Rocket Oven – is it Right for You? Here’s What You Need to Know
It’s a Saturday afternoon and tonight’s meal is wood-fired pizza. You gather some twigs and branches from around your property, add them to your home-made rocket oven, and within 30 minutes you have 8 personal pan pizzas for you and your family to share. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Keep reading to learn how you can make this vision a reality.
This may sound too good to be true. Or you might be questioning the use of wood, since we all know burning wood is bad for the environment, right?
Not only is this all totally possible, but a rocket oven is also the most environmentally friendly way for you to cook your food.
Wait—the most environmentally-friendly way to cook?
Rocket ovens are based on an incredibly fuel-efficient design that allows you to cook food sustainably using no more fuel than the twigs and other kindling you could gather from your own property.
I’m really excited about this new technology, and I hope to be able to set one up on my own homestead soon.
Wild Homesteading is all about the principle that when you work with nature, nature works with you. It’s not just about what you grow. I’m always looking for ways to cut down my carbon footprint, and as a homesteader I’m also looking for ways to be more self-reliant.
This is an environmentally-friendly way to cook food using only the twigs and scraps you find on your own property. Better yet, it can help shield you from the energy shocks that many people expect in the coming years, and it can save you money.
Sounds like a win-win deal to me!
Of course, there are some trade-offs. In this post I’m going give you a complete overview of what a rocket oven is and how to know if it’s right for you.
I also made a free quiz you can take to help you see if a rocket oven is right for you and your homestead, and what kind you'd want to build.
What is a Rocket Oven?
A rocket oven is a special type of oven that is designed to achieve complete combustion using what is called a J-tube (want to guess which letter it’s shaped like?).
In most wood burning ovens, only part of the wood is converted to heat, while the rest turns into dirty smoke, ash, and charcoal.
This is called incomplete combustion, and it results in all the smoke you see coming out of most wood burning systems.
That’s one reason why wood-burning is viewed as bad for the environment.
When complete combustion is achieved, (or nearly achieved), as close to 100% of the wood as possible is turned to heat. This greatly reduces the smoke, ash, and charcoal released by the oven.
So how does a rocket oven achieve this amazing result?
The Engine of a Rocket Oven: The J-Tube
Enter the J-Tube. This fuel-efficient design is also used in similar systems such as rocket stoves and rocket mass heaters.
Essentially, a rocket oven is a baking compartment stuck on top of a j-tube engine. The oven part is functionally the same as a conventional oven.
What truly makes an oven a rocket oven is the j-tube.
3 Main Parts of a J-Tube
- 1Feed Tube
- 2Burn Tunnel
- 3Heat Riser
Unlike a regular woodfire oven, the wood is placed standing upright in the feed tube. When the wood is lit, the flame is drawn sideways through the burn tunnel with the heat rising through the heat riser.
Wait a minute? Sideways burning flames?
I know it’s hard to imagine, but a j-tube is designed so that air is drawn in through the burn tunnel, pulling the flames sideways until the only place the heat can go is up through the heat riser.
This is so effective when built correctly that you will hear a roaring sound as the air and flames are drawn through the system.
You might even say it sounds like a rocket taking off. This sound is why we call an oven powered by a j-tube a rocket oven.
The entire j-tube is also very well insulated to trap more heat, which results in the inside of the tube reaching temperatures over 1,500 degrees F during full burns.
This is how complete combustion is achieved—or, if not “complete combustion” in perfectly pure physics terms, you can get really close.
Most of the benefits of a rocket oven come from approaching complete combustion using small sticks and kindling.
Because of the high temperatures within the j-tube, it’s important to build it using materials that can hold up to those temperatures. With the right insulation, the outside of the tube can be as cooler than 150 degrees F.
The Oven Part of a Rocket Oven - White or Black Oven
All the heat created in the j-tube then rises into the oven part of a rocket oven. This heats up the oven and allows you to cook your food.
2 Main Types of Rocket Oven
- 1White Oven
- 2Black Oven
A “white oven” has two chambers, so the baking compartment is kept completely separate from any smoke released in the combustion process. This kind of oven will get you food that tastes like it was baked in a conventional oven.
A “black oven” has a single chamber that allows any smoke produced to mingle with the food that’s baking. In other words, you get that classic, flame-kissed taste—just like with a traditional wood fired pizza oven.
In both systems the exhaust ultimately travels up through either a chimney or an exhaust pipe, depending on whether your oven is indoors or out.
What are the Benefits and Costs of a Rocket Oven?
So, are you convinced yet to try out a rocket oven?
Well, before you do, I want to make sure you understand some of the tradeoffs to using a rocket oven over a traditional oven.
First let’s talk about the benefits of a rocket oven, and then the costs.
