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slbrickman 05-25-2009 07:34 PM

Cedar Fire Wood
Oak does not seem to be working for me when firing up my oven. I think I need a wood that burns fast for the initial firing then switch to oak once the oven has soaked enough heat.

Cedar is easy to get in Texas. (It is considered a pest in West Texas). It seems to burn easily and has a very bright flame.

Has anyone had any experience with cedar for firing an oven?

Rastys 05-26-2009 05:21 AM

Re: Cedar Fire Wood
I had a load of used western red cedar timber panelling salvaged from work many years ago. I kept it for a host of uses but ended up using it mainly for kindling wood in the oven.
Great, straight grained, easy to cut and burned beautifully with a good fire in minutes. I wish I had more.
Oak is an expensive wood out here but we have heaps of eucalypt (gum) which make great hot fires heating a well made Pompeii in around an hour.


dmun 05-26-2009 06:25 AM

Re: Cedar Fire Wood
If oak isn't working for you, it's either because it's not dry enough (is it brown on the ends, with radial cracks?) or it's not split finely enough.
Don't hesitate to start your fire with softwood, even construction scraps, but hardwood is best for cooking: it has less tendency to pop and spit.

texassourdough 05-26-2009 03:55 PM

Re: Cedar Fire Wood
I use Mountain Cedar all the time for heating the oven from my neverending supply around my house. From other reading cedar is a preferred wood in the Middle East for heating wood ovens for it burns fast and hot. The biggest "problem" is that it has a lot of aromatics in it that cause it to smoke and create a slightly strange smoke. However this is no problem in a bread oven for you will be burning the oven to a clear state (about 750 where organics burn anyway so there are no wierd aromatics or smoke.)

Pizza is a bit more complicated. As you suggest, once I shovel out the excess coals and clear the cooking area I switch to oak. However, it really isn't a big deal though there are two considerations. One: a new cedar log will often smoke but the smoke will never get near the pizza for the fresh air feeding the fire is coming in over the hearth and the smoke will be going out the top half of the oven portal. The other issue is that the cedar will occasionally pop and send sparks out into the oven and onto the pizza - which is a good reason to make sure any cedar you put in after you are cooking is DRY. The cedar coals seem to be no problem - they are pretty much like low density charcoal. Biggest limitation is they burn faster than oak or mesquite so when doing lots of pies, the harder woods are better for you won't have to manage the oven as much.

Hope this helps!

slbrickman 05-26-2009 05:27 PM

Re: Cedar Fire Wood
Do you think cedar generates enough smoke to be a nusiance to my neighbors? I have a typical back yard in the middle of a typical Texas subdivision.

But when I think of it I created a heck of a lot of smoke trying to burn oak that apparently was not all that dry. Perhaps a very good cedar fire will not generate as much smoke as poor burning oak.

Do you know of any ranch owners near San Antonio that would be happy to allow me to clear some cedar off of their land?

slbrickman 05-26-2009 05:31 PM

Re: Cedar Fire Wood
I have some scrap cedar lumber. I will try it out. Want to see if it makes a lot of smoke.

Jed 05-26-2009 09:15 PM

Re: Cedar Fire Wood

We don't have access to much in the way of hard wood here in Central Oregon. Mostly pine and juniper... pretty soft woods.

My opinion is that any wood will heat the oven. (really, any thing that will burn will heat the oven)

If the wood isn't cured, no matter what kind, it won't do a very good job of heating the oven - burn poorly and make a bunch of ugly smoke.

I don't know if this is a fact, but as a rule in my mind I assume that wood will have about the same amount of btu's by weight. Oak is heavy and dense and will have more btu's than the same volume of cedar. The heavier the cured wood, the less you need to use to get the same amount of heat.

Oak should work great. I would love to have access to the oak (or any hardwood for that matter). If it isn't working for you, probably not cured well enough yet. It can also help, as Dmum suggests, to use smaller diameter pieces of wood, they tend to burn faster than big chunks.

At the end of the day, your objective is to get the btu's out of the wood and into the masonry. And a hot fire is the best tool for the job.

How new is your oven? Is the masonry fully cured?


texassourdough 05-27-2009 07:59 AM

Re: Cedar Fire Wood
Hi Brickman!!

I live on a couple of acres so smoke is not a big deal. The bark tends to smoke more than the wood so peeling cedar logs would be helpful but the bark is oily and is good fire starter. NOTE: I load my oven with everything from dead twigs with red, dry needles to smaller twigs to big pieces when I load the oven. The needles burn so well the fire is almost always a one match fire. I think the needles smoke the most - particularly if they are a bit green or wet so you may want to avoid them!

WRT a regular subdivision...the smoke is worst early on. But it isn't IMO all that much worse than a BBQ with a fire box... which is SUPPOSED to make smoke (well at least some). The worst smoke is usually over in fifteen minutes or so so it isn't forever. As the oven heats the combustion of smoke and stuff gets pretty complete!

Oak gets smoky if it gets fungal rot and a lot of our oak has that problem (at least mine does).

I think the answer may lie in giving it a try and IF you have complaints give them a loaf of bread or invite them over for a pizza!

Oh...Jed makes a really good point. Wood is pretty consistent in BTU per pound. The biggest disadvantage of cedar is it is pretty light and therefore you need more of it... but it's free around San Antonio!

Good luck!

Wiley 05-27-2009 09:14 AM

Re: Cedar Fire Wood
This will probably open a can of worms as some people strongly dissagree with this practice, but it works for me. When I'm thru cooking pizza for the evening I shovel out the coals and load the oven with wood for the next firing. The residual heat dries the wood so that it will ignite easily and burn with less smoke for the next firing. Leave your WFO open so that the moisture has a way of escaping rather than shutting it up tight.

Also if the coals I'm shoveling out are of significant size, I drop them into a bucket of water and once the fire is extinguished ladle them out. They are essentially charcoal and work well to add to a small fire that one keeps along side the cooking area when roasting. They give good heat and not alot of smoke.


dmun 05-27-2009 10:23 AM

Re: Cedar Fire Wood

When I'm thru cooking pizza for the evening I shovel out the coals and load the oven with wood for the next firing. The residual heat dries the wood so that it will ignite easily and burn with less smoke for the next firing. Leave your WFO open so that the moisture has a way of escaping rather than shutting it up tight.
This is a good plan: Don't forget the leave-it-open part, heated wood gives off volatile gases, as in this charcoal retort, which are flammable.

As for making coals into charcoal, you only need a tight fitted lid on a metal garbage can: The fire will burn out, and you won't need to dry out the wet coals.

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