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Exploring the Sub-Optimal Wood Fired Oven

01.05.11

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.

12 Responses

  1. Alan says:

    I totally agree! Why do you need all that fancy shit to make really good food. Back in the days of Yore they didn’t even have a damn thermometer. The food still was good, I presume, yet today everyone has an opinion about how ‘you’ should do your stuff. The guy driving the Yugo gets there on time if he plans his hunt and hunts his plan. Life is too short to worry about the other guys junk. I am thinking about what I want to do for my oven and really enjoy your posts. Looks like good pizza to me. Why would I want an oven that takes hours to heat and hours to cool when I am only going to make 3 12″ pizzas for the kids? Alan

  2. Alan – I’m not sure, and I feel it hurts the integrity of the Slow Food philosophy in general to get elitist about it. Passion, I can take. Elitism, however, I have developed a very low threshold for. Very low. And the foodie community deserves the bad rap they get for some of the snooty and ridiculous trends that take hold. I am now an avid fan of the term ‘foochebag’ = foodie douchebag.

    My kids don’t care about optimality and awesomeness either. They’re just happy to eat tasty pizza. To me, good food is not about foie gras and truffles, but about knowing what to do with healthful, every-man’s food.

    Okay, I’ve stepped off my soapbox. Heh.

  3. Alan says:

    The soap box is good place to be sometimes.

    Passion is a driving force which shapes us all. Very important to me as an image creator. Having been exposed to the dark side of elitism in the wine industry I too have little tolerance for the lavish phonies the business pulls out of the wood work. I grow and make my own wines and have no fancy facility and still consistently enjoy great results. As for the Foochebag, I love it. There should be a Winoochebag too.

    Food tastes better when we pick, pluck it, kill it and cook ourselves.

    I might have some questions about your curing box as I am having some difficulty with balancing my humidity. More on that later. Time for sleep.

    Alan

  4. Alan – the wine business is TERRIBLE for this, and may I suggest ‘woochebag’ rolls off the tongue a bit more easily? Trying to keep it easy as we may need to use it a lot ;) Glad to hear you grow and winemake – very cool, would love to hear more about it.

    Feel free to ask about the cellar. I’ve [finally] had no trouble keeping optimal humidity down there this winter.

  5. The post was FAN-FLIPPIN-TASTIC – and the dialogue in this comment section equal to that in the post! I love to see a good healthy exchange in the comments section! That is what makes the post “real” – or “live” for me. Always a magic moment when it happens. Having not researched wood burning ovens, I had no idea there was that kind of mentality out there – but, no surprise, it exist everywhere with almost everything. I am absolutely with you here, as always. Not to say I don’t LOVE foie gras and truffles (as you know) and cannot HELP but experiment and continue to learn and eat my way through life (literally and figuratively)… but, so few have any knowledge about the basics any more. About planting and growing and harvesting. Or, just about picking. Or, just about buying fresh produce. Or – even about cooking from scratch… so there is a complete and previously taken for granted foundation missing amongst an entire generation out there right now. So, the squabble and elitism about which oven is best is definitely best left to those who can’t see beyond their own noses. There are a lot more important passions to share: like the satisfaction of cooking what you grow from scratch in YOUR OWN WOOD BURNING OVEN! Whoo-hoo!!!!

  6. Great post Kevin…great looking za too! I could just imagine it’s taste as I was watching the video. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Kevin says:

    Valerie – thankfully, I think sharing good food is indeed a piece of the puzzle to getting the broader pool of folks eating real food. And regarding ovens, there is lots of passionate debate indeed, not that its overly negative, I just find it one of those areas of food that sees a bit too much quabbling over the details and not enough activism to encourage the idea.

    John – glad you enjoyed the post. Hope your new place is treating you well!!

  8. Tim St.Germain says:

    Heard you on CBC this morning. First thing I wanted to look at was the wood burning stove. Do you use it in winter? Hoping to build one this spring (or earlier if I can clear a few more weekend projects out of the way).

    Awesome blog.

  9. Tim St.Germain says:

    Uhm, just watched the video. It appears, YES, you do use it in the winter.

  10. Kevin says:

    Tim – feel free to share your plans for your oven. As you know, planning is a huge part of the process, and ideas are pretty key. I’m sure others would like to hear about as well so feel free to leave info in the comments. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Becky says:

    I just asked about this but I found it. Thanks!

  12. Tiia Yvette says:

    Watching a few of your firepit videos reminds us of the brick firepit we had at the lake when we were all ‘laking’. Tio Ken and I are salivating after watching the pork roast slowly release it’s succulent juices as it goes round and round on the rotisserie…and we haven’t even had breakfast yet. We feel that it would be a bonus if we could have seen a knife slicing through that delicious hunk of meat…like unwrapping a present and getting to see inside.

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