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Section 3: Using clay pots with various heat sources: stove (gas, electric, wood), oven, grill, sun oven, campfire…

Diffusers. heat settings & tips

Stove vs. oven

Stove top and oven can both be used with MEC clay pots. Many dishes can be deliciously cooked with either method. Below are some differences to help you select the best cooking method:

Stove top

  • More energy efficient.
  • Keeps the house cooler in the summer.

Oven

  • Far infrared heat completely surrounds the pot – including the top. This is preferred for baking and roasting meats.
  • Can cook multiple dishes at the same time.

Stove (electric & gas)

Diffusers

When to use them?

CookingDiffuser required
Electric stove-tops, e.g. coil, glass or ceramicYes
Gas stove – cooking time longer than one hour or pot not yet well seasoned (first 6 uses)Yes
Gas stove – cooking time less than one hour & pot well seasonedNo
OvenNo

Will a diffuser slow the cooking time, or require a higher heat source?

Yes, energy transfer is not as efficient.

You can use a slightly higher stove temperature or a slightly bigger, more powerful burner. On my gas stove, if I cook on #3 without a diffuser, I will cook on #4 with a diffuser.

What is the best diffuser?

Miriam says the SimmerMat works best for gas, induction, and 95% of ceramic/glass stoves. For the other 5% of ceramic/glass stoves a ventilated diffuser such as the NorPro is necessary. There is no way to predict the 5% of the ceramic/glass stove which require a NorPro. If you use a SimmerMat on a ceramic/glass stove and there is a bad smell, a NorPro diffuser is necessary.

How to use the SimmerMat

Miriam says to follow her instructions, not the instructions that come with the SimmerMat. The instructions that come with the SimmerMat say to use only on low heat. However, the SimmerMat instructions are designed for metal pots, and clay pots are different. It fine to use medium heat with clay pots and a SimmerMat.

Simply place SimmerMat on the burner, place your pot on the SimmerMat, start on low heat and go to medium heat in a few minutes. With pure-clay you can use the SimmerMat at medium for many hours.

MEC

Heat settings

Stove-top (settings are on a 1-10 scale)

When cooking on gas without a diffuser

  • Never go above medium-low (#4)
  • If is best to start cooking on low (#2), then after about 5-10 minutes, you can raise the heat to medium-low (#3-#4)
  • With a well seasoned pot, you can start cooking on medium-low (#3-#4) if there are lots of liquids in the pot.

When using a diffuser settings are increased by 1

  • Never go above medium (#5)
  • If is best to start cooking on low (#3), then after about 5-10 minutes, you can raise the heat to medium (#4-#5)
  • With a well seasoned pot, you can start cooking on medium (#4-#5) if there are lots of liquids in the pot.

When you are finished cooking, you want to avoid a sudden temperature change. Below are some suggestions.

  • When cooking foods such as rice, you can turn the heat off prematurely (when there is still a little water in the pot) and let the pot sit for some minutes. The clay pot holds heat, so the heat in the pot will continue to cook the rice (and gradually bring the temperature of the pot down). After you turn the heat off, you will still notice moisture patterns on the outside of the pot. When the pot is no longer cooking the food, these moisture patterns will disappear. This is the most energy efficient method.
  • Some foods such as broths & stews benefit from a period of no heat at the end for “settling” (this helps the dish come together and gradually brings the temperature of the pot down).
  • If you are cooking a dish on medium-low (#4), you can bring the temperature setting to low (#2) for the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Changing the heat settings can be inconvenient – it’s fine to simply cook something like oatmeal on low (#2) – it will take a bit longer, but will be more hands off.

Preheating

A common practice on older electric stoves when using metal pots.

  • With a clay pot – especially during initial seasoning and it’s first 4–6 uses – do not pre-heat the burner.
  • After the pot is fully seasoned, you may be able to get away with some preheating.

Match your diffuser/pot to the correct size burner

  • Most stoves have 8″ and 6″ burners. An 8″ burner is ideal for the SimmerMat.
  • Do not put your diffuser or pot on a burner with a diameter more than 1/2″ greater than the diffuser or pot. Instead use a smaller burner.

