How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF

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How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival

Rocket stoves and outdoor grills are great for cooking in a pot or skillet when the power is down or non-existent following a disaster or a worst case SHTF situation where fuel is either flat-out unavailable or intolerably expensive.

There are some things, though, that cook best in an oven. One solution, of course, is to use a cast iron Dutch oven or camp stove. These are great options, sure, but what about something made from the ground we stand on? I am referring to what is commonly called a “Mud Oven”. Until my recent visit to the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington, I did not know such a thing existed. Live and learn, right?

How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival

What is a Mud Oven and How Does it Work?

Mud Ovens have been in use for thousands of years and are made of a clay-sand mixture baked by the wood fire used to heat it. The way they work is that a fire is set, the oven is heated then the cooking is done by retained heat after the fire is removed. Food cooked by this method are cooked slowly and evenly with almost no chance of burning.

How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival
Photo taken at the Mother Earth News Fair

Mud ovens have many other names: Earth Oven, Clay Oven, Adobe Oven, Bee Hive Oven, Quebec Oven, Roman Oven and El Horno. The difference between these various ovens are in the materials used to build them, what they look like, and where they are used.

I have got to tell you, when I first saw the mud oven I was fascinated. I began thinking about baking breads and pizzas in this primitive but time honored way and wanted to learn more. Imagine my surprise when a Backdoor Survival reader out of the clear blue shared his experience building a mud oven with me!

The Quest for A Mud Oven

Cary from Texas had this to say about his quest to build a mud oven:

I had traveled Arizona and New Mexico visiting places such as Acoma, Taos Pueblo and any other places that had mud ovens.

I remember in the late sixties buying bread baked in these ovens and wanted to duplicate the experience in my own back yard. I also wanted a go to cooking method that was efficient and low cost. The fuel can be anything that burns from nice oak split logs or old pallets torn apart and chopped up. The fire is small and uses very little wood to heat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Then comes the part most people can’t fathom. When the fire burns down to coals you remove it. There is no fire in the oven during cooking. The base becomes a heat sink and the oven walls are 10 inches thick so they hold heat also. You can place your hand on the exterior during peak heat and although hot it will not burn your hand.

How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival

The very first firing went as follows. About thirty or more minutes of burning wood and then i removed the coals. Several pizzas were cooked which took about two minutes each. They go directly on the firebrick floor. Then i put two loaves of bread in to bake and removed them 30 minutes later. I hadn’t planned anything past that so i put the door back in place while i made up a pot of dry pinto beans, yes dry, with plenty of water and some seasoning.

I had little hope for this but tried it anyway. I made some mud to seal the door and walked away at 2:30 that afternoon. I checked the oven the next morning and it was still hot and the beans had cooked to a creamy texture and were delicious.

How Do You Build a Mud Oven?

There are lots of instructions on the internet but first, follow along as Cary shares his construction via some great photos (used with his permission, of course).

How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival

Base for heat sink being laid out.

As for the building of a mud oven the most critical mindset to have is you can fail and lose nothing. Reuse the old mud and start over.

How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival

Walls for heat sink homemade adobe brick.

The second most critical mindset is the oven doesn’t have to be perfect and probably won’t be. You only have a few rules and they deal with clay and sand content of the mud which is basically adobe. Remember, this is 3000 year old technology and if they made it work, so can you.

How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival

Solid adobe plug that hold massive amounts of heat and radiates out during cooking

How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival

Fire brick cooking floor. The ancients just used the mud floor.

How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival

Damp play sand in the shape of a beehive. You build mud over this form.

How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival

Door cut out and sand removed. The oven gets another 31/2 inches of adobe with wood shavings as an insulator. Then a final 1 inch finish coat.

So, the first step is do some research, read Kikos book (see below) and find some friends to help with the heavy work. I built mine at 68 years of age with no help. I wouldn’t do it again without at least one helper. If you are young and in good shape then go for it but remember mud gets heavy and you have to mix a lot of it.

Good luck.

The Final Word

Most sources, including Cary, consider the best book on mud ovens to be “Build Your Own Earth Oven: A Low-Cost Wood-Fired Mud Oven; Simple Sourdough Bread; Perfect LoavesHow to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival” by Kiko Denzer. In addition, there are some pretty decent instructions for building your own mud oven at the Mother Earth News website in the article Build Your Own Wood-fired Earth Oven.

Mud ovens can be built in all sizes and take little in the way of time to maintain.  Furthermore, my guess is that these ovens were the precursor to the modern day slow cookers that we fondly call the “crock pot”.  And in closing what does Cary say?

“This thing cooks anything and left closed overnight will cook cast iron beans and stews to last a week. You can hold the required scrap wood for the burn in two hands. Fire is removed before cooking and holds heat for a good 24 hours with door closed. Ancient technology. Not for everyone. Requires skill to build but doable for the DIY.”

Why not go for it and build one yourself?  At the very least, print out the instructions and keep them with the rest of your survival documents.  That is what I plan to do.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye

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In addition, when you sign up to receive email updates you will receive a free, downloadable copy of my e-book The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide.

Bargain Bin: If you are thinking about building a mud oven, baking your own breads and pizzas, and simply getting back to the basics, consider the following recommended items.

