Cooking on the Esse Ironheart woodstove

Fire burning in the Esse Ironheart woodstove

In late 2010 we moved into our new ICF (insulated concrete form) home: it’s a bungalow with a walk-out basement that was built into the side of a hill and to maximize southern exposure. Although we installed a natural gas furnace, we’re realizing that with the Esse Ironheart woodstove that we purchased and situated in the centre of our main floor, we probably didn’t need to do this. This year we’re setting ourselves the challenge of heating the house 100% with the Esse Ironheart’s clean woodburning heat. In this series I will document our progress with this target, our observations and tips, and also our efforts to cook and bake as much as possible on the Ironheart instead of using our conventional electric stove.

Cooking update

November has been a month with wide temperature swings; we’ve had quite a few days this month with no need to heat our home, and other days where warming the house with the woodstove was very welcome. That has made it tricky to get into good routines with the Ironheart, but we’re getting there.

My own personal weakness in this area is that when I’m preparing to cook a meal I may often be setting a pot of water to boil, and it’s deeply ingrained in me to do this on the top of our conventional stove. I’m having to work to train myself to take this activity to the Ironheart. Baking or heating a casserole-type dish is the area where I find it easiest to remember the woodstove, and I find that I’ll naturally follow the woodstove’s temperature reading to see when it will be ready to heat something in the oven. Part of that is also naturally to do with the fact that baking or making a casserole or lasagna generally involves a little bit more forethought or planning, unlike walking into the kitchen to boil water for pasta for a quick lunch.

Now, this is where I need to add that regulating the heat in the Ironheart is not something that we’ve finetuned yet. The Ironheart comes equipped with a temperature gauge with a needle that tracks across a dial that reads ‘Cool, ‘Warm’, ‘Hot’ and ‘Very Hot’. To date, we’ve managed to successfully make bread, pizzas, and a pumpkin pie all without the aid of an internal stove thermometer, but it’s time that we bit that bullet. Today I burned a double batch of banana bread, which was really frustrating. The mistake was all mine: the trend we’ve noticed so far is that even when the dial reads ‘Very Hot’, it can take somewhat longer to bake an item than it would take to cook in our conventional electric oven. On this basis alone I set the timer for the amount of time that I would normally bake the loaves in the conventional oven and proceeded to forget all about them. When the time came to pull them out, disappointment was mine. There are two small shelves inside the oven, and it’s the loaf on the upper shelf that had a nearly charred top (inside it was still pretty nice; we just cut off the burnt shell!). The lower loaf was ‘overbrowned’ rather than burnt, and it’s the loaf that my husband and I will eat anyway. (When making banana bread, I typically double the batch and bake one loaf plain for my sons and bake the other with dates, nuts or other more textural additions).

Overall, we’ve cooked and baked a fair amount on the Ironheart this month, including breakfast fry-ups, sauteing various dishes, heating up casseroles, baking bread, pumpkin pie and banana bread. In general, the results have been good: the cooking surface on top of the stove heats up very quickly and it’s possible to start preparing a meal on top of the Ironheart within minutes of lighting the day’s fire in the firebox. I haven’t yet timed how long it typically takes to get to a good baking temperature inside the oven box, but it’s definitely within the hour as suggested by Esse in its documentation.

Regulating the temperature of a woodstove is a lost skill for many modern folk, ourselves included; we’re undergoing a real learning experience and fortunately enjoying it very much. There is something extremely simple and satisfying about starting the first fire of the day, getting the stove to cooking/baking strength and then managing the heat peaks and troughs throughout the day. The challenges that we’ve got include:

1. No hob lids; we’re still unclear from Esse whether our Ironheart should have come with lids as standard, but we’re in the process of ordering a pair (the question of the lids is a whole other saga which I plan to write about: the Ironheart is one of the best finds of our lives, but so far the North American support/sales arm has been disappointing). Hob lids are key to keeping the heat inside the stove and so, unless you are cooking on top, you would normally have the lids in the closed position unless you needed the extra heat that emanates out from the top of the stove. We most certainly do not need that extra heat usually because our home is so airtight and energy efficient.

