An Exciting Way To Cook Outdoors

'Tis the season for outdoor cooking, and this year there are more options than ever for backyard barbecuing, and even baking, as we will see. In addition to the usual line of gas-fired and briquette grills, wood-fired ovens are gaining popularity amongst food enthusiasts.

Wood-fired ovens come in a couple of different designs. The wood cook stove is a metal stove that usually has an oven chamber beside the wood-burning chamber, and food is cooked while the fire is burning. But there is another kind of wood-fired oven that is also known as a masonry stove, a brick oven or a Quebec oven. These are built of a material that has thermal mass, that is a material that holds and stores heat and releases it long after the source (in this case, fire) is gone. These can be made of bricks, adobe, cement, or cob.

A masonry oven consists of a single, usually done-shaped, chamber, sitting on a base. There is a door, and usually though not always a separate chimney. A fire is lit inside the chamber and fed until the body of the oven has absorbed enough heat. The fire is then allowed to naturally burn out, whereupon the ashes are swept from the oven. Then it is ready for roasting or baking.

These ovens have been popular for years in artisan bakeries and pizzerias, but are gaining popularity for individual use. They are relatively easy to build, and, especially when they are made of cob, which is a mixture of sand, clay and straw, are quite inexpensive. A level foundation is necessary, as is flat surface of fire bricks to form the base of the oven. With a cob oven, the done is then formed of sand with a layer of newspaper covering it and the cob dome covering that. When the cob is dry, the sand and paper is dug out through doorway. The traditional technique for building a Quebec style oven is to make a dome form of saplings which is then covered by the cob or cement. When it is dry the first firing burns the saplings out. A Quebec style oven has a chimney just behind the first door, and a second door behind that to enclose the firing/baking chamber to prevent heat loss through the chimney during baking. Other ovens just have the front door, which acts as a chimney when the fire is burning, and is then closed by a wood or cast-iron door during baking.

Cob ovens should ideally be plastered with a clay-based plaster to prevent weathering, and also covered by a roof, as cob will degrade with exposure to rain. Similar ovens made of bricks withstand weather a bit better, but a cover is still useful to prevent weathering and also prevent rain from cooling the oven during baking.

When well built and thick, and with a good long firing, these ovens can hold heat for an amazingly long time. They can be used for baking one thing after another for the better part of an entire day. Usually, pizza or a similar quick-cooking food is baked first. Then meats can be roasted, then bread and cookies can be baked.

These ovens make a dramatic addition to any backyard. In fact, cob ovens can incorporate benches that are then heated through osmosis during the firing process, making them a cozy place for your guests to lounge, and allowing for exciting outdoor entertaining even in the cold winter months. Depending on the artistic bent of the designer and builder, these ovens and their benches can be tremendously sculptural, or simple and functional. There are many pictures of cob ovens on-line, including a curled up dragon whose nostrils act as a chimney, and an oven that is a bird's head with a built-in bench on either side that from behind look like the outspread wings of the bird. Others are merely simple yet elegant domes.

Whatever your aesthetic preference, if you enjoy cooking and being outdoors, these beautiful ovens are an intriguing way to do it.

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About The Author, Carol Freyer
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