Build Your Own Earth Oven: A Low-Cost Wood-Fired Mud Oven; Simple Sourdough Bread; Perfect Loaves:  This is the book that will teach you how to build a masonry oven out of mud then teach you how to mix flour and water for real bread that is “better than anything you can buy.”

Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day: This is the latest edition in the Artisan In Five series and possibly the best.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home BakingHow to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival: At an average cost of 50 cents a loaf, this bread is easy, delicious and inexpensive to make.

Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free IngredientsHow to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival: Ditto.

Lodge Logic 4-Quart Cast-Iron Camp Dutch OvenHow to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival: Love it love it love it. This is the perfect size for all types of things: baked beans, stews, and my favorite, peach cobbler. Don’t forget the Lodge Set of 2 Pan Scrapers, a must have for cleaning those food bits from your cast iron cookware.

________________________________

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These are just two of the food storage items that you can purchase at Emergency Essentials.  And if you need some recipes?  Go to the Food Storage RecipesHow to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF   Backdoor Survival page of Emergency Essentials for lots of creative (and free) ideas for using the good you have on hand.

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Comments

How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Use Now and When the SHTF — 21 Comments

  1. I have always wanted to do this but wonder if it could be done in Northern Minnesota and how we could use alternate methods? of clay ? and if our more humid environment in the summer would hinder or break it down? Might be best to put some sort of shelter over it? you think?

    • I would recommend starting with the book (which I just ordered myself). Hopefully, someone living in a similar climate will read this and be able to answer better than I can.

      Gaye

    • A true Horno is made without any portland products which means it will degrade with direct rainfall. Even in the southwest with little rain a cover is nice to have. The reason for no portland is the oven must breath to rid itself of moisture. Trapped moisture breaks down the mud and will eventually cause the oven ceiling to weaken.

    • Hey u can do it, I used to live in Monticello and my grandfather made one and is awesome we make pizza, bread and lots of mexican food !!

    • I did question if this kind of thing would hold up to the North/South Dakota climate, and thus I asked my Grandma who grew up in N. Dakota in a “Sod House” and she informs me, as does another friend of mine who has built one of these, that yes it will hold up to our climate. He referred me to my Grandma and the Sod House which is just regular dirt and grass on the outside, and then pointed out the clay pots I use for planting plants in that hold up. Because of the firing/heating process it dries and strengthens the clay, and as one of the photos I saw from that book clearly showed on of the outer ovens was cement/concrete covered, which I know would hold up to even the harshest of winters for our climates from MN, ND, SD. Canada gets it worse than us, and they hold up to their climate, so I figured I’d clear that up for you.

  2. Lovely idea and sculptural as well~ excellent.

    One wonders what the door should be made out of eh?

    Any prep needed on fire bricks? If they are silica based that
    can’t a good thing~

    Any thoughts?
    Feel free to email me. Thanks

  3. As for the door: it has a light sheet metal cover on the inside that doesn’t show in photo. Remember, the fire comes out before cooking so you are only dealing with an ever increasing decline in temperature over a 24 hour period. The brick issue can be solved, if it bothers you, by a clay slab sold for ovens or a large clay tile glazed. Having worked in ceramics the temps in manufacture are so high, 2000 to 3000 F, you won’t get much breakdown in the lower heat this oven produces.

  4. i think lime mixed with clay and sand tends to resist water. some kind of lime plaster, is what ive seen for strawbale exteriors, so the same should hold for an oven

  5. You do not have to remove the fire, . . . we have a “wood fired pizza” place about 10 miles down the road, . . . I’ve seen inside his oven, . . . fire is still going. Just have to remember not to be burning pine, plastic, or anything else in there that could be poison or leave a disagreeable taste.

    He uses only oak I think, . . . and his pizzas are wonderful.

    • If you bake bread or use a dutch oven overnight the fire comes out. Pizzas are a different deal and that’s why i would bake pizza first and then clear the oven for bread and lastly the dutch oven overnight. This thing is still hot 24 hours later.

        • In case you check back after all this time: I do not build a large fire and it only burns for about 35 to 40 minutes. The bundle of wood can be held with two hands around it. Maybe a little more if i want to be sure i have enough heat.

  6. In Brazil they hollow out termite mounds to make clay ovens. Termite mud is reputed to be the best thermal material ever invented by man (joke) and makes for perfect baking of bread, biscuits, pao de queijo and anything that leavens. Sometimes the termite mound is used in place, others it is carefully dug up and moved close to home. Mounds can also be cut into bricks and used to build more standardized clay ovens. In the link below, ol’ Juca built an entire patio around the existing mound, which is admittedly large even by Brazilian termite standards. Note that the termites are still using the mound, building a new strip of darker-colored mud along the outer wall. That’s how good its thermal properties are.

    http://revistagloborural.globo.com/Revista/Common/0,,EMI301454-18279,00-JUCA+E+SEU+FORNO+DE+CUPIM.html

  7. Excellent article. I have a home made mud brick house. There’s nothing like mud brick for a comfortable and warm house. It took me about 14 months full time to make it but I’ve never regretted the time. I love it (and so do my kids).

    I’ve always wanted a mud oven but never quite got around to finding the time. Funny but I buitl a house but never quite got the oven done!

    A friend of mine has a commercial outdoor oven and he cooks pizzas in it. Wonderful pizzas. I’ve found you with a little search and might now give it a go and make one. Thanks

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