The Wood-Fired Blog

Pizza and Food Trucks

There was a nice article on a Food Truck with a Forno Bravo oven the other day, it is got me thinking about Food Trucks, pizza, France, rolling pins and the feudal system.

PIzza Amore in Bufalo.com, April 19, 2012

Food trucks are hot. The best foot truck companies have loyal customers who track their movements on Twitter and follow them where ever they go. There are food truck maps on the Web that will tell you exactly where your favorite food truck will be at lunch and dinner today and where you can find them this weekend. You can search by food type and chef, and the food trucks have great names—like Shrimp Pimp Truck, Curry Up Now, and Chairman Bao Bun Truck.

Of course food trucks and pizza are a match made in heaven.

It is one of those moments that reminds me that there is nothing new under the sun. Takeout food was a staple in ancient Rome (though I don’t think there is any evidence of food trucks, or any type of truck for that matter), and there are numerous medieval wood blocks and prints of portable wood-fired (of course there weren’t any alternatives) bread oven carts. Don’t you think that fresh baked bread out of a wood oven rolled up to your house in 1412 would have been a lot nicer than a loaf of Save Mart bread in 2012? haha.

Pizza ovens and food trucks are a perfect fit. We’ve been lucky enough to have had a number of summer vacations in Provence, and you see Renault vans outfitted with wood pizza ovens all over the place—at the daily rotating markets in the mornings and for lunch, and then in popular town squares in the afternoon and early evening. While the pizza isn’t as good as real Italian pizza (haha again), it’s the thought that counts. Interestingly, french pastry techniques—such as rolling pins—are not good for pizza (in that case it is actually bad), and the flour is different. You see a lot of pizza with Comté, a traditional French cheese that is similar to Swiss Gruyere, which is very nice.

Once, we really wanted flatbreads to go with the appetizers and wine we had collected during the day, and I had the hardest time convincing the chef that I really just wanted a flatbread with olive oil, salt and a little oregano. If you tried to do that in Italy, it would have been simple! I did get there in the end (but even the dough isn’t up to Italian standards).

There are many Forno Bravo ovens installed on either trailers or in Food Trucks all across the US and Canada (hundreds of them). We maintaing a list of Portable Wood-Fired Catering ovens through the Forno Bravo Via directory, but the number of companies using our ovens for mobile catering is growing so fast, our directory is well behind.

Our partner for mobile catering ovens is the Fire Within. We have been working with them on portable ovens for years, and they do a great job. They sell beautiful trailers and trucks, and moreover, they provide training, seminars, classes and publications on how to run a successful (and profitable) wood-fired catering business.

With spring upon us, we are looking forward to hearing about more new wood-fired catering companies, and to reading lots of fun newspaper and web articles on where wood-fired trailers and trucks are popping up at markets, fairs and festivals.

Pain Pascale

We are lucky to live within a few miles of the Trader Joe’s in Pacific Grove, CA. I really don’t know what we would do without it, as I often (and only somewhat jokingly) think our local Supermarket (Save Mart) is out to kill its patrons with artificial additives, preservatives and partially hydrogenated oils. Our favorite markets in Florence were the Co-op on Viale Europa, which is a wonderful big box retailer featuring an on-site bakery, cheese shop, butcher, salumeria, and a great fish shop, and the Penny Market in Bagno a Ripoli, something of a European version of Trader Joe’s. Penny Market stocks only one brand of most items, if they can’t get a good deal they don’t stock it, they get great special buys, and the store is small, and stocked to the gils. You can buy a week’s worth of groceries in a couple of minutes. haha. Really, my kind of store.

One of my favorite items at Trader Joe’s is their really darn good Pain Pascale organic, whole wheat demi miche. I don’t know who bakes it for them, and how many other TJs stock the item, but if you are a TJs shopper, you should look out for it. Our store went through a period where they have it some days and not others, but for the past few months they have had it consistently. Our teenage daughter even likes it.

