This is a great, low-cost project for someone who wants to test out the ins-and-outs of brick oven cooking. Super fast and easy to build, and with minor modifications, it can be assembled semi-permanently and get you through a season of baking delicious breads and pizzas.
I attended a fantastic pizza making event at Machine Project (instructor: Michael O’Malley) that included the construction and firing of a DIY temporary brick pizza oven – the ultimate in pizza cooking. Hugely educational and inspiring, even for a committed pizza fanatic such as myself. The oven, built, fired up, and torn down over the course of an afternoon, worked amazingly well – I cooked the best pizza I’ve ever made, by far.
Here’s a basic rundown on how the pizza oven was assembled. Firebricks and fireclay are available at kiln and pottery supply stores. Use these over standard red bricks as the red bricks tend to pop or explode when reaching extreme temperatures. The metal table might be the most challenging/expensive component used – watch Craigslist for used welding tables. Pavers are found cheaply at Home Depot, Lowes, or gardening/hardware stores.
(Note: bricks are heavy, and brick ovens generate a lot of heat. Please use proper precautions to ensure that you don’t burn or crush yourself while making or using your oven.)
This is my pizza, about 2 minutes into cooking. The crust had a crispy exterior and a soft chewey interior, with the perfect char. Tastiest pizza I’ve ever made.
Firebricks, pavers, and a heavy metal table. All the materials needed for our oven.
Make sure the table is strong enough to hold the weight of the bricks and pavers, and can withstand the heat. Lay out the pavers first to create an insulating buffer.
This is the jig that will be used to form the archway.
On top of the pavers, lay down a tight-fitting pad of fire bricks. Keep them as even as possible–this will be the floor of the oven.
Build up the back wall, using half-sized bricks along the sides to keep everything fairly even.
With the back wall set, place a length of angle iron along what will become the side walls. The angle iron pieces are pre-drilled for threaded rod to extend across and keep the side walls fitting snug.
The side walls shouldn’t be too tall – you want to keep the internal heat contained in a low area. A standing brick is the right size. Continue these all the way forward on both sides, keeping the bricks as tight as possible.
With the side and back walls finished, it’s now possible to start sealing. A mix of fire clay and sand will keep in the smoke and some heat, but isn’t weather proof – this allows you to clean and disassemble the oven easily.
Apply the mix to the corners and all seams. Use a liberal amount of it to make sure no gaps form when it dries.
The archway is formed on top of the jig, starting from the back. Put the bricks on from both outside edges, moving inwards.
A small shard of broken brick helps maintain the spaces that occur by the curvature of the arch.
Before removing the jig, place another layer of bricks onto the sidewalls and lock them in place with angle iron, as done on bottom. Once done, the jig can be shimmied out to let the brick arch settle into place.
Three layers of bricks gives a fairly sizeable pizza area. You can see how they stack tightly.
Another piece of angle iron bridges the bricks on the side of the opening (large enough for a peel but not too large). Bricks on top leave a space for the chimney to vent from. Keep the chimney in front, to help pull the heat forward from the burning wood at the back of the oven.
Here is the front of the pizza with the bricked-in chimney and walls.
A healthy slathering of the sand/fireclay mix on the roof and chimney areas help seal everything from escaping heat and smoke.
The chimney and walls are now sealed.
Firing up! Start the fire small to let the heat build gradually, without blowing a ton of smoke out the top.
As the fire continues, soot collects on the interior of the dome. After the heat raises, the soot cooks off.
This design doesn’t have the same heat retention as a multi-thousand dollar commercial unit, so reaching the idea temperature can take 60-90 minutes or more. Once it’s hot enough, sweep the embers to the back and use a wet toweled stick to mop the bricks.
Finally, here’s a video of the oven we built in action. Enjoy!
Don’t forget, you’ll need to get a pizza peel and a decent slicer. I like to use a wood peel for preparation and inserting (dough doesn’t stick as much to wood), and a metal peel to take the pizza out. This design doesn’t need a very long handle, but larger ovens will warrant it.
The Mario Batali pizza slicer is the best slicer I’ve found. Cleaver-like satisfying heft, oversized sharp, smooth wheel and comfortable handle. It cuts through anything without dragging the pizza across the plate. I actually bring this with me to friends’ pizza parties now–it’s spoiled me.
If you have any questions, comments discoveries or discoveries, please post them in the comments.
Hi, I'm Mike. I’m the co-host of Science channel’s Punkin' Chunkin' and Catch It Keep It. I work on TV shows explaining and building crazy machines that crush stuff, blow things up, shoot fire, all in the name of science.
I'm a contributor to Wired and a former staffer at ReadyMade, two awesome magazines that focus on technology and diy living.
This site is where I keep a list of instructions for fun projects I've done, am working on, or draw inspiration from. I encourage everyone to get involved -- get up and make something!
New product in my store -- mini skull silicone molds!