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Building a traditional masonry kitchen in Texas

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  • Building a traditional masonry kitchen in Texas

    I've been reading on this site for years - at least a decade - but only just posting this week because I have FINALLY arrived at the right time and place to build my own outdoor kitchen. I'm planning to get my bases and concrete counters built in the next few weeks. I'm building a FB corner 42" Pompeii oven flanked by two wings. On one side will be a long cooking surface that will be for both wood and coal cooking. I have a large collection of traditional cooking vessels from all over the world that I like to use over a traditional open fire or coals. On the other side of the oven, I'm planning a counter space and a sink, and next to that a vertical masonry smoker. Still designing a cover for my space. I don't want to lose the feeling of being outdoors to cook, but I do want to be able to cook out there year-round, so I'll need some rain protection for both me and the fire.

    Of course, I want to make some great pizza, but that's not my main goal. I'm primarily interested in traditional foods and foodways. Wherever we travel I take a cooking class. I've toyed with the idea of building in a coal stove like the ones at Hampton Court and Monticello just because they're so useful - and they look fun! Then of course I'll want to build a tandoor oven ... Mostly, I want to use my outdoor space to explore and practice traditional cooking methods to feed my family and guests.

    I have a question before I start my build. I'm using cement blocks to build my base - this is a compromise I settled on because of both cost and skill issues - I want to start with nice level surfaces! And I'm pouring a cement worktop with a modern cement mix (covered in traditional tile and stucco.) So I'm obviously not using strictly traditional building tools and materials. I am, however, a little concerned with the insulation of my oven. I wonder just how differently my oven will perform with its modern insulation and even heat compared with an oven that Apicius might have used? How would that affect recreating meals found in cultures that use traditional building methods and materials?

    So - what exactly were ancient Pompeii ovens insulated with? Did they rely simply on mass? Like bread ovens do? My Dad has a traditional bread oven, with a chestnut-drying shed attached, in the courtyard of his farmhouse in south-central France. I'm pretty sure the only insulation there is the mass of the stone building. Similarly, we visited several traditional neighbourhood bread ovens in the Marrakech Medina a few years ago (absolutely fascinating!) - and the insulation there is also earth and stone I think. I've baked in a New England bread oven built into the chimney, and I think that's a brick mass as well.

    Has anyone built their Pompeii oven using some kind of traditional building material for insulation? Would it be worth the effort to attempt it? Would it make a substantial difference in the experience of cooking with traditional methods? And I wonder if using a traditional insulating material of some sort might mitigate the concern I see popping up here all the time about moisture and insulation not playing together nicely? And, crucially, before I make my base - how much bigger would I need to plan for? I'd love some feedback from wood-fired cooking enthusiasts.

    Thank you! Can't wait to get my first course of blocks set later this week!

  • #2
    I would suggest you look at Karangi Dude's threads on cooking. He covers a whole range of cooking dishes. I am sure you can make a purist type oven with ancient materials but modern insulation is more thermally effective, space saving and fuel efficient. Since you follow this blog, you can see that well insulated oven can yield multi day cooking.

    I built a 42" ID corner build and I believe your base is too small, I had 5 - 26" CMUs on the long legs and my finished oven OD went right to the edge.
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    • #3
      Yes, I'm familiar with his posts! I've cooked several of his recipes over the years. Thank you!

      I originally began my plans with 5 CMUs, but when I delved into the FB Pompeii oven plans, I decided to follow them as exactly as I could and reduced the design to 4. I left 4.5" for bricks, 3" for insulation, and 2" for stucco. Is that not reasonable? That's of course assuming I plan to stay with an insulating blanket and not something else. I do understand the advantages of using modern materials, and that's appealing for all sorts of reasons from ease-of-build to ease-of-use, but my question remains: Will I compromise my ability to make historic and traditional dishes because the oven just doesn't function like a traditional one? Possibly unanswerable, but I need to make up my mind posthaste.

      My original idea, some 10 years ago, was to build a cob oven and just replace it as needed, but brick won me over! I figure it'll be similar to having a traditional bread oven only outside. So my thinking has evolved considerably.

      I'm familiar with your build! I'm planning to use your excellent design for the underneath storage area. (And slightly thrilled to have my first response here on the site from you!) I've spent literally years reading and re-reading build threads. I may have an overwhelm of knowledge of all the problems that crop up. The recent saggy bottom one keeps me up at night. One other issue that's particular to my build: I do need to add drainage holes under my walls. I'm building on an existing slab that is gently sloped away from the house. I don't want rainwater pooling up against my kitchen. I'm planning to correct that very slight slant when I pour by countertop - I don't want rain landing on my oven landing and running back into the oven either.
      Last edited by Gwennie & John; 08-30-2021, 09:08 AM.


      • #4
        I can't answer your question on ancient vs modern oven and what is lost or gain. I am not aware of anyone on the forum who has built "as the Romans did" technique, although there has been some variations of insulation choices due to supply issues, IE pumice rock, leca balls, adobe, etc. So you are on your own here.

        Wet insulation is one of the most common oven performance problems. So weep hole in the hearth are a good idea, as well as raising CaSi off the floor, ie tiles or FoamGlas as first layer. But these are all items not done in ancient ovens. Remember, the eplans from FB are a great baseline, but dated, and there have been dozen of improvements since they were published.
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