- author of The Ultimate Wood Fired Oven Cookbook https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ul...
I am a food writer with a passion for fire. I really wanted to write a book on wood fired oven cooking but first I had to build an oven. Here is how we did it… a combination of time lapse, slo mo, stills & iPhone footage, pretty rough around the edges but shows the steps we took. It was a tremendous amount of hard work, I learnt skills I never thought I would - like bricklaying and rendering but so worth it. A properly insulated wood oven is a joy to cook in. I can light one fire in my oven and know that I can cook stuff in it for 24 hours, using the falling curve of the heat to cook pizza, bake bread and cakes, roast meat, vegetables and fish and cook slowly overnight.
Read on for more detail of the build.
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These ovens are mighty heavy - about 250kg - so solid foundations are essential. Once we’d cleared the ground, we built wooden shuttering in a generous square, allowing for the oven plinth to be outsized to provide extra work surface. This square of ground was lined with damp proof membrane & fitted with a steel rebar mesh to reinforce it. Into that we poured a 20cm layer of concrete - many, many bags of it, back-breakingly mixed by hand - and left overnight to set.
BUILDING THE OVEN PLINTH
We chose to build our oven plinth with a double layer of blocks. On top of each double layer we placed a horizontal block layer for added strength & to ‘tie’ the two layers together.
At this stage it is important to think about the final height of the oven - you want to oven base to be level with your elbow so you are neither stretching up too far or bending down too low to access the oven. So we tweaked the amount of mortar and blocks to get this height just right for me and my elbows…
Concrete lintels were used to make the top of the plinth - these add extra support & are really easy to fit. Onto these went a layer of thermolite insulating blocks, bedded with mortar to secure them in place. Keep checking with a spirit level to make sure the surface & therefore the oven base, sits level and true, you don’t want your cooking surface to end up on the twonk do you? Finally the top was brushed builders sand to fill in any little gaps.
FINALLY, THE OVEN!
On the oven fitting day we were lucky to be helped with wood fired oven expert Terry Lyons who offered a hand. Thanks to Terry this was the easiest part of the build.
Onto the base we laid a thermal heat board to add extra under-oven insulation (vital to retain heat for low and slow cooking!), then the precast oven base (in two sections) went on top of that.
My oven is a medium sized Mezzo 76 from Gozney. I chose this as its a good compromise between size & heating up time: the bigger the oven, the more you can cook at once, but they take longer to heat up. I also wanted a pre cast oven that was DEFRA approved to use in a smoke control zone as we live in a city that has strict regulations on smoke emissions.
Once the base sections were in place and lined up - and the level double checked again - we lifted the dome of the oven up and rolled it into place using a broom handle (in the manner of the ancient Egyptian’s!)
The chimney then slots into place on the top of the oven - it a very snug fit, as is necessary to make a good seal.
The oven dome is then wrapped in a thick thermal blanket which is pegged into place with chicken wire. The chicken wire forms a good key for a further insulating layer - what Terry called the Devil’s Porridge - a mix of vermiculite & concrete which spread out all over the dome in a layer about 5-6cm thick. The surface was roughed up to provide a good key for the final render.
Good insulation all over - is vital to maximise the use you can get out of your oven. Think of your oven as a battery - the fire that heats it up & the oven itself absorbs the energy then re-emits that store of energy over a period of time. So the more insulation you have the longer you can cook.
Once dry (a week or so) a final layer of render was applied & the oven was ready to use. I lit a series of small pulse fires to bring the dome up to temperature slowly. Then I started to cook in it everyday as I tested and wrote recipes for my book. I love my oven very much. Build one, you won’t regret it!
If you have any questions, do get in touch via social media using the details above.