TYPES OF WOOD OVENS AND SOME EXAMPLES OF THEIR CONSTRUCTION
Have you ever dreamed of baking the perfect pizza or bread or an awesome dinner entrée in your own wood oven?
Let me share with you what I have learned over the years.
Let's start out by learning about different kinds of wood ovens:
While the traditional wood-fired oven is a masonry oven, such ovens can also be built out of adobe, cob, cast iron or a combination of those elements.
There are basically two types of wood-fired ovens: "black ovens" and "white ovens".
Black ovens are heated by burning wood in a chamber. Food is cooked in that same chamber while the fire is still going like a lot of pizza ovens, or in the heated chamber after the fire and coals have been swept out.
Unlike modern household gas or electric ovens that provide a nearly constant cooking temperature, a black oven is typically heated only once during the firing stage (the combustion of wood inside the chamber). After the coals are raked out, the oven gradually cools over a period of hours. Oven temperatures may exceed 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (538 degrees Celsius). The mass of the oven acts as a 'thermal battery', which slowly releases heat over time. The retained heat in the oven may be used to bake multiple batches. Alternatively, foods requiring different temperatures can be cooked in succession as the temperature of the oven drops.
White ovens are heated by heat transfer from a separate combustion chamber and flue-gas path. Thus, the oven remains "white", or clean from ash.
There are many different sized ovens, and size matters in terms of how long you need to burn it prior to baking your masterpiece.
This is a very nice example of a "white oven" with 3 separate baking chambers. It belongs to the awesome German company S'Badische Backheisle. It is built on a pallet with an eye to mobility. This enables the owners to actually move it around and set it up at various markets and fairs in order to bake their pastries, buns and breads on site.
Another photo of that business below with a metal framed "black" oven in the middle, which they use for making Flammkuchen, a local delicacy which is a thin flat bread topped with German Speck, onions and cream. If you ever get the chance, try it! It's delicious and goes well with the local wine! On both sides of the booth you can see the
3 tier baking ovens.
A close up of a Flammkuchenofen, a wood fired oven, made of cast iron and lined with fire bricks, also suitable for cooking pizzas and other flat breads such as focaccia.
Below is a picture of our masonry wood oven in our commercial kitchen in British Columbia, Canada. It is being fired prior to baking. This oven was originally built by German master mason, Peter Wolters to be a bread oven, able to bake off 30 one kilogram loaves of bread at one time.
Here are some pictures of the different steps of the construction of the masonry oven we had built for our first business, Manna Bakery & Bistro in Slocan Park, B.C. back in 1994.
As you can see, the oven sits on a concrete slab, re-enforced with rebar, with 4 corner foundations. Then the base was built up with cinder blocks with an ash clean out opening. Another concrete slab was poured for the hearth on which fire bricks were laid.
When the mortar had cured, sand was piled on top with loose blocks to help hold it all up. The mason skillfully set the custom cut fire bricks in place to form the dome of the oven.
There is a chute in the mouth of the oven, where to rake and clean out the coals down into the ash pit below.(middle left picture) It is covered by a loose piece of metal as you can see in the bottom right photo.
This masonry oven was a true piece of art with a façade of decorative red bricks.
Years later we later moved the wood oven from the hearth up to our property with the help of a crane truck! It was set upon a new foundation and received a new front of river rocks (as seen in the fifth photograph on this page).
Below free standing wood oven in Europe.
In some villages, like here in Terento, in South Tyrol in the Italian Alps, wood ovens were traditionally built in the town square. This would allow the inhabitants to bake their breads and goodies there when the oven was hot and ready. Firing would only maybe happen once or twice a week. Not everybody would have had the means to own an oven.
The pictures below shows our portable pizza barrel oven, an example of a white oven. It cooks by the heat of the fire flowing over top of the food on its way out the chimney. The barrel shape lends itself to a parabolic type reflector. The roof of the oven reflects heat that is flowing by back down onto the top of the pizza to act as a broiler. The hearth below the pizza is heated by the fire underneath it and cooks the food from the bottom up. I will give you more details on regulating proper cooking temperatures in Part 2. We use this oven at fairs and private parties. My hubby Doug came up with this design. He was inspired by the BBQs people built out of oil drums in the Caribbean, like for example in Trinidad. The pizza barrel requires a "warm-up" fire and then a smaller constant fire in order to bake 2 pizzas at once.
This is our pizza barrel, set up at the barter fair in Vallican in the Slocan Valley in 2013.
I took some screenshots of this really long 3 hour video of 2 young people building an oven from scratch. I am showing you these pictures of the steps in construction to save you time - see the link below in case you do want to watch the entire video. Check out this beautiful brick oven with a cob finish....
Another type of wood oven is a wood fired range with a baking chamber. Here are a couple of remarkable examples, designed by Ziegler in Neuburg an der Donau in Germany. These ovens are akin to the old wood stoves our pioneer grandmas used to cook on, but they are now more upscale and pieces of art as well as functional. This is in keeping with traditional wood ovens that have been used in Europe for centuries.
There are many options for wood fired ovens. I tend to look for inexpensive versions. You could build one yourself, hire a brick layer or stone mason, buy an already assembled one or even buy a wood oven kit.
The company Forno Bravo has a lot to offer, even a free download of ancient wood oven plans. Lots of ovens to drool over...
I hope I have inspired you with some ideas and I will be back soon with tips, tricks and awesome recipes in Part 2 of MASTERING THE ART OF BAKING IN A WOOD FIRED OVEN.