Archive for the ‘Baking with Fire’ Category

Dry Stacked Oven Design Error & Tasty Bread


Having spent a slightly embarrassing amount of time over the past couple weeks researching my large-scale project, I stepped outside today, and chuckled at my error in my dry stack oven build. I think that’s an age thing. Laughing at one’s mistakes. So on to V2.0. The error: my door and chamber top ratio was close enough at 60%, but my door closed post chimney, resulting in all the hot air zooming out the very efficient chimney, even with door on. I need to knock the height down pre-chimney, not post, and have the door close the oven ‘box’. Not provide a heat escape. Oops.

So what I did, seen below in all its sophistication, is knock the chimney down a few courses, and plop a couple spare pavers atop the  chimney opening. Can still use it as a chimney while firing if desired – it still functions. I fired the oven for a good 5 hrs today, and with the chimney plugged it got vastly hotter than I’ve ever seen. Shocker. Like. Hot. The photo top left is of the snow adjacent to the oven [yes, the snow's up about 3-4 feet on the oven, and I'm sick of snow] – I was surprised that despite the oven being super-hot, it only melted a couple-inch-gap away from it through the course of the day. The stick in the photo is one of my fancy fire pokers. Came free with the oven.

The subsequent photos: 1] what to do with the coals pulled from the oven pre-bake: use them to grill. 2] the baking of a bread recipe I’m mucking about with [used Sunny Boy organic white flour]. Despite the abundant flaws and inefficiencies, the eaters in my family give this bread extremely high marks in the awesomeness department.

Ethical, Regional, and Cheaper: Flour


A few short years ago, I thought the often ~400% price premium for organics was so ridiculous that I simply wasn’t willing to pay for it, even if it was supposedly better for me. Times have changed, and two things have happened: 1] education has made me willing pay the price and 2] I found ways to not have to pay the price.

The second bit is the better of the two, isn’t it? I think so. Having one’s cake and eating it too feels darn good. The more I source my family’s food outside the walls of a box-store, the more I find opportunities to procure ethically produced, local, and often organic products for roughly what I was used to paying inside those box-store walls. Most certainly at a fraction of what I’d pay at a retail organic store. This is very important to me, not simply because our family can eat better food for little extra money, but because it has proven to me that the price objection I once felt – which I’d wager keeps a lot of folks away from organics - need not exist. There’s a better way to access organic, local food. It is accessible. I do it every day.

For your consideration I offer the following example. Highwood Crossing‘s organic unbleached white flour, of which I just obtained 40kg, with shipping, $38/20kg bag. That’s $1.90/kg. A local-to-me organic producer Sunny Boy, goes for $8/1.8kg bag at retailer, or $4.44/kg. The photo below shows Robin Hood flour at a national grocer at a regular price of $9.99/5kg, or $2/kg. Wait a minute. Isn’t that more than the $1.90/kg for local, organically grown product?!? Why yes, yes it is.

The bottom line is that I’m now happy to pay more for top quality grains from local producers like this. I’m not interested in feeding my kids sprayed grain or encouraging non-sensible agricultural practices in general, if I can avoid it, which I can. But for those resisting local or organic or ethical food based on price as I did for  along time – please know that with some resourcefulness [like joining a local bulk-ordering club, buying direct from farmers, doing some legwork yourself, or any other method of carving out the overhead and profit of middlemen], you can eat better food without spending a dime more. It can be done.

ps – I obtained the Highwood Crossing flour through a bulk order. I’ve also obtained organic grains here at similar prices. I know folks who’ve done it through local bulk buying clubs, which I hope to be able to provide info on soon. And yes, I know you can buy conventional flour for cheaper than in the photo above, but that’s a bit besides the point, imo.

Dry Stacked WFO V1.0 Drawings & Specs


I know from experience that any specifics on building wood ovens and grills is appreciated by those collecting ideas for their own build, so upon requests in the comments of previous posts about it, I’m providing drawings and additional information here for those that have  requested it. I’ll just keep adding to it as requests come in.

Total Cost: ~$30 + gas to haul the mostly free masonry. Not including my time, of course.

Total Time: 3 hours. From having piles of masonry around the yard to having a fire in the oven, including grill build.

A few key points.

First, the oven entrance is 3 bricks tall, while the oven top is 5, providing very close to the optimal ratio of door height to ‘dome’ height. That ratio was common regardless of which camp the builder fell into. “Yes, 63% is an imperative. Actually it can vary a little, maybe 60 – 65%, but that is what optimizes the exit gases to heat retention. You don’t want 100% because all your heat will go out the flue. Too small of an opening will not allow the combustion gases to flow properly. 63% is optimum.” – lwood @ fornobravo forum.

