Pizza enthusiasts from all over the world generally agree that "brick oven pizza" is the most traditional as well as the most delicious pizza they have eaten. While brick ovens are frequently found in Italian restaurants, few homeowners manage to install such ovens in the kitchens of their homes. However, more and more outdoor cooks are innovating and inventing methods for building outdoor brick ovens. Taking their ideas just one more step has led them to making their ovens portable for camping and for catering.
Construct a temporary support with two sawhorses or build directly on the trailer, pickup truck or camper bed after preparing the space with cement blocks, granite slabs or paving stones. Remember, the base of the oven should be at a comfortable height for heating and baking.
Construct a shallow wood box about 4 feet by 4 feet and at least 4 inches deep. Use the right angle brackets and screws to secure the corners of the box.
Mix 6 parts perlite to 1 part Portland cement in a garbage can. Use a hoe or a shovel to mix. Add water until the mix is spreadable like peanut butter. Scoop the cement mixture into the box to fill it completely, smoothing the surface with a plank or a long carpenter's level even with the sides.
Lay the firebricks on the cement base and level with the spirit level. If the bricks are uneven, try to put the smoothest surface up. Take care not to disturb the level surface of the base. Use the measuring tape to measure from the back and sides to find and mark the centre point of the floor with a dab of perlite mix.
Determine the size of the finished oven. Most bread and pizza ovens are between 14 and 16 inches high. A 15-inch oven will have a diameter of about 22 inches. Prepare a profile for the dome by suspending a chain or rope on a flat, vertical surface with the ends secured 22 inches apart. If necessary, have two people hold the ends of the rope. Allow the chain to drape 15 inches below the horizontal. Ask the third person to trace the draped curve on heavy brown paper with a felt marker. Cut out the arch on the paper to use as a guide for the dome.
Mix the all-purpose sand with water in a clean garbage can until the sand holds its shape easily. Pile wet sand on the centre mark of the floor until it matches the shape of the arch created with the chain. Cover the sand with a layer of wet newspaper moulded to fit.
Mix 3 parts sand to 1 part clay and adding water gradually. Build up the outside of the dome from the bottom up, patting it gently onto the sand until the clay is at least 4 inches thick. Keep the pressure on the mud from the top down, not from the outside in.
Smooth the surface of the mud with hands or the side of a small piece of lumber. Gently mark the opening in the side of the dome with the tip of a pencil. The width should be about 1/2 the diameter of the floor and about 10 inches high. Cut a small hole with an old knife, reach inside, and dig out the sand. Continue enlarging the hole, and dig inside the oven until the newspaper blocks further digging and scooping. Use only bare hands for digging and scooping.
Prepare more perlite and cement mixture in the same proportions as used for the base. Apply this to the mud dome. Smooth it with your hands. Most mud ovens eventually crack, but the damage does not affect the performance of the oven unless it falls apart.
Cut a small hole in the back of the oven to vent smoke and draw air. When using the oven to bake, plug with a twist of wet newspaper.
Build the first fire in the centre of the opening and push it toward the back. Try to raise the temperature to at least 204 degrees C inside the oven. The fire will help to finish drying the oven as well as to heat it for the first baking. Later, when the oven is cool, cover it with a piece of plastic sheeting and weight the cover down with rocks.
Amounts of the materials are indefinite because the size of the oven determines the amounts. Buy cement, sand and clay in bags. Open only one at a time. If any unopened bags remain after the building of the oven, most merchants will allow a refund on returned merchandise. Use the perlite and cement mixture to secure a border made of fire bricks around the opening of the oven. Bricks can be cut or broken for this purpose. The shards will be easier to place. Note that this oven does not include a chimney. Some experts cite the centuries of history of brick and clay ovens, most of which were built without chimneys. Some builders of clay ovens claim the oven can be used immediately after the first firing. Scrape the ashes and cinders from the oven into a metal container and slide the dough into the oven on a scrap of lumber or on a wood peel to bake.
Much of the construction of this oven is reasonably simple, but it does require considerable labour to mix the perlite and cement, the sand and water, and the clay, sand and water. Having more than one person on hand may be very helpful. The process of making "mud" is sometimes performed by squishing the mix with feet. The garbage can will be too deep for this, so choose a large wheelbarrow instead. Creating the arch for the dome will require the services of more than one person, at least temporarily.
Things you need
- Sawhorses, cement blocks or granite slabs
- Lumber, at least 4-foot lengths
- Right angle brackets
- A 2-quart plastic container
- 2 clean garbage cans
- Perlite from a nursery
- Portland cement
- Hoe or shovel
- Spirit level
- Fire bricks
- Carpenter's measuring tape
- Builders' sand
- Brown wrapping paper roll
- Rope or chain
- Felt tip marker
- Temporary anchors for rope
- Pottery clay from a pottery store
- Old paring knife
- Oven thermometer
- Plastic sheeting