The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Using eather oven in cold weather

rich.boyd's picture

Using eather oven in cold weather

I live up in Winnipeg and built an earth oven this past year.  It developed a couple of cracks (3/16 - 1/4").  I am wondering about using it in winter.  I probably wouldn't be using it in temperatures of less than -15F (-25C).  Will I risk severely cracking my oven if I use it in really cold weather?

Paddyscake's picture

Hopefully I will never have an answer for you!! -15 more for me..sorry!


althetrainer's picture

We live in Calgary and I cannot imagine using an earth oven over the winter.  Not sure if the oven can handle the temperature but I am sure I CANNOT handle the cold!  At one point I considered asking my husband to build me one but knowing I would't use it often (9 months of winter makes outdoor baking very difficult) I gave up on the idea.  By the way, it's currently -18C and will be down to -23C overnight.  With windchill who knows how cold it will get.  Good luck with your oven and please keep us posted.  Al

SylviaH's picture

There are a lot better authorities on this than me.  I do know if an oven has been sitting very cold for time you need to start just like you did in the beginning, slowly breaking it in with several firings.  I would think that firing up a stone cold oven into a hot fired up oven would be asking for trouble.


dharris's picture

I built an earth oven this summer as well and I've also developed a few cracks. It doesn't get as cold on PEI as it does in Winnipeg, but it does get cold enough. I plan on using my oven throughout the winter and if it can't handle the cold my plan is to rebuild it in the spring. Here is a picture of my oven before I built the shelter over it his fall. Let us know how you make out.



osx-addict's picture

I've got a ceramic BBQ (Kamado) that people all over the world use -- even in the snow.. With that in mind, I'd think that the earthen oven, if started with a nice slow fire over the course of several hours would probably be OK -- however, I've never used or even seen one aside from pics so I'm possibly 100% wrong.. YMMV.

Broc's picture

Halloooooo Kamado!

Ain't ceramic cooking fun?

I use my BGEggs in all weather, baking bread, searing steaks, roasting... erm... roasts!

My friends are absolutely blown away when I charge out in the middle of a storm  and bring back a bourle of nice, hot, country-style bread... or a rye... or whatever.

Our ceramic ovens don't need to be broken in, or treated gently, when it's cold.  Just get the lump a-glowin' and off we go!

~ Best!

~ Broc



kimemerson's picture

Years ago I was in New Mexico and saw that a number of the Native Americans had bread ovens in the back yard. It was dead of winter and bread was still being baked without any apparent oven problems. I built a wood fired oven in my back yard this summer and just baked a couple of days ago. While it was not cold as it can get, it had snowed the day before and snow was on the oven top. Still, after getting the interior dome temp. up to well over 900° F. there was still snow on the roof of the oven. Essentially what this means is that I apparently did a great job of insulating it. And therein lies the answer, I believe. You cannot over insulate and a well insulated oven should be impervious to any weather. After all, if the heat stays inside - where it belongs - then heat retention is a given. It is when heat escapes that you run into trouble. I cannot speak for earthen ovens. Mine is made with firebrick, refractory mortar and a ceramic woven insulating blanket under 4" of perlite. There is 10" of insulation including the brick, blanket and perlite. But I doubt the Native Americans in New Mexico did what I did and more likely did what you did by building an earthen oven of some sort. One thing I've learned is that sometimes the ancient and the primitive can still offer we moderns a few lessons. A thousand years ago bread bakers weren't waiting out the winter and they weren't storing up either. Baking continued.

So I would check and attend to the insulation. You should not be able to feel any heat from the inside of the oven on its outside. Outside temps should be no more than the ambient temp. You should be able to build a snowman on the oven and it should be able to stay there as long as any other snowman in the yard.

dharris's picture

Last Wednesday a friend and I baked a load of bread in my earth oven and I just thought I would pass along some obervations. Since it was cold I had decided that I would light a small fire in the oven and let the mass slowly heat up to, hopefully, minimize thermal shock. The mass of the oven at the time I lit the fire was around 22 degrees F and the interior would eventually rise to about 1000 degrees. I kept the fire low for about an hour before I started adding larger quantities of wood. During this warm up period the interior of the oven was mostly black and sooty but the area of the vault above the fire was greyish white. It almost looked as if the oven vault in this area was covered in dirty ice. I couldn't reach the area with my hand so I don't know for sure.

After about 2 hours of fire the oven was starting to warm all over and the temperature of the exterior of the oven was between 68 and 75 degrees F. I use the exterior temperature of my oven to gauge the interior temp of the oven. I don't think I mentioned it, but my oven is made entirely of clay, sand and straw with some small wood chips thrown into the mix. After about three and a half hours the fire was quite hot (see picture) and it was about time to pull the fire out of the oven. At this time the whole interior of the oven was a pale greyish pink. Our soils contain a lot of hematite and the Island is noted for its red sands and soils. Before I removed the fire I pushed the coals to the back of the oven and when the floor had dropped in temperature to something above 700 F I baked three pizzas. 

After the pizzas were out, I removed all the coals closed the door and let the heat in the oven equalize for about an hour. By this time the oven was still very warm but we decided to bake three loaves of Hammelman's roasted potato bread anyway. When they came out the oven temp was around 600 plus degrees which was still too hot for my main bake. When the walls of the oven were registering around 550 degrees I put in a dozen loaves of multigrain flax sourdough bread. These loaves performed very well and were baked in about 30 minutes. When they came out the oven temperature had dropped to around 450 degrees so I could have continued to bake if I had had anything else I had wanted to put into the oven. I have baked pies, cakes and stews in the oven after the bread has come out in the past. BTW, I am using an infrared thermometer to measure the temps of my oven.

The next morning the oven was still quite warm and often I have put firewood inside to continue to dry and be ready for the next bake. Now I am going to try to attach some photos of the oven, its interior and the bread we baked. Please note that only about one of the pizza's is left and the S-shaped bread is Pane Siciliano from Reinhart's the Baker's Apprentice. It was my first attempt at this recipe and it proof well in advance of the oven being ready to bake so I baked it inside in my gas oven. If anyone has any questions about my oven and its construction, please feel free to ask. It was built on a shoestring budget and all went very well.

The backyard bakery

One really hot oven!

Wednesday's bake

rich.boyd's picture

Thank you all for your help.  The past 2 weeks never got above 0F, but we are now enjoying more seasonable weather (10F). My oven will not retain heat heat like a super insulated brick oven.  My insulation is about 4" of a clay and sawdust mix.  I will try the slow heat up method.  I have a Green Egg that I've used - even last week when it was about -10F.  I've never had a problem with that, but it is an entrely different material.  Thanks again and I'll keep you posted on how it works when I get around to trying it out.

fancyanddelicious's picture

That sounds like it went pretty well. I live in Buffalo and this summer a friend and I built a pretty big earth oven (about 40'', interior diameter). We are running a small business using this oven, baking about 30 loaves a day, two days a week. We have not baked in the frigid temperatures yet and we were a bit anxious about how it would go. I am less worried after reading and seeing how well your baking went. Way to be hardy in the cold and give me hope that we can do the same.