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

Gaye LevyGaye Levy | Apr 17, 2019
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As part of a recent giveaway, one of the questions I asked was What DIY project would you like to see featured on Backdoor Survival?”  There were some amazing responses and over time, I hope to work through the list.

Interestingly enough, two readers requested a similar topic and when more than one reader makes a request, I sit up and pay attention.  The DIY projects were:

1.  How can I build a bread-baking oven with mud and straw?
2.  I would like to learn how to build a Horno oven (traditional Native American wood-fired oven).

How to Build an Outdoor Oven

As luck would have it, this is a familiar topic since awhile back, I featured an article on DIY mud ovens.  I had first seen one at the Mother Earth News Fair and was fascinated by its simplicity as well as its efficiency. I was later contacted by a Backdoor Survival reader who had built his own mud oven and was willing to share some hands-on tips.  Later, during one of my travels, I found some mud ovens in actual use in both Mexico and Costa Rica.  I was hooked!

For those of you that are new to the concept, outdoor Mud Ovens are common in third world countries where indoor cooking facilities are nominal and where cooking fuel consists of wood and biomass.  They are also known in some areas as Horno ovens.

here is the full article:


How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven

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?

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.

Mud Oven MOther Earth News Fair 3
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.

mudoven2 (Custom) mudoven4 (Custom)

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).

mudoven5 (Custom)

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.

mudoven6 (Custom)

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.

mudoven7 (Custom)

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

mudoven8 (Custom)

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

mudoven9 (Custom)

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

mudoven10 (Custom)

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 Loaves” 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!

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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 Baking: 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 Ingredients: Ditto.

Lodge Logic 4-Quart Cast-Iron Camp Dutch Oven Food Storage Part II: Unraveling the Mystique of Mylar Bags: 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.

Bargain Bin:  Today I offer up some links related to cooking and baking outdoors, including a cast iron skillet and Dutch oven.  Have any doubts about cast iron?  Read Fall in Love With Cast Iron.

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.”

Lodge Logic 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet: This purchase changed the way I cook. I use my cast iron cookware for everything from burgers, to bacon and eggs, to biscuits. Be sure to select the Value pack Skillet with Silicone Handle which is less money and a better deal.

US Forge 400 Welding Gloves Lined Leather: These well-priced gloves provide complete heat and burn protection. They are perfect for keeping your hands and arms safe while cooking outdoors over an open fire.

Lodge Dutch Oven/Camp Stove:  I originally purchased this Dutch oven because it was so darn cute.  But over time, I have learned to love it for its versatility.  Remember, a camp stove is designed so that you can bake with it by arranging charcoal on top of the lid as well as underneath the Dutch Oven itself.

OXO Steel Dish Brush: I use this brush exclusively for cleaning cast iron.  It has never seen soap and I plan to keep it that way.

Ove’ Gloves Hot Surface Handler:  I cannot say enough about these hand and arm protectors.  I have permanent scars from hitting my arm on the rack of my oven.  I can only imagine what I would look like if I did not use these with my cast iron cookware.  Forget the colorful silicon hot pads.  These are 1000 times better!

US Forge 400 Welding Gloves Lined Leather: These well-priced gloves provide complete heat and burn protection. They are made of soft and supple top grain leather for comfort and pliability, plus they have an internal liner gives more comfort and durability.

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 Baking: At an average cost of 50 cents a loaf, this bread is easy, delicious and inexpensive to make.  There is also Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients.


Emergency Essential Corn Bread 013Shop the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials

I really love the Provident Pantry Corn Muffin Mix which I cooked up as corn bread in my cast iron skillet.  Oh my gosh – it was better than anything boxed that I have ever purchased and as good as home made.  The best part is that all I had to add was water!  Same with the Buttermilk Biscuit Mix.

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 Recipes page of Emergency Essentials for lots of creative (and free) ideas for using the good you have on hand.

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Updated Apr 17, 2019

23 Responses to “How to Build an Outdoor Mud Oven for Now and When the SHTF”

  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.


    • 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.

    • There are several builders recommending a shelter over the completed oven. The mud finish will become wet and wash away with much rain. I’ve read that plaster blocks the natural moisture movement for the oven and the oven begins to crack. Just building my own and these are recommendations I have seen.

  2. Fantastic, I was just looking for mud oven info last night while working midnights! Thanks!

  3. very nice, I have seen a couple and am thinking about trying to make one. This post will help.

  4. wonder if this would work up here in Alaska. Time to practice my Google Fu.

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

    • Cary. When you build the fire, is it a big one? How long do you let it burn before you rake it out?

    • 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.

  9. 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.


  10. Thanks for this Gaye….seriously considring building one when we finish our landscaping next year!

  11. Wow, this is really informative! Thanks for posting!!!!!

  12. So much more simple than I expected! Yes I definitely think I’ll end up trying this. Maybe next summer.

  13. Thank you for posting this. We finished our oven in March and it has had lots of use for pizza. I am still perfecting the bread baking. Ours was such fun to build and we are quite proud of it. I hope more people take on this project. We spent a total of $58 to build ours (fire bricks and straw), the rest of the supplies came right out of our own yard!

  14. Nice article but for me, the only way to fly is with a rocket oven. Mine looks very similar to the photo in this article but with just a single handful of small sticks, I can cook a pizza or load of bread. The times are the same as for my propane oven: ten minutes to preheat and then 25 minutes for cooking. Google rocket ovens and you’ll see what I mean.

  15. We’ve been stumbling around the internet and found your blog along the way.

    We love your work! What a great corner of the internet 🙂


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