Know your stove

  • Some newer stoves can be very powerful and you may need a lower setting.
  • Some stoves may have malfunctioning burners which result in uneven heat that a diffuser can’t compensate for.

Oven

Diffuser is unnecessary.

Temperature settings

  • If the clay pot is used both in the oven and on the stove – start in a cold oven or at 250°F, then increase to desired temperature in 10 minutes.
  • If the clay pot is only for oven use (you never use it on the stove), and it is well seasoned – start in a cold oven or at 350°F, then if necessary increase to desired temperature in 10 minutes.
  • Max temperature is 450°F.
  • Baking and roasting temperature required for clay is about 25°F less than temperature required for stainless.

Cooking time

The first time a clay pot is used in the oven, the cooking time will be a bit longer – the pot needs to “learn”.

Always cover with lid

Even breads.

Wood stove

Wood stove with a cast iron trivet is on each side of its chimney. On the right side of the chimney, the trivet has a SimmerMat on top.
My friend Elizabeth loves using her clay pan on her wood stove. Pictured is a clay pan on top of a SimmerMat and cast iron trivet. Elizabeth is careful not to let her clay pan touch the hot chimney.

The clay pots need an even heat source. I used to think that gas stoves provided the most even heat, but Miriam says wood stoves can provide a more even heat than gas!

Use a diffuser or cast iron trivet

  • A diffuser like SimmerMat is enough to go on the wood stove.
  • An elevated trivet also works, but might take much longer than needed to cook. However, if you want a low heat, an elevated trivet might be the perfect solution. Perhaps use the SimmerMat to bring the pot to a boil, then an elevated trivet to simmer.
  • It is best to start with a cool SimmerMat or trivet. If SimmerMat or trivet is hot, remove it from the stove and let it cool down a bit before putting a room temperature pot on it. This is especially important if the pot is not yet fully seasoned yet. If the pot is fully seasoned, you are more likely to get away with putting the pot on a warm SimmerMat or trivet.

Gauging the temperature of your wood stove

  1. Turn your regular stove on medium. See at what height you can hold your hand comfortably for 5 seconds.
  2. Then try holding your hand at the same height over the wood stove. See how long you can hold it here.

Now you will know if it runs warmer or colder than your stove at medium heat. Be careful and don’t get burned.

Controlling the temperature of your wood stove

  • Use less wood to decrease the heat.
  • If your stove has a damper, adjust it. This will control how much air goes into the stove to raise and decrease temp. As you might surmise, this is not quite like a gas or electric stove in its instantaneousness or precision – but it works.

Campfire, grill

Traditionally clay was used directly over an open fire.

Sun oven

The directions to my sun oven say not to put any pot directly on the bottom of the oven – they recommend an airspace completely around the pot. My oven comes with a hanging rack which I put my pot on.

All American Sun Oven: Made for the American Consumer

MEC says if you don’t have a rack you can simply use rocks under the pot to raise it.

Also heed the oven cooking rules above. I simply skip the pre-heat step and put my clay pot in a cold oven. Sometimes pre-heating my solar oven takes it to 350°F

Remember the rule that if you see steam coming from the pot, the food is usually done (or just past done). In a sun oven the steam clouds the glass, so it’s easy to tell it’s done.

In my experience, everything except beans, works really well in a clay pot in a sun oven. If you read the blogs on sun oven cooking, many people complain about beans in a solar oven (regardless of the kind of cookware) – they simply take a very long time to cook.


I love using clay in my sun oven – it produces some really delicious food. You’ve got the intelligence of clay and the energy of the sun working for you!

Rocket stove

Great for outdoors, especially if you have small pieces of wood around.

A rocket stove is an efficient and hot burning stove using small-diameter wood fuel. Fuel is burned in a simple combustion chamber containing an insulated vertical chimney, which ensures almost complete combustion prior to the flames reaching the cooking surface.

Wikipedia

No microwaving

Miriam does not recommend using clay in a microwave. Pots can develop “hot spots” because of the uneven heat. Hot spots can result in cracking.

I would love to hear from you.
Scroll down to share your experiences & Wisdom.

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