I’ve been lucky enough to have eaten quite a bit of Pain Poilane in Paris, and I have been into a few of their bakeries and have even been allowed to watch them work with one of their wonderful wood ovens in the basement of the bakery. So while Pain Pascale is not the same as the original—what is? I have heard stories about movie stars paying private jets to deliver Pain Poilane to movie sets. I think it might be worth it. Pain Poilane with french butter for breakfast. Ahhh.

Both loaves are a Miche. To quote Wikipedia:

Pain de campagne (“country bread” in French) is typically a large round loaf (“miche”) made from a natural leavening similar to, but not as sour as, American sourdough. Most traditional versions of this bread are made with a combination of white flour with whole wheat flour and/or rye flour, water, leavening and salt. For centuries, French villages had communal ovens where the townsfolk would bring their dough to be baked, and the miches weighed from four to as much as twelve pounds. Such large loaves would feed a family for days or weeks, until the next baking day.

I have been complaining about factory and supermarket bread for as long as I can remember—they not only taste awful and have terrible crust, they have a huge list of artificial additives.

But not Pan Pascale. Here is the list of ingredient:
Organic whole wheat flour
Filtered water
Sea salt

Enjoy! (If you can find it).

A Red Andiamo70 in Action

Check out a fun customer posting on his new, red Andiamo70 in www.pizzamaking.com. If you haven’t read it before, pizzamaking.com is an enthusiast web site dedicated to high-end pizza making. We do not read the site, because I think that pizza lovers should be able to enjoy their hobby without any input (or selling) from equipment manufacturers, but I got this link from a friend.

I think this is interesting because it gives the customer’s view of deciding which oven to get, along with the process of receiving the oven and rolling it into place. And the pizza photos are great! Really, some very nice work.

Enjoy.

http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,18632.0.html

Olive oil and bread at the San Francisco Ferry Building

We went to the San Francisco Farmers’ Market at the Ferry Building this weekend, and had a good time. It was a balmy, sunny day with the temperature hitting 79ºF (hot weather seems to be following me), and it was nice walking down around the city—we also have fun taking BART across town at one point.

The market at the Ferry Building is an interesting cross between a traditional farmers’ market, with lots of outdoor stalls selling organic produce, and a European Mercato Centrale, think Florence, Valenica or Athens, with permanent indoor stalls housing restaurants and shops selling a range of foods-related products. There were a number of food stalls outside the market, but no portable Forno Bravo pizza oven. Oh well :-( We’ll get there.

Along the streets leading up the market are stalls with arts and crafts, jewelry and photos, including a fun shop called Purely Akademic that sells T-shirts with chemistry equations, the molecular structure for chocolate, the elements, etc. It’s pretty nerdy, but when you’ve got kids interested in science, it was great.

Any time I’m in a farmer’s market (at least when I’m not home and buying vegetables) I always migrate toward the bread and olive oil—where the Ferry Building’s main attractions are Acme Bakery and McEvoy Olive Oil. The market was packed and there was a line at Acme, but I was able to wander around and take a few photos and get a wonderful whole wheat boule.

I went around to the back of the bakery to see how they were laid out, which flour they use, etc., and I was pleased to see that they use flour from Central Milling—our supplier for the Panissimo Tipo 00 pizza flour that is available in the Forno Bravo Store.

It’s always fun seeing a very high quality, hand-crafted product being used in good quantities (lots of pallets in this case) to make a wonderful product. Earlier in the weekend we had been talking about why McDonald’s puts an entire chemistry set of artificial ingredients in their “oatmeal” and soft drink companies use high fructose corn syrup. As our teenage daughter quickly worked out, if you save $.001 per serving on millions and millions of servings, it adds up—which is sad. I find the intersection between food and business to be an uncomfortable place, where food companies use very large marketing budgets to create demand for food products are that profitable—and bad for you.

At the other end of the food spectrum from McDonald’s, you will find McEvoy Ranch. Founded by the heiress to the San Francisco Chronicle publishing fortune, McEvoy produces a very nice organic olive oil in Sonoma county in California. They use the most advanced oil production technology and wonderful farming practices, but while the olive oil itself is very nice, it is very (very) expensive. Think perfume. I have no idea how well their business has worked out, but I can’t help but think about the old winery joke—that the best way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large fortune.

