How to Build a Fuel-Efficient Rocket Stove and Cook Your Food on It

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Building your own rocket stove and using it to cook and boil water is a very simple process. In an emergency situation, a rocket stove can be a lifesaver. Even for a beginner, rocket stoves are easy to construct and use. They are reliable and use very little fuel compared to other cooking methods. 

How Rocket Stoves Work

Rocket stoves are so effective because they channel the heat from a relatively small fire into a narrow tunnel creating a very hot focused flame. The stove draws air from underneath the fire, which helps to keep it burning hot, and propels the heat upwards. This provides an ideal area to cook over or to boil water.

The fire uses a surprisingly small amount of fuel which makes a rocket stove an efficient cost-effective device. A rocket stove fire produces a relatively small amount of smoke or excess heat making it a more environmentally friendly option. 

Simple Firebrick Rocket Stove Design

Firebricks are a great material for building a rocket stove because they can withstand high temperatures. Only 16 firebricks are needed to construct a rocket stove. A piece of metal grate, mesh, or even chicken wire is beneficial but not necessary. 

When I built my rocket stove, I placed the first layer of bricks on a base that had a metal grid. The grid allows the ash to fall through to the ground which enables the fire to get plenty of oxygen. It also makes cleaning out the ash much easier.

Place the bricks 3 across, removing the middle brick and 2 along the back as seen in the picture below. 

A piece of metal grid or even chicken wire can be placed on top of the first layer of bricks if you are using a solid base. 

When adding the second layer of bricks, alternate the placement where possible to give strength to your stove. Cutting the overlapping bricks is an option but definitely not necessary. 

Continue adding layers of bricks until you have reached a height of 4 or 5 levels of bricks. The height depends on personal preference. I found that a height of 4 bricks was best for my needs. 

Place a spacer over the top opening of the rocket stove. A small metal rack works very well, but even 4 small stones would do the trick. This allows for airflow, letting your fire burn hot.

Alternatives to a Firebrick Rocket Stove

A firebrick rocket stove is a great device to cook outdoors during an emergency situation, when you don’t want excess heat in your house from using the oven, or just for fun. You might also be interested in these other options:

  • Tin Can rocket stove 
  • Rock stove 
  • Swedish Torch

Rocket Stove Fuel

One of the great benefits of a rocket stove is that it will burn almost any type of fuel. If it burns, you can use it! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Twigs, and small branches
  • Small pieces of firewood 
  • Scrap lumber – 2×4 chunks (will need to be split), small pieces of plywood, etc.
  • Pallet boards
  • Cardboard 

Starting and Managing a Fire in a Rocket Stove

Lighting a fire can be challenging depending on what you have available to do so. Firestarters can simplify the process and ensure that you can always get the fire started. Here are some examples of a variety of the many fire starters that may be used:

  • Newspaper – Scrunch the newspaper into a loose ball. 
  • Cotton balls and Vaseline – Spread a glob of Vaseline on the cotton ball. Light the side of the cotton ball without the Vaseline.
  • Store bought fire starter – There are many different fire starters that can be purchased in the camping sections of local stores.
  • Cardboard – Rip cardboard into pieces small enough to fit into the rocket stove. Folding or bending the cardboard a bit will allow for better air flow.
  • Birch bark – Birch bark can be used in larger chunks or broken into smaller pieces. If dry it burns amazingly well, started your fire in no time.

Place your fire starter close enough to the bottom opening of the rocket stove so that you can easily light it with a match or lighter. Place small pieces of kindling on top and some slightly larger branches or pieces of wood on top of that. Light the fire starter.

Once the fire is lit, add a few bigger pieces of wood to the bottom opening of the stove. Until these start burning well, small pieces of wood can continue being added to the top opening. When your fire is burning well, place your metal grate over the top opening and you’re ready to cook or boil water. 

To keep the fire burning optimally, push the fuel farther into the bottom opening of the stove as it burns up and continue adding branches or scraps of wood as necessary. At this point, bigger pieces of fuel are preferable as they will burn longer.

Tips for Rocket Stove Optimal Performance 

  • Use dry wood when possible. If dry wood is scarce, starting your fire with dry wood and then adding a mix of moist and dry wood will work.
  • Ensure that you have enough air flow at the bottom of the stove. A base with a grate is ideal for allowing ashes to fall through.
  • Hang a tarp a few feet above the stove to protect it from the elements. This allows the rocket stove to burn more efficiently and will keep you much more comfortable. I’ve used my rocket stove in a rain and hail storm. Once your pot is over the top of the stove, it protects your fire from the rain.
  • Before lighting your fire, clean out the ashes from the last use. Optimal air flow ensures a better fire. 
  • If the fire isn’t burning well, try adding smaller fuel from the top opening of the stove.
  • Move around the bigger fuel at the bottom of the stove periodically will help as it shifts ashes and coals to the bottom and restores better air flow.

Uses for a Rocket Stove

Rocket stoves can be used for more than you might think. We use our rocket stove to:

  • Boil water for cooking, coffee or tea.
  • Boil water to kill bacteria and pathogens, making it safe to drink.
  • Cook on a frying pan (cast iron is recommended).
  • Bake bread and pizza.
  • Heat water for washing dishes and bathing.

How to Cook on a Rocket Stove

Cooking on a rocket stove takes a little bit of practice as regulating the heat produced by your fire is different from cooking on a stove. Trying to keep the fire a bit smaller for lower heat and a bit bigger for higher heat. It doesn’t regulate the temperature perfectly but it does work to some extent.

We’ve found that using different items to act as a diffuser and disperse the heat is a great way to help regulate cooking temperature. 

This metal piece is from an old toaster oven. An old baking sheet, a narrow tin, or other similar metal items could also be used.

Once your fire is burning well, place a frying pan on the rocket stove, add butter or cooking oil, and cook just as if you were frying something on a stovetop. If the pan gets too hot while you are cooking, simply removing it from the stove for a minute will also help regulate your cooking heat.

If you’re making a meal that requires more than one “burner”, two rocket stoves can be used. Baking on a rocket stove requires some type of diffuser or the bottom of what you are baking will burn. Place whatever you are intending to bake in your pan and cover with a lid. We’ve had great success with pan bread. 

We have not used one yet, but a Dutch oven is another option for baking on your rocket stove. Making pizza on a rocket stove works very well too! To get enough heat to melt the cheese but not burn the crust, use a heat diffuser. Placing the pizza on a spacer inside the pan will further protect the crust from burning. 

Rocket stoves are fuel-efficient, inexpensive, simple, effective, and just downright cool! Whether you’re in an emergency situation or not, give one a try!  Visit my Instagram @river_wild_wilderness to see some of my many wilderness survival adventures.

Learn more about cooking in a grid-down scenario here.

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River Wild

River Wild retired from teaching, after a severe concussion, and moved to a remote location in northern British Columbia, Canada to escape the noise and stimulus of urban life. He and his wife are learning the ins and outs of off-grid living as they develop their homestead. Preparedness is becoming a way of life as they work towards becoming ever increasingly self-sufficient. River and Grace live in a tiny home (a 240 square foot RV, with a 200 square foot addition) along with their 3 dogs and cat. A log cabin build is in the planning phases. Follow him on Instagram @river_wild_wilderness