The Biggest Little Oven in the World

I’ve gotten a few emails from folks out there asking how in the world I’m going to be able to fill a brick oven of the size I just built. The answer to that is: it’s not nearly as big as you think. In fact the actual interior baking space isn’t a whole heck of a lot larger than a home oven. It measures 32 inches wide by 38 inches deep. That compared to my Frigidaire Electrolux range, the oven of which measures 22 inches wide by about 20 inches deep. In terms of total footprint, the brick oven does represent a near tripling of flat baking area, though we can’t forget that a range is a three-dimensional baking space, i.e. that it has racks. Figuring that I could easily bake, say, baguettes on three levels in a home oven versus just the one in the brick oven, I’m pretty much at parity capacity-wise.

So why then does a brick oven have to be so darn huge? The answer is that wood-fired ovens have to be huge in order to retain the heat that’s needed to bake bread. If pizza were all I were interested in, a tabletop or small outdoor job like this would be plenty. How come? Because when you bake pizza in a wood oven, the heat is mostly coming from a wood fire that’s kept burning in the oven as the pizza bakes (baking the pizza in as little as one minute). The primary job of the pizza oven itself is to keep the heat of the fire from escaping for as long as it’s lit.

A wood bread oven is a whole different animal in that you can’t keep a fire going in it while a round, loaf-sized mass of bread is baking. Firstly because a door has to be put on the oven to keep steam from escaping (and that would deprive the fire of oxygen), and secondly because the intense heat of the fire would burn the exterior of the bread before the loaf was baked all the way through. Thus the only option (when you don’t have a burning fire or an electric element in the baking space to keep the temperature up) is to store enough heat in the walls of the oven so that the inside will remain at baking temperature well after the fire goes out. For that you need mass, a lot of it. Hence the size of this giant oven, made of fire brick, fire clay, cinderblocks, concrete, bricks and about 27 cubic feet of insulation. Heat that up with a raging fire over a period of about five hours and it’ll store up enough heat to bake all day (albeit at steadily falling temperatures). Which I suppose then begs the question of what I’m going to do with all that heat. All I can say is you’ll see.

And oh, if you’re wondering if I can also do pizza in that thing, yes, I can.

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