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Pizza Week! - Day 4: Brick Oven

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"This was a Pizza Hut
Now it's all covered with daisies
you got it, you got it

And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention"
  -Talking Heads

Prepare yourself, I have a lot of pictures today, and you better look at every single one! I normally like to max out my posts at about 35 to 40 pics, but today I couldn't discriminate. I'm just so happy about my new oven! Honestly, if you have the space, you could easily make one too! It was just me and two of my friends who built this and none of us have any masonry experience. It cost me a little over 400 dollars (in Bermuda where everything costs more) and only took us a total of about 10 hours. The three of us got together after work once a week and worked for about 2 hours each time. About 5 weeks later it was completed. Honestly my two friends did most of the manual labor; I was the brains of the operation. I took lessons from my Grandfather who taught me a long time ago how to be a good foreman. Here are the pictures of the whole process. There's not much else to tell you other than that the end result is totally worth it. I would have liked to add insulation to the outsides, but I couldn't find the stuff in Bermuda and was also running out of money so I decided to just leave it. Because of this, it doesn't stay hot for almost 24 hours on only one firing like many brick ovens do. Had I insulated it, it would have taken a lot more money, and way more time.


Pizza Week Menu:

Day 1: Dough and Sauce
Day 2: Toppings
Day 3: Grill-Oven
Day 4: Brick Oven
Day 5: Party Pics

PWPlus: Breakfast Pizza
PWPlus: Leftover Pizza Ravioli




This came with the apartment as a "BBQ pit."  It hadn't been used in years, and the landlord was happy to let us utilize it for something else. Those metal bars hold the weight of the bricks that cross the gap.





Nothing is cemented to the base. If you read directions for most brick ovens, the floor isn't cemented in anyways, so I thought this would be fine.



The most annoying part of this process was smashing firebricks. You need the mortar to be able to withstand intense heat, so adding the crushed firebricks helps fortify it.



The first night, it took way longer than we expected. After this, I did the smashing on my own the night before we planned working on the oven so that we could get right to it when the guys showed up.



The mortar is made up of equal parts standard mortar mix, crushed firebrick, sand, and a half part hydrated lime.



I'm no expert, but I mixed all the dry ingredients before I added the water. I sort of used my cooking experience when mixing the concrete.



Just like making pizza dough!



We didn't cut any corners making this oven! Well, we had to cut some corners of the brick so that when it was angled they all could fit. If that sentence doesn't make sense, keep loking at the pics and you will understand what I mean later hopefully.



What you can't see in this picture is a huge cliff right behind where Gareth is perched.





We used a lot of mortar to basically prop the bricks at an angle.





This is a few weeks later. As you can see, we used extra bricks underneath to support the arch.



Here I am crushing more bricks.  This part sucks.



It is important to soak the bricks for a few minutes before using them. This helps the mortar suck into the brick.



A few pieces of styrofoam that Gareth found in a closet somewhere.









I thought I would be nervous pulling out the supports, but I was actually confident because we did pretty well and I knew it wasn't going anywhere.







This part was a bit more tricky, but I did a lot of puzzles as a kid, so we figured it out in no time.



I look out my door at this beauty every day.







There is a slight gap behind those 3 front bricks to serve as a chimney to deflect smoke from your face.





Puzzle Solved.


I put the doors in when I first place a pizza in the oven so that it gets cooked enough that I can spin it easily and it doesn't stick.  The pizza that is.





Lighting this thing was tough at first, but after 4 lightings, I'm a bit more confident about it.



I first light a fire up front by the opening. To get it going, I use a few scraps of wood and 4 or 5 pieces of paper under 2 larger logs. Sometimes it is tough here because it is so humid the logs you buy can get soggy just from being outside for a day. I really get it cranked up and start adding bigger logs and also pieces of coal. After about 45 minutes to an hour, the ceiling of the oven changes from black back to the actual color of the bricks. This means it is almost ready. When most of the ceiling isn't black anymore, I rake the coals down to the floor to get that heated. At this point the fire might go out but that's fine. The embers are glowing strong. They are really hot. After 20 minutes, I push the coals to the back of the oven. I do a quick wipe of the floor with a slightly damp rag. I check the digital thermometer and hopefully get a reading of about 650 on the oven floor. I place a fresh log onto the pile of coals way in the back and within seconds it bursts into flames. I think to myself "gee, I am awesome" and go inside to grab a freshly stretched pizza to throw into the oven. Hmmmm what's that smell? Just my hair burning, no big deal.











