wood burning stove on Christmas Eve and expect to knock up a Gordon Ramsay style festive banquet straight off the bat. Cooking with a Rayburn is a serious learning curve if you are accustomed to gas or electric. My mother summed up my epic effort to produce the perfect family Christmas lunch last year with the heady praise ‘never mind love’. Thankfully by that point, sometime very late in the evening, I had partaken sufficiently in the Christmas spirit to be able to laugh about it –albeit a tad hysterically. If you would rather not channel Keith Floyd during your first adventures in Rayburn cooking, here are a few points to remember:First things first, take it from me, don’t install a
- Ensure there are no witnesses – chances are first time out you are going to be murdering food, plan the occasion with this in mind. Beleive me, nobody needs to see this. Cook for yourself and make something you don’t mind feeding the chooks, just until you get the hang of it.
- Make sure there is a woman on hand to read the manual – reading the manual is not, as my other half seems to think, ‘cheating’. In fact, as with referring to roadmaps when lost, it can be a truly excellent way to save the valuable time and effort that you would otherwise waste on trial and error. It’s vital to have the correct firebrick combination for your circumstances and to set the top and front dials and vent in the correct positions for your needs. For those who don’t mind reading the crib sheet, you can find it here
- All wood is not created equal – after experimenting with the stove for almost a year, wood quality seems to make the greatest difference to the peak temperature of the oven and how long it takes for me to get it there. You would not try to make an ornately carved four poster bed from cheapo MDF, nor do you want to be fuelling your Rayburn 345w with poor quality softwood, or even worse, damp wood! Well, you can, but not if you want it to ever go over 150 degrees. Correctly cured hardwood (6 months +) is essential for your oven to run efficiently. Even then, all species burn differently and this can lead you to seriously misjudge how long the oven will take to get up to temperature from a cold start. I advise if you are re-lighting the fire to leave plenty of time, and then add some. In our household many a lunch has turned into supper. Please also note, wet inappropriately cured wood leads to creosote build-up around the top air vent and can make the drawer difficult to pull out. This can be a very good indicator of the quality of your wood supply.
- Your Rayburn is not the Olympic flame – you need to put it out and clean out all of the ash regularly for it to continue to function effectively. Once the fire pit is clogged with ash, it can be both hard to light and to maintain at an appropriate temperature. If you find yourself becoming your Rayburn’s personal punkawallah in a bid to keep the fire going, likely it’s due a clean.
- Keep it covered – a significant amount of heat is lost through the top hot plates when the lids are up. If you have a full oven and are just managing to maintain the correct temperature, don’t even think about sticking on a pot of tea. On the other hand, if the temperature is skyrocketing, the quickest and easiest way to cool everything down is to open both lids. With good quality wood and a well lit fire you can use both hot plates and have a full oven simultaneously, but take note this can be a tricky balancing act at first…the temptation to use both still lands me in trouble frequently.
- Invest in an oven thermometer – yes there is a temperature guage on the front of the oven, but believe me, every shelf in the oven seems to have a temperature that is not that one. I would consider that thermometer to represent the median for the entire oven space. For anything but a one pot casserole, that degree of inaccuracy is probably not going to cut it, so if you want to produce cake rather than cinders a shelf thermometer is a sound investment.
- Get hands on – Walk away and leave the oven unattended at your peril. I find I have to be frequently turning things, moving stuff up and down shelves, monitoring temperature and fussing over the stove to ensure my food turns out the way I like it – basically fully cooked on all sides.
- Dont trust your nose – if your idea of monitoring food is to wait to smell the smoke, with a Rayburn you are probably looking at an outright cremation. The seals on these things are much better than on most other cookers. This has the advantage of making everything cooked properly taste juicier, but also means that the sniff test has got to go.
- Adapt – Don’t hesitate to change the way you cook, or what you cook. Not only do I find the actual cooking process different, but also the quality of what is produced. I have had superb results with baked goods, casseroles, pizza and anything that requires simmering or roasting, but attempts to cook foods that require rapid cooking in very hot oil, such as Asian stir fry’s, have generally produced flavourless sludge. I would be very interested to hear other peoples experiences with this.
- Resist the temptation to become a feeder – for the first few weeks operating the Rayburn, I couldn’t resist having pies and cakes in the oven daily just because the Rayburn was on to heat water for washing up and bathing. In my head, not using the extra heat was a waste. Myriad pies later, we were having to consider buying new clothes just to fit our growing wastelines…if you are fraught about wasted heat, stick on a batch of preserves instead!
Despite all its quirks, I absolutely adore my Rayburn. For us, it is the ideal solution not only for cooking, but also for hot water on cold days when the water from the solar water tank would otherwise be tepid. I hope to post several additional articles about various aspects of using and setting up a Rayburn 345w over the coming weeks, so make sure to check back if you are looking for more info or are considering adding a Rayburn to you home. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments section below!