Horno Oven -- How to Build and Recipes

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A Horno Oven, as built by the Native Americans throughout the Southwest, is something that homesteaders might like to build. If built where it rains a lot, one would need to be sure to build it with a good non-wicking stone foundation and a roof-over, and perhaps use cob or some material besides adobe best suited to your particular area. Here are some directions from an old Sunset Magazine which I hope will be helpful to interested persons. I also hope that posting them here does not violate a copy-right, or I hope that the posting will cause interest in Sunset and be taken by them as a good advertisement for their fine magazine!

************************* Sunset, August 1998 v201 n2 p110(5) Sunset's classic adobe oven: how to build it. How to cook with it. Peter O. Whiteley.

Abstract: It takes approximately two days for two or three people to build a wood-fired adobe garden oven for baking pizza, roasts, vegetables and crusty bread. The oven is patterned after the mud ovens traditionally used in Mexico, Italy and France.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1998 Sunset Publishing Corporation

How to build it. How to cook with it

In response to reader requests, we decided to bring hack one of our most popular projects: the adobe oven, featured in our August 1971 issue. It's modeled after mud-brick ovens used around the world, from the Southwest to Mexico, Italy, and France. With the rising interest in wood-fired cooking, it was time to revisit the article and build a new version in our editorial test garden.

The project takes about two days of grubby work; it speeds up building to have two or three people making the thick-walled adobe shell, the mass of which stores the heat of the fire. It's great for pizza, roasts, vegetables, and crusty loaves of bread. (We give recipes to try on page 116.)


Step-by-step directions

Find a safe, level location in your garden for the oven. Building code requires oven to be a minimum of 10 horizontal feet from any combustible surface, such as fences or walls. Also, check with local officials on property line setback requirements.

We built our oven on a 6- by 8-foot base of red concrete steppingstones - an optional layer. The rest of the base is stacked but mortarless, which allows for easy disassembly at some point in the future.

1. Arrange the 8 by 8 by 16 blocks on the ground to make a 32- by 54-inch base.

2. Cover with an identical layout of cap blocks.

3. Add layer of firebricks.

4. Cut the barrel in half lengthwise with a hacksaw. Center empty quart can on closed end of a half-barrel; trace and cut out circular shape. This hole will be the vent.

5. Score and cut two firebricks in half with a circular saw (halves measure 4 1/2 inches square).

6. Starting at back end of base, make three U-shaped layers of firebricks to support the half-barrel. Each layer is three bricks long and 2 1/2 bricks wide at back end. Position barrel on bricks.

7. Cut a 3- by 4-foot piece of the 6-inch wire mesh and shape it so it arcs over the barrel by about 1 inch. Bend and tuck excess under bricks at side. Repeat with at least one layer of chicken wire, bending and folding edges over the rear and open end of barrel.

8. Make door (shown on page 110): Cut three 14-inch-long pieces from redwood 2-by-4. Join them together with screws running through two parallel lengths of redwood 1-by-3 across the front. Cut top into an arch that measures 14 inches tall at the peak and conforms to the basic shape of the open end of the barrel. Shape handle from excess 2-by-4, and screw to 1-by-3s. Center and tack flashing around door perimeter. Insert the can in the hole cut in rear of barrel.

9. Mix 3 parts adobe soil to 1 part Portland cement, add water, and mix with a hoe and shovel to the consistency, of thick oatmeal. Be warned: it's tiring and muddy work. Test that the mix holds together by squeezing it.

10. Working from the base up, pack the adobe-cement mixture firmly over and through the layers of mesh, leaving no air pockets. Pack mixture around the can, wiggling and rotating it to keep it from being trapped in place. Form arch for door by squeezing mixture into the chicken wire, and periodically inserting the door (with flashing attached) to check fit. Continue adding mixture until the coat is 4 to 5 inches thick overall. Let it dry slightly, then smooth the surface with a damp sponge and a wood "float" made with scrap lumber.

