Buddy of mine (who can make anything with his hands) and lives on many fine acres in the East Bay impressed the hell out of us some years back with his home-made wood-fire pizza oven.
Sure, I get distracted from “living the ranch like” now and then… Like “Hey, let’s buy an airplane and fly all over the country!” But when that passed and firmly ensconced in the Outback, we finally got a “round tuit.”
Picked up a 22″ ceramic pizza oven (such a deal!) on eBay for $125 including (no Covid, please) shipping.
As I mentioned Saturday, when we upgraded to a real steak-burner, the rusted out carcass of the old BBQ got a chop-job that would do Tijuana auto row proud.
Now, it’s warming up:
As promised, the old “kettle handle” turned into an end handle.
Only broke one drill bit cutting down some angle steel and punching in holes for the retaining brackets.
A Word About Plasma Cutters
I know on occasion, I slip into going on (ad nauseum) about how cut a clean-cutting plasma torch is. But, for thinner material (12 gauge steel and lighter) a good 4 1/2-inch angle grinder is our tool of choice.
For a couple of reasons, actually: First is it is faster. By the time I get the compressor fired up, check the water and oil traps in the air line, wheel the plasma rig outside and hook it up to the work? Easier to grab the “cutting wheel that moves me…” , plug in, and start cutting.
Now, if you are doing a big project – weather is not threatening – and you’ve got to run power to the job site for a flux core wire welder, then sure, on things like T-Posts, the plasma is your “hot momma.”
However, cutting down sheet steel into useful project hunks, under $100 at Amazon will get you several projects worth of cutting (1/16th inch) and grinding (1/4 inch) thickness grinding wheels. Done on a “Deal” day, you can get a 10-pack of flapper wheels, too. Cat’s meow for doing things like removing rust from rebar so you can run a good, strong bead.
One of the trip wires with wood fired pizza makers is curing them out. If you make a home unit, most involve “refractory mortar” which is mixed with water.
Also, if you are using fire brick, or a huge pizza stone of uncertain ancestry, odds are good some damn fool will have washed it. No! No! No!
The best of the oven makers have a whole process which takes up to 6-days to run through which is longer than impatient George can wait for pizza.
The key difference with a ceramic over is that it has already been fired and so the odds of it having water in the clay are nearly zero.
HOWEVER: The ceramic ovens – like the one I napped off eBay – are still subject to two problems: The first is thermal shock.
Since today is our first Pizza Oven Adventure, we are not above falling back to the 18″ stone in a 550 degree electric oven preheated for 45-minutes, or longer.
And, it may come to that because we are getting gusty winds through East Texas this afternoon. The oven is s-l-o-w-l-y heating up, but if we’re not comfortable bringing it up to a temperature between the rate we can burn through cash (and the gates of hell) the electric option may be enacted.
That’s because the washed play sand in the bottom of the oven was slightly6 “sticky” though not outright damp when I loaded it. Honestly, if I was selling “Washed Play Sand” I would make sure it was a little “heavied” with some moisture, too.
Still, that’s a lot of thermal mass – 9 pounds of nearly-moist sand.
Avoiding Thermal Shock
There are a lot of different hobbies where you may have encountered the term “thermal shock” before. One of this is descending from a high altitude full-power cross country trip in a high-performance aircraft. If you just “Chop it and drop it” you can do bad things to valves, especially on a turbo-charged six.
Another place where you see thermal shock is in electronics. When soldering, if you have lousy temperature control, evidence of “thermal shock” surfaces as “cold solder joints.” Too hot and slowly cooled is better than half-assed under flowed solder.
Thermal shock can be a good thing if you’re into knife-making. Here, very precise thermal shock (slowed for perfect control) can give your blades just the right mix of edge-holding, break resistance, ductility…well, you know that list. Bottom line is that is what used motor oil (heated, depending on temper) or a pit of hot ashes, or…well, every knife-making has their own “secret sauce” for tempering that best steel ever made – OCS. (Stands for Old Chevy Springs because the rear leaf spring of 1950’s the vintage GM “heavy” line (full-sized) tempered into the finest knives ever made.
But, I digress. (Though an interesting diversion while the oven warms…)
Thermal shock involves starting with a very small fire. I began with one of those “natural” wood starter cups (paraffin and wood flakes in a paper cut) and four charcoal briquettes.
After the dome temp came up to 135 (no contact thermometers are useful for more than CV-19!) and began to drop, I tossed in a few more. Like so:
While we wait for the oven to warm (and the beer to cool) a few words about pizza making.
Pizza “Temperature Tantrum”
If there’s one take-away (wear-away?) from almost 70-years of pizza-eating, it’s that everyone thinks they are an Expert.
Some people love deep-dish. Doughy and sopping in sauce. Others are more the middle-grounders. Thick, but certainly shy of a “deep dish.”
West coast pizzas aren’t thin – at least by NYC standards. Bit heavier.
For thin? Many New York joints but the few pizzas I’ve had in the NY area tended to be overdone. Burned “mutz” is one thing. Toasted around the edges. But dark brown all over and black on the edges? No, that’s burned.
My personal tastes run to the “thicker than NY” but still in the West Coast thin arena.
And regardless of the pizza, it’s ALL about time and temperature control.
As a guestimate: Pizza cooks best at 550-800F for “our style.” Lazy days we might start with a Di Giorno thin crust, which comes square for the Sprema – and the doctor it up a bit. Fresh slicked mushrooms, a good shake of garlic powder, and then a third to half pound of additional “mutz.”
That said, if you did the same with a thick crust, and especially with a deep dish, that would be too hot. The outside might look “done” but the inside could still be doughy.
Theory of this table is: Just like you can cook bacon at 500 in a skillet, but it’s hard to do a roast (and retain temperature control), so too we have the same concept in bread-making and pizza. Small mass can be cooked quickly, but large mass needs slower in order to get even (yet still done) all the way through. Pizza pigs like Ure know this stuff instinctively!
With the oven up to 200 (top) and 110F inside, we will keep raising the temp and see if we can get into that 550F and higher range – and still have room for the pizza in the oven.
More as developments warrant…we’re not sure if it will be hot enough to cook on, which would mean the electric back-up, or whether the health dept. or fire dept. will get here first….
Write when you get hungry,