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Sept. 12, 2021

Oven Tools - Should you use an Andiron in your Wood Fired Oven?

Oven Tools - Should you use an Andiron in your Wood Fired Oven?

This week I am taking a deep dive into using an andiron in your wood fired oven.  I use one almost every time I cook. I explain why I love using one.  I work through the advantages and disadvantages of using an andiron, and see if you would benefit from using one too. If you enjoying cooking in your wood fired oven - make sure you listen to this weeks episode.

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Mark (00:00):
Gday - Welcome to the Wood Fired Oven podcast where I take a deep dive into the techniques, recipes and history of wood fired oven cooking. My name is Mark an obsessed and somewhat curious fan of outdoor cooking - especially with my wood fired oven. Follow my podcast in your favourite app and listen in, as I go searching for the best recipes, tips and advice, to both supercharge our cooking skills and motivate you to light up your favourite outdoor cooking gear this weekend.

Mark (00:46):
Welcome to the episode. It's great to have you along today. I really hope you're all staying safe, looking after yourself in this crazy world we got going on right now. In this episode, I'm going to be taking a look at whether or not you should consider using an Andiron in your wood fired oven. I use an andiron in my oven every time I cook. And let's see if today we can work. Through some of the advantages, some of the disadvantages that I have found and see if you might benefit from using one as well.

Mark (01:15):
So what is an andiron? So an andiron is a pretty basic cooking tool really. If you didn't know, it's a couple of pieces of welded steel designed to get the wood off the floor of a fireplace, or for us off our wood fired oven floor. Essentially this allows for improved air flow around the wood. It burns better as it's not sitting directly on top of the ash or the embers. Now it's been estimated that a fire, well, depending on size, of course, but a fire typically needs about 300 cubic meters of air flow per hour to sustain it. Now that's a lot of air, actually. It's a lot of weight of air too. I've got an upcoming episode where I discuss the physics of this flow in a bit more detail, but essentially if we can raise the wood off the floor of our wood fired oven, this airflow can surround the wood better, increasing temperature and heating up the oven quicker. And that’s certainly been my experience. Many wood fired oven cooks don’t use one, but for me, there are some real benefits, particularly in my larger wood Fired Oven, but more on that a little later. Now my particular Andiron, is pretty big, and its pretty heavy, and that’s to suit the size of my oven.

Mark (02:27):
My Wood Fired Oven has a floor diameter of about 105 cm, just on a metre, or about 41 inches, at that’s big, its really big, its not commercial big, but it’s a big sized oven. And I chose that size really for the style of cooking that I enjoy, not only do I enjoy cooking pizza, which I do from time to time, but I do a lot more cooking with slow cooks and other types of foods that really benefit from flame and retained heat, and I like to have a large floor, I can get lots of cooking vessels, pots, tagines, skewers if I’m doing Chicken Tikka Masala’s or that style of cooking as well. I can get a lot of food in the oven at any given time, which is great if you have a big party, or lots of people coming around your house. But for me, I needed to get an Andiron that suited my oven. And my Andiron, it’s about 48 cm from the nose of the Andiron, to the tail, its about 16, 17 cm high, and about 25 cm from the feet to the top of the head, and its big and heavy. I don’t know the weight, I’m guessing 3 or 4 kilos plus, oh it’d be more than that probably 5 kilos, it is pretty heavy, its made from very thick steel, maybe a little bit over 2 cm square, or three quarters of an inch square. Its made from square steel stock its robust, its got a supporting bracket near the tail as well, and that’s to prevent the backside of the Andiron getting bent by the weight of the wood. So the clearance off the floor is about 16 cm or so, and that’s a large air gap that oxygen can use to circulate around the wood, that might be sitting on top of it or, up on the sides [laughter] quite like resting a piece of wood, balancing it horizontally, one piece of wood right on top of the Andiron, balancing it there in the middle of the oven. I often spend a few minutes trying to get that right, cause it looks kinda cool when I’m sitting back in my seat with a glass of wine watching that. Its really great. But I can get an awfully large amount of wood, resting up against the Andiron inside the wood fired oven.

