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The Ultimate Wood-fired Cook Stove

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Written by Contributor

 
Working as a writer and photographer specializing in the environment and outdoor experiences, I have resided in hundreds of cabins and wilderness residences all over northern Canada. All of them used wood as a fuel for both heat and cooking. Today many people are looking for the ultimate wood-fired stove as a heating and cooking appliance for their home or cottage.

With climate change and the potential of more extreme weather, many are also looking for a solution in case of power interruptions or other general disruptions to our infrastructure or fuel supplies. When it comes to alternate or backup fuel source I still like the answer of our ancestors: WOOD.

alt Unlike a pellet stove, propane, natural gas, or oil, with wood no matter what happensyou are generally not dependent onsome manufacturer, distributor or delivery agent to get this source of energy to your home. Its supply is not controlled by external sources and it is readily and locally available to at least most rural residents (who are the most vulnerable in times of trouble).

Wood heat has a special quality that is hard to describe to those who have not experienced it. However, in spite of the ongoing debate about how green wood is as an energy source, there are many positive things that can be said about wood heat, not the least of which is that it is, in fact, renewable, and that modern fire box designs that encourage the burning of any un ignited gases inside the stove have greatly improved the emissions from wood-fired chimneys across our country.

A plus or a minus depending on how you look at it, my grandfather used to point out (tongue in cheek) that wood was the only fuel that warmed you many times. When you cut it, when you split and stacked it and when you set down by your fire to enjoy it. Working in the north I had the pleasure of using dozens of wood cook stoves that added the warmth of a home cooked meal to the list of heart warming experiences that a cord of wood brought to my life.

At 40 degrees below in a cabin in the wilderness there is nothing you appreciate more than the warmth of your hearth and the hot and renewing meals that it provides. So I have a special place in my heart for the wood-fired cook stove. Over the years many people have asked me for recommendations when choosing a cook stove. Unfortunately, some of the better cook stoves are no longer manufactured and are no longer available. As the demand fell for wood-fired appliances over the later 20th century, manufactures went out of business or specialized models were dropped from their lines of products. So the options have in fact become a lot more limited.

So, it became my mission to try every cook stove that came along my path, forever in search of the one that was both still available and that I wanted to grace my future eco home. I also wanted to find one I could recommend to those looking for the optimum primary or backup heating and cooking appliance. My comparison was totally subjective of course, but having experienced thousands of hours of lighting, feeding, and cooking on wood stoves, I was developing a significant body of experience with the use, care and maintenance of different designs of wood-fired cook stoves. So my endeavour became simply to seek out those that I had not yet tried and evaluate them as potential solutions.

It took years, but I would not be surprised if I have now tried just about every wood-fired cook stove ever available on the market in North America. They all did their job to varying degrees and each had its pluses and its minuses, as well as some form of compromise between the stove as a heater and the stove as a cooker.

Cook with your heat, cooking stoveIt was not until last year that I had an exceptional experience with a wood stove that I felt offered an all round flexibility and balance between form and function. It not only blasted out a wonderful amount of heat, but also provided a level of cooking control I had not experienced before. To top it off it also had a hot water option like some of its esteemed predecessors that enabled it to provide hot water to the household as well.

So, I am finally ready to proclaim the 2009 Champion of my cook stove search. The Esse Ironheart takes and cooks the cake! Invented in the rugged and bone chilling climbs of Scotland and refined and manufactured in a foundry in England, the Ironheart wood-fired cooker provides significant heat with low wall clearance specs at the same time. It also allows you to cook from different areas of the cook top, from a high, to a medium, to a low heat, no matter how hot your fire is inside.

The Ironheart also has an optional water jacket that can provide not only enough hot water for household use, but enough to feed two additional hot water radiators for heating other rooms. By adjusting settings that control the flow of hot air around the baking oven, and by controlling the heat loss with insulated covers for the cook top, the Ironheart provides an incredible amount of control of the temperature in the baking oven. With a little experimentation I have now cooked everything from soufflés to turkeys in this oven and it has provided a consistent and even heat with a minimum of tending.

Esse has crafted and refined the controls on the Ironheart to provide optimum air flow not only to the firebox, but to the cooking surfaces themselves. Every time I used the stove I found myself tipping my hat to their design team and imagining all the trials and redesigns that must have gone into crafting such functionality and performance. They seem to have achieved an impressive balance between its function as a heater and its function as a cooking stove.

I spent weeks trying to find any significant fault with the Ironheart, but the only criticisms I could find on the unit I tested was that the thermometer that showed the internal temperature of the oven (a great feature in itself) only showed various degrees of “Hot Med or Cold”. However, by setting an oven thermometer in the stove I was able to calibrate the outside gauge in a matter of one evening. So now I can see where 375 degrees is relevant to 400 or 450 etc. I recently contacted the manufacturer about this issue and I was told that they were working on a solution that would be incorporated in the new stoves coming from the factory.

altHowever, all things considered, this presented a relatively small problem among an overwhelming list of benefits of the Ironheart, so it still managed to stand above the crowd in my life search for the perfect wood cook stove.

So, as I write this I am enjoying the warm glow of the flames coming through the tempered glass windowon the front of our very own Ironheart and I have dinner cooking on the surface and desert in the oven. If I want hot water it is available too. It has become a treasured member of our household and I enjoy the fact that we can cook with what also warms our home. I also have the peace of mind of knowing that if the power lines go down and plunge our community into darkness, my home and family will still have its essential needs met.

After years of testing and considerable reflection on the pros and cons of various wood cook stoves, it is my pleasure to respectfully award the Sustainable Living Magazine “Eco Product Award” to Esse for their work developing and refining the Ironheart Wood-fired Cook Stove.

Esse is now exporting the Ironheart worldwide, and it is now available in North Amerinca.
One source of great info about this stove is from the folks that run the Wood Energy Workshop at
Earthwalk Eco Centre.  You can order one by calling 613-475-9900    Read what others are saying about the ironheart.
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