There’s an up-and-coming outdoor oven out there: the DIY, wood-fired barrel oven promises some pretty compelling advantages over a cob or masonry oven, and it is the subject of Max and Eva Edleson’s latest Build Your Own Barrel Oven book. It’s the first I’ve heard of this particular design, and I must say, it has definitely captured my attention, and the Edlesons’ book does a fantastic job describing the plans and construction process of these relatively simple, efficient pizza and bread-baking wonders.
Have you been considering building an outdoor oven setup of your own, or are you intrigued by the idea baking pizza with wood heat? Read on for my review of the book and a better understanding of the advantages of building your own backyard barrel oven.
Bake Pizza and Bread in This Outdoor Oven… Quickly
The barrel oven is, well, exactly that. It’s an ingenious oven built around a horizontal metal drum, wood fired, and relatively simple to build, with few specialized materials — in fact, it can be built largely with recycled and easily available items. Think barrel, bricks, chimney, mud and sand, stone or cinder blocks, and a few other materials. It’s still a somewhat uncommon design, especially compared to wildly popular cob ovens, but as the book describes, the barrel oven offers some very distinct advantages over its kin.
The main advantage, quite obviously, is that you can bake within 15-20 minutes of lighting a fire. Now, if you are familiar with cob or earthen ovens, you’ll know that these usually need at least 3 hours of firing in order to use.
How does it work? Well, the barrel oven is not a mass oven — the fire is built underneath the barrel, in a separate fire chamber, and the heat wraps the exterior, in a gap between the barrel and a brick arch. Therefore, the barrel quickly warms to cooking temperatures. A cob oven, on the other hand, is fired directly, and the massive dome is slowly heated, and with the fire later removed, food is then cooked with the stored heat of the dome and hearth.
Advantages of the Barrel Oven
Again, the speed and ease of use of a barrel oven is a major attraction. No more firing an oven for three hours to be able to cook! The corresponding excellent fuel efficiency is a big draw, and the cleanliness of the cooking environment is key, too. And as you can imagine, the barrel oven is spacious. As Max and Eva report, they have not heard of barrel burn out in any of the rigs they or anyone else has built, suggesting that the ovens have a long life span, with proper protection from the rain.
Sounds great! The drawback may be that pizza fans wanting to absolutely cook on a hot hearth will not be able to achieve the same effect with a barrel oven — a pizza stone will be necessary here. And, with the fire outside of the barrel, you may find that wood fire taste missing. But these may be small shortcomings, given all of the other positives.
If anything, heck, you can always have a cob oven and a barrel oven at your disposal, if you’ve got the space. As the authors say, it does become more efficient to operate a massive oven (such as a cob or masonry oven) if you’re baking on a regular (everyday) basis — that is when they excel. When they are not allowed to cool down completely, the high heat becomes much easier to achieve and maintain, and the fuel efficiency is greatly improved. Ultimately, a barrel oven may prove more practical with its greater fuel efficiency and ease of use.
How To Build Your Own Barrel Oven Book
Max and Eva have done a lovely job with this book, clearly presenting the steps necessary to building your own barrel oven. The book is presented in full color, with lots of excellent photographs illustrating the entire process. Nice.
It’s complete with plans, diagrams, material lists, and even recipes and reports from barrel oven bakers. It’s all in there, nice and concise, in 96 pages. I’m really excited about this book, and very anxious to get started on my own barrel oven, and the book has been a great inspiration. Because I cook almost exclusively with wood heat year-round, and since I love baking, I can see that the barrel oven will fill an important niche in my kitchen arsenal.
Learn How To Build Your Own Backyard Oven
You can join us in 2013 during our Cob Oven Workshop and learn how to build your own wood-fired oven here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri. Check it out!
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