Cooking: The Rocket Stove

Since we are asked all the time how we do things, I decided to go ahead and do a more detailed mini-series to explain some of them.  If there’s something you’re curious about, leave a comment!  It’s become so life now that I don’t think about how it’s perhaps “not exactly normal”.  We do run the generator during less than favorable conditions for the electric skillet or the toaster oven.

Cooking is the first thing I am always asked about.  The Rocket Stove is the thing we probably use the most during good weather – this is our off grid alternative to the stove or electric skillet.  It was super simple to build this little temp setup.  When we get more of a concrete land layout we will build a permanent one with mortar and fire bricks for our outdoor kitchen.  

There are many designs to temporarily building one of these, we sorted through, picked out a few ideas and added in some of our own fixes.  The design is pretty simple – the wood goes in the front hole, the fire is made in the back, creating a funnel that burns small diameter sticks super hot, super fast and sounds like – wait for it! – a rocket!  Genius, right?! 
We put ours up on 4 cinder blocks, the next one we will probably add another layer or two of cinder blocks to raise the “inlet”.  It works well at this height, but this is your feeder and where you fan the embers, a little taller would be nice for taller people.  We upgraded from 16 to 34 bricks to create a bigger fire area and allow the inlet to be large enough to put a small shovel in for clean out, staggering the bricks and breaking a few in half where needed. 
Using it is super simple after we figured out a few tricks – through the top, first lightly ball up toilet paper or paper towel, something easily lit, and that (we found out) is not cardboard.  Then pile in dry leaves.  On top of this lightly (to not squash the pile below) add small sticks vertically (cardboard can be put on this layer also).  Vertical is the key here.  Through the inlet, light the paper with a long lighter and fan gently.  It will start smoking fairly quick.  In just a minute you will be getting a ton of smoke – keep fanning, the fire is almost there!  Finally when your arm muscles are burning, it will erupt in fire with little smoke.  {insert cavewoman voice: We make fire!}
When it has a decent fire burning you can start putting the branches in the front and fan a bit more.  It takes about 5 minutes to get a fire going very hot with little smoke and you’re ready to cook almost like you would over a gas stove!  Within a few minutes you will need to add more branches, we have found it best to add them a few at a time, allowing the previous ones to catch otherwise you risk putting it out some, making a bunch of smoke and having to fan again to get it going.
 We usually spend an hour or so once a week cutting up and gathering sticks and branches, filling up the pots, ready when needed.  This is the same pile – 3 small trees – we have been working with since last summer.  It really does not use a lot of wood and best of all – no chopping logs!
As far as foods to cook, it cooks like a stove but also like a campfire, producing a smokey flavor sometimes.  For most things – eggs, sausage, hot dogs, hamburgers, skillet meals – it’s either very light or acceptable.  For things like pancakes and quesadillas, it’s noticeable and our children do not like it.  We also haven’t figured out how to get pasta ‘right’.  Pretty sure that is user error, YMMV.  Like an oven, directly above the fire is the “hot spot”, around the perimeter it gets pretty warm, enough to warm things say if you want to boil water and heat cans of soup. 
For now, this works great and would be perfect for those power outages we always get during ice season!  And when I say “for now” I’m really saying “I think I need like 3 more for canning season”  Ahhh!!

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