11. Wiggle the door and can, then cover the oven with damp towels and plastic tarp. Keep towels damp and oven covered for at least a week while adobe hardens and cures (check daily). Remove flashing from door.

12. Paint adobe shell after building first fire (see sidebar, at right).


The first three hours, heat oven

1 0 to 10 minutes: Screen vent and open door. In center of oven, mound 6 to 8 sheets of crumpled newspaper. Lean 2 or 3 handfuls of kindling wood, including some 1-inch-thick pieces, tepee-style against the paper. Ignite paper, and when kindling is burning well, lay 2 or 3 more handfuls of kindling on the fire and top with 3 or 4 logs (3 to 4 in. thick and about 1 1/2 ft.).

2 20 to 40 minutes: When logs begin to burn, add 6 more logs (4 to 5 in. thick), but be careful of heat from oven door - it can singe hair. Toss about half a 10-pound bag of charcoal briquets between logs. Let fire burn about 1 hour, then add remaining briquets. Burn until most wood is gone, about 3 hours total. Occasionally poke fire to keep air circulating.

At about 2 hours and 50 minutes: With a shovel, scoop hot ashes into a fireproof metal container partially filled with water. Quickly clean oven floor with a wet mop or wet towel tied to a pole.

3 2 hours and 50 minutes to 3 hours: Set oven thermometer on floor just inside door. Close door; block vent. Check after 10 minutes. Temperature should be between 700 [degrees] and 650 [degrees]; then it drops quickly to 600 [degrees].

The next four hours, bake

During the brief period of high heat, bake pizzas. In the next phase, put meats and vegetables in to roast. Bake bread when oven heat is most constant.


Second-Generation Adobe Oven Bread

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 3 1/4 hours, including about 1 1/2 hours for rising

MAKES: 1 loaf, About 2 1/2 pounds

2 cups warm (about 110 [degrees]) water 2 teaspoons sugar 1 package active dry yeast About 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour About 1/2 cup cornmeal 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 large egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

1. In a large bowl, combine warm water and sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the water; let stand until yeast softens, about 5 minutes.

2. Stir together 4 cups all-purpose flour, the whole-wheat flour, 1/4 cup cornmeal, and salt. Add 1/2 the flour mixture to bowl. Beat with a spoon or mixer until dough is well moistened. Stir in remaining flour.

3. To knead with a dough hook, beat at medium speed until dough begins to pull from bowl sides and is not sticky when lightly touched, 10 to 15 minutes. If dough sticks, beat in more all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Remove dough hook.

To knead by hand, scrape dough onto a well-floured board. Knead until very elastic and no longer sticky, 10 to 15 minutes. Add flour as required to keep dough from sticking to the board. Wash and oil bowl, then return dough to bowl.

4. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm place until doubled, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

5. Briefly knead dough with dough hook or on a lightly floured board to expel air. Shape dough into a smooth ball or oval loaf. Set smooth side up on a baking sheet dusted with about 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour. Dust loaf top lightly with more flour, drape with plastic wrap, and let stand until puffy, 30 to 40 minutes. Refrigerate loaf if it is ready before adobe oven is.

6. When adobe oven has cooled to about 350 [degrees], transfer loaf to a cornmeal-coated bread paddle. Make slashes about 1/2 inch deep across the loaftop in several places with a very sharp knife or razor, then brush with beaten egg; take care not to let egg run onto paddle.

7. Slip loaf from paddle onto clean oven floor. Close oven door. Check temperature in 5 minutes; if above 450 [degrees], remove door until oven drops to 350 [degrees], then close. After 10 minutes, spray loaf all over with water; close door. After another 10 minutes, spray loaf with more water; close door.

8. Continue baking until loaf is rich golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped, 40 to 60 minutes more. Pull loaf onto oven hearth to cool. Serve warm or cool.

Per ounce: 71 cal., 7.6% (5.4 cal.) from fat; 2.1 g protein; 0.6 g fat (0.1 g sat.); 14 g carbo (0.8 g fiber); 60 mg sodium; 5.3 mg chol.

