Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cast Refractory Wood-Fired Ovens

residential brick oven prior to enclosure
Modern (the last 50 years) restaurants and residential wood-fired ovens have gone to cast-refractory materials.  As a builder of real (true) fire brick wood-fired ovens, I view this trend as a structural and aesthetic downgrading of the 'appliance'. This is akin to the time when wood cook stoves were produced using sheet metal instead of cast iron.  The life-span and functionality of the stoves took a dive as well as the visual beauty of the objects.
Cast Refractory Failure
I have witnessed products from a leading international supplier of cast-refractory ovens.  Repeatedly, the components arrived at customer's homes, ready to install and finish,  BROKEN, CRACKED, or FLAWED.  This led to delays and immediate disappointment.
My decision to build brick ovens solely from true fire brick allows me to represent the finished oven as traditional, durable, and containing enough thermal mass for long baking periods for little more cost than the 'kits' plus labor and detailing.
Granted, some of the high-end cast refractory ovens have elements that insure durability.  The single major structural difference lies in the sectional construction of the cast ovens.  The cast segments that comprise the dome rely on the supporting sections NEVER failing. Once, for any number of reasons, a segment fails the entire oven is useless.  Ovens that are finished with elaborate stone exteriors would be very expensive to replace.
mouth and first 3 chains of brick oven

A brick oven is built with each ring (known as a chain), locking itself by gravity and the keystone (the last center stone at the crown) locks the entire dome together. These ovens expand and contract evenly when heated.  The dome shape has integral strength and doesn't rely on external support.
Unloading my portable oven
My portable models have gone down the worst roads in New England without failure.

 Lastly, a cast refractory wood-fired oven, is not a brick oven.  Superior Clay for instance, advertises, "Imagine baking bread or pizza in your own authentic brick oven."  Except, when you go to their website, you see a cast refractory kit that is neither authentic OR brick. 
 A true brick oven is something special in my mind, a connection to the past and a reliable cooking device for the foreseeable future.

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