DIY Wood Fired Pizza Oven Concerns
March 20, 2011 11:14 AM   Subscribe

I am going to build a wood fired pizza oven in my backyard. Any tips on what has worked, failed, etc. (more inside)

I am going to embark on making a woodfired pizza oven in my back yard. I have read Kiko's book and I am working my way through Bread Builders.

What are the pros and cons of an earthen oven versus the masonry oven? An additional concern is that, I dont feel like the soil around my house is clean enough to make an oven. (I live near a decommissioned air base and I dont trust that the soil doesnt have contaminants).

That said where could I get clayish soil for building? I dont have any relatives or friends that have yards.
posted by burlsube to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
An earthen oven should still use bricks for the oven floor, which is the only thing that's gonna come into contact with the food. The advantage of an earthen oven it that it's quite easy to make dome-shape chamber that's so good for baking pizza (and everything else).

If I was worried about the soil contaminants, I'd probably make a test lump of terra-cotta something, and while its firing, see if I smell anything chemically or it excretes any kind of sketchy material. If not, I'd build the oven, but still dry-fire it three or four times to burn off any lingering concerns.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:52 AM on March 20, 2011

The place I'd go to figure this stuff out would be Forno Bravo.
posted by milkrate at 1:20 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

DO NOT rely on just smelling something unpleasant to let you know if your soil is okay. For example radon or depleted uranium don't have a strong smell and they're both bad for you.

You can have your soil analysed for contaminants - this is the best way to figure out what's happening, and you should definitely do this if you have any concerns. Not sure where you live, but Cornell University will perform soil analysis for a small fee; there are probably other schools close to where you live, look for one that has an agricultural program.

Check out for some more info on building earth ovens; Aprovecho also has some interesting PDFs relating to oven design.
posted by dubold at 3:24 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Check out my father's blog and book.
posted by anathema at 3:25 PM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I built an earth oven with my kids a few years ago. It's definitely a fun project, and the results were pretty cool (1, 2). We built it by the book, or thought we did—when the first few firings were less than wonderful, I re-checked the measurements and did some refining of the doorway opening. It was always temperamental, though, with respect to wind direction. I say "was" because the Achilles heel of earth ovens is weather. You have to protect them from the elements. My kids grew up and moved away and the oven just kind of melted over the last couple of years.

The cool things about an earth oven are that they're literally dirt cheap, can be built by total amateurs, and are relatively easy to modify once built. And they can give very satisfactory results. I know a couple of people with professionally built masonry ovens, and while they were definitely not cheap, they will endure for the owners' lifetime without much in the way of maintenance. Also (albeit they are significantly larger than my earth oven and take proportionately more wood to fire) they will bake pizza after pizza after pizza on one firing.
posted by bricoleur at 3:36 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: Oh, yeah, and as to where to find clayish soil, it depends on where you are. Everywhere I've lived, though, all you had to do was dig down to the subsoil to get a fairly clayey earth. You'll need to have sand and straw, too—in fact, more sand than clay.
posted by bricoleur at 3:44 PM on March 20, 2011

The author of the Modern in MN blog constructed a wood-fired backyard oven (don't be scared off by the first picture in that post). If you're thinking of making something out of the clay in your own backyard, though, her model might be more of a project than what you're looking for.
posted by lakeroon at 9:48 PM on March 20, 2011

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