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?
It’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.
Pizza 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.
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.
Since 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.
Hey 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.
The 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.
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.
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
TOTAL APPROXIMATE COST $165
First 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.
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