How can I get the best bake in this oven?

I volunteer some weekends at a local ranch that does horse therapy for disabled kids, and one of their favorite things is pizza day. They have this tiny brick oven that never manages to keep up. Any tips or tricks I can use to keep the oven hotter or reduce bake times?

Here are some pics so you have an idea of what I am talking about:

I guess since nobody else has responded yet I will take a stab at it. What about coal as a fuel source or something with a hotter burn that wood?

Only other thing I know would work is to parbake the crusts. Even if they are keep in a cooler they will cook faster as your sauce and toppings dont need that much time to get to temp.

My limited 2 lire (Euro is fading)

Insulating the oven may help. Medieval beehive ovens are packed all around with a layer of thick cut sod to hold the heat in. I would recommend experimenting with that. Maybe 1.5 to 2 inch thick cuts of sod with soil? You might also consider preheatig that pig by gradually building a blazing inferno (to prevent cracking with sudden high heat) and letting it fire for a food 30 to 45 minutes at really high heat. Remove coals to a handy metal bucket to reuse later as needed . . . bank some around edges . . . brush the deck to clean it . . . stoke inside fire as you normally do . . . see how it bakes. Put an oven thermometer in there to get a guess what you’re baking at.

Thin, thin crust and limited toppings (think Neapolitan style) will bake best and quickest in this kind of oven. Thicker, toppinger will go 3 to 5 minutes or so.

Thanks Dale. I was looking at this post, wondering if it would get 100 hits before someone replied. I have been thinking of trying coal. I am having a tough time even getting hard wood for that thing, so that might be what I use. I have baked a lot of pizzas on the grill, but never used coal in an oven.

@Nick - Yep. That thing doesn’t have much insulation. There are a few cracks that smoke comes out of, and they get hot. It isn’t the most airtight thing. I was thinking of giving it a coat of high temp cement to try and keep the heat where I want it.

I usually give it 30 min to an hour to heat up before I use it as well. It is really too small to rotate the baking spot, so the recovery time on the cooking surface is getting to me. I am going to experiment a bit more this weekend. They asked me to cook 40 pizzas, and I am sure it will be a challenge.

Your biggest challenge is lack of mass. It is a mass oven “style” or kinda like it. More thickness on the bottom and all around will help you. If you could pour a concrete base to build the floor onto, you would have more success. Think 4" thick using thermal cement/concrete . . . layers of fire brick beneath the hearth/deck. With that really thin deck, you’ll never hold heat, and will always struggle.

You could even use clay to pack a base and cover the arched chamber. Look at the mass of this oven, for example.

What about a propane assist underneath?

Do you think a propane burner under that would work? I have thought about making a fire under there as well. Only the front is open on the bottom though, and I didn’t want the area in front of the door super hot when I am loading pizzas.

I am trying to talk the owner into throwing a coat of high temp cement over the whole thing, but they like the ‘brick look’, so we will see.

Dude. Basically, what you are looking to do is something that this device was in no way designed to do, and will never do. 40 pizzas out of that oven the way it is desined and operated will be a long, long proposition. That’s the bottom line. We’ve all suggested ways to shoe-horn that oven, but ultimately it isn’t adequate for that task. I hate to drop that on here.

For such volume in shorter time, it simply needs to be redesigned and re-engineered for that task . . . or just accept and enjoy the limitations of the tool and use it for that it is strong in performing.

Nah. You are preaching to the choir here. I have made quite a few pizzas in that thing, and it just isn’t that fun. I wish I had been around when they made it. I would take a 300 pie hour and a few PS360s any day.

That said, with a couple modifications, I’d love to have something, like that in my back yard with a gravel pad all around, some chairs, a table and torches for some outdoor picknicks. Definitely raised up about 3 feet, though.

Whew. I started baking at 10:45 and the oven was a nice 575 degrees. 20 Pizzas in, it was down to 450, and 10 more pizzas it was down to 350. There was a line for 3 straight hours, and I ended up making 60 pizzas. I probably could have won an award for public speaking for keeping the people lined up happy while they waited.

I was hoping for 6 slices a pie, but screwed up my dough ball size. All 5 oz, so I cut them in quarters and sold pizza by the slice. 5oz seems small, but it is a market thing. Japanese people would rather buy 4 10 inch pizzas than 1-16 inch pizza. I should have done 7.5 oz dough balls though. It would have cut down on opening and closing the oven, keeping it hotter.

I made a shell with wood over the oven as well. Not much heat retention in wood, but it was probably better than nothing, and it dried out the wood a bit. There were cracks in the oven I hadn’t seen, and a few of the logs were quite charred. It really needs a coat of high temp concrete for insulation.

All in all, it was a pretty good day, and my son came in 3rd place in thehorsemanship competition (that oven is at a local ranch where I do volunteer horse therapy with disabled kids).

Is it possible to build a shelf in it to hold 2 or 4 pizzas?
My thought was to build a “rack” that would have a shelf with supports close enough to slide a pizza in and off with a metal peel. The “rack” would need to be stacked and be stick built out of re-bar and expanded metal. Since you can’t go out with side by side pizzas, you could go up.

Just a thought.

Sorry I just saw this and the reply is late.
Pretty hard to keep a consistent deck temperature with that oven, I don’t think top heat is a problem so I wouldn’t worry alot about insulating the top, although a coat of the high temp cement wouldn’t hurt, I would be more concerned with insulating the bottom deck to retain heat next time. Also, I would make sure my dough is at room temp when cooking, that will take some of the strain off the deck floor and help to maintain temp. You may have to look at your dough formulation so it doesn’t blow up on you.

We have a Woodstone firedeck and although it is fully gas with a gas underburner and has huge btu’s the concepts are pretty much the same, and I know on a busy night if we get into cold dough directly from the cooler, deck temperature can be a big issue.

@Bubba - I rack would probably be counter productive. Getting the pizzas up off the baking surface would probably cause them to take a lot longer to cook. The oven is just too small. I had a tough time adding wood as it is.

@AFS - That oven is outside, and has some cracks around a few of the bricks. The pieces of wood I that were over cracked areas were actually charred after an hour. The guys who built it pretty much had no idea what they were doing, and my guess is that they didn’t mix the concrete correctly.

I think you are right about the bottom though. I am thinking that adding a better baking surface would do a whole lot to improve the thing.