Mark (04:22):
So, why use it? Why use it at all. If some cooks don’t have it, don’t like it, don’t want to use it, some cooks do, what are really ultimately the advantages? Well this is just from my experience, but I definitely get improved airflow, and if I get improved airflow in my oven, around, circulating around this wood, it leads to greater heat control, and that greater heat control, for me, leads to a greater flexibility in my cooking, especially if you cook lots of different types of foods, in your wood fired oven. If your only cooking pizza in your Wood Fired Oven, then maybe you don’t need one. You might get a better flame roll, though, if you do use one, and you might get a better flame roll using less wood as well, cause its slightly elevated. More oxygenation means more robust fire.

Mark (05:05):
If your oven is a smaller, portable style, of pizza oven, or it has a low internal roof, then using an Andiron will be difficult, particularly a traditional Andiron made of steel. Its not impossible though, you could certainly experiment with placing a couple of small bricks, or some small stones, as our forefathers used to use in the oven, just to lift the wood off the floor a little bit. And see if you get any change in airflow circulation, it doesn’t take long for the wood in the oven to respond to being of the ash, and off the embers. I challenge you to give it a shot, give it a go, and let me know how you find it. You might be surprised by how effective it is. I think perhaps the advantage really ultimately comes if the oven's a little bit larger, I get rigorous, rigorous, wood burning using an andiron, and this helps me to heat up my oven faster, I think, than if I wasn't using one. I almost always heat my oven really, really hot, almost on every cook, and that's regardless of what I'm cooking. My oven is always going to be hot enough to clear the dome and then I utilise the various cooking temperatures inside the oven. I don't really like cooking in my oven with a black and sooty dome. The brickwork took me a bit of time to install and I love looking at this glowing brickwork in the back of my oven. Often the difference in temperature between the different zones in the oven can be well over a hundred degrees between the back of the oven near the fire and at the front near the opening. And that difference in temperature is great because it means that there is a lot of scope to play with, when cooking different types of food, the smaller the oven, I suspect you're going to have less room to move and possibly less control over your temperature zones, in a slightly bigger oven around about a hundred centimetres or so in diameter, there is an awful lot of scope to play with, which means that the oven becomes incredibly versatile.

Mark (06:54):
But look, I have no experience cooking in a smaller portable style of pizza oven, I'm only speaking from experience using mine. So having an andiron really does help to keep a log or two well oxygenated and flaming, which in turn definitely leads to much better heat control and overall cooking flexibility. Also during the warming up of the oven at the start of the day, there's a lot less smoke as the logs aren't getting smothered by the Ash and debris. Now that's true for the first little while as you heat it up. Once the oven is hot, all that smoke is just getting destroyed by the heat of the oven and is there's virtually nothing for the rest of the day, but just for that first 45 minutes or so, I do get a little bit of smoke and the andiron absolutely helps me to keep a flame lit inside the oven, and if there is a flame lit at absolutely helps to keep the smoke down. Smoldering would, or wouldn't, that's not well, oxygenated will create smoke. And that's a really important consideration for me with my close neighbors. I've got close neighbors on three sides of our house. They're great though, but if I can keep the flames going during a light up, like I say, I get virtually no smoke. If there isn't enough oxygen entering the oven, getting around that wood and circulating it will always produce some smoke. Like I say, not a lot, but lighting up my fire now I am trying to tame the fire to coax it into life and trying to reduce that smoke has become a bit of an obsession, really, not because it's an overall problem. The design of the oven itself and the [inaudible] brick oven is extremely well-designed. And to be honest, I get very little smoke, but I'm trying to get virtually no smoke, particularly in that early light up phase. My neighbors don't really mind, but I think having close neighbors, it's important to be respectful of the air quality for them, with their kids and look end of the day, it keeps everybody happy.

