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Cooking on a Thai Charcoal Stove

 Bruce Teakle July 2007


The Thai bucket stove, and its variants, is a traditional piece of cooking equipment in Asia, and is very similar to charcoal-burning stoves used in Africa and other parts of the world.  It’s an important piece of technology used daily by hundreds of millions of people to cook their food.  

We cook on a Thai stove once or more most days.  It is relatively quick to light and use, and takes much less fuel than lighting a big combustion stove.  It doesn’t heat up the house in summer, especially since we mostly use it outside, and it gives smokeless heat.  It grills meat deliciously – and keeps the splatter outside the house.  Most importantly, it allows us to cook our food using renewable charcoal fuel we can produce ourselves.  Thai stoves are cheap to buy – usually under $15 from Garboro Trading in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. 

Lighting the Thai stove





You need:
  • A Thai stove 
  • Charcoal – well sifted.  Larger pieces work best, fine charcoal tends to clog the air-flow. 
  • Waxed corrugated cardboard for kindling – as used in boxes for lettuce, broccoli, nursery pots etc..  Cut pieces approx 10cm square with a knife, then tear them up to burn more easily.  I like to tear the layers apart leaving a strip still joined, then make a couple of tears through the layers. Other kindling can be used, such as oily paper or eucalypt leaves. 
  • A fan to blow the fire.  A concertina bamboo and cloth fan is ideal, but a piece of cardboard about 30cm square works well enough.  
Useful extras:
  • A fruit juice or similar tin to hold charcoal for feeding the stove without getting sooty fingers.
  • A pair of metal tongs for holding burning kindling, or move coals.
  • Grills to hold food such as bread or meat while cooking, or support small pots.  Old barbeque or electric stove racks are good, perhaps cut to size.
  • A metal tray (e.g. hubcap) helps to contain ash and coals which might fall out the ashpit door.  


Method:
  • Empty out the ash from the previous burn. Gently scrape over the grate with a stick to make the ash fall down, leaving charcoal. Rake out the ash from the ashpit (below the grate) using a stick or L-shaped metal rake. Don’t invert, tip or shake the stove to remove ash – it might fall apart.
  • Put a layer of charcoal onto the grate, about 3cm deep.
  • Take a piece of torn-up waxed cardboard kindling, light it, and push it into the ash pit when burning strongly. A pair of tongs makes this easier.
  • Fan into the ash pit door, to force the flames up onto the bottom of the charcoal.
  • Once you can see plenty of red fire amongst the charcoal, it can be left to keep heating by itself, or fanned more to make it hotter sooner. 

Cooking on a Thai stove

 

We boil kettles, make coffee in an espresso maker, cook toast, make porridge, fry eggs, and do everything on a Thai stove that can be done on a gas ring. 
Heat can be adjusted by controlling the amount of charcoal in the fire – pieces of charcoal can be lifted out with tongs - and by putting racks or plates on top of the fire. 

Finishing the fire

When you have finished using the fire, it is a good idea to stop the fire by suffocating it in a sealed container, to save charcoal and reduce fire risk.  We pick up our stoves and put them into a steel drum with a tight-fitting lid, and the charcoal extinguishes quickly. 
It helps to sprinkle fresh charcoal onto the hot coals before lifting the stove, to reduce the radiant heat on your hand.  This charcoal is not wasted as the fire will go out very soon. 
Happy cooking!

Caution:  The fire in a thai stove is as dangerous as any fire.  It can burn people or set fire to things or houses.  Be very careful with the fire, and have a plan for when things go wrong – e.g. fire extinguisher or water container.  

Charcoal fires also emit dangerous carbon monoxide gas.  Use only with good ventilation. 


Extra tips and tricks

A spider, fabricated from 6mm mild steel

6 comments:

  1. Hi there my names Tracy been trying to purchase a burner for 2 weeks now ,could you please help, as two places have cancelled

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    Replies
    1. Hi Tracy, where do you live? In Brisbane I get them from a Chinese supermarket in Fortitude Valley which imports them from Thailand. Garboro Trading on Marshall St, just over the road from the Chinatown Mall. Cost about Australian $20.

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    2. Hi Bruce Where can I get this from Melbourne ?

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    3. Hello Bindesh, I don't know where to get a charcoal stove in Melbourne. Check in China town Chinese supermarkets. Good luck.

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  2. Replies
    1. Hello Grayham,
      I've no idea where to shop in London any more. My time there was in the early '80s! Try the Chinese and asian shops. There are other options for charcoal cooking: the Japanese "hibachi" means "fire bowl", and often use an iron pot stand in a sand base. I've sometimes made lightweight charcoal cookers from a 3litre food tin. I'd love to take some time to make one from clay and sand. I'll aspire to edit my page with some more options. Good luck!

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