I also sometimes wonder how much of McEvoy’s production is given as presents, where it is put on a shelf and never actually used. If you paid for it yourself, you might be afraid to use it. “I am not worthy”. haha.

For me, McEvoy olive oil is the poster child for the gap between luxury foods and mass produced foods in the U.S. Our luxury foods are wonderful, but they are so expensive that they are really only accessible to a small percentage of people—while cost cutting keeps pushing down the quality (and cost) for the mass market foods. I guess that’s why I am always looking out for excellent products that we can all actually afford to use. After all in Italy and Greece, wonderful extra virgin olive oil is a part of daily life.

Still, seeing those small olive trees in pots in the McEvoy store made me feel good all over. I planted a 200+ Arbequina olive trees (a cultivar originally from Catalan that makes a wonderful, golden, nutty oil) when we lived in Sonoma county, and I think olive trees might be the best plant on the planet.

Time to make some schiacciata for dinner tonight with our wonderful Forno Bravo olive oil–imported directly from the family-owned frantoio just south of Florence and priced really fairly. :-)

To Ironman, nor not to Ironman…

I learned a number of things from Boston 2012; some good, some not so good. But one thing was certain. Boston 2012 was hot. Or, as one running friend put it—the highway to hell.

First off, a couple of basic numbers.

89ºF. The high on the course as we were finishing the race, though some local thermometers saw pockets of 92ºF.

More than 2,000. The number of runners who were treated by medics or hospitals for de-hydration or heat exhaustion after the race.

Less than 500. The number of runners who accepted the BAA’s offer of deferring their entry and race next year (though they have to pay twice and attend registration this year to pick up their racing pack to qualify for the deferment).

22,000. Runners finished.

3:53. My race time.

2:55. My best race time.

2:58. My race time at Boston last year.

3:51. My previous personal worst (excluding the Las Vegas double) race time at Big Sur two years ago (6 days after running Boston).

3:42. My first marathon in 2008, which I ran with very little training.

2.00 The number of minutes per mile I ran slower than Boston last year.

OK, I was slow.

On the upside, I had a great experience in 2012. Dinner with running friends before the race, our running club hung out at the athlete’s village before the race, I ran the entire race with friends, and we all met up for dinner and beer afterwards. I also saw our daughter at college, had dinner and lunch with here, and I even got to watch one of her track works. So it was an all around good experience.

The actual race, on the other hand, had its ups and downs. The good news is that my knee held up well, and it didn’t give me any trouble. I’ve started running again post-race, and everything seems fine. That makes me very happy.

Plus, most of us were smart. Our group went out slow and held our pace pretty much the entire race, and we talked with the crowd and gave high fives to hundreds of kids along the course. All of which is good, as there are many (many) reports from runners who tried to run a fast pace and crashed—either walking, not finishing, or ending up in the hospital.

But the heat really got to me. I thought that by running at such a slow race that the race would be a walk in the park—but it wasn’t. I overheated in the last few miles and got a little dizzy after the race for the first time ever. I have always thought of myself a pretty bullet-proof when it comes to running, so seeing stars, and having to sit down and pack ice on my head was a real surprise. Looking back, I think I stopped dumping water on my head toward the end of the race and perhaps didn’t drink enough Gatorade (though I did drink at every aid station—roughly every two miles) toward the end of the race. So I was a little fried.

Which brings me to Vineman, the Ironman triathlon I am thinking of signing up for in late July. It’s in Healdsburg, CA, which means it’s going to be hot. So it isn’t the mileage, it’s the heat that has me concerned. And the time has come to decide. There are about 100 spots left before it sells out. Ironman. Or not.

Meanwhile, I still have the Big Sur marathon to look forward to—a week from Sunday. Which means that I still have another race where I can put together a pacing plan and enjoy the day. Running on the rugged edge of the western world. It’s a great race, and it has been selected as one of the world’s Top 3 marathons by numerous publications.

