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Fires - Building and Maintaining  (in a outdoor kitchen - wood burning brick oven)

This page is all about how to create and maintain a low smoke fire in your wood burning brick oven that quickly heats up and does not generate annoying smoke that irritates the neighbors.   I now use the "upside down" fire technique that I learned about in the Yahoo "brick oven" forum (another super resource). If you are building an outdoor kitchen or with an oven or just a standalone oven, you will quickly learn the need and value of a low smoke generating fire.    

Upside down?   Basically a stack of wood is built with the large pieces on the bottom, and the kindling, smaller pieces on top.  Upside down from what you normally build.    Concept is the fire will burn down, igniting the larger pieces with the coals from the smaller pieces. 

Following pictures are of a startup sequence that produced a low smoke, hot pile of coals in under 30 minutes.   This stack has 4 layers.  Largest on bottom, laid front to back.  next layer (3 or 4 pieces) crosswise.  next layer is a bit smaller, then the final 4 layer has the smallest material.  13:40 was the start time this day.

upside down fire

As you can see above, I use a propane starter which is really just a propane weed burner.  Before I learned this upside down low smoke technique for building the fire on my wood burning pizza oven, this propane burner was my "emergency" burner to add a lot of intense heat to a smoldering pile of wood to attempt to reduce the smoke coming from the chimney.  Now that I am getting better at this low smoke technique, I am using the burner much less.

starting low smoke upside down fire

13:54 (less than 20 minutes) and you can see how the wood pile has burned down and the coals from the upper layers are catching  the lower, larger wood pieces on fire.

low smoke fire wood oven ember base

Picture of the chimney of my wood burning brick pizza oven at the 20 minute mark and look, no smoke!.  There was little smoke during the entire startup period. 

One of the hardest things to do is --- do not touch the fire!  Let your wood stack burn down and make this great bed of hot embers .  Only once the hot embers have really burnt down, should you start adding some small and medium pieces of hardwood to resume building.  The coals are so hot , they quickly ignite the new pieces.


hot embers low smoke upside down fire


Another major change I made in the preparation and firing of my wood burning brick pizza oven is to use smaller pieces of wood.  How to get these?  In Dallas, Tx, the normal hardwood supply I can find is standard fireplace logs.  These are up to 4" in diameter and do not make good hot fires.  They burn well once a fire is started but are very hard to start. 

My solution was to purchase a small, 10 ton, dual speed (two levers) hydraulic wood splitter from my local cheap tool source (Harbor Freight).   I paid $79 on sale for this and it is the best thing since sliced bread.  I can make 2 - 3 pieces out of every piece of hardwood in my stock pile.     My neighbors are happier and I smell like smoke a lot less often!

Using these two steps together, and upside down wood starter pile, and a wood splitter to make your own smaller wood pieces will help you enjoy your outdoor kitchen / wood burning brick pizza oven even more. You can concentrate on cooking instead of fire and smoke tending.

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