On rocket stoves

The outdoor cooking kitchen is complete!  L-R: New built-in table, Loven, rocket stove.  Oh, and camera-shy Penny.

I learned many things at the side of my chef friend Catharine.  The most important thing I learned is “Heat is heat.”

Sure, we can dream of having zoomy gas-fired indoor ranges with ultimate control.  In a past life and if I were a cajillionaire and there was no such thing as global warming (that’s a lot of “ifs”) I might gladly install an Aga or–better–a Lacanche in my kitchen; surely, I would have to reinforce the floor to hold one.  But really, heat IS heat.  Catharine cooked the most fantastic meals on the humblest of kitchen stoves.  And I left my spendy red-knobbed range back in Minneapolis: now I bang pots on a 1967 electric Hotpoint range (maybe $100 when it was new).  It’s not the equipment, therefore, it’s the will.

Emilie is terribly curious about the hole I have dug for the slab.

And heat.  With experimentation, one can cook everything in our outdoor kitchen.  The rocket stove is truly third world technology and likewise was the simplest thing to build:  I used 66 bricks, one 24″ long, 4″ diameter stove flue, one 4″ flue elbow, one bag of concrete and one and a half bags of mortar (as I am a horrible mason; a good one would’ve built it with one bag).  I already had the grill grate, and for a lid I purchased the 16″x16″ red concrete patio paver…this little stove cost me a whopping $65 with had-boughten materials.  Building it stretched two days:  concrete slab on day one, oven chimney on day two, about five total hours of my time.

New potatoes coming up

Like the masonry oven, there is a learning curve (where ISN’T there a learning curve) but this isn’t a steep hill to climb.  It uses skinny waste wood too like all that stuff that falls from your trees after a storm.  Get out your cast-iron skillets, your big boiling pots.  Use it like a barbecue.  It’s chow time!

And it’s even a fire I can set that stays lit!

Notes in the comments!

19 responses to “On rocket stoves

  1. All: I have been giving lots of thought over the past few years about energy, both its production and its consumption and the future of both. Instead of freaking out about a scary future, I figured I would embrace the challenge that is using less but living more. This home-food-production challenge has surely been more fun than work, and now I can honestly say I think making my own heat to cook this home-produced food is equally fun, and rewarding.

    To answer your burning questions about rocket stoves: Yes, they’re third-world, and indeed I do think about the millions of women (always women) who cook on such contraptions daily. More importantly, I think about those women who would be so very thrilled to have such a simple thing as this of their own to cook on…and the resource that is our side yard of forest timbers that is both safe to gather and not too distant either: I am a fortunate soul. Yes, the food tastes smoky, and no, this is not a problem. For what it is worth, nothing tastes of wood from the masonry oven unless it’s the first pizzas pulled from it when there’s an active fire whirling away in there too. For all other baking we scrape out the hot and/or dying ashes and mop the oven floor out thoroughly. There might be residual ash on the bottoms of a baguette but it’s negligible. And all the wood used in both wood-fired outdoor cookers is all scrap wood, too unuseful for a fireplace, too small, too sappy, too creosote-making. Junk wood, lovingly felled and set afire by my husband. And it’s an unending resource if we play our cards right and are good stewards of that forest.

  2. This is very interesting and very sensible I think. Our society certainly needs to ‘get over’ itself when it comes to energy use and creature comforts. I believe I’m going to be installing some very similar constructions when I get my back patio to a usable state, which hopefully won’t be long!

  3. I have essentially zero construction skills, but given a good diagram and step by step instruction I can generally make my thru a project. Would you be up for a post on the rocket stove detailing the how-to’s? Great website and I’ve been regularly reading for months now. Happy belated July 4th from Chattanooga, TN.

  4. Very cool, I’m a bit envious of the setup–that table is brilliant–our mud oven location is not the most practical for the loading/unloading. And I love the rocket stove!

    Amen to the heat reference, we have a regular old gas range, and can’t justify paying 10 times as much (plus the venting system!) for a schmancy stove, even though we love to cook. I do believe the fancier the kitchen the less its actually used 🙂

    And for those not on a wooded lot, I can say that its pretty easy to gather the type of wood needed even when you live in the city. We keep an eye out in the spring time for pruning projects in the neighborhood, and can easily get a season’s worth of wood in a short time–plus there’s our fruit tree trimmings etc.

  5. I can’t wait until fall when the temperatures outside are cool enough for us to build these things! In the meantime, maybe I can figure out a suitable place to set up the small commercially-made (for a non-profit org) rocket stove we have to complement all the solar cooking.

  6. You have done exactly what I’d hoped to do for an outdoor kitchen. Every time I told someone about my plans for an outdoor kitchen I felt compelled to inform them that it was NOT going to be a $65K behemoth with all the latest gas-burning appliances, but would be a very low-tech wood-fired oven and a rocket stove (and maybe a hose-powered sink). I didn’t think about making the stove from brick, but that’s a great idea.

