Yes, you could order out for pizza. More than that, you could even just buy ready-made pizzas for your kitchen oven. But nothing – and we mean nothing – beats the down-home appeal of freshly prepared pizzas baked from your very own homemade wood-fired pizza oven. What, you don’t have a pizza oven? The good news is that, however daunting it might seem, building your own pizza oven is a deceptively simple business.
Similar to a fire pit, it will transform your outdoor entertaining options far beyond the possibilities afforded by a simple barbecue. Also, like a fire pit, you will be so surprised at the ease of construction – and the amazing results, that as soon as you’re finished, you’ll likely be planning next summer’s new and improved model. For that reason it probably makes sense to start small with your first pizza oven, unless you’re so handy that you fancy your chances tackling a more advanced project right from the start.
Beginner’s Option: The Cob Oven
1) Cob – a simple mix of earth, sand and straw – is an ancient building material so strong it has been used for house-building in parts of Britain for thousands of years. What’s more, it’s non-toxic, recyclable and, almost literally, dirt cheap.
2) The first decision is what to build your oven on top of. You could construct a base from old bricks, blocks, rubble or stone, but cob ovens can be equally well built on top of anything from old tables to trolleys or anything else to hand. A well-insulated base and an oven floor of fire bricks provides the base for the oven itself.
3) You can mould the shape of your oven from wet sand. Pile up the sand to form a large oval shape in the centre of the base, and keep building it up to the desired height. You can then smooth the sand with your hands or a plastering trowel if you have one. Eventually you will have a large (and hopefully fairly symmetrical) oval shape.
4) Cover the wet sand form with wet newspaper. This will provide a barrier between the sand mould and the layer of cob that you will pile on top of the paper to create the actual wall of the oven.
5) The cob itself can be mixed in equal parts on a large tarpaulin. This is fun, tactile work and best done with bare feet to combine and compress the materials. If you have helpers on hand – aged from four to eighty-four should be fine – then the work will be easier.
6) Take lumps of the mixed cob and apply it carefully to the surface of the wet newspaper, building up layers and compressing it. You also, naturally, need to leave an opening wide enough to pass your pizza in and out of the oven.
7) Once you have a thick and even layer of cob, you can think about smoothing the surface or adding any patterns or decoration. After the cob has dried (this could take a week or so), then you can dig out the sand and carefully remove the newspaper. If the newspaper doesn’t come free, it will burn off the first time you use your oven.
8) Other options to enhance the appearance and efficiency of the oven include adding a removable door or installing a chimney to avoid smoke coming out of the opening of the oven and discolouring the cob (a look many owners actually prefer).
If you want precise measurements and specifications for your oven, there are endless books and websites to refer to, but the true joy of a cob oven is its innate imprecision and hands-on style. Don’t believe us? Then watch the timelapse video below of British blogger Elyse Chatterton, now living in Canada, creating her very own cob oven with two young and able assistants.
Intermediate Option: The Brick Oven
1) In most ways, the brick pizza oven follows the same principles as a cob oven. You need to find or construct a suitable base, and then you need to create a form. Unlike a cob oven with a wet sand and newspaper form, a brick oven will usually be built with a basic wooden form. This could be cut to shape with cheap board so that it can be simply removed once the bricks are in place.
2) How you hold the bricks together – with mortar or simple mud or cob – depends on how permanent you want your design. At its most simple, the oven could be built and taken down, ready for use at a new location. The best brick ovens, however, will be more permanent and provide an impressive feature in your garden.
Daunted by the prospect of building a brick pizza oven? Be reassured by how simple it can be by the film below. Produced by sculptor Michael O’Malley, the thoughtful and meditative film also provides an inadvertent masterclass in how to build a temporary brick pizza oven:
Mmm, make mine a…