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Mongo 04-12-2007 10:15 AM

Coal Fired Brick Oven Construction
I'd like to build a coal fired pizza oven like they use at Lombardi's, Grimaldi's, etc. in NY for commercial use. Anyone ever build one of these or use them enough that they know the design? I'm just wondering if it differs much from the design of the wood oven?

CanuckJim 04-12-2007 11:06 AM

Re: Coal Fired Brick Oven Construction

Far as I know, and remembering the coal fired ovens I saw as a kid in NYC, they are always "white" ovens, meaning they are heated from below and not directly in the baking chamber the way "black" bread or pizza ovens are.

Alf, a member here from the UK, might have some knowledge of their construction. I've never built one.


jjerrier 04-13-2007 01:42 PM

Re: Coal Fired Brick Oven Construction
Coal Vines here in Dallas has the anthracite coal burning in the oven chamber. They may have some pics at Welcome to the official Coal Vine's web site!

The pizza is really good...the ovens there are more barrel shaped than pompeii style.

Do you think you could burn coal in the standard dome pizza oven and still get good results??


johnrbek 04-15-2007 03:56 AM

Re: Coal Fired Brick Oven Construction
Hmmm... don't have an answer for you, but heres some rambling thoughts on coal fired ovens...

I've been Frank Pepe's & Sally's in New Haven, CT as well as Lombardi's in Brooklyn , Patsy's in the Bronx, and Anthony's Coal Fired down here in Ft Lauderdale... These are all coal fired places... All of these but Anthony's use a huge and I mean HUGE oven... you could fit a small car in Frank Pepe's oven I would guess... my feeling is that these ovens were originally built for bread.. and at the time, there wasn't a local skill set to build a round more typical italian style oven.. and beyond that, the use of coal was more a function of cost than anything... wouldn't coal have been cheaper and more readily accessible in "the city" back in the 20's, 30's, and 40's when these places started popping up?

And since then, in my opinion, you've seen this pizza "genre" arise out of the "coal fired" mystque, which probably arose out of nothing more than convenience and economics... New Yorkers who grew up on coal fired migrate around the US.. to Dallas... to Miami.. and open up Coal Fired pizza joints.. and their smashing successes.. is it cause their coal fired? I don't think so.. I think it's because the average gas fired pizza place just SUCKS! (a notable exception would be DiFara's in Brooklyn, which was closed to due health code violations recently.. so I've heard...)

Not sure about the place in Dallas, but Anthony's Coal Fired uses an Earthstone oven.. which is a good commercial oven, but nothing I'd base a home built oven on..

Oh yeah.. I saw a thing on TV the other day.. a TV chef did a spot with the owner of Frank Pepe's.. actually made a clam pizza and used the approx 15' long peel to place it in their huge oven.. it was a good show with some unique info on a very historic place.. but one piece of information jumped out at me.. if I recall correctly, the owner said the cook time for his pizzas is about 7 minutes.. they are good pizzas.. I've been there, I know.. and I could see he was working with a very wet dough.... but this tells me he's working around some of the inadequacies of his oven... longer cook time.. need a wetter dough to maintain moisture... just would have thought he would have higher temps in that big coal fired oven...

Alot of rambling.. I know.. one more thing.. I'm in the software business and one of the big issues with software implmentations is dealing with why things are done a certain way over a long period of time... alot of times people do things without really knowing WHY they do things... here's a little story we refer to from time to time: "my wife cooks a ham every Thanksgiving and cuts the ends off of each side during the cooking process.. it comes out really good, don't get me wrong, but I asked why she cuts the ends off.. she says.. I don't know.. my mother did it that way.. so we ask here mother... why do you cut the ends off the ham?? I don't know, my mother did it that way... so we call up the old lady in Boca at the retirement village.. why did you cut the ends off of the ham?? Cause my oven was too small at the time and it wouldn't fit in...." HAHA... HAHAHAHA..AHAH.HAHA.... :D

With that said.. what is a "coal fired oven"? Is it shaped differently or just a regular oven fired with coal? Why were some of these historic ovens built so large? Why are they rectangular? Does coal fired pizza taste better than wood fired pizza? Could it be that some of our answer follow the lines of our story above?

It's taken awhile, but at this point I'm sure you see where I'm coming from... if you want to build a coal fired oven, I won't frown.. have at it.. it will be interesting to see what shape it takes, size, etc.. I don't think anyone here has attempted to build one... so while you will get plenty of general building advice and good specific advice on firebrick, mortar recipes, structural questions, etc., you won't find "coal fired" construction advice.

