DIY Pizza Oven

Mission: Backyard Pizza Party for 20 with a Homemade Pizza Oven
Hosts: Hilary Austin & Amy Rubin
Location: Williamsburg, Brooklyn

How can we make this oven hotter?

Homemade Pizza OvenIt’s not really worth remembering who asked the question but it’s what led Hey Try This to develop the cheapest and most effective DIY pizza oven on the Internet; what is lovingly referred to around here as “Pizza Oven 3.0 Beta Test”.

Cheapest?  Most effective?  On the whole world wide Web?  Yes, the claim is bold. But if you feel like Hey Try This is yanking your chain, please do a little research and enlighten the comments section with your findings. Hey Try This would gladly accept help with Pizza Oven 4.0 if the Internet provides.

Margherita Set-upPizza Night has become regular with the Hey Try This crew. The method is essentially potluck, centered on one kind of dish. Each person brings their ideas and the ingredients for one or two pizzas. The host provides the dough; we all prep together and then take turns throwing our pies into the oven. When they come out, everyone trades compliments, shares the stories of how they obtained each ingredient, and suggests ideas for future pies.

Stretching DoughMargherita Assemble!It’s not as pretentious as it might sound. Some of the best pies have crudely had their crust stuffed with store brand sausage, mopped with pasty Ragu Old World Style Pasta Sauce, or coated with a heavy hand of pre-shredded cheese. The food at Pizza Night is simply the conduit for the conversation.  It’s about eating with friends and picking up the dangling discourse from the last Pizza Night.  Pizza Night is the chance to see buddies at a normal hour and hear about their lives, not brag about locally sourced, sustainable, micro greens from an urban farm which gives its profits to the legal defense of abused migrant farm workers.

That being said, if you ever want to taste authentic Neapolitan-style crust by your own hands, the conventional oven, even with a pizza stone, is not going to cut it. As you probably know, the oven in your kitchen only gets up to five hundred degrees, five fifty max. If you want that crispy, bubbly, chewy, delicious crust your favorite pizzaiolo makes, you need to get your oven hotter, much hotter – closer to the temperature of a commercial pizza oven or the Sun; somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand degrees.

Fired MargheritaSince that isn’t going to happen without some serious gas plumbing your landlords would probably frown on, you will need to take this challenge to the yard. The Backyard. (Where you’ll need a fire pit.) If you can trap the heat from the wood burning fire in the pit, you will be able to get close to that thousand-degree benchmark.

Light 'er UpHey Try This will now spare you the seemingly interminable mutations of heat capturing devices we conjured with our minds, including but not limited to quick drying concrete and a pulley system rigged to operate from a mimosa tree sapling. In the end, we settled on a dome shaped terracotta pot with a hole in the top (or bottom, depending on how you use it) to allow for smoke to escape.   This perfect-dream-pizza-oven-shaped-pot was easily located at the pot wholesale shop in the Midtown plant district.  Unfortunately,  it is still there because the store was closed on the weekend of the latest Pizza Night.  That’s a shame since it would have taken a possibly deadly backyard wood fired pizza oven to the next level.  Instead, Mike and Zac volunteered their friends The Kressens and their sweet, sweet PT Cruiser to drive them to the Gowanus Home Depot for a big ass terra cotta pot.  The thing had “Made in Italy” stamped on the side, so that’s a good sign, right?

After much trial, error, and one shattered pizza stone, we ended up with a crust-brownin’, cheese-bubblin’, face-meltin’, eyebrow-singein’, pizza-makin’ machine!  It’s a pot on top of a pizza stone on top of a grill on top of a white hot hardwood charcoal fire all nestled into a hardware store fire pit and made operable by 6 feet of galvanized steel link chain.  It’s Pizza Oven 3.0 Beta Test and it  will change the way you think of homemade pizza… forever.

Sagat's Tiger UppercutThe best part:  this guy is exquisitely efficient when you consider the amount of time and money that went into it.  There’s no mortar to mix.  There’s no refractory bricks to track down.  And you don’t need to permanently alter your backyard with a metric ton of concrete.

Busted Pizza Stone

Is Pizza Oven 3.0 Beta Test perfect?  No.  But it is a new level from which you will not recede.  Hook yourself up with the following parts and make them work for you.  Tweak them as you see fit to further your pizza making skills and let us know of your improvements.

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What You Will Need:

Fire Pit                                       $45 (free in our case)
Hardwood Charcoal                   $18/bag
Grill                                            Free from your neighbor if you don’t have one
Cordierite Pizza Stone                $47
Big Ass Pot                                $45
Chain/Hardware                         $10                                               

TOTAL APPROXIMATE COST    $165

Checking for DonenessFirst thing’s first, preheat your baking stone in your oven to 500 degrees. Next, attach handles to your big ass pot. We put a hook through the hole in the bottom of our pot and attached the chain (see top pictures.) Then you can get your fire started in the pit and place the grill over it to burn off whatever crispies are attached from the last time you (or your neighbor) used it. Once the fire is down to coals and your stone is preheated, place the stone on the grill over the fire. Please use extreme caution here and have a plan in place before you start this. Chances are your kitchen oven is nowhere near your backyard fire pit so the hot pizza stone is going to travel some distance.  Seriously, please think this one through… This next part is a two-person job. Have one person place the pizza on the stone and help the other person steady the pot as they lower it over the fire. Check it about every 5-8 minutes until melty and delicious.

Before you go out and conquer chewy, crispy dough, a few words of advise on our method:

  • Have coals ready to replenish your fire every so often. A chimney starter was very helpful for us.
  • Do NOT put cold or room-temp oil or other liquids on your hot pizza stone. Thermal shock will cause it to shatter.
  • Have backup muscles standing by in case you have trouble lifting the pot.
  • Um… fire extinguisher.  ‘Nuff said.

