Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Roundboy Wood Fired Outdoor Oven Review

Roundboy Wood Fired Outdoor Oven Review
Preparedness Cooking with Pizza


I know many “survivalist” who plan on heading to the hills with a knife, a fire starter, and a jar a peanut butter at the first signs of trouble, however I am more of the common sense preparedness bug-in type.  I do not own a “bunker” or do not have ten years of food stashed away.  Instead my plan is to buy, build and create renewable resources which I can enjoy now, but which will also be very handy in a lights out preparedness situation.  Instead of bunkering up items I will not touch until “it” hits the fan, I have rain barrels to collect water and  simple bucket style ceramic water filters for good pure drinking water infinitely and also use that rainwater for watering my lawn and a garden which already produces a good supply of food for my family.  I have several seed vaults which I rotate through to assure food continues to be cultivated and have a couple of buckets of long-term storage grains which are a better deal than buying them by the pound. When the gas stops flowing, you also need the ability to cook and this is where an outdoor wood fired pizza/cooking oven makes great sense.

Installing a wood fired pizza oven on your patio does not have to be expensive or a tough month-long DIY project and has shown to increase your home value by as much as $5000-$10,000, according to the real estate agent I spoke with.  It requires no gas or electricity to operate and if insulated well will hold cooking level heat for 10 hours and even with a tiny little fire can become a huge capacity smoker. Outdoor wood fired ovens are considered to be the most efficient option for extended cooking operations.  If an ample wood supply is available, it can cook continuously for an indefinite period of time without any real maintenance other than ash removal which can be done while hot. It does not have to be wood either, middle-eastern countries fire their bread ovens with dried camel dung... and no it will not make the bread taste like crap. Wood fired ovens will also hold temperatures well far after the fire has gone out; about 75 degree drop per hour, top temps reach 1000 degrees. With a door in place, a previously fully fired oven for pizza will still be a hot cooking temperature of 400-500 degrees six hours after the fire is out and still in 200-250 range another three hours later.


My hope is that the event which occurred last night would be a situation appealing to all involved after “it” hits the fan.  Let’s say you are my neighbor and you have been eating the bland tasteless prepper food for the last week and are dieing for a home cooked meal which is not made over a Coleman multi-fuel stove. Even your pack-o-crap rations would taste a world better cooked in a wood fired oven.  Or let’s say you also have a garden and are tired of eating all your vegetables raw and want some variety and a little community socialization in the process.

Last night something similar occurred just as we had the first batch of pizza out of the oven.  A knock at the door netted a neighbor with a huge bag of fresh tomatoes from their backyard garden beautiful and ready to eat about a month before my tomatoes were ready. I invited him in and asked if he had eaten and needed a snack; “how about a fresh wood fired oven pizza with those tomatoes?”, I asked.  The answer was a resounding “Yes!” In less than a minute we had another round of dough spun up and laid down on cornmeal, sprinkled with olive oil, some of his tomatoes, and dotted with fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese and basil for a pizza margherita.  It slipped into the oven and was ready in about a minute.  20 minutes later after finishing off half the pizza and a glass of wine, he vowed to deliver vegetables anytime I had the oven fired up with pizza dough ready... and he was not joking; he asked for our next scheduled pizza day. Good to be the guy either before or after the fact with the pizza oven.

Each piece of the Roundboy Oven
is no heavier than 75lbs. - Cooking
Chamber Roof

In a preparedness situation, I want to be part of the foundation of community rebuilding; nothing does that like the kitchen where people can come together.  Pooling food and cooking resources not only delivers better tasting and nutritionally diverse food than the components alone, but also extends the food where juice becomes sauce and thin bread with just a few vegetables becomes an incredible meal.  The other obvious point is it takes a whole lot less fuel to keep one communal oven hot, than 100 around your neighborhood  This is how you organize a neighborhood mob into a working unit of breaking bread and rebuilding together all while increasing my home value and more enjoyable in present day as long as society holds together; not a bad deal at all.

This Roundboy oven only cost $1850 as tested, was a quick 2 hours DIY set up with only two people. The best part was that we were cooking pizzas in it that evening because we did not have to wait for 500lbs of mortar to dry.

ABOUT ROUNDBOY OVENS & OUTDOOR PRODUCTS
Roundboy was founded by two real live trade masons; brothers Karl and Harry who have over five generations of mason experience in their family.

Over the years they have specialized in building outdoor living spaces including retaining walls, firepits, outdoor fireplaces, and of course outdoor wood fired pizza ovens. After talking with Karl, he indicated that he had a large number of customers who wanted an inexpensive, flexible option for a DIY pizza/outdoor oven and were frustrated by the post purchase finishing cost equal to the cost of the initial oven kit.  Karl and Harry knew they could come up with a better and easier option than plopping down $3000-$5000 for base kit pizza oven which usually required another $2000 in masonry work plus a forklift to place the very heavy oven unit.

