Wood Fire Oven

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I'm reading The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens in an attempt to come to grips with whether or not I'm going to be able to swing having a wood fire oven in my back yard. The downside of my back yard is that it is tiny and that most of it is several feet below the back door. I have a wood deck that is conveniently floor-height, but I have some concerns about placing a wood fire oven next to the deck.

Three of the big decisions that you have to make when picking out what sort of oven you're going to have are:

  1. How much are you going to cook at one time?
  2. Is this oven primarily for pizza or for bread?
  3. How often are you going to cook in it?

There's no oven that will easily support all of the range of options posed by the questions above without causing you to either waste a lot of money on wood, waste a lot of time heating the oven, destroy your oven after a few years, and/or give you an inferior product when you're done with it.

The more mass you give an oven, the longer it will take to heat, but the longer that the heat will last. For an oven you're going to use every day, you want a lot of mass, because it will hold much of the heat overnight. This means you have to use less fuel heating it up the next morning.

On the other hand, the same massive oven, used only a few times a week, would be a terrible pain, because it would take a tremendous amount of wood each time to heat it up, and you'll wait around forever for it to happen. Depending on the materials you've chosen, you may cause extra damage to the oven by causing the repeated expansion and contraction of something that was prepared to spend its life mostly expanded.

I can't imagine a better guide through these options than The Bread Builders. It's a fascinating read, and I'm looking forward to learning a lot more about the design and construction of this oven. Who knows, one day I may even build one. Wouldn't that be exciting?

A most impressive addition

Wake_Robin_Bread_Extraction.jpg During my recent trip to Asheville, for which you'll get an overview and a disclaimer soon enough, we took a quick trip to Wake Robin Farm to visit the bread makers and their oven. There is a lot to be said about both, but right now I want to focus on one small part. A brick oven is a relatively ancient technique for making bread. Not the original method, of course, because ovens are a pretty recent invention as far as cooking is concerned. If it wasn't done on an open fire, it's probably not one of the first cooking techniques. Still, centuries ago, a single town or village might have a single wood fire oven that is shared across the community. Generally, the ovens I've seen haven't deviated much from what you might have seen back then, except most of the ovens I've seen are smaller and may have some design differences for aesthetics or because of the skill of the builder. It wasn't until last week that I saw something that is truly modern and, to my mind, vital for anyone building a new wood fire oven. thermocouple_interface.jpg What's shown in the picture above, embedded into the side of the oven, is a series of thermocouple interfaces. Thermocouples are effectively thermometers that can handle a wide range of temperatures, especially at the extreme range of what the typical cook would have to deal with (as opposed to what the typical physicist might have to deal with, which would go significantly higher or lower). These thermocouples are set in the oven so that Steve Bardwell, co-owner of Wake Robin Farm Breads, can plug in a compatible meter and see what the temperature of not only various parts of the interior surface of the oven, but also a few points between the interior surface and the exterior surface. This gives him a tremendous amount of information about how fully the oven is heated and should allow him to predict how long the oven will retain its heat. Were I to build a brick oven, I would steal this idea. Without a doubt. I would then connect the sensors to a computer to allow me to graph the temperatures and keep a record of historical heating curves. Because there's no geeky idea that can't be made just a little better by recording and graphing the results.

Instructable Wednesday: Wood-Fire Oven

Over at Instructables, you can find out how to make just about anything. I've been collecting a list of interesting food-related projects. This one is: Make pizza with a plasma cutter, a backhoe and a pile of mud! One of the great things about this particular Instructable is how the author, Fritz Bogott, talks about many of the inspirations and deviations that he took while on the path. There is some good use of reclaimed materials, some techniques sustainable and not, and a whole bunch of pictures. To view the detail shots of the photos, you'll need to make an account and sign in. I don't know that I can convince Melanie to let me go ahead and try to make this one, but it seems like a great way to enhance the back yard.