It might be windy; it might be cold; it might be raining. But we do know one thing. It won’t be as hot as Boston.

More to come soon on oven curing, the new, small (and not yet released) Presto oven and hearth bread. Lots to look forward to!

8,000 Miles

Quick update on Boston 2012. The weather has taken care of any decisions I needed to make on race pace. Monday’s weather is forecast to be a balmy 87ºF. The Boston Marathon organizers has written to the runners telling everyone who is not very fit to not run, and for everyone to slow down and to be very cautious. Heat can kill. They are also offering deferment, allowing runners not run, and re-use their qualifying time in 2013 (though no refunds). It’s particularly too bad for runners who have trained so hard for 3-4 months and were peaking to run a PR (personal record) on Monday. I am already qualified to run in 2013, so I am up for a fun run.

At about mile 5 on Monday I will hit mile 8,000 run over the past 3 1/2 years. Lot’s more to go.

Now, back ovens. I am going to be blogging on oven curing next. I also have some thoughts on bread that I am putting together. More to come on that.

How Do You Price a Pizza Oven?

As a manufacturer and retailer, how do we price your products?

It’s an interesting question and there are number of different issues that come into play. As I wrote earlier, I believe that a higher degree of business transparency is an appropriate strategy in the Internet age, and it occurred to me that sharing our pricing strategy would make sense—both for us and for our customers.

If you have done research into pizza oven pricing recently, you will have noticed that the Forno Bravo ovens include all of the installation equipment (all of the insulation, mortar and the chimney), while our competitors force you to buy all of those essential items as costly extras—AND, you will have seen that our ovens cost a lot less than our competitors. A Forno Bravo residential pizza oven typically costs between $1,000 and $1,500 less than than the “other guys” including shipping. That is a very high cost saving compared with the overall cost of a typical residential oven.

We believe that we are the “category killer” in our market. According to Wikipedia:

Category killer is a term used in marketing and strategic management to describe a productservicebrand, or company that has such a distinct sustainable competitive advantage that competing firms find it almost impossible to operate profitably in that industry (or in the same local area).

You might be wondering—how can Forno Bravo do it?

There are a couple of good reasons. First, as a manufacturer, we purchase large quantities of the highest quality, but very low integration level, raw materials—directly from the original manufacturer. Think calcined aggregates, calcium aluminate and polypropylene fibers. Our raw material costs are a lot lower than our competitors who import ovens from Europe or buy their products from contract manufacturers. Second, we actually make our own products—in the USA. We do not purchase items in Euros and we do not have to pay for costly container shipping. Don’t forget that pizza ovens are very heavy and are difficult to safely ship—you need to ship the ovens from a city in Italy where they are made to the port by truck; from the Italian port to a US port by sea; through customs; and from the US port to the importer’s warehouse by truck. You don’t need to know the exact numbers (though of course as a former importer we do) to know that there is a very high “per oven” cost to simply ship the oven from the European manufacturer to California.

And finally, we are the highest unit volume pizza oven manufacturer and seller (probably by a very large margin) in the US. This brings a number of benefits to you—the consumer or dealer installing the oven. Our high unit volumes drive up our efficiency and they drive down our manufacturing costs. Also, because we are selling lots of ovens, we do not need to make as large a profit on each oven as we would if we were selling a much smaller number.

I am still struck by the fact that one of our competitors was selling a small, low-end 32” oven, without insulation, mortar or the chimney, for $2,750 when we first founded Forno Bravo. Clearly they were not selling very many of them, and they needed to make a big profit from each one. Today, we sell a higher quality 32” oven, with all of the installation equipment, for $1,850.

The best external model to describe our pricing strategy for our ovens is the Apple iPad. Because of their high volumes and innovative design, Apple is able to sell a product that is both better and less expensive the their competitors. So much so that they have scared many of their competitors completely out of the market.

We believe that Forno Bravo sells ovens that are significantly better than our competitors in terms of design and quality of materials; that our ovens are much more complete than our competitors because they include the things that you always need to install your oven; at a price that is significantly lower than our competitors. That is one of the reasons Forno Bravo has been so successful and has expanded so significantly in recent years.

