans, cabbage, greens. My fav are a couple of squirrels for about 15 minutes, pick off the meat, chop and make into gravy. TP in SC

    1. Hi, Tim!

      I've heard that squirrel is excellent eating. I would love to try it sometime. Since Walnut trees are in great abundance on our farm, we have several squirrels, but we enjoy watching them so much that I would have to go hunting for supper-worthy ones down in the creek, I guess.

      So glad to have you chime in on my posts. It's great to hear another wood cookstove cook's perspective.

      Has it gotten cold enough in SC to use your cookstove?

  2. Hey Jim, a grand total of twice thus far for a fire but tomorrow night (11/10) the forecast is for 40 so the next fire is already laid on.