I wasn't kidding earlier. That's burnt hair folks. I need a bellow... is that what it's called? The thing to blow on the fire like an accordion.





Look how much this rose from the last picture! Yea I burnt it a little, but it's the first pizza!



This pizza wasn't that good even though we started with the inaugural margherita for good luck.



Our second pizza didn't come out much better!



Here we go. This is actually from the fourth lighting / third time cooking with it.



Decent upskirt. Not as good as my grill-oven, but improving.



But the endcrust...words fail me







This one had a decent bottom crust.



This was a 3 and a half minute pizza. 1 minute and a 1/3rd turn, 3 times.




I love my new oven. After only 3 tries, I am getting some sweet pizzas that will only get better! The main places where I got help with the plans and techniques are here and here.

Continue to Day 5: Party Pics


16 Comments

Nice job Dan, Pappa will be proud!!

So I found your site through Tastespotting.com on Monday and I was drawn to the pizza. I'm building an oven from the fornobravo plans at my parents house now. Ours is a bit bigger than yours, but because it's not an apartment, we don't have to leave it behind. I can't wait till ours is done. You and Mandi are obviously awesome foodies!

I think Laura will agree with me when I say pizza from a brick oven is like heaven! A friend of mine sells them and I pretty much claim a spot in front of the oven at every party so I can get it as soon as it comes out. Sure I've burnt my tongue a bunch of times, but I think it's worth it. This looks amazing guys...good job! (And have I mentioned how jealous I am??)

Man, that looks badical! I have been experimenting with pizza a lot lately, mainly using Jeff Varasano's techniques and I am extremely jealous of your brick oven.

I like your site, thanks for the pizza week - it is right up my alley.

this whole pizza week posting is total foodgasm. BRAVO on all your hard work!!

Wow! I'm impressed. Maybe when we get rid of the kids' playset in a few years I can convince my husband to let me build one. My biggest argument to overcome will be that our winters are way to harsh to justify building it. We live in a 'burb of Syracuse, NY. Lake effect snow area--yes, hell freezes over here. Love the photos, have fun making pizza. With a lower temperature you should be able to make some great bread--maybe with some leftover pizza dough as the oven cools down from the initial firing!

Wow, I think it's so awesome you've built this oven all by yourself! The looks on those pizzas tell me it was worth your while - they look gorgeous!

this is way cool!!! my husband promised to make me one too but I could not wait any longer and I bought an electric one yesterday...

This is fabulous! I bake every day and I really want a wood fired oven. This is such a great post of how to make one! I'll be showing this to my very crafty husband!

Thanks, Zoƫ (co-author Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day)

Man, great post, It was a lot of fun building the pizza oven, Thanks for letting me get involved in this project... G

oh, oh, oh... i'm so jealous. i'm sooooo stealing your idea when i get more room to do something like this (city living makes it a bit difficult!). you're my inspiration- great job. you made it look so easy.

Wow looks like you went to as much effort with the photos as you did actually building it! The pizza looks great though. Having an oven like this makes all the difference in taste and all your hard effort will be rewarded in the years to come!

Looks good, just made a brick oven myself...need to put it on the web. Do you clean your bricks off where the pizza goes? I am going to try to burn one tonight...had a fire in it last night to see how it burns...allot of smoke at first.

This rocks!!! I'm haning out with the wrong people. I need some folks with an outdoor oven.

I'm currently reading Kiko Denzer's book on building earth ovens. I'm contemplating building a brick oven. I'll return often.

Hey. I just saw this. Great work. I am opening a new store and we just built an oven kit in place because we couldn't forklift in a complete oven. Here is what I see in regards to the construction. I can tell by the way your pies are cooking on the bottom compared to the top that you might struggle with the balance of your oven. It was expedient the way you constructed your floor, but you are missing thermal mass on the deck. The deck needs to be thicker than the top of the oven, this is where the heat is stored in the oven. Not much you can do at this point, but you might consider putting insulation underneath the opening of the side, up against the bottom of the floor, this should help balance things out a bit. Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=phibler69#p/u/0/JX96_mStin4 This is the mass of a commercial oven. The bricks go on top of the tray which weighs 1200lbs. Just an FYI. I hope you enjoy your oven and throw some tasty pies. Peace

Bravo for your excellent work.
I am studying the construction of a furnace in my garden.
Could you tell me if you've used the regular or firebrick?
What type of cement did you use to make the joints

Congratulations on the quality of implementation and the documentation that.

Beautiful oven and superb job of presenting

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