There is one other similarity between a Forno Bravo oven and the iPad. Both have a straight-forward, fixed retail price. You can buy a Forno Bravo from one of our dealers, from the Forno Bravo Store, or by call our sales department (800-407-5119)—and it will cost the same no matter where you buy it. Sometimes it can be fun, or worth it, putting a lot of time into doing price comparisons for different merchants selling the same product, but in the case of pizza ovens, there are so many fun details to work on (design, installation, the rest of your kitchen, and making great pizza dough)—we wanted to make buying the oven itself easy.

But what about shipping and packaging costs? I see that you charge for shipping.

There are some interesting models out there that you can examine in terms of shipping costs. On one extreme, take Amazon as an example. They charge consumers a flat $75 fee to qualify for Prime status, and everything is shipped for free, 2nd day delivery. For many commodity items, this model provides the consumer with good value, while for Amazon, it has played a big role in their emergence as the nation’s dominant online retailer. At the same time, Amazon loses billions of dollars on shipping each year, that they then make up with huge sales volumes. Like many retailers (including Costco), they operate on very tight margins and make very little profit on each item (in fact they lose money on many items they sell)—but it all comes out in the wash. Heck, Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder is worth about $18B, so it’s fair to say they’ve made some aggressive moves that have worked out well.

On the other extreme, you see small merchants on eBay (and sadly on TV Infomercials) who sell their product at a low prices (perhaps below cost), or even for free—but who charge very high shipping and handling fees. Which, in part, led to eBay’s practice is listing the “cost” for an item as the item cost + shipping cost. All of which makes a lot of sense.

As a manufacturer and retailer (we produce ovens and sell them), we have made the decision to charge the actual cost of shipping and packaging, based on the size and weight of the oven and the distance of the customer location for our factory, as one of our pricing cornerstones. There are a coupe of good reasons for this.

First, we do not build the cost of shipping and packaging into the price of our ovens. We have a reasonable number of customers who pick-up their oven directly from us at the factory, and it does not seem fair to make those customers implicitly pay for shipping and packaging that they are not using. We also charge shipping according to the customer’s location, rather than charging a flat fee nationwide. Again, it does not seem fair to charge someone in Northern California the same cost to ship an oven, as we charge someone very far away.

Beyond these practical issues, this strategy underscores a philosophical underpinning. We believe that the company should charge a fair price for our ovens and that we should make our profit on actually selling ovens in the marketplace—and that the amount we charge for shipping and packaging should simply offset our actual costs. We ship a lot of ovens, and we get very good freight rates, and we pass these low rates on to our customers. So when you get a quote from Forno Bravo using the FastQuote system, you are seeing the actual cost of shipping.

Which leads me to the idea of charging a crate fee. I know that lots of us get tired of seeing the litany of small fees that the phone companies, airlines, and shipping company keep filing on. Airport fees, fuel surcharges, luggage fees, access fees, etc. As the comedians ask—how are are we from toilet fees on airplanes?

But our crating fee is different; because it’s real. In order to get one of our wonderful pizza ovens to you in perfect shape, we build a really, really well-designed and well-built wooden crate. It has a ton of wood, bracing, straps, wrap and foam, and we use a very well proven method for stacking and strapping all of the oven pieces in place inside the crate. Everything in its place, in just the right order. My point is that all of this costs real money; in fact, plywood is one of our largest single expenses (who would have thought).


Staging crates for export via container ship.

Which takes me back to why we have to charge a crate fee. I think it would be unfair to customers picking up ovens and who do not need the crate, to have that cost built into the oven price.

If I were to pick one word to summarize “how do you price a pizza oven”, I think I would say “easy”. We have put a lot of work in behind the scenes to make it easy for you to pick the best oven.

New Third Generation FB Castable

This is the original version of the article I wrote on the new third-generation FB Castable. A shorter version of this appeared in the March 2012 Wood-Fired Newsletter.