Flat Bread Salt Pizzas

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 20 minutes

MAKES: 4 servings

1. Cut a thawed 1-pound loaf of frozen bread dough into quarters. Shape each portion into a ball.

2. On a lightly floured board, pat each ball into an 8-inch-wide round and rub lightly with olive oil (about 4 teaspoons total). Sprinkle rounds with kosher or coarse salt (1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon total).

3. If desired, cut 1 head roasted garlic (see Adobe Oven Vegetables, page 115) in half, squeeze out pulp, and pat equally over bread rounds. Sprinkle lightly with dried thyme (about 1/2 teaspoon total).

4. Set rounds, 1 at a time, on a cornmeal-dusted bread paddle. 5. When adobe oven is at 550 [degrees], slip rounds directly onto clean oven floor. Leave door open and cook until bread is browned, about 5 minutes. Rotate with paddle if necessary to brown evenly. (You can bake pizzas at cooler oven temperatures, but they take longer to cook and don't brown as well.)

Per pizza: 352 cal., 26% (90 cal.) from fat; 8.7 g protein; 10 g fat (1.9 g sat.); 55 g carbo (2.4 g fiber); 730 mg sodium; 5.7 mg chol.

Adobe Oven Ratatouille

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 1 1/4 hours

NOTES: If roasting meat in the adobe oven, skim fat from juices and mix with the ratatouille.

MAKES: 4 cups; 6 to 8 servings

1. Following directions for Adobe Oven Vegetables (page 115), roast 8 Roma tomatoes (1 1/2 lb. total), 2 slender eggplant (3/4 lb. total), 2 bell peppers (1 lb. total), 1 onion (6 oz.), and 1 head garlic (2 1/2 oz.).

2. Peel, core, and chop tomatoes; put tomatoes and juice in a bowl. Stem eggplant. Pull skin, stems, and seeds from peppers. Peel onion. Chop eggplant, peppers, and onion and add to bowl. Cut garlic heads in half crosswise and squeeze pulp into bowl.

3. Heat 1/2 cup chicken broth and 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme until boiling. Mix with vegetables and add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Per 1/2 cup: 60 cal., 6% (3.6 cal.) from fat; 2.3 g protein; 0.4 g fat (0 g sat.); 14 g carbo (2.9 g fiber); 12 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Adobe Oven Roasted Salsa

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 1 1/2 hours

NOTES: To avoid discomfort, wear plastic gloves when handling chilies.

MAKES: 2 cups

1. Following directions for Adobe Oven Vegetables (page 115), roast 8 fresh poblano chilies (about 1 1/2 lb. total; also called pasillas), 4 fresh Anaheim chilies (about 1/2 lb. total; also called California or New Mexico), 2 red bell peppers (about 3/4 lb. total), and 1 onion (6 oz.). Pull off and discard chili and bell pepper skins, stems, and seeds. Peel onion. Dice vegetables and scoop, with juices, into a bowl.

2. Season salsa with 3 tablespoons lime juice and salt to taste.

Per 1/4 cup: 52 cal., 5.2% (2.7 cal.) from fat; 2.2 g protein; 0.3 g fat (0 g sat.); 12 g carbo (2.1 g fiber); 8.1 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Materials and tools

You'll find most of the materials you need at a home center or building supply yard, except for the cardboard barrel, often used by movers. (You cut it in half lengthwise and use it to form the oven's curving top.) Look in the yellow pages under Barrels & Drums for a local source.

