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Pizza in a wood fired oven
A wood-fired pizza oven is a traditional oven made of either brick or cob. This type of oven is heated by a fire built within the oven, on top of special medium-density fire bricks. Once the oven reaches the desired temperature (to bake a pizza) of 370°C (700°F), the fire is pushed to the back or sides, to make room for the raw pizza to be placed for cooking. Due to its immense heat, pizzas take only 90 to 120 seconds to cook.

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:

  • A floor where the pizza is placed, called the ‘hearth’.
  • dome over the hearth which captures and radiates heat.
  • The open space between the dome and hearth, called the vault.
  • The insulation placed over the dome to minimize heat loss to the atmosphere.

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.

Pompeii oven dome diagram
Brick ovens are similarly constructed on a flat hearth of fire bricks, however, they are generally off the floor, and are usually nestled in a kitchen setting. Its construction is not unlike its cob relative: a wet sand mound or a wooden structure is constructed to shape the vault of the oven, while fire bricks are used to create the dome, entrance and chimney. Although cob has the ability to hold high heat if insulated properly, fire bricks will function at much higher temperatures and create outstanding results.

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.