Advice to get the most from your wood burning oven

The heat of a wood-burning oven depends on how well the fire is established, what type of wood is being burned and how the air-vent controls are set. These guidelines will ensure you are getting the maximum benefit from your wood oven.

Advice to get the most from your wood burning oven

Dampers

A series of dampers and air controls permit rapid and accurate heat adjustment. Most ovens have two dampers.

  • The oven damper, when open, allows heat to pass straight from the firebox into the flue. Set it open when the fire is being lit but close it down as soon as the stove gets warm so that the hot air will be redirected around the oven.
  • A damper on the flue controls the flow of hot air up the chimney. It is generally left open except when the fire is banked.

Air controls

Most ovens have two air controls — one on the firebox and one on the ash door.

  • The firebox air control is the main regulator. Fully open, it allows air to flow into the firebox for fast burning; when closed, little air reaches the firebox and the fire dies down.
  • A second regulator, above the firebox, regulates the draft. When opened, it quickly slows the fire by spoiling the draft.

Controlling the fire

When working with a wood-burning stove the cook's experience and instinct replace the temperature knobs  of a gas or electric range. The cook soon learns to judge when a dish is done by look, smell, touch and taste. One of the main skills to master is the technique of sliding pots and pans from one part of the stove to another to take full advantage of the range of temperatures.

For a hot or fast fire:

  • Fill the firebox with dry wood and then open the dampers and the firebox air-control regulator. Use narrow, split wood for a quick fire or whole hardwood logs for a long steady fire.

To drop the temperature:

  • Stop fuelling the firebox and allow the fire to die down. If the oven gets too hot during baking, you can slow the fire by opening the draft regulator a fraction.

Using the stovetop

The stovetop is at its hottest directly above the firebox and is cooler over the ovens. Here are more ideas on how to use the different temperatures:

  • Use the hot spot for rapid boiling, toasting bread (either directly on the hotplate or in a hinged wire grill) or, with the stove lids removed, for wok cooking.
  • The cooler areas of the stovetop provide moderate heat to sauté and slow heat to stew.
  • Barbecue meat and vegetables by removing one or more hotplate lids and using a camp grill over the opening.
  • Food wrapped in foil can be cooked directly on the hot coals.
  • A large kettle left to simmer gently at the back of the range stops the kitchen air from drying out while providing a ready supply of hot water for making tea or coffee.
  • The main oven is used for roasting and baking foods, the lower oven for simmering and warming.
  • Some stoves have a thermometer in the oven door, but for a more reliable reading, place a small oven thermometer on the oven shelf. The temperature of the lower oven is usually about half the temperature of the main oven.

The beautiful thing about wood-burning ovens is the fact it gives you so many heating options when you cook. Mastering the techniques to take full advantage of the heat takes practice but the delicious outcomes are worth the work.

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