One last question? And this one may sound stupid, cause I'm down in Florida, but where do you buy coal? Is it cheaper than wood in some places today?


BTW, note to CanuckJim: I'm almost positive Patsy's uses coal "in the oven" which would make it a black oven technically.. and an exception to the rule I guess... pretty sure I saw some smoldering coal in there before.. you're probably right on the others.. I've never seen a live fire / burning coas in any of the other places I've been too..

(disclaimer) This post is in no way meant to be offensive. Please take my input here as my opinion only and not necessarily the opinion of most of the folks here.. maybe some of them, but not all of them.. maybe none of them... ;)

james 04-15-2007 04:40 AM

Re: Coal Fired Brick Oven Construction
One of the things that confuses me with coal ovens is that bouncing heat from the flame of a wood-fire on one of the key parts of a good pizza and part of what delivers a 90 second to 2-3 minute pizza. If you cook a pizza longer than that, you are already compromising moistness in the crumb and crispness of the crust. I think that is one difference you can taste between a really good 5 minute pizza on a pizza stone and 2 minute pizza in a brick oven.

I have asked a number of our producers here, and the folks at Caputo what they think about coal ovens, and they all say the same thing. Where's the flame?

That said, I have never eaten a coal fired pizza -- so I can't comment on whether I like the pizza.

If I was starting a new pizzeria, I would definitely go wood-fired. If there were serious reasons I couldn't do wood, I would go gas-fired -- as there is a new Italian burner that does a good job of mimicing the flame and heat of a wood fire.

That's my two cents.

Mongo 07-11-2007 08:06 PM

Re: Coal Fired Brick Oven Construction
Well one can buy charcoal anywhere as you know but I don't imagine that's too cost effective. I happen to live an hour away from a huge lignite coal site so buying it is no problem and I assume it's no problem to burn in an oven either (toxic?)?

cooper 07-12-2007 07:16 AM

Re: Coal Fired Brick Oven Construction
I live in Connecticut, not far from New Haven and have been to Pepe's and Sally's a few times. I can't answer Jame's question "Where the flame", but there is another restaurant (actually three of them) in CT called 'First and Last Tavern'. They have a very large, old coal fired 'white' oven. The coal fire sits in a separate chamber just behind the main cooking chamber, separated by a half hieght wall. The heat has direct access to the cooking area by bouncing off the ceiling, but the fire isn't directly in the same area. I think you would need to build a very large oven to try to duplicate this approach. They have a temperature gauge that I think read 800 when I was there last. They pizza is very good-similar to Pepe's or Patsy's, but without the long wait.

Mongo 07-12-2007 09:52 AM

Re: Coal Fired Brick Oven Construction
I've still got some newbie in me, but I'm not sure why the coal ovens HAVE to be so big??? Any idea? ... or is this a leftover from the days when they were cookin' everything in the ovens, not just za?

BrianShaw 07-13-2007 05:22 PM

Re: Coal Fired Brick Oven Construction

Originally Posted by james (Post 9591)
(snip) That said, I have never eaten a coal fired pizza -- so I can't comment on whether I like the pizza. (snip, again)

Last winter I ate at Grimaldi's in Scottsdale AZ. It was a decent pie, but not any better than a wood-fired pie. My conclusion (assumption) was that coal must have mostly been an economical or convenient way to get a lot of heat into an oven rather than a real flavoring agent. I also concluded that NY-inspired coal-cooked pizza in AZ might not be the same as the real thing. I've never had the real thing so I can't comment!

jjerrier 07-16-2007 09:18 PM

Re: Coal Fired Brick Oven Construction
A disappointing development at the new Coal Vines in Southlake...their new ovens will use coal, gas, AND infrared. Talk about belt and suspenders! Maybe they should just integrate a conveyor belt too. Allegedly will improve consistency of the pizzas - but I think it really compromises the integrity of the pizza...a nice little artisan shop gearing up for chain-link homgenization. Uggh.

On a side note, I did stop by the new restaurant in southlake TX and the ovens weren't working so they had no pizza! However, the staff was incredibly gracious...I had just changed a flat tire in 100 degree heat on the side of the highway and probably looked like a nut. They helped me find a local tire store, set me up with some ice water, and the manager gave me a card for a free pizza!

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