The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Wood versus Natural Gas

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imaloafer's picture
imaloafer

Wood versus Natural Gas

Perhaps a silly question, but is there an advantage to using wood to fuel a brick oven over gas. I get that there can be a subtle smoke flavour imparted possibly, but with natural gas running so cheap, why would one not use this as the heat source? Does wood burn more intensly, thus more efficiently in getting to temp?

It seems that if gas was used as a source, a more steady temperature could be achieved, less particulate emitted, and once oven up to temp, would use little gas if any? 

I guess that would lead back to, what are rthe benefits of a wood fired oven over a deck oven with steaming capabilities?

SCChris's picture
SCChris

I don't think that the flavor difference is really there.  I mean since the carbon burns off the celing I don't think there is much left to flavor the bread.  Since Pizza is done with a live flame some flavor might be imparted. 

 

JMO

 

Chris

 

JoshuaFinancial's picture
JoshuaFinancial

I have a dual fuel oven I use commercially.   For pizza, the gas isn't hot enough.  Burner is running propane I don't know if that's making a difference.   For bread as well as pizza - I certainly don't notice any smoke flavor, but some amount of ashes become part of the product through contact with the floor.   My customers seem to respond favorably to that, whether or not they identify the ash as a flavor component.  As for firing for bread - I use any kind of hardwood.  By managing the draft with the oven door I can get a controlled burn that soaks the masonry.   Even if I'm firing cold for pizza, I start with the odd shaped, bark-covered, possibly green, etc.  

If you know anyone who wants an Avonzini Drago I have one for sale at a great price.  Barely used.

Pioneer Foodie's picture
Pioneer Foodie

with a wood fired oven. It should burn hot enough to scour the brick clean and bright, and all ash and coal is swept out, leaving no trace of smoke.

People use wood-fired ovens for a variety of reasons: they can be built as a DIY project; some people like the organic nature of wood fire; a WFO coasts through a wide temperature range so you can cook a variety of things. If you get wood for free, then it might be cheaper.

If you try to heat a brick oven with natural gas, you'd have to have a permanently installed gas line inside the oven. At least that's how I've seen it done in pizza places.

Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

For me wood is FREE!!!   I have more wood then I could ever burn in the WFO.  I have a bunch of acres so every time we get a storm I have plenty of downed branches and sometimes trees just fall over. 

Gas costs money.  It can also be dangerous in a WFO and requires special plumbing and sensors/ shut off valves  if the flame goes out.  Problem is the gas burns up all the O2 in the oven and the flame goes out then your just pumping gas that looks for the closest flame. BOOM!!!  WFO's are not vented like a household  gas oven.

So gas can be done but why bother when the wood is for free.

imaloafer's picture
imaloafer

I posed this question because I was at one of my favorite bakeries, with a very large wood fired oven, and I saw a gas line running into it. I presume to start the fires, easily. In 11 years of operation, the oven has been fire free, only 3 days. I started thinking, that's a lot of wood and if not free, which for most of us it would not be, that's quite an expense.

I get the romantic side of it, going back in time, building your own stove, making a fire, etc. but for a business, those are not viable reasons to use a wood fired oven in fact there are expense reasons not to do so.

I have been baking in my home oven for several years now, utilizing the Tartine, cast iron method. Our breads are of many varieties, and don't want to sound like bragging, but they are some of the best breads I've eaten.

So perhaps someone in the baking industry could answer this question for me? What is the advantage of wood fired over a gas in a brick oven.

 

polo's picture
polo

There is no difference/advantage to using wood. Chad Robertson started making his Tartine bread in a wood fired oven and now uses a different oven (not sure if it is electric or gas). You are using either fuel to heat the bricks, which in turn allows you to bake bread, no difference. There is no flavor imparted from the burning of wood, and you have the drawback of of leaving ash on the bottom of loaves.

That said, I find a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing that the entire process of bread baking (in my case) is by my hand. From splitting and stacking of the wood, to mixing the dough, to loading the risen loaves in the oven, it is a labor from my own hands. I agree that it is not for everyone, and if speed and efficiency (profit) is your main goal then it is not the thing for you (not trying to say that is your objective).

By the way I have the added benefit of having gas/oil wells on my property, and enjoy the use of free natural gas from the wells. Guess what.........I still use wood to bake bread. It is more about the journey to me, and it makes the fruit seem that much sweeter.

imaloafer's picture
imaloafer

I totally understand! I am at Tartine somewhat regularly. They have a gas fired deck oven, no brick and I know Point Reyes and the operation that bought his old setup. I too love the thought of the wood burning stove, and in a strictly home situation, would do so. My friend built his own clay oven last year and loves the process. But I now live in the city and don't have a yard to do so. Our breads sell and with Calif. Cottage Food bill passed, I want to increase my production and not in a situation tpo build an oven. Someday though!!

Thank you for your thoughts!

 

Pioneer Foodie's picture
Pioneer Foodie

I talked to two bakers who had worked in commercial wood fired operations in their younger days. I asked one why he didn't go with wood fired in his bakery. He said it was because it seemed like too much hassle to pay someone to come in so much earlier (around midnight) to fire the oven and get it hot even before the mixing of dough began.

The other said that it was because we, here in the West, live in an arid landscape, and firewood is not cheap. If he worked back east where forests are plentiful, he said wood-fired would be an option.

Some people here on TFL say that the firewood is an issue because if you're going to get good heat out of the firewood you'd have to burn kiln-dried wood. Otherwise the humidity in the wood would require larger volumes of firewood to accomplish the heat.

For me, I live in a rural area on the edge of a national forest that has experienced a significant beetle-kill in pine areas, so firewood is plentiful. I have heated my small house entirely by burning firewood in a wood-burning stove for the last two winters, and never spent a penny to buy the wood beyond my own labor. If you were willing to do the work of getting the wood (and it does involve some work, but pleasant work at that), you could save a lot on your utilities costs for a commercial operation. Even if you wanted to burn kiln-dried wood, you could work out arrangements with lumber mills or cabinet shops to keep a steady supply. I know of a cabinet shop that can't get rid of their scrap fast enough.

So I think one reason people DON'T do commercial wood-fired ovens is that it is simple and convenient to roll in a gas oven, plug it in, and get to work. Wood-fired ovens are more complex in learning to use, and not as manipulable with the turn of a dial. In today's culture of instant satisfaction, people want to turn a dial and get instant results. People want to walk in and not have to fuss with building a fire, or removing ash, or procuring wood.

That's what I think anyway...

imaloafer's picture
imaloafer

Thanks for your input.

The Tartine method is certainly not the easy way. Commercial yeast, shorter time commitment would be, but I feel there is a huge difference in the end product, thus I take the time and steps to insure that great loaf of bread. If the hassel makes a difference in the end product, I do it.

But if the extra steps are from a romantic tie to days gone by with no true benefit to the end product, well that's just bad biz.

 

Pioneer Foodie's picture
Pioneer Foodie

Artisan Bread Across America (I think that was it) and one of the profiles was of a commercial baker who at one time grew and milled his own wheat. Sounds like insanity, no? Don't farmers do a better job of farming? And surely all the people who mill their own grains are only getting a slightly improved flavor profile (if at all) over what they could get by buying someone else's flour. Don't millers do a better job of milling? But people, even commercial bakers, do things that might not always play out in dollars and cents, and for a variety of motivations.