Monday, June 14, 2021

Hybrid Brick Ovens

It is possible to build a partially brick oven.  The reasons vary; you cannot afford the materials for a full-on brick oven, you like cob ovens but want to strengthen the mouth and provide a chimney, or some other local material could also work.

I have encountered and worked with these variations.

  1. Economics: The ovens I build are expensive because I use materials that are both durable and costly.  I do this because those materials work best but also because the exterior finish of the oven is more involved, takes more time, and is worth keeping for decades, if not centuries.  But HAVING AND BAKING in a less expensive oven is a good start and it is better to build on a small budget than not build at all.
  2. mouth and face ready for 
    cob dome
    Cob ovens, made from a mixture of clay, sand, and sawdust are very economical, easy to build, and moderately durable.  The fire exits the mouth directly and the oven needs shelter to protect it.  The cob oven's mouth is especially vulnerable and there is no chimney to direct flue gases away from the user.  Enter the Hybrid.  A brick mouth, face, and flue enabling a chimney to be attached.
  3. Other materials may be available.  A couple of years ago I built an oven in Mexico using raw, unfired adobes.  In some locals, there may be reclaimed red-brick, cut stone, etc.  Castable refractories, though expensive may simplify the process.
cast mouth and face spliced to a dome 
made from chunks of fire brick
over a sand form
Raw adobe oven with red brick floor and mouth
Hip style vault from raw adobe (Mexico) 2019

Stay tuned for more detailed posts on the above.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Future of Brick Ovens

The title of this blog suggests I know the future of brick ovens; I don't.  In the fourteen years I've been building traditional brick ovens, wood-fired ovens have become increasingly popular.  The result being that there are hundreds of 'models' to choose from; ranging from castable shells to lightweight steel fire chambers in a full range of prices.

It is fortunate that a small percentage of the people who want to cook in a wood-fired oven have chosen to build an actual brick oven, either themselves or by others.  And despite the nearly two years since my last post, I continue to get calls and emails seeking advice.  It has been the intent of this blog to provide the best information on building so that good, properly functioning brick ovens are made and enjoyed.

So I'll start with five points that anyone lighting a piece of wood that will fuel an oven should consider:

  • What will you cook?  If it's just pizza then an oven with enough space for the pizza of your dreams and the heat to cook it is sufficient.  More varied products like broiled vegetables, bread, roasts, pies, ribs, smoked meats or fish, or dehydrated fruits need an oven with more mass.
  • How much can you spend?  You can build a cob oven from clay, sand, and sawdust for very little.  I built an oven from Mexican adobes for a friend in Mexico for less than $100.  I recommend investing in some durable materials for the mouth and flue of even cob ovens (See Hybrid Ovens post coming soon).
  • Where will you build it?  Brick oven bakers want to use their oven all year.  This is only possible if either your climate is mild or the oven is in a moderated space where the weather won't prevent use.  Half of the forty-five ovens I've built are indoors. 
  • Where does the heat go?  Ideally, you want most of the BTU's from the wood you burn to stay in the oven.  This happens when the design is correct and the oven is insulated; otherwise, that heat is flying away and the oven cools soon after primary use.
  • Is wood-fired cooking easy?  Both firing up the oven and cooking in it will become relaxed and fun after the first few firings.  Brick ovens are social magnets and may be the only cooking device around which people want to gather to watch.