Unlike the pizza found in most contemporary restaurants, the cheesy dish has been traditionally cooked in bulky, solid ovens built of bricks and fueled by fire. These ovens are hugely versatile due to the extreme temperatures they are able to generate, their energy efficiency and ease of use. A high heat of over 370°C (700°F) means that once the fresh pizza is placed on the brick hearth of the oven, almost immediately the dough and sauce will begin to bubble and generate flavors that are unique to this type of cooking. The pizza will take only 90 seconds to produce the perfect base and crust, which is cooked uniformly from all sides, top and bottom. In addition to pizzas, the traditional wood-fired oven may be used to make steak, casseroles, roasts, dry fruits etc. Traditional ovens are coming back into favor with the general public, not just for the great-tasting food you can make, but for being fun to build and use.
Building a wood-fired oven at home is a DIY job whose budget can range from a few dollars upto a few thousands, depending on the builder. The oven can be built from: raw materials and a plan; purchased as a kit or materials from the store; or even bought fully pre-assembled. The basics of every oven, however, remain the same:
Cob ovens are basic, cheap and easy to make. The oven is built atop level ground, utilizing bricks, straw and clay found in a typical backyard. Start off by creating a flat section of ground and laying some flat bricks to create a hearth, where the pizza will sit. The best types of bricks are ‘fire bricks’, which are widely used in industrial kilns or ovens. These bricks have a high alumina content, which ensures they work excellently with high heat. Once these bricks are laid, a mound of wet sand is built atop the hearth, which mimics the shape of the inside of the oven, or ‘vault’, and is then covered in wet sand. Cob balls are made by mixing wet clay and straw, and then molding them in the palm of your hands. The balls are then used to create the oven dome, using the sand mound as a support structure.
Whether you build a brick oven or cob, once the dome is complete, the oven needs to be insulated so as to retain heat for as long as possible. If your oven is well-constructed and has a dome thickness of 4” or more in addition to an insulation of 4” or more; these factors will combine to allow your oven 1-2 hours to bring to the desired temperature, while staying at cooking temperatures for over 12 hours.
The vital component of your oven is insulation, which comes in many different forms. From Vermiculite mix cement to insulating fire blankets. The cherry on top the oven when it’s finally constructed is clad: a clay layer or concrete mortar like mix which creates a smooth aesthetic outer finish. A fire is built inside before you’re on your way to cooking up your very first of many perfect homemade pizzas.