How To Build Your Own Mud Oven by someone who has actually done it!
How to Build a Mud Oven
It is a very cool thing to write about how to build a mud oven. But very few people who write about it have actually done it. I have. I think everyone should have a mud oven. I think they should be as common as backyard grills. Mud ovens bring you closer to the earth. They also open up a world of delicious cooking that is unique to the world of mud oven's. Mud oven cooking simply has its own rich taste. There are a variety of traditional earth style ovens made from cob, mud, clay and brick. My actual inspiration for making a mud oven, was the Moravian outdoor ovens. I did not want to make a duplicate of the Moravian oven, but I wanted that experience of an earthy oven. For this oven, I used a clay found in nature.
The Foundation Platform
It is helpful to build your oven on an elevated platform that makes access easy. We built a square base, log cabin style using logs. We actually used wooden dowel pegs to nail the logs in place so we were not using any unnatural materials. We filled in the base with rock, gravel and sand and layered the top of the platform with clay.
You can use any nonflammable materials to build your base. You will want to size it according to how big you intend the mud oven to be. You need enough room to construct the mud oven on top of it.
Direction and Shelter
To maintain the longevity and life of a mud oven, it is important that you build the oven under some kind of protective structure. If the mud oven is exposed to the elements, it will be destroyed quickly. Our mud oven had a protective tent structure over it. When you build a mud oven under a tent, you need to be conscious of the direction the oven door faces. The oven can get quite hot and flames can lick the opening of the oven when your first firing it up. So it is very important that you build the oven taking safety considerations in mind.
Building the Frame
You are going to build a frame that provides the structure around which you will pack the mud and shape the oven. It is with the frame that you define the size and shape of the oven. You want the frame to built with flammable material. When you eventually fire the oven, it will burn out the frame and you will be left with only the oven. Wood is a great material for using to build the structure. If you are building a dome shaped oven, saplings also work well. In the mud oven picture above, you can see a bit of the frame that was used to build this oven.
Packing on the Mud
The mud oven should be thick. It is the mud that retains the heat and makes mud ovens phenomenal cooking tools. I recommend that you make your walls 6-9 inches thick. We made the clay into bricks to help size the thickness and smoothed it over with additional clay to make it seamless. However, it is also important to know that the thicker you make the oven, the longer you will need to let it dry. When clay dries, it shrinks. On a larger mud oven like ours, you will need to let it dry for 1-2 months. As the clay dries, you will need to patch and smooth over the mud oven daily to prevent cracks from forming. If you are not faithful in this, cracks will form. The oven may still be use able but it will not be aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
Firing and Using the Oven
Once the mud has completely dried, you can fire the oven. Build a large fire inside the oven and burn it for several hours. This will harden the clay, much like a kiln does with pottery. You may build a door for the oven although it is not necessary. It will take some time for you to get comfortable with the temperature of your oven and the best ways to use it. Many people writing about mud ovens, tell you to build the fire in the oven, and then remove the coals before putting in the item you are going to cook. I found some great advantages to leaving the hot coals in the oven while cooking in it and made it a habit. I was amazed to see the oven cook a 20 pound turkey to perfection in 4 hours. It was one of the best turkey's I've ever tasted. When you think of wood fired ovens, you typically think of pizza. But there are so many other great and delicious items you can cook in a mud oven. See our growing list of recipes for more mud oven cooking ideas. Everyone should have a mud oven. Make it a priority to make one.