Have you noticed that survival is almost always a Catch 22? And by that I don’t mean rimfire lol. What I mean is you have to make a choice in just about everything, because there is never one clear solution. This week I am tackling the conundrum of flour. It is the cheapest of long term survival foods in calories per dollar. But for many of us the most available type of cooking fuel is wood, and certainly long term, wood is a backup for even city dwellers who can dismantle empty homes. Baking edible food with flour, using wood, is a challenge. Stovetop ovens are made for propane and kerosene, not smoky nasty wood.
If you follow this column, you know that I am a big fan of the Stovec Rocket Stove, which can be found as cheap as $109 shipped. When I first thought about cooking in a survival situation, I got really depressed because I know that even if you store 1,000 gallons of liquid fuel, eventually it runs out. And though I think there will be a wealth of fuel in the abandoned cars from the people who didn’t read this column and killed each other in the streets, I think of wood as much more available long term. Have you tried to cook with wood not using a Rocket Stove? It isn’t fun, and you use a ton of fuel to get very little cooking done.
The Rocket Stove concept is something of fuzzy science, but in practice it works great. The theory is that you trap and insulate the burn chamber so that the wood gas and carbon monoxide burn, rather than bleed off. In open fire those gases are wasted. This gives you more BTUs, and you can accomplish a lot of cooking with a small amount of wood. If you look at my old articles, you’ll see that I even successfully canned using a Rocket Stove, with a handful of sticks. Those jars of veggies are still viable today. Rocket Stoves in general are a game changer, and if you don’t own one, get one.
Baking has been a challenge with my Rocket Stoves because even under the best and most efficient burn, wood produces smoke. I have tried using my Coleman stovetop oven with the StoveTec, and it the food, while edible, noticeably tastes smokey, but not like a smoked flavor. It doesn’t seem to matter what type of wood I use. Whatever I cook, bread, muffins, even chicken, comes out with a very acrid and sharp taste.
That led me to another Rocket Stove company, SilverFire, who I am told are actually ex employees of StoveTec. I bought one of their Hunter Stoves about a year ago, and initially I was not impressed. They market the stove as something that you can use indoors, because it has a chimney, like a real woodstove, but with an open flame. When it came in, I saw that it was kind of a gimmick, because in order for smoke to go up the chimney, you have to completely seal the top of the stove off with a pan or pot. So much for open flame and no smoke, and I would absolutely not light the SilverFire Hunter stove in a tent, camper, ice fishing shanty, or even something the size of a mobile home. As you light it and it gets going, it does smoke, and it isn’t like a real woodstove where the smoke goes out the chimney, regardless.
The SilverFire Hunter, you’ll notice, also doesn’t have a fuel shoot on the side. That means you have to uncap whatever it is that you are sealing the stove with, and add fuel from the top, subjecting you to yet more potential smoke.
As a general Rocket Stove product, I think the Hunter is a disaster, but as you can see in the video, as a burn base for a stovetop oven, it works fine, outdoors. It took some wrangling to figure it out, but I found that if you put a cast iron cap on the stove, an oven placed on the cap will hold at 300-400 degrees with a steady supply of fuel. In this video I used the Butterfly Oven from St. Paul Mercantile. It holds heat much better than the collapsible Coleman oven I have used in other videos.
For economy of wood fuel, there is nothing like a Rocket Stove, and for stovetop baking, I think the SilverFire Hunter is about the best you can get, simply because they have created a drafting system around a very small and efficient fuel chamber. They now sell a cast iron cap for the Hunter, so I guess I wasn’t the only one who thought their marketing was deceptive. I have never gotten a return email from the SilverFire people to date.
At the beginning of this video you will see that I also tested the small woodstove that I bought and tested last year for this column. And again, it took some wrangling, but I figured out how to get that stove to burn at a pretty good efficiency, just as I ran out of wood lol. The point of this woodstove is that it is cheap, and really good thick steel that should last years. If you are in a home where you can’t want to dedicate a real woodstove, but you want a woodstove backup, I don’t think there is a better option. With proper fire precautions, you could get an elbow and sheet of aluminum at Home Depot and vent this stove through a makeshift stovejack out of your apartment window.
The real find is the Lehman’s Perfection Oven, and I was able to successfully test it with the little Ebay woodstove, just as a proof of concept. The Perfection Oven is an old product from the turn of the last century, and was still in service up through the 1950s in the US for homes that weren’t on the electric grid. It is a full size two burner stovetop oven made for the old Boss flat wick kerosene stoves. I will be covering that stove and this oven next week, using diesel, so stay tuned.
For those of you with existing woodstoves, the Lehman oven is a no brainer, and probably my most valuable find to date. Old Perfection Stoves, even rusty and dirty, still go for over $100 plus shipping on Ebay because people don’t know that Lehmans has an Amish company making new ones for $219. There is a wait time on them though, so if you are reading this column early Monday, I would get your order in quickly.
As I explained briefly in the video (as briefly as I do anything lol), BTUs are BTUs. You’ll see that I used probably 5x as much wood running the woodstove as I did for the Rocket Stove, but if I were able to measure the BTUs, it would have been 5x as much. The trick with burning wood is to stretch your BTUs out as you need them, with as little waste as possible. So if you are already heating with wood, and you have a sealed, nicely drafted woodstove, a stovetop oven will bring you more benefit from the BTUs you are already burning. I would also check out the Devil Watt product that I reviewed some time ago.
The Ebay woodstove runs pretty clean if you jam the door shut like I did at the end of the video. It isn’t going to be as efficient as a proper gasket, but I was surprised at the increase in heat with the stove damped down completely, just as I ran out of wood of course. I have yet to try the $995 wood cookstove that I bought for this column, but I hope to get to it soon. As some of the commenters had explained, when I thought it was a limited time deal (it is not), that cookstove is smaller than the $1,700 – $3,000 models you see on Lehmans, but it is still a good find.
And obviously, you can make pancakes in a frypan with flour and sugar and live on those. It isn’t like you are limited to bread. At some point I’m going to break open my cast iron stovetop waffle irons to show you how those work as well, even though I’m sure at least a few of you already have one. As I said in the video, getting you guys to go back and read the old stuff here has been a real challenge. Many of you have seen my frustration dealing with clueless and often incorrect comments about subjects I have already tested. But for the silent tens of thousands of you out there who read this column every month and just go buy the stuff, I don’t think that there is a better cooking investment than a stovetop oven, even that $30 Amazon Prime Coleman oven I linked to above. If you can afford the Perfection, it is so much easier. I hope we have the six weeks it’ll take you to get one, but you never know. How much longer can they extend and pretend? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? I hope it is years, for all of our sakes, but I am increasingly thinking that this is not going to be so.