James

We have developed a great deal of expertise at Forno Bravo over the years with refractory materials and insulators, and we have worked hard to continually improve. We are proud to introduce the third-generation of FB Castable, the material we use to produce our wonderful ovens. In fact, we have been shipping ovens with the new material for a number of months — and everything is going really smoothly; so we wanted to share the news with you. Plus, FB Castable is designed, blended and cast at our own factory in California (made in USA).

Our new material features a new and more complex array of refractory aggregates (calcined material in different shapes and sizes that create a structural web) that creates an even stronger ceramic bond, along with a higher grade of calcium aluminate cement — and it delivers an awesome (and industry-leading) 8,230 psi compression strength. That means better cooking performance and better durability.

In one sense, it all started with the first modular oven that I bought and installed in San Gimignano. Before I visited the oven factory, I found a company brochure for the producer at a local garden center and I spent a very contented afternoon sitting in the autumn sunlight and translating the Italian. The installation instructions were very helpful — particularly considering that my first experiences with brick ovens were Alan Scott’s Bread Builders and the two barrel vault brick bread ovens that I had built in my house in California.

But while the installation instructions were good, I was particularly struck by the fact that each residential oven was available in two versions — one in a red colored material and the other in grey. After struggling with my bad Italian, and the fact that the brochure had a number of technical terms that could not be translated online, I came to the realization that the company was following the traditional “good” and “best” product strategy, where the red oven was made using a product that roughly translated to “small volcanic pieces”. The grey ovens on the other hand were easy to identify. The company called them “refrattario”.

I met the company owners armed with a number of questions, and they did not disappoint me with the answers. The red ovens were in fact made using a locally sourced terracotta material strengthened with a heat resistant volcanic aggregate, which was significantly less expensive than true refrattario. And because in their minds the ovens were for occasional, hobby use (their word in this case), the red terracotta material wasn’t great, but it was basically good enough. Of course if you were serious, they said, you would pay a lot more for a true refractory oven — which used the same material as their restaurant ovens. But, they were a lot more expensive.

As a buyer, I thought this was confusing and it made the decision harder than it should be. Was the cheaper oven good enough? Would it work well and last? Should I pay a lot more for the better oven?

I decided from day one that Forno Bravo would use the same commercial-grade, true refractory material for all of our ovens. And over the years, we have continually improved our ovens and the materials we use.

Which is why we are so excited to announce the third generation of FB Castable. This true refractory material is our own proprietary technology that delivers remarkably fast heat-up times, great heat retention and unrivaled durability. It is incredibly strong.

You can read more about it on Fornobravo.com. Link to this page:

http://www.fornobravo.com/pizza_oven_selection/refractory_primer.html

Innovating a 2,000 Year Old Product

The word innovation usually conjures up images of semiconductors, Internet software and green energy. But at Forno Bravo, we keep innovating around a 2,000 year old product. I have written a lot over the years about the ovens in ancient Pompeii, and how remarkable the design, the materials and the craftsmanship were on the ovens.

How do you improve on something that has been so well known and understood for so long?

That is certainly the thinking of many (I might even say most) pizza oven companies. They seem to have stopped innovating 30 (or more) years ago, and they are still selling the same products that they were making and selling in the 1980s, or earlier. But I think I am too restless for that type of an approach, and it leaves too many opportunities unexplored.

At Forno Bravo we are having a lot of fun constantly improving our products and developing products that serve new markets and oven uses. Going all the way back to the first days of the company, our goal has always been to make wood-fired cooking and pizza ovens as popular in the U.S. (and Canada, the UK, Australia and the rest of the world outside of the Mediterranean) as they are in Italy; to make the pizza oven as popular as the propane grill. Yes, I keep dreaming.

And it has always seemed to me that the best way to do that was to make it a lot easier for the person who likes to cook and likes good food to buy, install and use a pizza oven. We quickly came to see that one sizes does not fit all, and that one person’s hobby is another person’s nightmare, and that not everyone wants to install a modular pizza oven kit in their back yard. Some do and some do not.

