Rocket stoves… using less fuel for more cooking power

I recently shared that my husband purchased a discada (“Cowboy Wok” made from a plow disc) from a fellow down in Marfa. As luck would have it, we soon found the perfect companion for it – a rocket stove.

When my long-time friend Josh Steinberg (who’s also the Industrial Arts teacher at Marfa High School) advertised the welded rocket stove for sale, my husband wasted no time in saying, “We need this! Tell Josh we’ll come get it now!” Not that there was anything wrong with our propane burner stand that worked wonderfully with the discada, but a naturally-fueled stove was pretty exciting.

Below is Mr. Steinberg (that feels funny to say since he’s younger than me and we’ve been friends since the early 2000s) doing what he does and what he teaches… precious wife and sons, too… but I’m keeping him somewhat on the down-low here. Right?!

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You might be wondering, “What on earth is a rocket stove?” That’s exactly what I asked. Turns out, it’s a stove that burns hot and efficiently using small sticks, twigs and even wood scraps. You feed the wood into the fuel chamber, it pulls fresh air through a chamber below the fuel chamber and burns into the vertical chimney. Heat and fire reaches the open cooking surface at the top of the chimney, where you can have your discada or Dutch oven sitting.

The discada sitting atop the rocket stove.

We’re no strangers to wood-fired cooking. Years ago, my husband designed and built a Pompeii-style wood-fired oven on a trailer that we can move wherever we want with relative ease. We cooked both Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners in it last year. It takes quite a bit of good wood to get going just right.

I had no idea that rocket stoves were so popular until I searched the internet for them – they come in all shapes and sizes – compact for camping, larger for keeping mainly in one location. Ours weighs about 70 pounds and is welded from heavy duty steel. We won’t be dragging it around too much.

Rocket stoves use 18-35 percent less fuel compared to traditional wood stoves, and have lower emissions. A rocket stove produces a hot flame for cooking, and little to no smoke. It’s pretty ingenious, but it’s not a new concept.

The concept is very similar to the simple and efficient Dakota fire pit, a tactical fire commonly used by the United States military. Two small holes are dug in the ground and connected by an underground “tunnel”– one hole is for the firewood and the other provides a draft of air. Then, small twigs are packed into the fire hole, topped with kindling and lit. The fire burns from the top and air is pulled through the tunnel from the air hole. Since the air gets to pass around the wood, nearly complete combustion happens and a hot fire with little to no smoke results.

The picture below is from my iPhone, as are all of the other photos you ever see on my blog or in the newspaper, unless otherwise specified most of the time.

The fire within the small but mighty rocket stove.

The photo below is from Popular Mechanics. Just FYI for copyright stuff and whatever. If I drew this, the fingers would be sticks and you wouldn’t be able to decipher them from the dinky little marshmallow-holding stick pictured below. Heck, I might have big ol’ chunky marshmallows on all my stick fingers. Who knows? I’m a compulsive photographer, not a sketch-artist. And I loves me some marshmallows. I wish I had marshmallows. Dang.

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To break in our rocket stove, we made chicken fajitas on the discada, atop the scrap-wood fueled stove. It worked like a charm. We used minimal wood, the heat was maximum, and it was pretty fun to know that in the event of a power outage, we can cook using twigs.

Below – not a selfie. Pardon the mess – we live under construction. The Pompeii-style wood-fired oven on a trailer is behind me. As are containers for cooking. And a pallet. We produce so many pallets in our construction project. So.Many.PALLETS. And we give them away because if I started doing all those Pinteresty pallet-projects that look so amazing, I’d forget to cook, write and be available for lifting heavy things and cleaning up after project phases are complete.

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Next, we cooked a big pot of pinto beans in a Dutch oven on the rocket stove. Feeding a little wood into the fuel chamber about every half hour for several hours, our beans cooked to perfection. They took about the same amount of time that it takes to cook them on the stovetop, and less time than it takes to cook them in a crockpot. No electricity, no gas… just little pieces of wood.

So that’s not a jalapeno because I didn’t have any jalapenos and didn’t feel like going to the store for jalapenos. It’s a HOT AS HELL’S FIRE HATCH chile pepper. Yeppers. And it was deeeeelish. The sand to the right was leftover from filling in with the Saltillo brick pavers, and the hatchet to the left that gets used regularly? It was my husband’s Boy Scout hatchet he’s had for many, many years.

View from the top - beans ready to go, scrap firewood ready, too.

It made for a relaxing evening, sitting by the rocket stove and adding fuel to the small fire with big force. And, the beans were terrific.

Okay, so this picture is focused on the empty glass of Big Bend Brewing Co. La Frontera IPA rather than the Lodge Dutch Oven filled with pintos, the massive flamage from twigs and scrap wood in the rocket stove (look at that flame under the pot!!!), and the cacti in the background for some added desert ambiance. Priorities??? Yeah, well 🙂

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Pintos My Old-Fashioned Way
(Note: I am not a “pre-soaker.”)
4 cups pinto beans, sorted and rinsed (I prefer the “Casserole” brand)
1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, whole (more, if you want more heat)
Sort through the beans, checking for rocks and dirt. Rinse them in a strainer.
Add all ingredients to a Dutch oven or large cast iron pot.
Make sure the beans are covered by at least one-two inches of water and have room to boil. You can add more water as you cook the beans, be sure to keep an eye on them.
Cook over fire for about 2-3 hours. When tender and done, add salt to taste but not before because if they’re not quite done, they won’t cook any further. You can also use this recipe for cooking them in a crockpot on high for several hours – just keep an eye on them and add water when needed. I personally don’t think you can add too much water because that makes bean broth which deliciously soaks into cornbread.

Printed with permission of the Alpine Avalanche

 

 

 

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