What do you really need for great pizza?
To make wonderful homemade pizza doesn’t require a lot. You need a pizza peel, a pizza steel, or pizza stone, dough, and quality toppings. But, if you really get into it, you may decide you must have The Right Pizza Oven.
Which pizza oven is perfect for you depends on a lot of factors. There are many DIY pizza oven kits on the market, offering a variety of options.
Some of the options for purchase
For some, like our friends David & Ulla, who own two portable pizza ovens; both an Ooni pellet stove, and a Gozney Roccobox that can be propane or pellet fired. We’ve enjoyed pizza nights at their home using both ovens.
For others, like Andy from England, it’s a purchased DIY pizza oven kit, of which there are many available.
Andy’s oven kit in England came from Pizza Oven Supplies, a company in Stoke-on-Trent whose products are “Made from recycled refractory materials from the pottery industry”. Andy built an entire outdoor living space, more than merely a kitchen. Andy has built a living room with one wall open to the garden. It’s magnificent, and he was gracious enough to share many photographs. It’s Andy’s pizza oven in the feature image. You will find more of his images and story below.
In the US, Forno Bravo offers a modular pizza oven kit that can be customized to your personal design taste.
Here in Canada, one company offering prefab outdoor pizza oven kits is the aptly named PizzaOvens.ca
Our first oven was, like our next will be, ultra DIY. Ours will be fashioned from the materials we are able to scavenge or buy used based on a general plan and a site with unique characteristics. It means having to source all of the materials required to make an oven safely, which a DIY oven kit will automatically provide.
We will for example, need to find our own ceramic blanket, also known as an insulation blanket. “From use in kilns, boilers, furnaces and ovens to usage as flexible pipe insulation, expansion joint seals and stack and duct linings, ceramic fiber blankets provide insulation and protection against high heat without the dangers associated with asbestos products.” (from armilcfs.com, a manufacturer’s website).
It will be our responsibility to make sure that all materials used are suitable for the purpose, and that the design is sound. We have already made the great score of a load of firebrick sufficient to build a beautiful oven big enough for our most ambitious goals.
Building an outdoor kitchen
We are preparing to build an outdoor kitchen with a wood-fired brick pizza oven this summer. Andy’s oasis is definitely a model for my own ideals for this. I love the rustic charm in his photographs, and the comfort that it appears to have.
We have chosen a site close to the house, with easy access to the indoor kitchen, and with a beautiful view in the distance. We want a roofed area with counters, and a refrigerator, and ideally, the ability to enclose this area for weather protection when not in use. Cupboards for dishes, cutlery, and cooking implements specifically for the outdoor kitchen.
Helmut The Hearth Hearted
Previously, my partner Tilman has built two pizza ovens, both on the same plinth at our last home. Unfortunately, V1 was destroyed by a falling tree and was replaced by Helmut, which was its name. Helmut was built specifically as a pizza oven, and was too small as an outdoor oven for most other applications, but we did use the residual heat as often as possible. Helmut was the most DIY oven imaginable as Tilman had set a zero cost goal in building him. Slate for the cooking surface and bricks for the arch and oven floor were contributed by three of our neighbours. Copper for the chimney flue was contributed by friends.
Inspired by River Cottage
Tilman was originally inspired to build the oven by the British TV show River Cottage, in which the host and guests build a pizza dome in an afternoon and bake pizzas in it that night. He went for a more elaborate build, but the principles remained the same. In addition to the donated materials, there was sand and clay from the nearby beach. These were mixed with water, a process known as puddling. Wet sand was mounded in the shape of the inside of the dome, and covered in wet newspaper. Then, the clay-sand mixture is shaped into a 3 inch layer on top of that to form the dome.
After partially drying, the opening is carved out, and the sand scooped out. Then, the oven is cured with a low fire. After cooling and offgassing for a few days, the oven was ready for use.
Soon, we will begin again!
Planning and research
We have spent the past year planning the best pizza oven for our needs, .We want to make something that is efficient to heat, but is large enough to make other meals. We’re not quite applying the “Zero Cost” model, but we are keeping it to a minimum cost, while still aiming to build something genuinely beautiful.
We have a different actual design in mind, but hope to build something with the same combination of comfort and utility Andy enjoys. We chatted about his outdoor entertaining set up, which I aspire to, although we plan to use our own oven design.
Andy’s DIY Outdoor Oven Story
“So I have been wanting to build a pizza oven for around 10 years, the cost put me off, I did my research and there’s lots of Diy oven builds but if I was going to invest I wanted to be sure it would work. I found a company specializing in prefab pizza oven kits that had a very good design and they were very helpful over the phone discussing my needs and suggestions for the size of oven etc .
I had already decided where it would go and started to Collect materials for the base units. I’m quite a hands on person and was happy with the building aspect . I went for a larger size oven so the base is 29.5” / 750 mm in circumference, which is a perfect size for entertaining.
