Eating quality home-made pizzas has become a very
fashionable thing to do. The big problem is, of
course, that you can't pick up a Pizza Oven like you would a
gas BBQ. You have to put some work into acquiring a
wood-fired-oven. However, as anyone who has built an
oven will tell you, it's the building of the oven that makes
the end product so special. Pizza Ovens, Bread Ovens,
Wood-Fired Ovens, are all one and the same. (Bread
is baked at a lower temperature than Pizza). Stone baked pizza is simply pizza that has been cooked on
the brick oven floor. There are some fancy metal ovens
on the market in USA but they use a fire-brick base.
Just goes to show, the brick base is the secret to good
Lighting the Fire
The first fire you put in
your oven after you build it should be modest. All the
water you have used in construction will have to be dried
out slowly. Light a small fire each day for a few
days. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, forty minutes, and then
one hour. You will notice some water under the roof
but this is quite natural. It's condensation from the
warmth under the roof and the humidity from the dryng
process. When your oven has dried out you can really
fire it up. Use dry, dry, dry wood. Have a
special area in your shed where you keep the driest of all
wood for your oven. Start with newspaper and
kindling. Don't use firelighters as they will taint
the first pizzaa. I try to avoind kindling that has
paint on it; the paint melts and might taint your food. Dry kindling makes a satisfying
sound, provides great heat, and is pleasing to look
at. Experiment with the oven door before a
party. Remove, replace, fit almost closed etc.
See what happens. You don't want to be experimenting
when you have ten guests waiting for your first
pizzas. Small blocks of dry hardwood (ash, oak, beech,
etc..) will bring up the
heat in about 1.5 hours or more. Pine and forstrey
firewood will bring the heat up but tends to spark and put
little black bits of clinkern on the pizza.
You can get a temp gauge (not essential) which will show you when you are up
to 350 - 400 degrees C. Keep a good supply of blocks
nearby so you can tend the fire as you cook.
Occasionally I put in a large dry block of ash. It
gets going quickly and provides the main heat source for the
evening once the heat has been achieved. The small
blocks can be used for quick rise in temp when needed.
The temperature will drop slightly as you cook, so, after
three pizzas, I rest the oven for five minutes to bring heat
The oven works as
follows: The fire heats the bricks on your floor and
the fire-clay dome overhead. Because you have
insulated properly, this heat will be trapped in the bricks
and dome and in the oven! Remember the heat will
leak out if you haven't used your vermiculite and the
ceramic blanket. The oven would still work, but less
efficiently. Keep the fire burning in the front middle
of floor at first. When temperature is reached, you
must push the fire back but let it burn away as fiercely as
ever. An amount of smoke coming from the front opening
is normal. This will lessen as the oven and the
chimney heat up. Use a long handled wire or bronze
brush to sweep ash and bits to one side.
You are now ready to slide in your pizza!
Cooking the perfect Pizza will come with
practice. What a joy it is to see the cheese and sauce
and toppings bubbling in the heat after just one
minute. You MUST turn your pizza so that the farthest
away part is brought around to be the nearest part.
That way the crust will crisp up at an even rate. An
aluminium peel is used to do this 'turning' but some
people make a hooked implement to turn the dough. The
peel can be used to lift the edge of the pizza to see how
the underneath is cooking. It doesn't have to be
really brown, but a slight honey colour looks good.
The top will want to cook before the base and this is where
you can use a larger peel to shelter the top of the pizza
from the fire for twenty seconds while the base
browns. Whichever way you cook them, your pizzas will
be fantastic. Fresh ingredients cooked in your own
oven, in your garden, with friends and family. Doesn't
get any better.
Making Pizza Sauce
Organising the Pizza Party