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A Pizza Oven Guide: Getting Started

Congratulations on your decision to install a wood fire oven. You will be thrilled with whichever Forno Bravo oven you choose. If you already understand the oven basics, and want help selecting a pizza oven, use our Oven Selection Wizard. Otherwise read on, then click on the Oven Selection Wizard when you are done.



The basic design of the wood fire masonry oven has changed little over the past 2,000 years. Since ancient times, oven designers have known that a masonry dome heated with wood provides the optimal environment for cooking a wide range of foods. In fact, the ovens discovered in Pompeii are remarkably similar to the pizza ovens in use today in modern Naples.

To this day, the masonry oven is the best way to cook pizza, bread and roasts, and it remains unique in its ability to simultaneously cook three ways, a task which no modern oven can match:

Reflective heat. The heat generated by the fire inside the oven is stored on the oven dome, and bounces off the curved shape of the oven dome, to reflect down providing a consistent and high level of heat on the top of the food. For pizza, the dome of the oven reaches 900F.

Conductive heat. The heat stored in the masonry cooking floor is transferred up through the food. For pizza for example, the 650F masonry cooking surface quickly extracts moisture from the pizza dough and creates steam, which gives Italian pizza its characteristic crisp, thin crust.

Convection. The fire inside the oven pull air in through the front door, heats it, and exhausts hot air through the top of the front door to the vent. This airflow moves warm moist air across the food – the same effect that modern convection ovens achieves using fans.

Additionally, a brick oven cooks with moist heat, allowing you to cook at high heats for shorter cooking periods, giving you food that is crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. The oven’s masonry material maintains a moist cooking environment by extracting water from food and holding it in the oven. The moistness of the oven allows it to cook at higher temperatures, without burning or drying out the food. Artisan bread, pizza, and roasts are good examples of foods that can only be created using this type of oven.

To see the basic layout of a wood fire oven, click here.

Modular, Pre-Assembled, and Site Built Ovens

Your first step in installing a brick oven is deciding whether to purchase a modular oven or build your oven chamber on-site using bricks. We would recommend a modular or pre-assembled oven for a number of reasons. The task of building a brick oven chamber is beyond the skill set of many hobbyists, and even many masons. Brick oven construction can take longer and cost more than expected, and does not allow the owner to focus on the tasks of outdoor kitchen design and finish.

If you are a serious hobbyist, and want to build a brick oven from scratch, we have a set of plans which show you how you can do it. Click on the Pompeii Oven to learn more.

For many homeowners, modular ovens can significantly reduce the time, hassle, risk, and expense of installing a brick or masonry oven. For customers looking for even more simplicity, we would recommend a pre-assembled oven, which can be set in place, finished and fired.

Prefabricated Brick and Refractory Ovens

If you have decided to use a modular oven, the next question is whether to select a brick oven, or a prefabricated oven made from refractory material. Both have their advantages, and the decision is yours.

The prefabricated oven was invented in Italy at the turn of the century to meet demand for a cost-effective and functional oven. While these ovens were originally made from inexpensive natural clay, today’s prefabricated ovens take advantage of modern, engineered refractory materials to provide an outstanding cooking environment. Because they are more easily manufactured and built in very large volumes, they are the most cost-effective alternative. Further, prefabricated ovens are available in a range of sizes, allowing the user to choose the right oven. For these reasons, the prefabricated oven is the most popular in Italy. In fact, our producer makes over 10,000 ovens per hear.

On the other hand, brick ovens are still made in Italy by craftsman, and provide a wonderful cooking and visual experience. Constructed using high quality bricks, these ovens arguably provide the best cooking environment, and make a beautiful statement. Our brick ovens are built and delivered as a single, monolithic dome, either in kits or as fully pre-assembled ovens. Brick ovens remain the choice of many enthusiasts.

Refractory Materials

We recommend you review your oven’s construction material. The original prefabricated ovens were made from natural clay because it was available, cheap, and had a relatively high natural alumina content. Today’s ovens use refined and controlled refractory materials to deliver superior oven performance. These ovens heat up quickly and hold their heat for hours with minimal wood consumption. Our oven producer not only makes ovens, they are also one of Italy’s largest producers for refractory products for the building industry.

That said, remember that more thermal mass is not always a good thing. The heavier the oven, the longer it takes to heat up and the more wood it requires to stay hot. For example, we would never recommend a commercial oven for a home or garden setting. We think that our Casa2G ovens are perfectly tuned to home cooking needs. To learn more about thermal issues, read our Thermal Mass and Insulation Primer.


