I've done quite a bit of cooking on top of a barrel stove, too. When we first moved out to our homestead, we lived in a wall tent that first year. Before we got any barrel, though, we had a little sheepherders stove. Was sure glad when Chuck got that barrel stove made. He makes them different from the kit ones where you have to buy the door and such. He cuts off the end section so you end up with a flat surface. Then cuts out the door and draft, and a hole for the flue. Using a large stainless bowl, propped up with little rocks, I made sort of a stovetop oven. Worked great for making bread, cakes, cookies, etc.
We'll have to post more about that sort of thing, in case anyone is interested. But, doesn't sound like you really want to go that route. Barrel stoves are not very efficient, and certainly not very pretty.
We have a Waterford Stanley that was made back in the late 1920's. I wouldn't trade it for the world. We ues it exclusively for cooking, and for heating until the outside temperatures get to about zero. Then we have to use the heating stove. Until that point, with cooking on the Stanley, the heating stove makes the house just too hot. The firebox in our Stanley had been modified by taking out the ash grate, then lining the box with 3/4" or 1" soapstone to keep it from burning out, since it really was not designed to have wood burning in the entire firebox. If anybody's interested, I'll tell you more about that.
The Waterford Stanley is very efficient. We can load it up with unsplit spruce or some birch, then shut it down before going to bed. In the morning, we still have enough coals to get a good fire going for a pot of coffee. Since the stove is still hot in the morning, it gets to heating the house back up pretty fast, too.
All woodstoves will get you hot when you cook with them in the summer, but the Stanley is, BY FAR the BEST cookstove I've ever used. The only drawback is that, at least the older models must be cleaned very well, and cleaned frequently. If you don't make this a regular task every few weeks, it will smoke when you close it down tight. It's worse in the summer when you don't run it as hot as often as in the winter (did that make any sense
) But once you get used to it, it doesn't take all that much time. Also, the oven on the Stanley is smaller than some other stoves. If you plan on doing lots of cooking for a crowd, this could take time.
We have some friends who own a Pioneer Maid. It is a very nice stove. We've stayed at their home a few times during the winter to take care of their children when they had to be away, so I've spent some time with that stove, as well. These people only burn spruce ----- no birch in their area. If you're primarily use spruce, it will not burn all night. Depending on how dry the wood was, we had to load the stove once or twice each night. Otherwise, we'd wake up about 4 in the morning very cold. If you have birch in your area, it may work better for you.
The Pioneer Maid has a very large cooking surface and oven, so you can easily cook for a crowd. They have a very large family, so that was a big priority for them. Now we have three boys, so the small oven in our Stanley may be a problem for us later. Also, the Pioneer Maid does not need to be cleaned as often as the Waterford Stanley, and because the surfaces are some kind enamel surface, they do clean easy.
But, the big disadvantage we saw with the Pioneer Maid was that it just doesn't seem like it's made as well as the Waterford stoves. I would expect our Stanley to be passed on through more generations. I doubt the Pioneer Maid will hold up to everyday cooking and heating in Alaska. I do think it is a VERY nice stove, and will probably last for years. But probably nothing like a Waterford.
But, the Pioneer Maid is a better stove for heating, even though it won't burn as long. Our friend's house isn't very big, so it does fine for them. You may need a heating stove to supplement. Also, if you plan to enlarge your house anyway, you will probably need a heating stove. If you get a good one that is efficient and will keep burning all night, it could certainly take over when the Pioneer Maid burns out.
One last thing. I'm sure you've seen some beautiful stoves in catalogues. Can't remember the brands, but some other friends have some of the fancier stoves. They were not near as efficient as the Stanley or the Pioneer Maid, did not cook as well, did not burn near as long when shut down, and would cook you out of your house even on the coldest days when you were trying to cook a big meal. On Christmas day, you'd end up in tee shirts with all the windows in your house opened. You'd go through way more wood that you want to split. They are very pretty, though, and you can cook and heat with them.
If I were buying a new cookstove, it would be a tough choice between the Waterford Stanley and the Pioneer Maid. But, since I already have a Waterford, and I'm so used to it, that's my choice. You'll probably end up with a heating stove, sooner or later, too, no matter what kind of cookstove you get.
Just my thoughts on the subject. Hope if gives you "food for thought".
I'm sure other folks have different opinions.