Benefits of a Rocket Oven
A rocket oven gives you the ability to cook your food using nothing but twigs from your backyard. You don’t need logs or large stacks of fire wood, and there’s no hefty energy bill.
A collection of kindling or scrap wood is all you need—a rocket oven is designed for small wood pieces.
Because of this, rocket stoves and rocket ovens are being used in developing countries to greatly reduce how much wood people need to collect. The idea is that this can improve the livelihoods of people in these countries while also reducing environmental damage.
A rocket oven also reduces the amount of smoke and other pollutants enter the air. Because of the amazing rate of combustion, the amount of smoke released is so little that, chances are, your neighbors won’t even know you’re burning wood.
You can also easily grow all your own fuel for your rocket oven just from your regular pruning of fruit trees and shrubs, and from collecting branches that fall from the wind.
With climate change threatening our planet, we all need to reduce our carbon footprint. A rocket oven has a much lower carbon footprint than any other oven you can use.
And as a homesteader a rocket oven makes you more self-reliant and more resilient to potential shocks.
Power goes out?
No problem. Just fire up the rocket oven and cook your dinner. The same j-tube can also be used to make a rocket stove (just add a grill to the top of the j-tube instead of the oven).
With a rocket oven, you don’t need to import natural gas, electricity or propane onto your property. You can just use wood from your own land.
Even a suburban backyard could produce enough branches and twigs for a rocket oven.
And you can build a home-made rocket oven for far less than the cost of a conventional oven.
Benefits of a Rocket Oven
Costs of a Rocket Oven
So, if rocket ovens are so awesome, why aren’t they used in every home? Well there are some costs that you should be aware of.
You can’t just pick a temperature on a dial and walk away.
To heat up the rocket oven you need to burn wood. The more you burn at once the hotter the rocket oven will get.
That means you will need to keep a steady amount of wood in the feed tube.
Then, while your food is cooking you will need to feed the rocket oven on a regular basis to maintain the temperature.
It’s really not that hard, but it is a different cooking experience than with electric ovens.
I don’t know about you, but given how busy my days can get, it seems much easier to set a temperature dial, stick something in the oven, and walk away until the timer dings.
The other cost of a rocket oven is that current rocket oven designs don’t exactly fit with many peoples’ image of the modern kitchen.
While this is not a big deal to me, I can imagine that some people might be less comfortable with that.
But that trait is not inherent to rocket ovens. As these devices become more popular, I’m sure someone will come up with a design that would look right at home in a modern kitchen.
The final cost of a rocket oven is that you need to build it yourself or hire someone to build one for you. You can’t just go to a big box store and purchase one and have it delivered – with our busy lives this is a cost.
But one that can be reduced with a little help.
Costs of a Rocket Oven
Summary of the Benefits and Costs of a Rocket Oven
Do the benefits outweigh the costs of a rocket oven?
My view is yes, they do.
But it would mean that your cooking habits would be different when using a rocket oven compared to using a conventional oven.
You would also have to be willing to build one yourself or hire someone to build it for you. The design is proven and fairly simple and does not require welding, but it will still take some work and knowledge to build your own.
The end of this post and the free easy to print companion document both have resources to help you with building your own rocket oven.
I hope you will consider building a rocket oven.
I plan on building a rocket oven along with a rocket stove to go in my outdoor gathering area. I don’t plan on using the rocket oven for every meal, but I love the idea of using it for family pizza nights. Over time, I’m sure I’ll get used to cooking more meals in it.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve had an upswing in severe wind storms that have knocked out power for long stretches of time. Having a rocket oven would give me peace of mind knowing that if the power goes out, I can still easily cook food for my family.
All I’d need is a few dried sticks.
And as an added bonus, I’d be reducing my impact on the environment with every meal I cook. If that’s not a win, I don’t know what is.
Benefits of a Rocket Oven
Costs of a Rocket Oven
Get Started with Rocket Ovens
Hopefully by now you’ve got enough information to start thinking about whether a rocket oven is right for you.
You know the costs and benefits, the types of rocket ovens (black and white), and how they work their wonders.
At this point you are ready to start learning how to build your own rocket oven.
If you are experienced with DIY projects, then this will likely not be that hard for you. But you should still take time to familiarize yourself with the designs for rocket ovens.
If you are like me and have never done something like this before then I highly recommend getting some of these free and paid resources before you dive into building your own rocket oven.
The best source of free information is the rocket oven thread on permies.com. There are a lot of great threads filled with information on how to build j-tubes and rocket ovens.
Are you interested in building your own rocket oven?
Leave a comment below, and don't forget to take our free quiz to see if a rocket oven is a good fit for your homestead and what kind you'd want to build.