I am not the first to venture into how to bring fire and wood together to cook a pizza. So, while making great pizza is all about balancing time, temperature and ingredients, it is also about the type of heat to a great extent. You can bake a pizza with a brick floor (brick oven), cook it in a live fired wood burning oven, which brings smoke and a more intense heat into the picture, you can cook it in your home oven on a pizza stone at lower - slower temperatures, or even cook a great pizza on your grill. The possibilities may be endless. The important thing is to balance time and temperature (heat!) with your ingredients and you can make great pizza.
I stumbled on adding fire to my home pizza making experience when I decided to grill a pizza. I had added a wood smoker box into my gas grill and it seemed to cut the cooking time by almost 40%. My home oven pizzas generally take between 8-10 minutes to bake. This one baked in 6 minutes! It also had fire, wood, and smoke added into the equation. Of course, I do intend to get
a wood burning oven, but I don't have one just yet. You will be among the first to know when I cross that threshold!
I was recently inspired by a friend of ours who is a fan of Pizza Quest who was, in fact, inspired by an article I wrote. David Stone is an Art Director in the commercial production business, but at home, he loves to cook and, well, "tinker." David started playing around with how to build a wood burning oven for as little money as possible. He cut a door in a terra-cotta pot, turned it upside down and cooked a pizza on a pizza stone in his poor-man's terra-cotta flower pot wood burning oven. The pot cracked, but he was fired up!
And so, I too was inspired. I started playing with my gas grill and wood fire idea and wondered how I could keep the heat in -- the lid did, after all, have to open and I would keep losing all that heat. I had a few bricks laying around so I started laying them out on the grill. Hmmmm?
When I got back from the building supply yard and carried my newly acquired fire bricks to the back yard, I started stacking my bricks to see what I could build. I cut some wood to figure out how I could make a roof for this thing. I tried a number of configurations. It took another trip to the building supply and then a trip to the hardware store for some steel to replace my wood supports, but I ended up with what looked like a brick block oven. I spent less than $50 (not counting my pizza stone and wood - smoker box, and the grill of course!). But, would it work? It looked like it should.
The idea was that my grill, when turned on, would crank out it's 550-600 degrees of heat. Then, the pile of wood would add more heat and the brick enclosure would hold onto it all, radiating it back onto my pizza. Seems simple, right?!
I realized that my door opening was losing way too much heat as I fired this contraption up. I had a few left over bricks that I tried to wedge in the doorway to help contain the heat. That was quite a lot of fun, as I had to move and adjust these hot bricks and balance them precariously on the edge of the grill. But, it's what I had, and this was a project in my own personal pizza quest, so it was all part of the fun. After all, I've often written here that one of the best things about pizza is the "fun" and this is another example where you can have fun with your techniques as well as with the ingredients.
In went my Margherita for the brick oven project's maiden voyage. I balanced my door pieces back onto the grill. I watched.
There wasn't much happening! I stuck my hand in the oven - not too hot. My door design seemed to be letting too much heat out. I had built another version with a lower door, maybe that would have worked to hold the heat from rolling out? Maybe I could add a second wood burning box? The pizza cooked. It cooked slowly - slower than in my home oven. I failed! I couldn't figure out how the simple stainless grill cover seemed to keep the heat in the grill oven better than my brick oven enclosure.
My pizza eventually had to come out. The cheese was starting to melt, but the dough didn't seem to ever take off. I added the basil, took a few pictures and again thought, "It failed!"
It wasn't the best pizza I had ever made. The dough never puffed up. The ingredients were delicious, but without the delivery on a great crust, it just doesn't satisfy on the same level. Again, I thought, "I failed!"
It's been a month or more since I made that brick oven on my gas grill. I no longer think of it as a failure, even though my expectations were given a dose of reality. I think of it now as a step in my journey. It was, after all, my first attempt. I have learned some things -- maybe some of the limitations of my grill, my brick design etc. I will be back again, and the next time it will hopefully improve.
But, I will have fun.
You can check out our Facebook page, where David Stone has been having fun as well. He was further inspired by my inspiration that came out of the inspiration of inspired accidents! David has kept up his own quest -- refining his oven concept by adding bricks and using his Art Direction skills and tools, cutting the brick and getting more and more fancy with his project, which is still coming in for only a couple hundred bucks. Check it out on Facebook, and at our Forum (Forno Bravo has some amazing oven projects far beyond my own and David's) and send us your ideas/projects.
And, above all else, have fun!
Here is a gallery with more photos that show more of the build....