Comfort, entertaining, and great food
I can quite comfortably cook a full roast chicken dinner with all the vegetables etc . I’m not overly concerned about cooking pizzas, the only time I do is when the grandkids come round. It would take me about 45 minutes in the summer and 80 minutes in the winter to get to temperature for cooking them, once at that temperature I would cook a pizza in 90 seconds but I much prefer cooking everything other than pizza. The list is endless.
The design of my set up has evolved over time, we have added the fireplace to make winters easier but it has always been about the oven, I am really passionate about all things wood fired
Wood-fired ovens, the oldest form of cooking
It’s the oldest form of cooking and it will always be the most beautiful experience you can share with friends and family, the flavours the atmosphere the aroma is something that you will never experience in a conventional kitchen set up. If you are ever in the UK , by all means get in touch. I will be happy to cook you something special and it won’t be pizzas!
Residual heat and endless menu possibilities
To make the most of having an outdoor wood-burning oven, it helps to have a selection of recipes like confit that will make use of the residual heat, as well as recipes that suit the oven when you are not using it primarily for pizza.
Since it isn’t a conventional oven, you need to consider what temperatures your oven will get to, how long it will take to get to temperature, how long for the heat to drop off, and how long it will remain above 140ºF/60ºC. When we cook pizza we bring it to between 800ºF and 900ºF in order to obtain the perfect 90-second Neapolitan pie. Between pies, you need to let the oven rest in order heat up again to maintain this goal.
Because the pizza oven is made of a combination of stone and brick it has a high thermal mass, allowing it to be used in many ways while it cools.
Baguettes, pies, ribs & confit
Typically, once we wind down cooking the pizza, we turn any extra dough bases into baguettes. Following baguettes, we often try to have a dessert such as baked apples ready to cook. This is followed sometimes with toasted marshmallows. For overnight, I try to have a confit ready, or something that benefits from a long slow cooking. It’s fun waking up in the morning and pulling hot and fragrant food out of our own wood-fired oven.
With the new oven, I intend to do some pizza lunches so we may use the residual heat to cook the evening meal. Since Tilman is a professional vintner, and one of our close neighbours raises beef cattle, we may try something like a wine-braised beef. That will probably require higher temperatures than confit, so making this for dinner while we are awake to tend the fire is probably a requirement.
A pizza dome is relatively low compared to the width of the opening in order to concentrate the heat and obtain the high temperatures required. The higher the dome, the more fuel and time to achieve and remain at temperature. Because of this we will limit the size of our oven. The height will not become large enough to cook something as big as a ham leg, but it could easily accommodate a duck…or ribs. Delicious slow-roasted ribs. We haven’t yet decided what the overall dimensions will be, or how large the oven dome, but the ability to cook two pizzas at a time would be nice.
We have some guests coming this summer who will be camping in our yard one night. Planning to do an afternoon pizza followed by slow-cooked dinner with them, That’s living the good life, especially where we are. Our outdoor brick pizza oven will be the perfect way to entertain while also enjoying the natural landscape.
A beautiful top of the dome and a decorative door
We have been collecting materials for this, recently getting 200 fire bricks from a Marketplace ad, and a local friend has offered us a large piece of marble off-cut to use as a plinth. We are pretty excited about this last bit. Helmut was helpful, but unbeautiful. Part of the collection includes broken handthrown crockery to make a mosaic from, perhaps a sundial so we can time our pizza. 😉
We plan for this to be our perfect pizza oven, with a steel plate cooking floor, and a solid base. But more than that, I want to be classically beautiful, with an attractive “front door” to hold in the heat, and a beautiful oven dome decorated with a ceramic mosaic sundial. I’m really regretting that we had no dry space to store the cob material that was available one time for free. A cob oven would be lovely, and that opportunity included enough to build a small enclosure. Too bad, next time.
A wood-burning oven in your own backyard is not only a good idea for the summer,. Brick pizza ovens provide a perfect versatile cooking environment for everything from the obvious homemade Italian-style pizza to cakes, cookies, pudding, and roasts. It’s a low-technology reliable year-round cooking environment. Whether you go hardcore DIY like us, or use some type of pizza oven kit, you can use this for years to come. Like the third little pig’s house, a brick pizza oven will usually survive the most extreme climates, barring floods and collisions with large falling trees.
It is going to be the perfect centerpiece to our outdoor entertainment centre, and the perfect addition to our culinary practice. We are looking forward to having our own pizza oven again soon and all of the delicious food that we will make in it.
Photos as we have them. Meanwhile, here’s a picture of Helmut, because a pizza oven doesn’t have to be beautiful to spark joy.
If you are feeling lookist however, there is a nice selection of Andy’s delectable food pix below.