Pizza Oven Size Guide

We recommend that you purchase as much oven as you have room for, and can afford. Oven price and installation cost increase only marginally for the larger ovens, and you will enjoy the size. We carry residential ovens that are 31″, 35″, 39 ” and 43″ round, and a 44″ x 64″ oval, and commercial ovens up to 72″. If you have the space, we think you will enjoy having the oven capacity of the larger ovens — particularly when you are sliding in trays of vegetables next Thanksgiving, or juggling 5 pizzas at a time.

If you do not have space for a larger oven, or if a masonry oven might be almost beyond your financial reach, we can highly recommend our 31.4″ oven. We experimented with a 26″ oven, which was too small, but can happily recommend the 31.4″ oven. Remember that it takes between 90 seconds and three minutes to cook an Italian pizza, so the Casa2G80 (32″) can produce enough food for most parties.

A Fitted, Circular Dome

The dome of all our ovens is a circular arch rising up on its sides in a parabolic curve to the center. This dome shape is important for a number of reasons. First, the circular base of the dome is designed to circulate air throughout the inside of the oven, and avoid any cold-spots. Second, the curve of the dome ensures that heat both stored in the dome and reflected from the fire inside the oven evenly cover the food on the cooking surface of the oven.

Also, be careful to ensure that the oven you chose wraps the oven dome around the cooking surface, and that it does not sit on top of it. That design allows heat to effectively “leak” out the side of the oven through the exposed cooking surface edge.

The barrel chamber shaped oven, a style often used for site-built brick ovens, have a square footprint with flat oven front and back walls, and are less efficient at moving air inside the oven. They also do not provide an even reflected heat from the dome to the top of food.

Engineered Insulation

We would recommend your oven installation plans incorporate engineered insulation. While you can have too much thermal mass, there is no such thing as too much insulation. Check out our Thermal Mass and Insulation Primer for more information on mass and insulation.

While basic oven design has not changed, advances in insulation technology have dramatically improved the ability of masonry ovens to retain heat, while at the same time reducing oven weight and installation time. In the past, ovens were clad with hundreds, or even thousands of pound of concrete, and sat on a hearth layered with concrete and sand.

Today’s ovens take advantage of space-age materials that weigh a fraction of concrete and sand, while offering better thermal characteristics. These new products also make it easier for homeowners for build ovens, make it easier and less expensive to install ovens indoors, and make it possible to build transportable ovens which can be readily moved to such venues are farmers markets and parties.

We provide a very generous amount of woven ceramic insulation with each of our ovens.

Prefabricated Stands and Hearths

We recommend you seriously consider using a prefabricated hearth and stand. In the past, ovens were installed using a site-built concrete block platform, poured hearth and lots of sand. This approach can not only be expensive, time consuming and complicated to build, but the sand design has poor thermal performance. That is why we have created a line of prefabricated stands and heath. These products can significantly reduce the hassle and cost of installing a masonry oven — both outdoors and indoors.

For customers looking for the “built-in” look, our hearth can be placed on a concrete block stand. You will save time and money on installation, while enjoying wonderful oven performance and preserving the traditional look.

For indoor installations, the metal hearth and stand provide a number of advantages, including lighter weight and faster installation. The prefabricated hearth can be set either in a corner or on a wall, covered with metal studs and concrete board, and finished with a range of material.

Check out our Installation Pages for more information on how to put an oven in your home or business.

Gabled House, Igloo, Stucco House, Barrel Vault and Wall Oven

The final step in selecting a pizza oven is choosing your trim and finish style. There is a wide range of choices, and the decision is yours. For inspiration, take a look at our Photo site.

The roof and finish over the oven dome serves three important purposes. It holds in the dome insulation, it protects the oven dome and cooking surface from water, and it presents the homeowner with the ability of selecting a pizza oven from a wide range of architectural and finish styles. Outdoor ovens can be finished in one of three basic styles:

The Igloo features an oven shape that follows the basic form of the dome and flue – hence the igloo. These ovens are typically covered with stucco and feature a brick or terra cotta arch over the opening.

The Gabled House comprises of a four-wall enclosure with either a gabled roof or sloped roof. Common finish materials include stucco, brick, stone, marble, slate, travertine, and granite.

The Wall Oven is a major component of a traditional Mediterranean summer kitchen. Typically, it is placed on a wall, along with a grill and cold-water sink, and finished with stone, tile or stucco. Many summer kitchens are placed under an arbor or covered porch, providing shelter from both the rain and the sun.

Indoor ovens can either follow the shape of the oven chamber, presenting an indoor version of the Igloo, or they can be enclosed with partition walls covered with any finished material.

You are now ready to move on to our Oven Selection Wizard.

Have any questions?