Turkish Delight IngredientsPizza Menu:

Turkish DelightTurkish Delight:  Turkish orange eggplant, brown figs, cumin-spiced ground lamb, mint, marinara crudo

Pheasant Under GrassPizza the HuttPheasant Under Grass: Pheasant sausage, dinosaur kale, garlic, vine-ripened tomatoes, ricotta salata

Sagat’s Tiger Uppercut:  Tiger prawns, Thai red curry sauce, garlic, roasted cubanelles, peanuts

Straight-Up Baller:  Homemade meatballs, marinara, mozzarella, ricotta, pickled peppadews, Niçoise olives, black pepper, herbes de Provence, rosemary

Pizza the Hutt: Straight-Up Baller pizza topped with bacon and sausage. Crust stuffed with a meatball & ricotta mixture

Pizza BurnPizza Party!

29 thoughts on “DIY Pizza Oven

  1. Pardon me if some has already mentioned the following. I love your idea & ingenuity BTW. Do some research @ soapstone for cooking purposes. If there is a quarry in NY, which I would think there is, you can get much hotter.

    Also, a lower ceiling on whatever you use for a lid or top would be helpful. Grimaldis coal fired pizza ovens have very low ceilings. Check their website.

    Zac………….I have some smoked sockeye in the freezer for you. We had a record salmon run on the Kenai this year.

    E:D

  2. OK nice oven but is there s itLead in the material that tha big ass pot is made of. Is it cooking safe. and could you be able to cut a half moon on the edge so all you had to do is slide the pizza in instead of raising the big ass pot up.

    • Wow, Phil. This one’s going to keep us up at night. Thanks a million. Poison Pizza! Just kidding, man. Check out this actual factual document available on the ol’ internets from California Department of Public Health. http://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/CLPPB/Pages/TalkPts-ltw.aspx

      Lead is found in the glaze of older terracotta pots, mainly those imported from Mexico and Asia. Since ours is an unglazed pot from Italy, I’m not too worried. Tell ya what though, we’ll grab a lead testing kit from the hardware store and make sure before we feed all our friends pizza again. Deal?

      We thought about trying to make a pizza hole but we were worried about heat loss. It would need to have some sort of slidable or hinged door to keep heat trapped inside. Or the whole oven would need to be way bigger. All in the works for version 2.0

  3. Complete novice here, just wondering why the baking stone can’t be warmed up by putting it on at the same time as the grill?

    • Them things can crack up from temperature shock, Fozi. It’s better to let the temp of the stone rise along with the oven, instead of jamming a cold stone into a hot oven.

  4. Very cool idea! I have all the equipment lying around already, even the pizza stone which we use in our oven. Can’t wait to try the party aspect with others bringing the ingredients!

    • We just hit up the slice joint around the corner and buy some raw dough from them… way better than the stuff at the grocery store. We’ll make our own dough for the next pizza post, promise. Just got to maybe not crack that first beer til after its proofing.

  5. Great Idea! You are combining Pizza- which I love- with Terracotta (typical product of Impruneta, 10 km from here) as I live in Greve in Chianti, Tuscany, I have a lot of local hand made terracotta vases (for lemontrees, roses geranium and irises…) in the garden and your idea is a perfect solution for good matching. hope you can come and taste my “garden pizza” by real!! I will send pictures when ready…..in the meanwhile enjoy my garden http://www.flickr.com/photos/ancoradelchianti/collections/72157623273391777/ Bye Laura

    • Oh snap! A real life Italian digging our pizza pies… You’re on, Laura. Next time we’re in Tuscany, expect a knock on the door. How’s the chianti in Chianti?

  6. Adorei a ideia !!! Aqui no Brasil, eu tinha um forno de pizza convencional, feito de tijolos. Custou muito caro, ocupou muito espaço e só usei 2 vezes em 5 anos…
    :)

  7. I had the same idea. It’s great you guys did some beta testing. As I was trying to visualize a prototype, I was stumped by how to handle a heavy and hot dome. Your solution requires teamwork, which is not a bad thing, but if you had to go solo, I envisioned some sort of counterweighted pulley system or large lever.
    I’ve got all the stuff except the pot and can’t wait until next summer to start experimenting.
    Thanks

    • Right on, Tony. We debated rigging up a pulley system, too. Decided to just use our muscles instead of installing something more permanent in our friends backyard. Update: our pals who let us set this monster up in the backyard have since moved apartments and guess what? The whole oven went with them. So, lots more pizza to come.

      Yo! And if you’ve got an online source for those quarry tiles, we’d love if you shared it here!

  8. Oh my god! I have been planning on building a pizza oven from my firepit for a while now…and this idea is going to save me a LOAD of work…

    How long did the pizza take to cook out of interest?

    Thanks!

    • Glad we could help, Mike. Next we’ll try to save you some motorcycle work, police work, military work, cowboy work and Indian chief work.

  9. Just thinking out loud here, but could you use a terracotta pot cut in half to create an arch to help retain heat and still have a small opening to slide pizza’s in though?! You’d have to join them with something which could get messy/slash make it more difficult to transport and it would be a pain to create a hole in the side shaped the same as the half terracotta pot. I’m just concerned about the chain heating up or having a accident while trying to replace the pot. In my hands I can just envision screaming party guess scattering before a rolling, boiling hot terracotta pot…

  10. Can adobe be applied to the spark screen attached to the fire bowl, then cut an opening for the pizza on the side, and one in the top or back for venting?

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