Managing Embers and Ash
How do people manage the ash in their oven?
Specifically, once the fire has done its job and has gotten the oven up to temp, it is my understanding you push the hot embers and ash off to the side to cook. What do you do this with and where do you typically push them? Is the goal to get all the ash off the cooking area of the floor, or will you always have a little ash there on the floor (I find it hard to brush it all away, but maybe I am not using the right tool for it).
Similarly, if you are removing ashes from the oven, what do you use to do this and what techniques do you use to minimize mess? Where are you putting the embers/ashes?
Lastly, when it comes to cooking, pizza and bread, do people cook directly on their oven floor or do you cook on top of something like alum foil or something. I guess I assumed I would cook on the floor, but there are ashes I can not remove adequately from the oven floor (where the fire was), and I am assuming you don't cook on top of the ashes....or do you? What is the best technique for bread and pizza?
Sorry I am so clueless. Thanks. This is really a great forum and I appreciate everyone's help.
Oh, PS....I have been curing and have gotten up to 600 deg F on the top of the oven. The insulation on top of the oven seems to be holding very well - it never really elevates in temperature. On the bottom (the top of where I store wood, right under where the fire is in the oven), however, it got up to about 100 deg F when the fire was at its peak. I am assuming I can add insulation board there if needed, but was wondering if anyone saw any issues with this, or should I just let it be?
Re: Managing Embers and Ash
I bake mostly bread, so my comments come from that direction. Once the hearth is where I want it (typically in the 850-900 range), I rake out the ash and coals using a custom made iron rake (James sells both rakes and shovels in the FB store). I let the oven moderate for about two hours (mine is a high mass oven), then brush the hearth with a copper pizza oven brush. With pizza, as with bread, many of us don't mind a bit of fly ash on the base of the finished thing. But, because I deal with the public, I swab the deck with an old piece of towel wired to a pole. The towel is damp, not wringing wet. This will pick up most if not all of the fly ash, but the swabbing should be done quickly, with a sort of rolling motion over the bricks. For the Brits and Aussies out there, it's called skiffle-ing.
I use a large, deep galvanized metal pail for the coals and ash that I bought at a local farmers' co-op. It's the kind of thing used to water stock.
When I make pizza, I push the coals to the right side of the oven (I'm right handed), then brush out the cooking area, then swab very quickly. After that, I put a few pieces of wood on the coals to get a bright fire going in that area, one that licks up to about the middle of the dome.
Except for small items like kaisers or bagels, I always bake directly on the brick. For rolls like these, I use parchment lined sheet pans. This is mainly for speed of operation, because it's tough to chase a bunch of small, rolling items around in the oven unless they're on pans. Think of large marbles rolling to the back of the oven; it's a sure way to get over-baked rolls.
In the 550 to 600 range, the bottoms of your breads will come out quite clean, even it the flour you use to lubricate your peel burns around it. If there's anything at all left, you can just brush it off.
Frequently, but not always, the bottoms of my hearth breads (about 2 pounds in weight) will show the pattern of the bricks. My customers find this fascinating, particularly the French ones, because it shows how genuine the breads really are.
Depending on where your oven is situated, there's really no effective method to minimize mess. You'll aways have a bit of ash swirling around when you rake out, but that's part of the territory with a WFO. "Fly" ash is called that for a reason.
It's quite possible to retrofit insulation board under the oven, using SuperIsol or similar, but don't do it until the oven has been in use at operating temps for several months. You want to be absolutely sure everything is dry and cured. This is particularly true if you used a vermic-perlite/Portland mix for your insulation layer.
Re: Managing Embers and Ash
I push my coals and ash to the outer edges of my oven and then sweep the hearth where the fire was with an old fashioned bristle banister brush (dustpan type hand brush but not with nylon bristles)!
Most of the ash is removed and I need to make sure that the brush doesn't catch fire. I then cook everythin on the heart bricks with no problems what so ever.
Several years ago, I was in a 4WD Club and we did some work for an aboriginal community, some 6 hours drive north from Adelaide South Australia. As a token of their appreciation, they cooked up a kangaroo and an emu 'in the fireand coals' that they prepared and lit 3 days earlier. It was around 10 feet in diameter and had 4 to 6" of ash. After the main meal, the aboriginal ladies came out with a couple of bags of flour and containers of water. They made the traditional 'Aussie Damper', (with only flour and water only) scraped a flat hole in the ash, laid the floured sticky dough mix in the ash and covered it with hot ash, -NO OTHER COVERING WHAT SO EVER! no 'camp oven' or Bedurie, (a spun steel pot with a slightly larger pot for a lid).
After around 10 minutes they dug it out and turned it over for another few minutes cooking. They then lifted it our, broke a small branch off a nearby gum tree (eucalypt) and lightly brushed the loaf.
I insisted on an outer piece to try, expecting a fair bit of grit in it but only noticed one single piece in the 3 servings that I had during the night.
So, the moral behind this story is: don't worry too much about brushing every tiny bit of ash off of your hearth before using it to cook, just most of it and all will be OK.
Oh, incidentally, when they remove the loaf from the coals, they ALWAYS fill in the hole as they believe that you will experience bad health if you don't. One of those old aboriginal beliefs!
Re: Managing Embers and Ash
Bush damper.....ahhhh.....first thing I cooked in my oven
talking about the towel wired to a pole option that Jim mentions.....What I did was buy a brand new cotton mop (with wooden handle) and use a bucket of water. I usually soak the mop for 10mins that way the wooden handle absorbs some water to stop it burning. Once ready to swap the deck I give the mop a good hard wring out by hand (its only damp and not dripping at all). Then be quick cleaning the floor just like Jim says. Usually I push the coals aside with the shovel first and the mop does the finer stuff....or any stray coals.
Makes a good joke with your guests about how I mop the toilets when they leave :rolleyes: .......Nah I actually wash it out in clean water/detergent and at the end of the night (or next day) sit it at the very front of the oven to dry.
As far as the ashes themselves.....my oven has an ash hole in the front arch section so it drops down into a steel bin. I am building some doors in front of the ash bin so that the hot drum is safely behind it all (it is a seperate section to my wood storage). The good thing is the ash hole is in the flow of the flue so any smoke from the bin goes up there. If it smokes to much I can sprinkle some water down the ash hole to put the coals out.......these pics should make it clearer - the last one was in the base stage
o yeah and I'm making up a cover plate to go over the ash hole as well.......just another thing on my "to do" list
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