    Where did you get plans for your Loven, though? I’ve watched many a video on how to build the rocket stove (which, btw if constructed just so with the right materials can be used for heating inside your house), so I feel pretty confident that I can throw one of those together, but I really like your oven and want to copy it. Shamelessly. You should feel flattered. But really, what did you use for plans?

  7. The rocket stove looks great. It’s a project I’d like to attempt someday soon — I’d love to hear more about your cooking adventures with it.

    Love the chicken photo, too.

  8. Rocket stove is very much on the list for this summer or fall…

  9. El – you never cease to amaze me. Your post prompted me to do a Google search – I did not know what a rocket stove was – and see what was out there. Got to say, yours looks good to! and $60, cheaper than even buying a new stove for outside. Nothing wrong with low key – to the contrary. My grandmother cooked on wood-fired, and the taste was incomparable! That picture makes me nostalgic. Time to start planning I guess!

  10. Oooh ahhh. So beautiful!

  11. I spent a little less on our portable clay shichirin; it makes the three of us any sort of grillable dinner using a few pieces of hardwood charcoal, and I can even bring it inside in the winter. Do you have to take the food/grate off to refuel, or do you stick wood into the flue at the bottom? (That sharp, hot metal edge at shin level kind of freaks me out).

    It makes a nice companion to the oven. Wood-fired hot tub next?

  12. excellent idea and instructions, thanks!

  13. Annie, hon, both these things are well within your skill set. In fact I can see you building a little overhang to keep you shady and dry too. But yeah, we may have to work for it but I like this kind of creature comfort: goood fooood.

    Patrick, the rocket stove is really easy to build. And sure, diagrams are helpful but I am the most diagram-phobic person out there…so I would suggest looking at Kate’s or at this couple’s blogs to see the how-to.

    Sara, you are quite right about fancy kitchens. The last reason they’re designed and installed is for cooking (and I should know). Indeed, though, that table is key: and it’s still not big enough in the scheme of the ever-expanding needs for things. SO FAR the most I have crammed in is 8 loaves, 4 baguettes, and there was still room! And considering the table is larger than the oven floor it’s kind of a puzzle to me.

    Chile, they’re fast. Really fast. And not so hot because really it’s a fast hot fire you’re building, not one filled with hot coals that radiate that hot stuff. Considering how little and the kind of wood used, I would think it would be right up your alley.

    Paula, for the most part this masonry oven is straight out of the book The Bread Builders by Alan Scott and Daniel Wing. There are step-by-step instructions and more importantly shopping lists for building one, as well as firing instructions and lots of recipes. It’s a great resource. Mine has been modified to accept the bricks I had and to minimize cuttings of block and bricks. I also made the door wider than the book’s design because I HAD to be able to put a turkey in there! But thanks, I like it too.

    Hiya Esp. I am still getting used to it. I do like sitting and feeding the fire, though; it feels really…direct!

    Emily, you will like it. And I anticipate being able to use it all winter. I will just put a lid on the saucepan.

    Sylvie, with all the fire-related things Keith has rigged up I am sure this would be so easy for you guys to do. And really it can be temporary too. And yeah, like I told Esp, it’s really primal, really reconnecting: you at least have direct memories of that; I am just concocting mine in my head!

    Thanks, Esperanza. 🙂

    Peter, yeah, that sharp edge: it was on my finish-it-later list. It’s rolled and filed now. You feed it from below: the lower leg attached to that sharp edge of the pipe is about 12-14″ deep; you set a fire in it and try to keep a really hot, active fire down there. So the fire surface at the top is only 4″ in diameter; the rest of that surface is not so hot (which means you turn the pan or turn the food on the grate fairly quickly). Your little thingy is really intriguing. I went to a Korean restaurant in Philly about 25 years ago that had something similar on every table top; so fun.

    Hi Cathy, thanks! Hope this was helpful.

  14. In my area, I think I’d have to stick with a solar oven to be really environment-friendly. Even making a little fire for pleasure costs the air. But your stove looks like a perfect low-impact and fun, actually, cooking experience. Thanks for learning even more. Off to spend some time with Google.

  15. Hey El, sorry to post this in a comment, but I think your email has been hacked… unless you really are in Wales and have been mugged and need me to wire you 1800.00, which I highly doubt.


  16. El, do you know your email has been hijacked? You are in Wales and need money. Email me on another account, would you? Sharon

  17. i can’t decide if it’s your goats or your outdoor kitchen that are making me more jealous. i have always wanted a rocket stove! what a nice set-up.

  18. I need one of these stoves! With the wind storms and resulting power outages that we’ve been having for the past few winters (heck, we just had one a couple of weeks ago), this stove would be very handy indeed. We even have a huge pile of wind-felled brush that we just cleared out!

  19. Pingback: Excessive Summer Heat and Cooking Outside « Autonomy Acres

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