How to bake the best pizza you've ever had (and lots of other things too!)
We've heard all sorts of comments about the odd-looking structure near our back patio. "That's a funny looking doghouse!"; "What's that thing your're building back there?" Most everyone driving by the house gives the thing a good long stare.
The questioning looks end abruptly when folks see a fully cooked pizza extracted (after only 2 minutes of cook time) from the 800F+ cooking chamber.
Why build a wood-burning Italian brick oven?
Several years ago I was surfing the internet looking for pizza recipes when I stumbled on a few sites advertising wood-fired home pizza oven kits. I had never seen such a thing built at home. The idea immediately caught my attention, but the cost of the kits and construction was prohibitive for us so I put the idea on the back burner. In 2007 I was again looking at wood-burning ovens on the net and started finding plans for building them. One website in particular, www.FornoBravo.com, offered a FREE set of plans for a scratch-built wood fired oven (WFO) and a forum of active builders willing to provide unlimited help and support; no strings attached.
You have to really like pizza to put the time, effort and money into building an oven like this. But cooking pizza alone wasn't enough to justify building the oven. As Alton Brown (Food Network Guru) always preaches, the best cooking tools are "multi-taskers". To convince myself (and my family) that we really needed a "pizza oven" it had to cook more than just pizza. In fact, a well designed wood-fired oven (WFO) can cook anything that a conventional oven can (and it usually cooks it better). After the pizza is finished, the oven temperature slowly drops over the next several days providing ample opportunity to cook breads, casseroles, roasts, stews, cakes and pies. An entire Thanksgiving dinner (including appetizers and deserts) can be cooked the day after a pizza bake.
With this useful knowlege at hand, I had nearly immediate approval from my spouse and kids to start my most ambitious project yet. We broke ground in early September, 2008. Working on my days off and weekends (with a 3 month break during winter) the oven was completed in August of 2009.
How did it turn out?
The finished oven performs well beyond my expectations and exactly as promised in the Forno Bravo plans. Here are some tasty pictures of the results:
If you are interested in watching the building process, play the slide show below. If you would like to build your own pizza oven (and your really should!) head over to Forno Bravo. The free plans for the "Pompeii Oven" (like mine) are found here: Pompeii Oven Plans. If you get serious about building a pizza oven, be sure to join the Forno Bravo Forum. The forum is loaded with photos, hints and tips. Dozens of oven builders all over the world participate and are ready to lend a hand.
This second video clip demonstrates the air circulation of the oven. Fresh air enters the lower half of the entry and is heated by the fire. The air continues back and up the rear of the dome, heating the dome as it moves forward. The combustion gasses then exit the front of the dome and continue up the vent and chimney.
Here's a short video demonstrating the whole point of this project... Cooking a pizza!