The brilliant idea came to them to offer a simple but equally effective kit where no part weighted more than 75lbs and could be assembled with only two people and no special tools or training - the Roundboy oven was born.  Currently Roundboy offers a DIY internal oven core ($1395) for those that want to brick in their own oven, a complete oven kit ($1695) like the one I picked up, and a complete oven kit plus steel stand ($1995), plus a decorative upgraded stand option as well.  If you have a stand or purchase the oven with the stand option, including the initial pre-heating cycle, you can be making pizzas within about 6-8 hours of the freight truck delivery all without much sweat at all.

FIT, FEEL, & FEATURES
I wanted an inexpensive option to develop my Pandemic Preparedness Primitive Outdoor Kitchen.  I stumbled on the Roundboy simply because it is the least expensive all-in-one wood fired oven kit option I could find and as a bonus is 100% US made. The Roundboy is designed to be so flexible that it is flexible and can be stained, bricked it, or disassembled & rebuilt some point using just the oven base, core, and insulation.  This is also a perfect option for those who may move and want to move the pizza oven with them.    


The Roundboy comes shrink wrapped
on one pallet.
Should you decide to disassemble the unit as some point, you will just need to pop a couple adhesive/caulk points, lift off the pieces, and shop vac out the internal loose fill insulation (the new versions have ceramic blankets), load it into a truck than can handle 1700lbs and you can reassemble it where you want.  It is far from a portable oven, however it is the only outdoor oven option which allows you to move it without the assistance of a forklift after it has been assembled the first time.

The oven is set up like any other wood fired outdoor oven with an inner cooking chamber surrounded by insulation, covered with an outer shell; in this case all are made of refractory concrete to withstand high heat.  Ideally the inner chamber should be so well insulated that the outside should be cool enough that you can leave your hand on the outside just as the internal temp reaches around 1000 degrees.

My DIY 2"x2" Steel tube stand
with the Roundboy L/R bases in place
This oven passed that test perfectly however a couple hours later of heating it will heat up to the no touch point.  The oven itself is made out of eleven <75lb concrete pieces, twenty-six firebricks, and chimney.  I opted for the slate grey Roundboy Oven with the optional chimney cover and door which put my oven just over $1850 for the the unit as tested. The unit arrived via common carrier with pieces safely packed on a large shrink wrapped pallet about two weeks after my order was processed.

Despite a few little initial gaps, the entire oven went together exactly as noted by the very detailed instructions and sealed up perfectly.  Roundboy has a simple welded steel stand option, however I welded up my own stand due to my odd step-up installation location.  My DIY stand was not perfectly flat along the front and that netted the firebricks stepping up just a small 1/16” at the very front of the oven, however I would expect any perfectly level surface to not have this issue related directly to my welding skills. 

Lay down the fire bricks.

SETUP - THE BUILD
My biggest challenge was figuring out the placement and engineering of my Roundboy outdoor oven stand.  Although that exercise took far longer than anticipated, the Roundboy assembly only took Mrs Pandemic and I less than two hours; yes, hours not days.  Following the excellent directions, all you need to purchase is a tape measure and caulking gun which should set you back maybe $5-$10 at most; lay the base plate down, place the 26 firebricks, place the front and rear internal oven pieces, and then slide on the left and right sides to the internal chamber.  

Base, firebricks, cooking chamber
and chimney in place.

Up to this point we have not used any of the included adhesive or caulk based refractory mortar included with the kit. Load up the included caulk based mortar and lightly caulk all the seams as directed, place the stainless steel chimney and caulk it in place.  At this point we grabbed a sandwich and enjoyed a home brew to cool off. 

Once back at it, we followed a tip included with the kit whic suggested alining the exterior of the internal oven with heavy aluminum foil.  We then placed the front and rear exterior panels, add a couple little blobs of the included adhesive, and then slide on the side, poured in the insulation, and slipped on the roof panels.  Finishing up only required caulking the top roofline seam with mortar and placing the chimney cap.  


Rear of cooking chamber.
The concrete chimney cap is not really required and I plan on using that piece as a small hibachi stove, so technically I ended up with two cooking tools in one.  To finish off the roof line, I just notched and cut the aluminum cap and slide it on the chimney and attached the chimney cover. Done in less than two hours!

FUNCTIONS - INITIAL AND SUBSEQUENT HEATING
As with any wood fired outdoor oven, you need to build up in a series of around six fires in dead center of the oven increasing in intensity to slowly to dry out the newly assembled oven and prevent and pressure induced cracking. Purist will suggest always building a small initial fire first before a larger intense fire to assure the oven always is properly dry before a lot of heat is applied to the walls.  

Included in the kit!