* 14 concrete building blocks (8 by 8 by 16)

* 14 concrete cap blocks (8 by 2 by 16)

* 68 firebricks (2 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 9)

* One 28- to 30-gallon cardboard barrel

* One empty 1 -quart can

* 6-foot square of 6-inch wire mesh (used to reinforce concrete driveways)

* 10 feet of 30-inch-wide chicken wire

* 4 feet of rough-sawed redwood 2-by-4

* 2 feet of redwood 1 -by-3

* 16 1 1/2-inch deck screws

* 3 feet of 6-inch-wide aluminum flashing

* Eight large wheelbarrow loads of adobe soil

* Three bags Portland cement

* 1-foot square of 1/4-inch galvanized wire mesh (see sidebar, page 112)

* Exterior latex paint

* Optional: 24 precast 1- by 2-foot concrete steppingstones

You'll also need a tape measure, hacksaw, pencil, circular saw with masonry bit, wire cutters, saber saw, drill, screwdriver, large wheelbarrow, hoe, shovel, sturdy rubber gloves, sponge, small piece of scrap lumber or plywood, old towels, and plastic tarp.

How to heat the oven

The first time you build a fire in the oven is exciting. Remove the can from the rear vent, and cut and fit a piece of the 1/4-inch wire mesh over vent to act as a spark arrester. Build a small fire and keep it burning steadily so the adobe warms slowly and bakes out any remaining moisture. Hairline cracks will likely develop when the oven is heated, but they can be sealed with coats of exterior latex paint later.

The next time, build a fire as directed for cooking (page 114) to test how the oven holds heat. The oven's surface will become hot to the touch. Let the fire die down, use a hoe or shovel to pull out the coals into a metal bucket partially filled with water, sweep off the brick surface with a damp broom, and check the temperature with an oven thermometer. Initial temperatures will often be about 700 [degrees] - too hot for cooking.

Block the vent hole with the can or a damp rag, and remove and soak the door in water. Replace the door and periodically monitor the temperature for several hours to get an idea of how your oven performs. Leave oven door open for cooling.

Adobe oven vegetables

Starting oven temperature: 500 [degrees] to 450 [degrees]


1. Rinse or scrub vegetables, as appropriate, but do not peel. Pierce eggplant, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

2. Set vegetables slightly apart in a shallow rimmed pan (or pans).

3. Push pan to center or back of oven. Leave door open until temperature drops to 350 [degrees], then close door. Check in 5 minutes; if above 400 [degrees], open door and let cool to 350 [degrees]. Close door, then check every 30 minutes.

4. Remove vegetables as cooked. Peel beets. Pull skins, stems, and seeds from peppers and chilies. Pull husks and silks from corn. Cut stems from eggplant. Cut tops off garlic heads and squeeze out pulp. Peel onions. Slit open potatoes and sweet potatoes. Pull off tomato skins and cut out cores. Season vegetables to taste with salt, pepper, and olive oil or butter. Or use as suggested in the recipes on page 116.

Adobe oven meats

Starting oven temperature: 500 [degrees] to 450 [degrees]


1. Rinse meat, pat dry, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and set poultry (breast up) or roasts (fat side up) on a rack in a close-fitting shallow pan.

2. Push meat in pan to center or back of oven. Cook with door open until temperature drops to 350 [degrees], then close door. Check in 5 minutes; if over 400 [degrees], open door and let cool to 350 [degrees] again. Close door. Check every 30 minutes during last hour. For more meat, use 2 cuts the same size.

************************* P.S. I am really interested in building a horn and if anyone posting here actually builds one, I'd appreciate feed-back on their experience and anything they learned which would be helpful for future builders of hornos or outdoor ovens!

-- Elizabeth Petofi (tengri@cstone.net), March 21, 2000


Yeah, but what is adobe soil? Does Wally World have it? What about Maynard's? thanks

-- Gailann Schrader (gtschrader@aol.com), March 21, 2000.

Elizabeth, I have also been interested in building an oven like this, which is sometimes also called a beehive oven. I have some basic directions that make an oven that is less permanent, but also much less expensive. If you would like to have them, I will send them to you. It is made of mud shaped over damp sand. It needs some sort of roof-type covering.

-- Green (ratdogs10@yahoo.com), March 26, 2000.

You can find an article about Bee Hive ovens in Countryside Vol. 79 No. 2 March/April 1995. I have not built one myself but it looks like lots of fun.

-- Mark D. Wiliams (deadgoatman@webtv.net), March 27, 2000.

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