Friday, September 12, 2014

Building a High Heat Pizza Oven

We have a guest review from a pizza oven expert, Eli at

Unlike the pizza found in many contemporary restaurants, pizza traditionally has been cooked in large solid ovens built of brick and fueled by fire. These ovens are hugely versatile due to the extreme temperatures they can generate, their energy efficiency and ease of use. 
Conventional gas oven at DiFara Pizza in Brooklyn

The high heats of over 370°C (700°F) mean that once the fresh pizza is placed on the brick hearth of the oven, immediately the dough and sauce will begin to bubble and generate flavours unique to this type of cooking. 
High-heat wood-fired Naples-made oven at Vecchia in Phoenixville PA

The pizza will cook in only 90 seconds producing a perfect base and crust which has been cooked uniformly from all sides top and bottom. These types of ovens are coming back into favour as they create great tasting food and are fun to build and use.

A traditional wood fired oven in the ruins of Pompeii.

Building such an oven can be done at home as a DIY job on essentially no budget all the way up in to the thousands. The basics of the oven are a floor where the pizza is placed called the "hearth," a dome over the hearth which captures and radiates the heat, the "vault" which is the open space between the dome and hearth, and the insulation which is placed over the dome to minimise heat loss to the atmosphere.
Cob oven

Generally, temporary ovens built on the cheap are made out of mud and straw called "cob." Cob ovens are quite basic, cheap and easy to make. The oven is built directly on the ground utilising a few bricks, straw or grass, and standard mud found in your back yard. Simply create a flat section of ground and lay some flat bricks to create a hearth where the pizza will sit. 

The best type of bricks are called "fire bricks" which are widely used in industrial kilns or ovens. The bricks have a high alumina content which ensures they work excellently with high heats. Placing the bricks on a level bed of sand makes it easy to create a level hearth. 
Oven made with fire bricks

Once the bricks are laid a mound of wet sand is built up on the hearth in the shape of the inside of the oven or "vault" and then covered in wet sand. Cob balls are made by mixing wet mud and straw, and then moulding them in the palm of your hands. The balls are then used to create the oven dome using the sand mound as a supporting structure.

Brick ovens are similarly built upon a flat hearth of fire bricks; however, this is generally off the floor in a nice kitchen setting. A wet sand mound or a wooden structure is again constructed to shape the vault of the oven where the dome is built on top. For brick ovens the fire bricks are again used to create the dome, entrance and chimney. Although cob may hold high heats if insulated properly, fire bricks will function at much higher temperatures and create outstanding results.

Once the dome is complete the oven whether cob or brick will need to be insulated so as to retain heat for as long as possible. Well constructed ovens with domes of thickness 4” or more and insulation of 4” or more will take 1-2 hours to bring to temperature and then may stay at cooking temperatures for over 12 hours. Insulation for the oven comes in many different forms such as vermiculite mix cement, or insulating fire blankets.

Finally, the oven is clad with either a mud layer or concrete mortar like mix to create a smooth aesthetic outer finish. A fire is built inside and you’re on your way to cooking up your first of many perfect homemade pizzas.

Detailed descriptions, plans, techniques and how to source the required materials can be found here:

1 comment:

  1. For how often I eat pizza, I should build one of these in my backyard! Thanks so much for sharing!