Archive for the ‘Dry Stacked Oven’ Category

Episode 28 – Bin Food


This is a follow up to Episode 27, the reaction to which I must pause to thank you all for. I was more than slightly apprehensive in the days just prior to shooting it, fearful that if it didn’t go well, it could reflect badly on the subjects of the story. Turns out the result has been an outpouring of praise, appreciation, and value for the transparency, respect, and approach. I’m very grateful for you all and for having a brilliant individual to interview.

This is far…lighter, although still a serious topic near and dear to me: food waste. I left that day with 60-70 lbs of off-cuts from only 1 of the 5 cows killed, and it wasn’t even all the off-cuts. 100 lbs of edible ‘waste’ from one cow might be a good rough estimate. I’ll repeat myself to death that it’s the consumer demand that drives this waste. I’ll lump myself in there. I didn’t grow up eating heart, tripe, kidneys, caul fat, oxtail, etc – so I’m still learning about all this stuff too. But I now render all my lard from our annual pig, and easily use it all up. And I thoroughly enjoy roasted pig head which I would never have considered a few years ago. Pig skin crackling makes a regular appearance in my kitchen. There’s still a lot of an animal that I could learn to use better. So in this one, you get to see me make a dish with a bin cut that quite frankly should not be.

How did it taste? The flavour was intense and outstanding, and the mouthfeel unparalleled. For stews, I’m not sure there’s a better cut of beef. If the local restaurants don’t scoop this reject cut, I might, it’s that good. And for those that ‘don’t have the time’, please note how long it took to prepare.

Fire, Brick, Water, and Wheat


I couldn’t not take photos of these breads yesterday. It being a busy fall with harvesting, butchering, etc, I haven’t fired up the wood oven nearly often enough. There’s something meditative about watching a fire that’s akin to getting lost in music. Add to that the satisfaction of baking up lovely loaves of tasty bread while tending the oven, and it’s the kind of activity that can make your day.

This bread is the same pain a l’ancienne approach as I wrote about here. Having taken a quick look at that post I noticed that I’ve modified the loaf shape due to the design of my wood oven and how I’m baking them off. With hot coals still in the oven during baking there’s uneven heat making a baguette style loaf shape impractical – one end being done far before the other. So instead I’m free-styling them into whatever shape comes from cutting the dough into a few manageable pieces that can be turned easily in the oven if need be without removing them. It produces a puffed up mini-loaf that cut in half is fantastic for sandwiches. Kinda like pita meets pizza crust meets ciabatta bun. First course for dinner last night was herbed fried ruffed grouse breast, mayo, and carrot & pickled onion slaw stuffed into a half of one of these loaves. Tasty.

Celebrating Spring Thyme


Irvings Farm Fresh Berk Loin Chop, Garden Thyme, Garlic + Lola Canola Honey mustard

GEH Potatoes, Onions, Mo-Na Mushroms, Garden Thyme

An Afternoon with Bread


Life’s pace slowed for a moment today, so out came the flours. I made 3 doughs. 1] 50% Highwood Crossing Unbleached White, 50% Gold Forest Grains Whole Wheat. 2] 50% Highwood Crossing Unbleached White, 50% Gold Forest Grains Rye and 3] 100% Highwood Crossing Unbleached White. So a white, a whole wheat, and a rye. All with roughly 80% hydration, 1ml salt and active dry yeast per 100g flour.

The whole wheat seemed to proof the fastest, and was the most slack. Next was the rye, and then the white – which is odd, perhaps attributable to the white flour being cold [straight out of the cellar].

Below is a photo essay illustrating the doughs post ferment/pre final rise; the probe thermometer reading internal loaf temps inside my temp wood fired oven [grateful, as they cooked faster than anticipated]; the finished loaves [the white a tad small as some dough was nicked to make a small pizza for lunch while the oven was really hot]; my use of the coals when pulled out to bake: grilled some bugers for dinner; and lastly, a quick shot of the oven walls white from exceeding 600F [I think], burning off any residual soot.

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.

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.