Backyard Bread Oven

Build this easy adobe cooker in a weekend.


| November/December 2008



Final product

To heat the oven: Build a fire inside and keep it going for about three hours.

illustration by Nate Skow
SIDEBAR
Adobe Bread Recipe 

My husband and I first spied an outdoor bread oven while strolling through our neighborhood. The beautiful brick dome was situated at the end of an overgrown driveway. It was so intriguing that we knocked on the house’s door and met the oven’s owner – a frail Italian granny. She graciously shared her story, which was inseparably intertwined with the oven.

“We came here for the coal mines in the ’20s,” she said, “You couldn’t get good bread here, not like in the old country, so we built this oven. All the neighborhood ladies would get up early to start their bread dough, and I’d be up by 4 to fire the oven. It took five hours to heat that oven, and it was big enough to hold all the loaves. We’d drink tea, gossip and bake our bread. During the summers, some of the men went up to the mountains to herd sheep. I’d go up there to make them bread. I built ovens up there out of clay dirt and baked bread every few days. Those men could eat a lot of bread!”

The woman’s fascinating story motivated us to research outdoor bread ovens, with the goal of building one for ourselves. Clay is readily available at our place and was our material of choice. After some serious research and with help from the best adobe-oven-making book ever, Kiko Denzer’s Build Your Own Earth Oven: A Low-Cost Wood-Fired Mud Oven, we gave it a try. (The book is available at www.Grit.com.) Using Denzer’s thorough, friendly instructions, I built an oven in our yard, several ovens for the local school district and one for a mountain-man rendezvous. This year, my husband and I built the more refined model covered in this article out in our pasture.

This oven only takes about three days to build, start to finish, working a couple of hours a day.

A Fine Foundation

Although you can build them on the ground, we decided to raise our new adobe oven to a convenient working height. For simplicity, we built a foundation for the oven using concrete blocks held together use a construction adhesive such as Liquid Nails©. Since Liquid Nails isn’t technically a load-bearing mortar, you won’t want to build your base more than about three blocks tall. Depending on their size, it will take about 30 concrete blocks to build the foundation’s perimeter walls. Once the adhesive has set, fill the container with rubble (broken pieces of concrete, big rocks, etc.). Top the rubble with gravel and sand, to about 8 inches below the rim. Next, add a 5-inch layer of vermiculite or perlite for insulation. And, finally, top this layer with sand; tamp it level with the top of the blocks (see Figure 1).

Make a bed for fire

You will build your oven’s fires on a layer of firebrick. Place the bricks on the sand and kiss them together, tapping with a rubber mallet to straighten. If they don’t go down perfectly, just pick them up and try again. On our oven, we elected to cover the whole top of the foundation with firebrick.

tulani
9/25/2014 11:04:32 AM

The article says to make it out of clay, but unless I missed something I did not catch where to get the clay... I'm thinking one could use concrete that is made for fireplaces, but the problem with that is, after you have made it, you would have to wait 6 month to a year for the thing to cure/dry out/whatever.... if not, if you did not wait for this length of time, the thing could literally blow up in your face causing injury or death. Q: would any fireplace clay work? or does it have to be a certain kind? Nice article but too many unanswered Q's.


lgn
9/23/2013 2:53:28 PM

Where did you source the clay? If one had to purchase a clay product - what would be the product recommendation?


okiet
4/29/2009 6:02:13 AM

When I read the magazine article about how to build a bread oven, it said that for instructions to build a peel to come to the website, but I can't find those instructions. What am I missing?






mother earth news fair

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, inspirational keynotes, and great food!

LEARN MORE