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Wood-Fired Oven Project

Pizza Oven Toolbox

Pizza oven tools (l to r): hook, bellows, brass brush, turning peel, and loading peel.

Pizza oven tools (l to r): hook, bellows, brass brush, turning peel, and loading peel.

There are lots of reason to build a pizza oven. The opportunity to “gear up” to use it over the many years that it will last for is one of the biggest ancillary benefits. Here are a few of the essential tools for cooking pizza and a variety of other food in our wood oven.

Loading Peel: This peel is used to load pizzas into the oven. Most build their pies right on this peel, while some pros manage to go from counter to peel, to oven. The most important characteristics of a good loading peel are that its handle is long enough to reach into the hot oven, that the paddle is wide enough to accommodate the largest pizza you want to make (but, obviously, not larger than your oven’s opening), and that the surface of the paddle is really smooth.

Some buy peels made from fancy wood and others go with perforated metal paddles that reduce friction and drop excess flour but both options seem over-the-top to me. Ours came from Tap Phong but Nella also carries ones with long enough handles. (more…)

First Fire

After a lot of hard work we finally reached that milestone of lighting the first fire in our wood-fired oven last Saturday, July 24.  Early May when we broke ground and were digging in very cold rain seems like such time ago now.  I’ll be writing about more about what it took to get us this far in the project but now here are some more pictures.

Chimney is 2/3 finished

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Building a Dome

The last time I updated you fair readers on the progress of our wood-fired oven progress was after the Victoria Day long weekend and we had poured the foundation slab that will support the oven.  Since then the block stand has gone up, another reinforced concrete slab was poured on top of that, and we have made excellent progress with building the dome.  Here are pictures of our progress with some brief commentary.

This stands purpose is basically to lift the oven off the ground so that it is easy to use and away from animals.  The blocks are laid dry (without mortar, except for the first course that is levelled with some) and held in place by every second void filled with concrete and rebar.  In case you’re wondering (many have) the space inside is not where the fire goes; it’s used for wood storage.

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A Strong Foundation

In my April post about building a wood-fired oven I wrote about turning the corner from just talking about the project to actually doing it.  As proof that we were getting serious about the endeavour I posted a picture of our ever-expanding resource library that included the plans we intended to use. We now have much more than a pile of books to point to as evidence of our progress.

Before breaking ground we did an extensive amount of research.  My cousin’s friend, Mike Bucci, took us on a tour of his backyard oven that is the first of many for him as he plans to start his own company, Alfresco Living, to install backyard kitchens.  I have also become an active member of the online forum run by Forno Bravo, the company that provides the Pompeii Oven plans we’re using.  Through the FB forum I got in touch with Jim Wills of Mary G’s Bread in Prince Albert, Ontario.  Jim told me about Alphatherm the go-to source for brick oven materials in the GTA which is where we got our first load of firebricks, mortar, and the insulation that will sit below the oven floor. (more…)

Building an Oven

Starting in the summer of 2007 I have been strongly considering the idea of building a wood-fired oven at  my family’s cottage north of Toronto.  I’ve engaged in a lot of talk and reading though not very much action but this year it has become a family-wide affair and looks like it’s going ahead.

I think it’s important we deal with the why before addressing the when, what, where, and how of oven construction.  Outdoor ovens do many things better than their city cousins.  They act as the focus for social gatherings, can add a slight smoky taste to food and keep the kitchen cool in the heat of August.  There is one thing that they can do that home ovens absolutely cannot: cook authentic Neapolitan pizza.  Some like Jeffrey Steingarten–who broke one oven and carbonized a pizza in another while trying to use the self-clean feature–have tried but without total success.  As discussed in my second pizza post from March 2009 Heston Blumenthal’s cast-iron pan method (that I borrowed from Serious Eats and the guys at The Paupered Chef) comes the closest.  A well-built, properly-tended outdoor oven can more easily reach the 750° to 850°F needed to cook an authentic pizza in less than three minutes. (more…)