Cooking outdoors has been done since the dawn of time. Food tastes great cooked in fire. If an outdoor oven speaks to you, here are some things to know.
Outdoor ovens are something that excite me to my core. I’ve never had the luxury of eating anything cooked in someone’s at-home wood-burning oven, and that should be changing soon.
As I pore over people’s homes to rent in Europe, I’m amazed at how common outdoor ovens seem to be. Are we getting outdoor life wrong here?
Let’s fix that!
Not just for pizza
Outdoor ovens aren’t just for pizza. They’re great for bread, cooking fish and meats, roasting vegetables. Everything you’d do in your kitchen’s oven you can do in an outdoor oven, but you’ll get all that extra flavor, and on hot summer days your home can stay cool.
The best thing about outdoor ovens is you can make them yourself. And then you can put fancy chairs and tables around, prop up an umbrella, and imagine you’re enjoying outdoor life the civilized way. Plus, whatever it costs, it’ll likely add value to your home’s eventual selling price. Outdoor living can pay big!
Here are a few plans for making your own outdoor fire oven.
“The Cob Oven Project”
This is a one-page blog site devoted exclusively to this couple’s efforts to build a cob oven. That means it’s made with just clay, sand, and straw — and very, very cheap to make.
This is a very traditional style of build and reflects many I’ve seen in European yards. It’s on the small side, which means it’ll need less fuel, but you will be limited by how much you can cook in there. Going a little larger might be a good idea, especially if you see yourself entertaining friends a lot.
This version is based on the “$20 cob oven” at the Year Of Mud website, and they say it’s their most popular post ever. I find the photos are a little better, but comparing the two pages will give you different insights, and that can’t hurt!
This website is dedicated to outdoor ovens and it has some gorgeous examples from different readers and enthusiasts. It has a lot of information on materials to use, the pros and cons of different styles. It’s a passion-type site that gets by on donations, so there’s a lot of soliciting on it and not a lot of plans available, but it’s very informative and worth checking out (and supporting, if you feel it helps you).
A traditional pizza oven
This approach is very common and a good size, and this plan is thorough and easy to follow. Made with sand, concrete, bricks, and other bitsies, this will be easy to get the materials for. A weekend of work, a few days drying, and you’ll be making the best pizza pies of your life. Or maybe some slow-cooked baked ribs or some dessert pies or…
Jeff Wilson’s “Pompeii” oven
What do you get with a popular plan and an HGTV DIY host? Something spectacular, is what! Jeff uses the FornoBravo.com free plan for the Pompeii oven to spectacular effect in this feature oven that is now the anchor for an incredible outdoor living space. By combining his new oven with an extended counter he made and tiled himself, he was able to house his grill, a sink, and a fridge.
Combined with some nice landscaping, a great seating area, and a outdoor kitchen like this, you’d be adding serious value to your home.
Some considerations for the outdoor oven builder
- You’re literally cooking with fire, so you want to build your wood-burning oven in a spot where there aren’t trees overhanging or where other combustibles can go up with errant embers floating their way.
- The nicer you can make your oven look, the better value it’ll add to your space. Make it a good size, consider adding an area for wood storage, and some preparation workspace.
- You want your oven walls to be good and thick. The more insulation, the higher you can take the heat. Some oven-owners report getting theirs to reach over 1,000 degrees F. A proper Neapolitan pizza needs 900-degree heat, so this is exactly the range you’re after.
- Once you get cooking, you’ll need to learn the fine art of charcoal control. The best Neapolitan pizzerias and heritage bakers are all about keeping the charcoal cleaned off to the side. My award-winning neighborhood pizzeria has a guy who’s entirely in charge of the fire. He keeps the oven floor clean, the wood fire off to the side, and it’s a very Zen thing to sit and watch him for a while.
Your outdoor wood-burning oven will be the kind of cooking experience you get involved in. You’ll be proud of the food you make, it’ll have richer flavors, and you can do it all for a good price while creating a value-adding feature to your yard for the right buyer.
So what are you waiting for? Isn’t this the summer you get the outdoor kitchen of your dreams?