2. Further to point 1 above, our house is made out of insulated concrete forms (ICF) and it retains heat incredibly well. Last winter when we were just getting acquainted with our Ironheart, we regularly experienced temperature spikes approaching 30 degrees celsius! It was summer clothes in January at our house until we learned how to make smaller, more controlled fires in the Ironheart (a topic I will cover in a future post), thereby keeping the heat production down. We’re definitely doing better with this overall this year, but getting our lids will be a welcome development. The wonderful upside to the fact that our house is concrete is the fact that it retains heat so well: as long as we regulate the temperature rise from the woodstove, we’re always toasty and on very, very little wood. Even in the coldest months, the house generally doesn’t fall below 18 degrees celsius overnight, and that’s with allowing the fire in the woodstove to die out early in the evening. The Ironheart is so safe and efficient that you could easily keep a fire burning in it overnight if you needed to, but we just don’t have the need. So, overall, the fact that our house is ICF is most definitely a huge advantage rather than a disadvantage, but it does present a challenge in terms of heat spikes.

3. I think our third challenge is just our need to completely adapt to living with a woodstove. We’re needing to put some time and energy into thinking about our meal plans and how we cook in the colder months so that we take full advantage of the cooking and baking options offered by the Ironheart. With some planning, we really shouldn’t need to be consuming much electricity to prepare our meals in the cold months, as the Ironheart can do it all for us. My current reading pile includes a couple of woodstove cookbooks and it’s helping me to think a bit differently about meal preparation. (I will be posting about our plans for cooking and baking in the hot months as part of this series, when using the Ironheart inside of our home would be madness!)

Because I’m composing this post at a truck stop (really!) tonight, I don’t have the photos to hand that I wanted to share with this post, but you can look forward to burnt banana bread some time soon.

14 thoughts on “Cooking on the Esse Ironheart woodstove

  1. Hey, I look forward to reading your blog. We too bought an Ironheart at the end of last winter and are just starting to use it this year. We also have an energy efficient home with passive solar aspects. It will be fun to see what I learn from you about cooking with the Ironheart. BTW my stove came with the lids. I’m totally baffled as to why yours did not?????

    1. Thanks for stopping by Sharon and for the comment. I’d love to know how your Ironheart experience goes. I also appreciate your comment about the lids – we’re equally baffled!

  2. I am researching building something similar – an ICF home (ranch with a basement) with a wood cookstove. What you have me wondering is this – do you think the stove could better heat the whole home if it was centrally located in the basement instead of on the main level? I suppose it might help if there were some sort of venting to help move the heat between levels (maybe just basic vents?).

    I am working on designing the house layout to maximize passive solar heat gain on both levels too, but am having trouble finding anyone that has experience with these kind of stoves for input!

    1. Hi Katie, thanks for stopping by. I posted in detail about how we positioned the Ironheart in our home (a bungalow with a walkout basement), here: http://wuppenif.com/2012/04/03/positioning-our-esse-ironheart-woodstove/. There is a lot of detail in there that I think may help with your question, but I’m happy to answer any other questions that you may have! We’re huge fans of ICF and the Ironheart, so I’m excited to hear of what you’re planning (and where you are)!

      1. The post on positioning is great! You do mention in one of the posts that your basement is chilly, and that you were thinking of adding radiators with the hot water system. Did you end up doing that? I’m thinking about our basement b/c it will be our main homeschool area (I think) and I want it to be comfortable for the kids. I wonder if radiators could be tied into solar water heaters on the roof (or elsewhere). Hmmm. I’ll have to look into that.

        We are in Central Illinois where I must be the only person in the world thinking about heat right now. 🙂 Which makes me wonder – how does the ICF build do in the summer? Does it hold in the cool air as well as the warm?

        Thanks for sharing so much here! Seeing pictures of your Esse in your home makes it much easier to show my husband what they look like installed (vs catalog pictures).

      2. Hi again Katie – sorry to be slow in coming back. So glad to know that these posts have been helpful to you.

        On the hot water radiators, we’re still in the planning stages with that. Would have been so much easier if we’d built that it when we were building the house, of course! We now have our hob lids and extended wood burning box and are excited to see how those adjustments help this year, but it will take a bit longer to get to the radiators. Still very much in our short term plans however!