One of my questions was what type of wood I should use for these and other fires.  Some say only hardwood should be used, however based on my conversation with Karl, any dry wood can be used to initially season and fire the oven to temp before inserting aromatic hardwood for the cooking cycle.  Karl suggested I just cut up and use the shipping pallet the oven arrived on and that worked perfect.  
Added alum. foil
for extra insulation.

The oven is so efficient and burns so hot that any wood burns very hot and so completely that I have only about a quart of ash from the first three firings.  Hardwood may be the prefered cooking wood, however I have found through my cooking that cut up pallets do a perfect job of heating up the oven to temp before two-to-three hardwood quarters are added to maintain heat and add aromatics. I have cooked numerous cast iron covered dishes with just cut up pallet wood and you would never know the difference; now with open cooking like pizzas the best flavor will be with hardwood fires.


 Exterior walls with
insullation dumped in
with an clamp in place
for stability during
install

Never before have I started a fire so fast in my life. A small paper grocery bag is all that is required to ignite a couple logs to begin the heating process.  Get a smaller fire rolling for about an hour and then put the spurs to it and add wood for a larger sized fire and in an hour or so you will have an oven ready for pizza.


COOKING, BAKING, BROILING & FRYING
The big question is when will you know the oven is ready.  This is really simple actually.  Once the fire starts up it will coat the inside of the oven with black soot, once the oven is at temp, around 800-1000 degrees, ¾ of the ceiling will turn white.  Kinda cool to see it happen.  Generally I heat for another 15-20 past that just to make sure the oven has really good heat dispersion and the floor gets plenty hot.  Ideally you want the oven ceiling around 1000 degrees and the floor around 750 which takes a minimum of two hours if you are doing it right and not rushing building up the fire.



Outdoor wood fired ovens are very efficient once they get hot. Because of the mass, they stay hot for a long time.  After dozens of uses, I have found that after twelve hours of the fire of being out the oven will finally have dropped from 1000 degrees to around 150 so you have plenty of time to cook things.  

If a little fire is maintained the oven will stay extremely hot and a BBQ smoker level 200-220 degrees requires only a miniscule fire to maintain for a day with the door just barely cracked. During my initial firing sequence, I slipped in a cast iron lidded dutch oven “dry” and let it get into the 500+ degree range and then dumped in quartered potatoes, carrots, and onions tossed with vegetable oi, Kosher salt, pepper, and fresh herbs into the ripping hot cast iron. I covered it for 20 minutes and what emerged were the best tasting fried potatoes I have ever had. 
Pizza Prep.

Ready to eat!
A big preheated uncovered cast iron skillet with an oiled, salted, peppered, and herbed whole split/butterflied chicken in the 400-500 degree range will deliver the most incredible crispy crust and tender chicken you will even have.   

Don’t waste the heat in the huge 24”x28”floored interior, after you make pizza let the first die down a bit and pull out the embers with the pizza turner and slip in some fresh bread loaves, chicken, and stew or roast or all three... pack it full.

Fire pushed to the left for cookin
Pull out the bread and slip in a stew and put the door on until tomorrow morning and you will have an incredible stew/roast still hot and ready for your in the morning. Slip in a grill rack such as the Slat Grill into the oven and roast and grill just like you would on any grill. 

What I am saying is that outdoor wood fired ovens are much more versatile than something exclusively for pizza.  In the midwest heat, it has been handy to fire up the Roundboy instead of heating up the house, so I may actually be saving a little energy in the process.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Without question the Roundboy Oven is a great investment in my home even if “it” does not hit the fan. It is a common sense preparedness option that enriches my life today, is a great start of my Pandemic Preparedness Primitive Outdoor Kitchen, and provides a fun conversation piece for parties and family events.  More than anything I am having fun relearning the cooking archaeology that is the wood fired oven. 


There are little tips and tricks here and there such as always have a log or two of hardwood burning when making pizzas to maintain temp and get that nice bubbly brown top crust. You need placement peel equal sized to your pizza and a small round turning peel no wider than ½ the width of the mouth of your oven, so you can actually maneuver the thing. 


The last fifteen seconds of finish “turbo” browning can be done by holding the pizza near the ceiling with the peel to get that browning just right.  The other thing I love is that even if your final product is a little too crispy and with a few too many ashes, it will still be worlds better flavor than anything coming out of your indoor gas or electric range.

The Roundboy Oven is a smart investment, and if “it” does hit the fan, you can be assured that your home will become a cooking and trading hub that can be used in the rebuilding process.

SPECS
Weight Approx 1700 lbs.
Length 34.5
Width             44.5”
Height 25” 

(excluding chimney cover and chimney)
Internal working floor dimensions  

Approx 24”WX28”D
MSRP $1695

SOURCES
Roundboy Ovens and Outdoor Products
http://www.roundboyovens.com/
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