I often think that Forno Bravo has more in common with Apple, or Google, than our competitors in the pizza oven marketplace. Where Apple works with processors, memory, battery capacity, packaging, size and weight, we work with refractories, insulators, heat holding capacity, packing, size and weight. We make trade-offs with size and weight and how they impact the user experience. We use fundamental technology to get more performance (cooking capacity and heat retention) from the same (limited) physical space; we work hard on product packaging to deliver maximum utility from fixed weight restrictions; and we deliver awesome performance when weight and sizes are not limiting factors.

We have a number of different levers (means of design and production that we can control) to work with, including refractory binders, refractory aggregates and additives, refractory mortars, insulation, dome design, ventilation design, air flow, oven opening design, stands and enclosures, metal, paint, powder coating, chimneys, and a wide range of ascetic design materials.

Our applications include backyard cooking for a small family, or for large parties, professionals catering events throughout their community, pizzerias striving to make world-class pizza, create a following, build a brand and make a profit, people who want to roll their oven to their pools deck, or into their garage for the winter, or want to install a small oven on a small deck, who like the look of smooth stucco, or want to build an outdoor oasis. People who want to make great pizza, real crusty hearth bread, or who know how a brick oven just makes everything they cook taste better.

So as long as our customers are willing to keep trying hard to make a better pizza or a better loaf of bread, we are happy to keep working hard to make our ovens better—and to keep coming up with ovens that you can use in all sorts of new ways.

In fact, we have a new innovative oven that is just about ready to be introduced to the market. Stay tuned for the Forno Bravo Presto.

Am I Drying-Out or Curing My Oven?

One interesting aspect of the modern brick oven is the degree to which it shares technology with industrial equipment—including furnaces. As designers, we use both raw materials and manufactured products to build ovens that are light weight, that are resistant to thermal cycling (heat up and cool down cycles), that are resistant to thermal shock (putting cold, wet pizza dough on a very hot ceramic surface), that hold high heat while being fired, that hold moderate heat for long periods of time after firing, and that are simultaneously hot on the inside and cool on the outside.

In general, the pizzas oven and heavy industry share technology in harmony.

But there is one area of disconnect. Language. For years the pizza oven industry has used the term “curing” to describe the process of slowly baking out the water that is used in the oven manufacturing process—including castables and mortars. When in fact this is technically the “drying out” process.

In refractory language, the term “curing” describes the process of bringing a refractory material up to a high temperature, just below their melting point, to where they sinter—powder particles are joined together through a chemical reaction, thereby decreasing the porosity of the compound and increasing its strength and density. A simple type of sintering occurs when to ice cubes fuse together in a glass of water. For aluminum oxide (Al2O3), sintering takes place at 1400-1650ºC, far hotter than your pizza oven will ever reach. In fact, for some high temperature refractories where the binder is not sufficiently heat resistant for the application, the curing process is so hot that the refractory binder (calcium aluminate in the case of a pizza oven) is actually burned out, and the resulting sintered aggregate creates the final, high temperature resistant compound.

As a side note, calcium aluminate (the binder used in pizza ovens) has a service temperature in excess of 2300ºF—again far hotter than your oven will ever reach. One thing that this information underscores is the importance of the hydraulic ceramic bond formed by the calcium aluminate binder and the refractory aggregates in our new, third-generation FB Castable. By using different sizes and shapes of calcined refractory aggregate, FB Castable creates an extremely strong ceramic bond—and delivers an industry-leading 8,320 psi compression strength.

All of which I think is pretty interesting.

Going forward, Forno Bravo will continue to use the term “curing” in our written materials to describe the “drying out” process and we will continue to stress the importance of proper oven curing (and drying out) for the performance and longevity of your oven.

Remember, that water turns to steam at 212ºF (100ºC), that water expands in volume 1600 times when it is converted to steam, and that water converted to steam inside your oven will create cracks which will compromise and ruin your oven. So please follow the oven curing/dry out schedule.

In fact, the drying out process is so interesting, we are going to be writing more about that a little later.