Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The pizza chronicles, part two

I'm nothing, if not obsessed with reaching a successful conclusion, and this pizza endeavor is no exception.  The first two iterations of the Weber pizza oven weren't quite working the way I wanted.  I got close to my desired result a couple of times, but keeping the fire going, without the right amount of ventilation, was a real challenge.  The key to a good pizza is a fast cook, at intense heat.  A slow cook turns out a harder, denser crust, which isn't good.  I wanted crisp on the outside, with blisters in all the right places, and soft and chewy on the inside.  I needed more heat.

I needed to think long and hard about using wood, and cooking my pizza at very high heat.  Briquettes and lump charcoal just were not cutting it.  I also had the issue of ventilation for the fire blazing in the kettle below the cooking chamber, or 'oven'.

We drilled out some holes in the bottom of the kettle, and that helped with ventilation, but it wasn't quite enough for this set-up, though it certainly helped.


Before I special ordered fire bricks, I decided to run a $2.94 experiment.  I purchased six bricks from the local home improvement store.  I used four of my baking tiles on the grate, circled the perimeter with the purchased bricks, and placed the lid on the top edge of the bricks.  This created the 'oven'.

By placing the support bricks out toward the perimeter of the kettle's edge, I was able to draw the heat up and into the 'oven'.  The gap between the tiles and the support bricks would further aid in moving that heated air exactly where I wanted it, while ventilating the fire, which would keep it burning hot.

This idea would prove to be the right one, but the materials I used would not hold up to the heat of the wood burning fire.  My baking tiles cracked, and by the time we removed them from the fire, and heated new ones, we'd lost the optimum cooking window for the pizza.  The highest heat had passed, and cooking time was too long.  The make shift grate had also taken a beating from the heat.

Even with these failures, I really felt I had the right idea.  I just didn't have the right materials.  It was time to procure the fire bricks, and a more stout grate.

Lucky for me I found fire bricks locally, and inexpensively.  I ordered a porcelain enameled cast iron grill grate online last night, but it won't arrive for a couple of weeks.  Not a patient woman, I chose to procure a heavy duty grill grate locally so I could continue the pizza chronicles.  I will switch out to the cast iron grate when it arrives, but the one I found today will keep the trials moving along.

Here is the current set-up, complete with the new fire bricks...


A closer look inside shown here.  I'm a little concerned that I have too much height over the floor of the 'oven', but tonight's experiment will answer that question.  Given how hot things got in the failed set-up from yesterday, I think we'll be okay, but getting the perfect pizza is an exercise in experimentation and persistence.


With the lid off...


The gaps between the floor and the side support bricks are intended to bring the heat from the fire in the bottom of the kettle into the oven, or brick chamber.

This is not a large Weber.  It's the smaller, 18-1/2" diameter kettle.  I would prefer this set-up in a 22-1/2" kettle, but this is what I have, and for just the two of us, it works.  A 12" pie fits just fine, and the fire burns hot enough, and long enough, that a second pie could easily be made after the first.  I imagine even a third would be possible before we would start losing heat.

Firing it up tonight.  More in the pizza chronicles tomorrow, hopefully with photos of a perfect pizza pie.


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