This DIY, wood-fired, outdoor masonry stove can be used four ways: for baking, grilling, cooking, and smoking. Whatever your cooking needs, our outdoor stove/oven/grill/smoker can do it, thanks to interchangeable grill grates and griddle surfaces. If you want to grill steaks or fish, use the grill grate. If you want to bake bread, slide on the steel griddle, stack some bricks on top to retain heat and add the door to hold in the heat. If you want to use the stove top, just slide the metal plate (or griddle) over the top of the firebox.
The MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors and I wanted to design a highly efficient, multi-purpose stove that uses little firewood (or charcoal) and retains heat for baking and cooking. So, we included a thick insulation layer of lightweight perlite/cement between the firebox and surrounding concrete block, and we included a removable door. This design holds the heat in the firebox where it’s needed. (Perlite is the porous white stuff often found in potting soils. You can buy this mined mineral product at garden centers.)
You can build the outdoor oven in stages, a few hours at a time. (You’ll need a few days between some steps.) Check local building codes before you start building. The oven is made from materials you can buy at local hardware or building stores. You may be able to find some of the materials at a salvage yard, too. (See the materials list and the building diagram). Detailed instructions for building the outdoor brick oven are below. Even if you only use it to bake bread, you can save enough money in one year to more than pay for the $300 cost.
Ideally, the stove is built to a comfortable height with concrete countertop space on each side, plus a roof to protect against the elements. We covered the concrete blocks with tile, primarily for aesthetic reasons, but you could apply stucco over the blocks, or just paint them. Having an outdoor sink and storage space nearby is also convenient.
Our outdoor oven requires a fire in the firebox for about 45 minutes to one hour to reach a baking temperature of 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Or, if you want to grill, you can start in less than half an hour. For comparison, it can take about three hours to get a clay earthen oven up to proper baking temperature. That’s a lot of time and firewood expended, which really adds up if you’re using the oven frequently. The firebrick used in our stove reaches cooking temperature more quickly than clay because its higher density makes it more efficient at conducting heat.
Another key design element is the firebox size — not too small, not too large, but just right. Properly sized fireboxes heat up quickly, have improved combustion, produce less smoke and stay hotter longer. We measured cookie sheets, bread pans, medium and large roasting pans, canners and baking dishes to arrive at our optimal firebox size of 13 inches wide by 28 inches deep by 13 1/2 inches high.