Mark (08:34):
Now my style of cooking, I like to use flame a lot directly and also bouncing it off the oven dome and having wood off the floor also helps to get direct flame heat to the top of the food, if you want that as well. Think of your flame, roll with your pizza, licking up the top of the oven, what other foods can benefit from that sort of style as well. It's a lot of fun. It really great as well. I just want my wood in my oven to be burning as efficiently as possible. If you've been listening to the podcast, you know, by now that I cook a lot of different foods in my wood-fired oven. So there is no doubt that I get lots of flexibility by using andiron on moving it around the floor, trying different things has been a lot of fun and time well worth spending doing. Retained heat in the brickwork really does a lot of the cooking, but the air flowing into the oven gets super heated very quickly as well. And that helps the cooking cycle too. So I like to make sure it has a very clear pathway over the brick floor, so it can surround that burning wood quickly and efficiently. I think if you're using a small fire to maintain heat, using an andiron can help the wood stay flaming or lit as opposed to smoldering as well. And look, if I had a choice of watching a flaming piece of wood or a smoldering charred log, I know what I'd prefer to watch. Particularly as the sun goes down.

Mark (09:46):
I'm a little pedantic, so I like to keep my oven floor nice and tidy and as free of the extra ash and debris as possible. I want to maximize the space on my oven floor as well. So I usually move the hot embers under the andiron and place new dry logs on top of the andiron. And this helps to maximize all that lovely, usable space that I've got. If I've got more usable space, I've got more control over the temperature that I'm applying to the food. I can move my food around more. If I'm using my cast iron pans and pots, this also helps to keep the landing area in front of the oven clean, as I'm not dragging ash and mess out of the front of the oven every time I check my food. If you've got a larger oven, and if you find that you just don't have much temperature control within your oven, definitely try using an andiron. You may be surprised with the extra flexibility it might give you.

Mark (10:38):
Okay, welcome to question time. I've had a question come in from Jim over on Instagram. Thanks Jim, for getting in touch. If you've got a question you'd like me to answer or have a crack at answering here on the Wood Fired Oven podcast, hit me up over at Instagram or at my website WoodFiredOven.Cooking. Get in touch with me and we'll have a go at answering some questions for you. Jim asks, is it better to have logs to the side or at the back of a wood-fired oven? And that's a really good question, Jim, and definitely, I really appreciate you reaching out and getting in touch and we've had a chat about it, but I thought I'd share your question and what I said to you with the listeners on the podcast. This definitely depends on the style I think, and the shape of your wood fired oven. Like I said earlier in this podcast, and if you've seen the pictures of my oven, my oven's large with a round floor, so I can have the fire on the side, which is usually my preference or at the back of the oven. And I end up getting similar cooler and warmer zones in the oven because of that, throughout the oven floor. Jim's oven was actually a bit of a different shape. It was a smaller oven and for him, experimentation will be the key fire at the back, maybe more practical in a narrower oven, I would suspect it will be, I've got no experience using one however. But for me, it doesn't really matter where I have my fire. It may be a little easier practically in a wood fired oven to use one side of the oven when cooking pizza, as this allows the flame roll to pass over the top of the pizza from one side to the other. And that avoids that flame roll coming at you. If you're standing at the front, if your fire was in the centre back, when I'm cooking other foods, I mix it up a bit. Sometimes I keep a small fire at the back in the middle, and this is great so that I can see my fire from my chair when I'm taking a break, quite nice to see a flame right in the centre of your oven, when I'm sitting there relaxing, hydrating myself. Other times, I use the right hand side of the wall. I'm right-handed and I just find that a little easier to work if the fire's on the right hand side, all my heavy cast iron cookware is on the left, and that means that I can use my right hand to really help bring these out of the oven. It works well for me, but you're going to have to experiment with it. So Jim, thanks very much for your question. If you do have a question, reach out to me, like I said, WoodFiredOven.Cooking, or hit me up over on Instagram, marks_woodfiredoven.

Mark (12:53):
I've got a little favour to ask those folks who are listening to this podcast around the world, at last count you lovely listeners are spread around about 60 different countries around the world. At the time of recording, this podcast is ranking in the top 25% of downloads within an episodes first seven days of life. And, and that's huge. That's crazy. I really appreciate you guys listening. If you have got something out of this podcast, if you enjoy tuning in and listening to my adventures with my wood fired oven, could I ask a favour? Could I please ask that you head over to Apple Podcasts and post a review? A review really helps the show. It really helps to spread the word of this podcast amongst other listeners and on a personal level, I just, I would just really appreciate it. So if you are enjoying it, please head over to Apple Podcasts. They allow you to write a review and that would just be fantastic. You'd make my day, if I got a couple of reviews up on apple podcasts.

