Guide To Wood Burning Pizza Ovens And Fornos
Harv went to hardware depot and asked for 3,000,000 bricks. "What on earth are you building?" asked the clerk. "A pizza oven" he replied. "3,000,000 bricks for a pizza oven? Are you sure?" asked the clerk. "Yes, I live on the tenth floor."
By Brigit Binns
Since taking out a second mortgage for playthings is so last-decade, this indulgence may be a stretch. But if you are at all handy (or know someone who is not only handy, but also really likes to eat), you can take an active role in providing yourself with one of these aspirational goodies.
Wood ovens do many things well, not the least of which is the creation of outstanding pizza. Hearth breads, roasted meats with a smoky perfume, roasted veggies, melted cheese wrapped in vine leaves—you name it. Almost anything you can cook in a conventional oven can be made better in a wood-burning oven, even baked desserts like crumbles, crisps, and betties. Unctuous, low-and-slow overnight beans are among our favorite things!
Pre-made refractory kit inserts start just a hair below $3,000 and go up from there (some of them to astronomical levels). But be aware that's just the start. You'll need a sturdy base for this very heavy, dome-shaped assembly, which can be constructed from concrete block and clad in stucco, brick, or—if you are really feeling flush—stone. (Or—not as pretty—buy a purpose-made heavy-duty metal stand.)
The rounded top of the oven needs a layer of insulation (usually supplied) and a finish coat, which can match the base. Or not. Don't skimp on insulation: if the installation instructions suggest using a shielding material used in the space shuttle (mine did), do it!
You can also build a square housing for the beehive, in which case only you will know at first glance that there's a dome inside. Most companies that sell the refractory concrete dome kits are falling over themselves to instruct you in how to assemble your oven—even to always-available human help hotlines—but be sure you read the fine print five or six times before you rent a mobile mortar mixer. Height and depth of the lip in front of the oven door are crucial ergonomic decisions that require deep thinking. You'll be kicking yourself for years if you set the door height near your waist. Imagine having to bend forward from the waist in order to shove pizzas around, turn poultry, retrieve heavy braising pans, etc. For most people, midway between shoulder and elbow is the right height.
Forno Bravo is a great place to browse images of DIY oven installations and forums on the art and skill of oven-cooking, and they also sell a nice range of ovens and the many tools you will suddenly consider must-haves. But there are other very fine and often less (and much more) expensive choices. My favorite is Wildwood Ovens.
Be aware that building the fire to optimum temperature to make pizza—give or take 800°F—will take two to three hours (longer, if you use the oven only infrequently), and you will burn through a fair amount of wood. It would be a waste of resources to fire up the oven just for pizza, however, so plan on fully utilizing it from first heat (the aforementioned melty cheese, amazingly wonderful wood-roasted olives) through incendiary heat (pizzas and flatbreads; big ole steaks), and on to the waning heat phase (desserts, beans, fibrous cuts of meat like brisket and pork shoulder).
If you feel like channeling your inner peasant, let your neighbors know the oven will be firing, and invite them to bring over loaves of ready-to-bake bread, a big heavy pot of short-ribs, or a fruity dessert. Let them contribute some nice, seasoned firewood, and you have the beginnings of a nice local barter economy.
Rob Baas, a regular fan of this site, sent this slide show of the construction of his oven. "It definitely cost more than we planned" he says.
Kamados work great
A much less expensive option is a kamado like the Big Green Egg. These are both supereb ovens for pizza and baking bread, but also fine smokers. Click here to read more about them.
Pizza attachments for your grill
There are several accessories that can be attached to charcoal and gas grills. I am testing them. So far I am unimpressed.
Oven and kit suppliers
Alfa Pizza (in Italy, but they are sold in some places in the US).
Beech Ovens (in Australia).
Stonehouse Pottery. Spectacular clay and steel stoves and ovens for indoors or out.
Do it yourself from scratch
Plans for a wood fired pizza oven. Made from scratch with cinder block and clay, with space for wood storage.
Another detailed slideshow of a large pizza oven. Man, this guy must really really love pizza.
This page was revised 10/4/2013
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