        Your question about how an ICF house does in the summer is an awfully good one, and we’ve had a very hot summer here in Eastern Ontario. My gut reaction is to say that it’s fundamentally easier for ICF to retain heat than it is for it to stay cool, but I also realize that we may not be working hard enough to help it to stay cool (warming it up is just easier). We’re getting better at closing blinds and drapes (where we have them) in our rooms during the sunniest/hottest parts of the day (or just all day long when we’re going through a heat wave) and doing the right kinds of things to keep the house cool, including making arrangements to do most of our cooking OUTSIDE in the hot months. We finally got outdoor cooking sorted out partway through this summer, just as the endless heat finally started to abate!! Always the way:) I will post more about our efforts to help the concrete envelope stay cool now that I think we’ve got some basic things sorted out.

        Best of luck with your own build, and researching your options for using the radiators in your lower level. Our home office is in the basement, so it’s the same issue that you’re facing with your kids. At the moment it’s just a touch too cool in winter to be comfortable sitting for long periods (though putting an extra sweater on makes a difference). Let us know how you do!!

    1. Fantastic to make your acquaintance like this. I’ve just checked out your blog and will be keen more to read about your adventures in Bancroft. What a great part of the world, we know it reasonably well from camping and holidays with our children. We really believe that you can’t do better than an Ironheart on the cookstove front, but good luck with your own research!

  3. we have an ironheart too,..i was brought up with a rayburn stove, so am used to the heat adjstment thing,….i just find it very efficient and theraputic to cook on/look at after a day at work,…a fantastic buy.

  4. I’ve been doing research for the last few weeks on wood stoves and cook stoves so I am delighted to find your blog with your first hand experience. could you please write faster – ha ha! I thought I had my mind made up but then I read about the Esse Ironheart. We live in a century home that is fairly well insulated for it’s years but by trying to conserve the oil for heat we are perhaps warm but never super comfortable. I look forward to being toasty someday and being able to cook as well!

    1. Fantastic to meet you virtually Anita, and many thanks for taking the time to share your story here. You simply could not go wrong with the Ironheart. I’m learning, through chatting with others here, that Ironheart owners with older homes are certainly using a lot more wood than we need to do (being in a very efficient ICF home), but the enthusiasm for what it can do seems to be the same regardless of individual situations. I just love that we can cook and bake on this woodstove so beautifully as well, making it the best possible investment. If you have particular questions, I can certainly try and write faster! 🙂

  5. Hi there

    Am I too late to join in?

    We are in Scotland and have bought an old home in a forest. We are about to clad it for insulation as well as adding internal insulation (it has little if any insulation at the moment.) We are south facing and wish to use solar gain and intend to have the solar water tubes for summer hot water. We will have an air source pump for underfloor heating as a back up if it gets too cold for just the log burners, anyway I like my bathroom to be very warm.

    We had the ironheart installed and ready to run on Christmas Eve; the installation process took a long time due to unpredictable chimneys in an old stone building. Ours does our hot water as well, very efficiently. We did have a clearview stove installed at the same time just for heating and will have another when the rebuilding works start later this year. Between them we should be plenty warm enough, have hot water as well as being able to cook. It is my intention to do most if not all cooking on the ironheart. We had an AGA for 20 years in our last house which I enjoyed using but as a gas fired one it was very expensive to run particularly in a draughty Victorian villa.

    At the moment I am struggling to work out cooking times and temperature especially having come from an AGA and a gas cooker before that so really appreciate your husband’s hard work on the equivalents. Now I will have to translate it to gas temperatures 1-9.
    I trust that I will get the hang of it.

    The timber delivery has just arrived with the material to construct a rather large log store to store all the wood needed to run these stoves.

    1. Welcome, Barbara! You are not at all too late, we always love to hear from new Ironheart owners! I do apologize for my tardiness in replying; winter has been deeply cold here and we have been hunkering down.

      I loved reading about your particular situation and plans for how the Ironheart will fit into your home. I am interested to know how old the structure is and what you will clad it in. I totally appreciate a warm bathroom too! How are you getting on with the Ironheart now that you have a bit more experience under your belt – did you sort out cooking temperatures I wonder. I would also love to know what type of wood you are able to store for burning. Would love to see a picture of the log store you were building!

      Having been such a longtime Aga owner, I would think you would adapt awfully well to the Ironheart in spite of their differences. Your plan to mostly cook on the Ironheart sounds wonderful. I love cooking and baking with ours, but find that I go in spurts. Lovely to hear from you!

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