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A masonry oven, colloquially known as a brick oven or stone oven, is an oven consisting of a baking chamber made of fireproof brick, concrete, stone, clay, or cob. Though traditionally wood-fired, coal-fired ovens were common in the 19th century, and modern masonry ovens are often fired with natural gas or even electricity. Modern masonry ovens are closely associated with artisanal bread and pizza, but in the past they were used for any cooking task involving baking.
The precursor to most modern masonry oven designs is the earth oven.
In India, tandoors are traditional clay ovens, although these days modern electrically fired tandoors are available. The open-topped tandoor is a transitional design between the earth oven and the Roman-plan masonry oven.
The traditional direct-fired masonry design is often called a "Roman" or "black" oven and dates in Western culture to at least the Roman Republic. It is known as a black oven because the smoke from the wood used as fuel sometimes collects as soot on the roof of the oven. Such ovens were in wide use throughout medieval Europe and were often built to serve entire communities (cf the banal ovens of France, which were often owned by the local government and whose operators charged a fee to oven users). Such ovens became popular in the Americas during the colonial era and are still in wide use in artisanal bakeries and pizzerias, as well as some restaurants featuring pizzas and baked dishes. Descendants include the beehive ovens of the colonial United States and the Quebec ovens based on the designs of the banal ovens of France.
The function of a masonry oven is to trap and radiate heat from a fire, either built within the oven itself or in a firebox that vents into the oven (a white oven); smoke is vented through the front of the oven, either directly to the outside or through a chimney immediately above the oven door. The front-loading masonry design is somewhat more heat-efficient than an open-topped oven like a tandoor, allowing the use of stored heat and low fires for long bakes instead of requiring a live fire at all times.
Masonry ovens are generally built with fire-resistant materials like firebrick or clay, or even directly cast from refractory cement. Those designed for bread use are generally quite heavily built to store several hours' worth of heat after completely burning a load of wood, while those designed for pizza or other live-fire cooking techniques can have thinner construction. Generally, a properly-built Roman-plan oven is roughly egg-shaped, with the ceiling of the oven constructed as an arch over the baking surface. The front entrance is ideally approximately 63%±5% the height of the top of the oven ceiling; too high and heat is lost, too low and the oven does not heat completely.
The "white oven" is a somewhat more complex design that pipes heat in from an external firebox without routing the smoke from the fire through the oven. A compromise design known as the gueulard in France combines aspects of both internal and external-fired models.
Modern-designed masonry ovens sometimes bear little resemblance to their forebears, sometimes having only a concrete deck (similar to a pizza stone) inside a more conventional oven exterior. Such devices are primarily used in commercial settings, though tabletop models are available.
It is possible to get some of the benefits of a masonry oven without constructing a full oven. The most common method is the stoneware pizza stone, which stores heat while the oven is preheating and transmits it directly to the bottom of the pizza. Bread and meat can be cooked in a type of covered ceramic casserole dish known variously as a cloche, a Schlemmertopf (brand name), or the like. Most expensive is a ceramic or stoneware oven liner that provides many of the benefits of a cloche without restricting the baker to one size of pan.
It is sometimes possible to cook bread on a grill to simulate the use of radiant heat in a masonry oven; while this is generally reserved for flatbreads and pizzas, a few recipes for loaf breads are designed to use a grill as well, with or without a masonry or ceramic heating surface.
- Cookery equipment manufacturer Cuisinart sells a tabletop "brick oven" that uses a pizza stone-like lining to store heat for baking.
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- "French-Style Country Bread". King Arthur Flour. Retrieved 2008-09-28.
- West Hartford Brick Oven: Wood fired oven construction over 4 months
- Build a bread oven: Details about 2 constructions: a clay oven and a tiles oven
- Canadian University with an Alan Scott Wood Fired Brick Oven and courses included in the curriculum
- Wood fired ovens: Information related to building, use and cooking
- Outdoor pizza oven: Guide about construction of outdoor brick ovens
- Reference from Patent D642,855
- Articles on how to build pizza ovens