Published June 20, 2022

Off-grid Cooking: The Rocket Stove

Written by
Charlene Nelson
| The Dakotan

Summer is a good time to experiment with off-grid cooking. Last week I introduced you to solar cooking. But if a solar oven isn't what you're looking for, maybe you want to look at the rocket stove.

A rocket stove is a small L-shaped stove that uses small diameter wood as its fuel and burns super hot. It's called a rocket stove because, as the fire is fueled by air rushing up the chimney, it creates a super-heated airflow that sounds like a rocket. The rocket stove can generate temperatures as hot as 1500°, so every bit of the fuel is burned. It's used frequently in third-world countries where wood is not plentiful. That's because small scraps of wood, even brush and twigs, can create enough fire to cook a meal.

There are three main components to the stove: A chimney, a burn chamber and a shelf to hold the wood. Once the fuel is lit, the air enters at the bottom and quickly rises through the chimney, creating a super-hot combustion chamber.

Why a rocket stove?

Here are some good reasons you might want to have a rocket stove:

1) You don't need big pieces of wood to create hot coals. A small amount of just about any wood, even twigs and brush, is enough to create a good, hot burn.

2) Food will heat up quicker, so you don't need as much fuel compared to other wood-burning methods. In fact, even using small scraps of wood, the rocket stove uses one-third less fuel than other wood-burning cooking methods.

Rocket stove diagram. [Photo: submitted by Charlene Nelson]

3) The high heat means more of the fuel is burned. You'll have very little ash and almost no smoke. The exhaust is so thoroughly combusted that it only emits steam and CO2.  That means you can use it in an enclosed area without filling it with smoke.  In third-world countries, they use the stove inside their house. In our modern Western homes, there would be some safety concerns about having an open flame, but I think it would be fine to use it in a garage.

4) Not only does it use very little fuel, but it also doesn't take up a bunch of space. That makes it an ideal item to have sitting in the corner of the garage, ready to use if there's a prolonged power outage and you want a hot meal.

Make your own

Spend a couple hours with an internet search and look at all the rocket stoves. You'll see dozens of different variations of the stove and how to easily make your own. Making a rocket stove is pretty inexpensive. You can make it using scrap metal and pipes. If you aren't adept at metal-working, you can make one from cinder blocks. It takes just four standard size cinder blocks (or six, if you want a fancy “two-burner” model.)  There are quite literally dozens of plans and videos that show how to make your own rocket stove.

If you want to get really ambitious, you can make a rocket oven. It uses the same principle of a super-hot combustion chimney, but it heats up an enclosed oven chamber. It requires a few more materials and is not so portable as its smaller cousin, but it's a great way to have tasty bread and pizza using very little wood.

If you're not up to making a rocket stove, there are several different models you can buy online. They cost anywhere from $60 to $300, depending on size, model, and materials used. There's also a back-packer's version of the Rocket Stove called the Kelley Kettle. It uses a rocket-style chimney to heat water. It is light weight and compact and all the components fit neatly inside each other. This makes it perfect for camping and hiking.

Right now is the ideal time to experiment using a rocket stove. Make your meals outdoors, in the backyard or while camping and see how easy it is to use. Once you've experimented with it and decide that it's a good tool to have on hand (for outdoor cooking fun as well as for power outages) you'll want to store one in your garage as part of your emergency preparedness plan. But don't just store it and wait for a disaster. Use it all summer long for hot meals without a hot kitchen.

Detailed explanation of how a rocket oven works: https://youtu.be/DhMeg3VUFWs

The Kelley Kettle: https://youtu.be/TMCR-ie9H_w

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