Friday, April 8, 2016

Brick Oven Size Matters

4' by 5' TBO St. Charles oven
One of the first questions that come up when people are considering a brick oven is size.
St.Charles oven complete and Charcuterie space (to left)

TBO 36 in city loft

TBO Portable 48"

36" plus custom Tuscan room
Matching the size (floor diameter) to the use is straightforward.  Ask yourself what and how much you hope to cook.

Keep in mind that unless you have a team of four sous chefs you will likely not exceed two pizzas at a time for a residential oven and five for a commercial oven.  An oven fired to 650-700F with a live fire will cook a pizza in about two minutes, which is about the time it takes to rapidly top a pizza that before it goes in.

Other foods are easier to access.  Breads, roasts, and quantities of vegetables can be measured in square inches and since they take longer than a few minutes, the space in the oven matters.

24" cast oven; too small
It has been my experience that an oven less than 36" in diameter (interior) crowds the cooking environment.  A 24" oven barely has enough room between the fire and the flue for one pizza and the temperatures are rarely even.

Given the expense in installing and finishing a brick oven, a small oven doesn't 'pay off'' in the long run.

For people who entertain and want to cook for guests (statistically, owners of brick oven gain an average of 5 friends after installing one) a 36"-42" oven will meet most event's needs.

45" TBO Audrix model portable
Commercial and bakery ovens are a different breed.  Restaurants and bakeries require that the brick oven be capable of output over a long period of time.  To achieve this, additional mass is added to the floor and dome.  Ovens 48"-60" in diameter provide ample space.  Two of the big ovens I've built and which I have frequent contact with report that the oven retains enough temperature between daily use so that the wood introduced sixteen hours after previous use bursts into flames upon stoking.  This indicates that the interior temperature is still above 450F.  The oven is too hot to touch a week after the last stoking in December!
Stone building going up by TBO for
54" bakery oven. Pietree Orchards, Sweden, Maine

So the questions are:

  • Proposed use.
  • Capacity
  • Ratio between size and efficiency
This last point, size vs. efficiency is key to keeping your oven large enough for your proposed use yet small enough to be used when full capacity is not needed.

I was recently asked to build a matzah oven for shmura matzoh.  More on this subject in another post.
The customer wanted an 8 foot by 9 foot oven!  However, he anticipated congregations using the oven to bake their own matzoh.  The design I developed, included two self-supporting vaults, (atypical of my designs) side by side 5 feet deep and each 4 feet wide allowing a single oven to be used alone or both ovens to be use alternately, giving time to stoke the ovens to the needed 1000F for the near-instant bake of the matzoh.
The 8 foot diameter oven would have been a monster to bring to temperature for a small bake.
Front of same oven in kitchen

Residential 36-42" ovens take only an hour or so to reach pizza temperature and stay hot for a few days (with slightly declining temps).
Oven dome behind a wall in its
own space

Lastly, placing a brick oven inside a home takes some space, which is easily found if locate the volume of the oven outside of the footprint of the room where the face will be.  Good planning, before renovations or building begins is key.

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