Saturday, December 28, 2013

Restaurant Size Brick Oven

Foamglas insulation blocks
The 54" brick oven project for Brewster Academy progresses.  Intended for a full range of baked food, this oven has a double floor illustrated by these photos.  I usually lay the subfloor straight front to back and the visible oven floor herringbone pattern.

Herringbone pattern layout

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Brewster Academy Brick Oven Project: part one

Dust enclosure on servery side
This project, compressed into the time between when students at Brewster Academy left for Christmas Break and when they return on January 7th, required more-than-average planning.

Forms over block base
Pouring concrete over backerboard

first set of rebar

An anonymous donor (who won't be named) wanted to change the way food is prepared by the chefs at Brewster Academy.  Executive Chef Chris Dill and others decided on a wood-fired brick oven.

The 54" interior diameter brick oven that I am currently building will have extra mass in the floor and dome to allow for only one firing per week but six days of cooking.
Laying out lines of oven floor

Part one involves the fairly heavy and mundane task of building a base and pouring the sub-oven-floor slab.  Weather cooperated in that it was drizzling and 40 degrees for much of the concrete mixing so that we could mix outside and bring the wet mix to the indoor location without creating a dust cloud.

Photos here show block base, forms, reenforcing, and slab. Stay tuned for more compelling shots.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Good Eats in the Big Apple

Granted, there are a million restaurants in the Big Apple.  I was there over Thanksgiving (thankfully missed the Macy's parade).
Not counted among the official eateries, I had a hot dog in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and my wife had a falafel from a vendor on 28th Street.

The Dim Sum lunch in Chinatown got us through the day before T-day.

But two restaurants served up really good food, reasonably priced, with a pleasing but contrasting ambiance and histories worth reading.

In the theater district, Chez Napolean  ( was a cozy, real-life French bistro style place with fantastic Prix-fixe dinners, low key service, affordable house wine, and a remarkable story.  Chef Grand-Mere Marguerite saved her native village from an end-of-war carpet bombing through an act of heroism.
For me, being able to step out of one city and into another simply, by entering a regional or ethnic restaurant, rates high among my eating experiences.

On Thanksgiving Day, prior to having dinner with my cousins in Brooklyn, my wife and I took the Q train to Coney Island.  I had grown up near there, eating in the original Nathan's, and had ridden the terrifying rides at Steeplechase such as the Cyclone and the Wild Mouse.
We strolled along the Coney Island-Brighton Beach boardwalk in crisp sunshine and stopped in at Tatiana's for bowls of Russian soup.  I had borscht and my wife had a mushroom soup, both perfect.
The semi-outdoor seating kept us on the boardwalk in spirit if not completely exposed to the 35 degree air.  The soup warmed us and the dark bread delivered the full Russian/Brooklyn experience.

The mint tea was nothing short of beautiful.

Later, we arrived at my cousins for a home-cooked dinner and a great reunion.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Authentic Brick Ovens

Call me weird, but whenever I see the term, "authentic brick oven" on a restaurant, or business and what they have is a cast-refractory oven with a few bricks adorning the face, I reflect on how traditions get 'modernized'.  I once saw an add for organic bricks:-?
So, who wants to build or have an authentic brick oven and why?

Be forewarned, really, true, authentic brick ovens are more work or more money than cast-refractory kits.  The differences exist on many levels:
  1. An oven built with fire brick is far more durable than cast refractory because the structure is integral, each brick supported by the ones on either side and the ones below, locked in place by gravity and by the traditional wedge shape of each brick.
  2. An authentic brick oven looks authentic. When you look inside, you see staggered jointed bricks.  You'd see this same pattern in ovens 100-2000 years old.
  3. Authentic brick ovens, built from 4.5" thick fire brick have heat coefficients that match the purpose and contain sufficient mass for a long baking cycle.
  4. True brick ovens can be built by anyone with the attention to detail, the time, and common materials.
I chose to build brick ovens with authentic brick because there is a tradition that makes the work satisfying.  One might say that cast-refractory has it's parallel in the book industry, where you can purchase an Ebook rather than have the tactile experience of a printed, bound, volume.

But Ebook sellers don't represent their digital version as an authentic book.  Or do they?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Brick Oven Dome Building Revisited

Brick Oven Dome Building

JULY 18, 2018
If you are viewing this post, you are among thousands of possible owner/builders seeking information on making your own oven.
This post is just one of hundreds I have written over the years with the goal of giving detailed, accurate information on brick oven construction.  It is also hoped that you will avoid mistakes made by both past first-timers and by some professional masons assuming that a brick oven is just a fireplace for pizza.  Take some time to browse the numerous subjects.