Second, this build is made possible by the pavers which are roughly 1′x2′x2″ – providing the ability to span the oven walls. Normally ovens are domed, which is better for both heat reflection and strength properties. To achieve a flat structure with some strength, all the pavers that span the oven roof are on edge, not on flat. I’m no engineer, but I figure it’d be far harder to break a paver on edge, and it can likely hold vastly more weight as well. It also provides a foot of thermal mass atop the oven, albeit unsealed between them. Conveniently, the paver roof of the entrance, if built flush with the adjacent bricks, provides for another paver to fit perfectly as a door. Works great.

Lastly, improvisation required. Your building materials may be different than mine or you may have a better idea on how to tackle it – and you’ll need to adapt accordingly.

Various photos of this particular setup will be available here. More to come if need be.

Exploring the Sub-Optimal Wood Fired Oven


You too can do this. Score some free cinder blocks, bricks, and pavers on a site like this. You could buy them retail, I guess. But really, that’s just less fun. Use your lego skills and build yourself an oven. Heck, use some mud.

But know something. You would be entering a world of geekdom, and for many of its inhabitants, my current trajectory of free-style-dry-stack is the path to the dark side.

For a reason I’m still not sure about, there seems to be segregated schools of thought about wood fired ovens. First, there’s the old school mud/Quebec oven camp based on natural building materials. I get this. It’s liberal, resourceful, and practical. Children have built them for free. Take this book out from the library for more. These folks are like the bicycle. Effective, practical, simple, inexpensive. Then, there’s the Alan Scott camp, advocates of the barrel dome and loads of thermal mass, focused on baking bread and long hauls of heat for cooking of multiple items over many hours. Akin to a semi tractor trailer.  They’re big, get it done, in  a big way, for a long haul. Then there’s the Italian sports car folks, motivated primarily by pizza, and building small, speedy igloo style domes like these. These are the folks stop-watching the speed of their pizzas, getting giddy at solar oven temperatures, eschewing long firing time, and seeking pizza perfection. Speed and horsepower are king.

I’m here to ask the question, who cares? They all achieve great culinary things. They’re all beautiful. They all have their pros and cons. So why the infighting?  Should we not want to be spreading the wood fired oven love? WFO geeks will watch the video below and scorn the lack of silica content in the hearth bricks, the pan the pizza’s on, the lack of efficiently reflected heat, the amount of insulation below the hearth, the dimensions,  the build of the pizza itself, and many other items if they could see them in the photo. It’s true. You know who you are.

So for some fuel to the creative spirit, this site is a lovely peruse for inspiration and non-conformism. Let us liberate the wood oven, peoples’ imaginations, forget the clans and perfectionism, and get to inspiring folks to get these in their back yards cooking wicked food.

Firewood Bee 2011


The past two days of my life have been consumed by firewood. Yep, post-holiday madness others are fiddling with their i-gizmos and I’m hauling wood. It was the best Christmas present I got. Turns out mentioning my need for wood at a family gathering yielded an offer I couldn’t refuse, and even though masonry had already kicked my butt sufficiently, I was shortly thereafter hauling wood past fatigue. I have a weak spot for ‘free’.

I spent today stashing piles of split and seasoned pine, spruce, and birch wherever I could afford the space. I estimate about 3 cords. Anything that didn’t stack well fueled the oven for the past two days.

I’m such a wuss.  Somehow I’d feel far more accomplished were I able to write about hauling trees with horses uphill both ways. My father in law who gave me the wood told me of such stories – cutting trees in the spring, hauling them to the farm with horses in the fall, and having an uncle who had a powered saw come over for a day or two to put up the winter’s firewood. I remember smaller scale firewood bees as a kid – we’d go out for a few hours and buck up enough firewood for fire cookery. Looks like it’s my turn to take on this ritual of fuel gathering.

It made me consider how differently we’d handle energy here if we had to labor to obtain and store it all. It also made me feel tremendously wealthy – wealth having arrived at my door in many forms over this past year. No manual labor for me for at least a few days. I quit.

below: the oven after a couple-day-straight-workout, just like me.

Dry Stacked Wood Fired Oven & Grill


I think I’m going to be sore tomorrow morning.