Mark (13:47):
Okay, let's get back to the question of using the andiron in your wood fired oven. Now, there are a couple of reasons why it might not be right for you, and I've touched on some of those already. You may not need an andiron if you are only really interested in using retained heat stored in the oven dome, or if you're only cooking pizza, or if your pizza oven is small with a low ceiling. Now I don't actually cook pizza very often in my wood fired oven, I love pizza. It's a real art, it's a real skillset, but there is so much more you can cook in a wood fired oven or any pizza oven for that matter, irrespective of size. So if you bought a smaller portable pizza oven and you've mastered how to cook pizza, I really encourage you to try some of the other foods that I'm suggesting on the wood fired oven podcasts. There is so much that you can do with these gorgeous cooking tools. Another reason why folks may not like using andirons is it's just another thing to do during the cook. There's a little bit more messing around, positioning the andiron, placing logs up against it. And that just takes valuable time away from cooking. I like it. I like playing with fire. I like trying to get the perfect heat zones in my oven every time I cook. I like to encourage flame on my logs as much as I can, but I understand that not everyone can be bothered with it. And if that's not your thing, then don't even worry about it. Your food is going to turn out just fine.

Mark (15:02):
Well, our generation as you probably would guess, wasn't the first to use andirons with fire. In fact, there is archeological evidence of andirons in use during the latter part of the iron age. That's a few thousand years ago. My andiron kind of looks like a small dog, and now it's understandable why they are also called a fire dog in Greece. There is also evidence of stone andirons being used in fireplaces stretching back about 3000 years ago. So those who came and played with fire before us definitely knew a lot about fire. They used it every day, far more than we might. So they must have been intimately aware of the benefits of using them, both for heat and for cooking. There is evidence of the Romans using andirons as well. And there is evidence that they used their andirons to cook on too. So perhaps its the first multi tool and use in our archeological record, probably not. But I do like the idea in Europe. There are some very elegantly designed andirons and fire baskets from the 16th and 17th centuries too, plenty of pictures online to take a look at. Many open fireplaces today, incorporate andirons or fire baskets to allow for this better air circulation. So it is a well-established tool for promoting a good efficient fire, both in terms of traditional fireplaces and in our wood fired ovens. Andirons also help prevent logs from rolling out of a traditional fireplace. And while that's not so much of an issue with us with our wood fired ovens, given the very deep design of our ovens, there are so many other practical uses for having one. I'm really interested to know if you use an andiron in your wood fight oven.

Mark (16:39):
So I'm running a quick poll over at WoodFiredOven.Cooking. Now you can access the poll from the top menu on the website. I'd like to see how many of you are using an andiron. I'm really interested in how the fire cooking community here are using them and how many there are. If you are listening to this podcast, could I please ask that you consider heading over to WoodFiredOven.Cooking , check out the poll under the more menu and complete the very quick one question poll. I'm not asking for your details, nothing like that. I just want to know if you use an andiron in your wood fired oven, and you'll see the results straight away as well from other people who might be listening. It takes you 10 seconds literally. So you head on over, I'll also share the results in a future podcast episode as well, but that'd be great head on over and check out the poll. Let me know what you're doing. Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode. Don't forget, you can reach out to me on marks_woodfiredoven on Instagram or WoodFiredOven.Cooking , and get in touch with me. Stay safe, have fun and go cook with fire.

Mark (17:40):
If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please make sure you follow the Wood Fired Oven podcast in apple podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcasting app. Please consider posting a review on apple podcasts…as that really helps the show. Don’t forget to check out WoodFiredOven.Cooking for more tips, tricks and advice on cooking with fire. You can also see full episode notes and links. You can also post a question which I may feature on the show. I’m also on Instagram, twitter and facebook so head over to your favourite social platform and and get in touch. Thanks again for listening. Catch you next time.