A brick oven is mildly complex and relies on some factors being done according to the rules of pyro-physics (my term).  It is also a very hot appliance (in the broadest sense) and therefore should be assigned safety features.
So what is below is now re-re-visited.  Good luck.
David Neufeld
True Brick Ovens

Three years ago I posted this subject and it has been the most visited of all posts (5467 visits).  I can only assume that either 5467 potential brick oven builders looked at it, or one guy checked the details a lot:)
I am always finding new details, either with the physics of brick ovens or my aesthetic in finishing them.

They are:
  1. The mouth of the ovens are on average 20" wide while the face arch is about 32". Rather than angle the walls from back to front, I build the side of the face arch perpendicular to the face creating a wide flat surface larger than the mouth for the door to set against.  This simplifies the masonry but still allows easy access to the interior of the dome.  Nearly all precasts have a straight tunnel-like face and mouth creating blind spots within the oven
  2. The floor of the oven is laid herringbone style with standard firebrick but unlike the previous post illustration, the ovens today lay the pattern diagonal to the face.  Aside from a good looking pattern this avoids the possibility of the metal peel used to handle baked products from catching on a brick edge, however minute. 
  3. I no longer cut the arch angle on bricks but use #1 and #2 manufactured fire brick.  In combination, this allows me to perfectly predict how many of each brick is needed for each diameter oven.   I cut the and fit the bricks dry, number them, and then take them to the project.
I still cut the wedge and skew, angles that make the mortar joints very thin and the dome strong.  This is exacting work but worth the effort as it allows the dome to be perfectly round.  (except of course the elongated domes as seen at right).

Current domes using these materials and techniques are beautiful inside and out.

This is very similar to the bakery ovens I found on my visit to the excavated ruins of Pompeii, in Italy.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

From Concept to Cooking: Part Eight- Oven, Grills, and Pot-boilers

A recently complete project in Maine illustrates how a wood-fired brick oven can be combined with modern appliances.

Conveniences like, propane grills and two-burner range-tops were cut into the granite ledgers.
Now, every level of cook can stand side-by-side and turn out a feast.

We were fortunate to have a source, through the owner, of rare, reclaimed fish-scale slate roofing.

Other details include oak beams cut from a single tree and milled locally.

Friday, October 25, 2013

West Virgina Brick Oven

Day one, early, block insulation
I recently drove down to Morgantown, West Virginia with a van load of custom-cut brick oven brick and materials.  I sometimes wonder why I go far from home to build either an entire oven or just the oven core.  The answer is: I enjoy meeting the masons who I work with in these other parts of the country.  The crew in West Virginia were great.

Checking for round and cleaning as we go
Since the majority of masons who have requests to build brick ovens purchase cast refractory kits that give them the core, it surprised, (and intrigued) my colleagues to see how one goes together with custom-cut bricks and some tricks of mortaring and forming.
mouth arch
Three days after unloading the materials, the four of us had a 40" interior oven built and ready for the stone and brick exterior.
Jay pulling the arch form
When we finished we shook dusty hands (no secret mason's shake) and each of us prepared for the next project.  Thanks to Willie A. and J. Jenning's crew.

ready for keystones

cross type keystone

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Concept to Cooking: Part Six- the brick oven face

If anyone has noticed my absence from blogging since August, it is due to my entering graduate school for an MFA.  As a result, I work on brick ovens in the day and graduate work at night.
Occasionally, the two may intersect as stonework is one of my art forms.

The technical aspects of building a brick oven continue in the making of the oven face, but here is where artistry can have it's day.
Ancient bakery oven in Pompeii, Italy

Pompeii inspired New England oven by TBO

Current project- woodbox arch below
Colonial design by TBO
brick stone and stucco face

Ventura oven face

Humans are hard-wired to respond to cultural connections, textural surfaces, and color.
Each of these plays a part in the design and material choices for your brick oven.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

From Concept to Cooking: Part Five----bricks and mortar

The word "to"  between 'concept' and 'cooking' is where the physical work takes place.
This is also where material considerations are given their due weight (pun intended).

A high-quality, long-lasting brick oven can only be built from materials designed to take the heat.
Other materials may work but, in this case, the equation works.

Fortunately, I have posted at least 50 articles on this part of the process.  I recommend a search with the key words: 'specs',  'building', 'arch', insulation. or whatever you have a question about.

I am also available via my website link, to answer gnarly questions you might have after you have started the project.