StoveTec Rocket Stove Review: Portable Wood Fired Cook Stove

by ziggy on April 23, 2012 -- 4 comments -- Follow

StoveTec Rocket Stove

StoveTec rocket stove next to our DIY cooking rig

I’ve been cooking on a rocket stove on a daily basis (except for winter) for the past three years now, and I recently broke down and splurged for a prefabricated cook stove — the StoveTec model rocket stove. Previously, my food co-op and I had been using a DIY rig that Thomas built, but my patience with it has been waning lately. It’s big, so it can’t be moved (a problem when the wind comes from the west, especially), and wood slipping out of the firebox is a more than frequent issue.

The StoveTec rocket stove solves those problems, and is actually way more efficient, resulting in even less firewood used for cooking. I gotta admit, I really like this factory-made stove. Read ahead for my review.

Rocket Stove Efficiency

We cook exclusively using firewood, so it’s fairly important that the experience be as seamless and efficient as possible. I’m afraid to say the homemade stove we’ve been using is not as efficient as I previously thought, since using the StoveTec model. A milk crate’s worth of wood goes a lot further now!

The StoveTec stove does a lot more with each stick of wood than I expected — it really is an efficient little thing. It’s very simple to burn smoke-free fires, and it’s obvious when you are overfiring. A tiny bit of practice makes it very clear. Even after a pretty long cooking session, there is but a very small pile of wood ash at the back of the firebox — wow! (That’s a good sign.) It’s simple to light, too.

StoveTec Rocket Stove Wood

Typical size of firewood for rocket stove

The handy metal grate ensures that wood does not get jammed against the walls of the firebox, and it’s nicely elevated to burn wood as cleanly as possibly. I’ve not timed how long it takes to boil water, but I know that it is quite fast, and uses much less wood than before. The included metal skirt helps, but I doubt it is “25% more efficient” (as advertised) than it would be without use of the skirt.

Moving the Stove

Another huge plus of this tiny little thing is its portability. The biggest advantage for its size is that you can move it from place to place (duh), and reposition it if the wind becomes a problem (which is does here in gusty Missouri). Love it! No more cursing on those west wind days.

Portable Wood Fired Cook Stove

So small! So dainty!

It’s very lightweight, and has two decent handles to move it around, which can be done safely even after using it. This is not the kind of thing you’re going to walk around with on a backpacking trip, but it would make a great travel companion on camping trips and the like.

Build Quality and Design

The build quality of the stove is quite nice. I got the one door “eco” version, which features a cast iron cook top, and a ceramic firebox.  It’s definitely got a nicely insulated body (which makes for its high efficiency) — chalk that to the refractory ceramic that’s used in its construction. It is a pretty tight build, and I expect it will last some good time. It’s got a three year warranty, and the company says it can handle the rigors of daily use, which is what it is designed for, after all. (These stoves were originally intended for so-called ‘less developed’ countries where fuel shortages are often a problem, and smoky cooking environments cause women health problems.)

I have no doubt we will put this stove through the test, as it is now our primary cook stove, responsible for feeding five people for all our hot meals each day.

StoveTec Rocket Stove 02

Cookin'

Rocket Stove Review Wrap-up

To conclude, the StoveTec model is efficient, nicely sized, and very pleasant to operate. It burns cleanly (as far as wood goes), and feels solid and durable.

The biggest drawback? The “Made in China” tag on the box — a huge turnoff for me. It was what actually deterred me for a long time about buying the stove. I don’t know any specifics about their manufacturing plant in China, which is disappointing. I can only assume they build them in China to save on costs, making it cheaper to get these stoves to the masses (which is the primary humanitarian goal of Aprovecho, the brain behind the tool — spreading the stoves to impoverished people around the world — read more about that project here.) I feel torn about it, I guess. Also, the $85 price might be a bit high when you consider they only cost $9-12 to build. Hrrm.

Well, I feel better about the stove knowing that we’re burning a lot less wood to cook these days, but I’m still not sure if it warrants buying something from overseas…

Anyway, there ya have it. Rather it were made stateside. But recommended.

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Mike April 24, 2012 at 12:38 am

Timely post.
We cook exclusively with wood also, year round. Our outdoor cookstove which was a piece of junk when we bought it, essentially imploded last summer, and we’ve been scheming for what to do this season. We have a nice cookstove for inside, but the hot summer weather in our parts makes it unbearable for most of that season. So, we’ve actually been looking at buying a couple of these rockets (recommended from Max at Firespeaking), to go with one of Max’s barrel ovens. The whole package will be less than a new cheap cookstove, and much more fuel efficient. My question is: how difficult is it to simmer things on these stoves (i.e. cooking rice)? We are inclined to go with the newer two door models as they seem better able to regulate the heat.

ziggy April 24, 2012 at 8:25 am

Eh, not that difficult. It’s just a matter of using less wood to get low heat. Not a problem.

While on the subject, here’s an alternative. I wouldn’t actually bother with simmering something like rice on the rocket stove anyway — did you ever use a hotbox (or haybox)?

Check it out: http://planetsave.com/2008/10/09/take-action-to-save-energy-cooking-with-an-insulated-hot-box/

Although leaving a pot of grain on the rocket stove (without a live fire) will also eventually cook it. (Added a larger pot over your cooking pot will help retain extra heat, too.)

Ginnee April 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm

You only need to boil white rice for 5 minutes, then let it sit for another 15 minutes. Give brown rice about 15 minutes simmerng, Perfect rice every time. We live off-grid and I look for every opportunity to save energy.

Mike April 25, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Thanks for the feedback.
I’ve helped build a rocket stove but have never used one for cooking. I LOVE the hotbox idea and will surely throw something together this summer. And I agree Ginnee, living off-grid necessitates cutting corners on energy as much as possible, but fortunately we have loads of firewood in our neck of the woods. Our family of four has been operating with 600 watts of solar and no generator. Energy fasts are commonplace. Beeswax candles are sacred.
Great site Ziggy.

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