This morning, inspired by my recent temp masonry grill setup which still pleased me greatly, I thought ‘how could I use the masonry I have been collecting to build a temp oven‘. If you ever have that thought, just know in advance that if you act on it, you will be sore and tired, especially if it’s colder than -20C the day you decide to do it.

Dry stacking [sans mortar] has its merits. I had my temp grill apart in about 5 minutes. No old mortar to clean off.  The ease of modding and tweaking a setup is another major perk, as is speed of build – from the time I started to the time I had a fire in an oven was 3 hours. The photo at the bottom shows the grill setup adjacent to the oven, also completed within that 3 hrs. It tripled-to-quadrupled my grill space. Quite the upgrade.

Turns out last winter’s research on how to build ovens paid off, and I improvised a design I’m quite pleased with, including a nice entry space and functional chimney. Chimneys are not tremendously simple to dry stack. Good fortune was on my side all around as I also conveniently had just the amount of building materials I needed, without having given thought to it in the speedy-morning-coffee-planning-stage. I had assumed I had lots. I did. Many, many thousands of pounds. My muscles remind me frequently. It’s okay though, I need the exercise after eating meat pies 3 times a day through the holidays.

So rather than having a big pile of free, re-purposed masonry in my way in the garage, I now have a big pile of free, re-purposed masonry performing practical cookery functions on my back patio. I so should have thought of this before.

BBQ Oven Action


I’ve posted about this setup before. But then in all my wisdom, I nearly deleted all of my new wordpress blog-post-blogger-transition. I don’t recommend it. So some of the content from that post, well, died. Permanently.

No matter. I had a good friend coming over for lunch today as I live close to his new City TV gig downtown, and figured the garden salad  on the menu might not tide him through his day. I had a bowl of dough in the fridge – Anita’s Organics stoneground ww, and unbleached white. So some tasty flat bread hopped on the menu. Then one thing led to another, and I’m glad I picked up the HD camera throughout, as it made for a good overview of my eccentric, atypical use of my formerly-propane bbq. And yes, this is the same setup I use to smoke and grill – minus the masonry.

Although I still intend on breaking ground on my wood fired oven project one of these days, this setup certainly made me pause to consider the low-cost, easy access, minimum time investment, sufficient, and sensible approach that can be had with free stuff. I heart kijiji.

Don’t burn your house or somebody else’s down trying this at home and blame it on me. I don’t have propane or natural gas attached, near, or even friends with my bbq. I’m just sayin’.



There’s not much to say here. It’s a pizza, with bacon and egg. In this case, with some other veg stuff. The point is it’s really good, and despite seeing a lot of egg atop pizzas while traveling in Europe, I don’t do it much here. My bad. And well, bacon. Lardons are awesome on pizza. No shocker there. Brunch, anyone?

Quick-and-dirty Pizza Oven on the BBQ


BBQ Pizza Oven

What you need: 4 whole bricks + 2 half bricks + 1.5 8×16 pavers + 1 12×12 slate tile + a bbq OR some ingenuity and your own kickin’-around-masonry items. Or a quick visit to Home Depot. Basic concept: too damn hot to be baking pizzas in the house, so how can we get ‘er done on the grill? What doesn’t work: a bunch of standard 4×8 bricks laid on the grill to create a hearth/pizza stone. Tried it. As soon as I did it I realized why it was not going to work. No heat from above. Even with a bbq lid closed, no dice. What does work: good bed of hot coals, lay out the std bricks while it’s still damn hot, top with pavers to retain and reflect heat to the top of the pizza [let it heat up for a half hour or so at this point], and a tile of slate a few minutes before baking for a quick heat-up/transfer to crisp up the crust – which it did very nicely. A few hours later, it’s still 250-300 in there depending on location.

So there I have it. A little tide-me-over oven setup for the hot days of summer, until my large unit [yes, I used those words] gets built. Next time, I’m going to bake a few pizzas back to back. Photo of masonry layout below:

Canada Goose Pepperoni Pizza


So what does one do with many, many Canada geese?

One use: Canada Goose pepperoni pizza. My goose hunting uncle gets large amounts of pepperoni made from the goose meat – and Yen and I were recently hooked up. My wife and I are currently on a pizza binge, as happens from time to time. We eat it lunch and supper for 2-3 days, or until we run out of cheese.

This pepperoni also is one of the best snacks while packing up blinds after a successful goose shoot. It’s kinda like eating a fine Minestrone after spending a morning gardening. Kinda. Except cleaning veg is easier than cleaning 40-50 geese. And less messy. A lot less messy.